We often go to Alderley Edge for a leisurely wander through the woods. There are myriad tracks and trails along this sandstone escarpment which overlooks Manchester and the “Millionaire Belt” of East Cheshire and there is always a wonderful cake to be had at the Wizard Tearoom.
I won’t go into the details of the Wizard’s tale here, suffice to say that it is tangled up with Aurthurian legend and The Sleeper’s Hall where Arthur’s Knights wait on England’s call. It’s the subject of more than a few local folksongs and was probably the main stimulus behind Alan Garner’s “The Weirdstone of Brisingamen “.
Whatever, we had just gone to wander through drifts of dead leaves beneath the gold and russet canopy of beech, oak & chestnut and the sycamore, with their huge lemon-tinted leaves blotched with great blobs of black fungal growth.
Now, although we walk here several times a year and think we know our way about, somehow we always end up in a place we didn’t expect to arrive at. I don’t know why this should be. We don’t get lost anywhere else – ever! I have a theory that the Wizard has something to do with it.
The National Trust’s Biddulph Grange garden is about 10 miles from Roachside and not far from where we live. We called in there a couple of days ago to see it in its autumn splendour. It is one of the great jewels of the NT’s collection of important gardens and, as the winter draws near, it explodes into its autumn colours.
This amazing Victorian garden was created by James Bateman for his collection of plants from around the world. A visit takes you on a global journey from Italy to the pyramids of Egypt, a Victorian vision of China and a re-creation of a Himalayan glen. Its masterful design allows you to enter into a country cottage and come out the other side from an Egyptian temple!
The garden features collections of rhododendrons, summer bedding displays, a stunning Dahlia Walk and the oldest surviving golden larch in Britain, brought from China in the 1850s.
…and when you’ve been all round the world in the garden, you can have a cracking dog walk through the adjacent woods of the Biddulph Country Park.
Part of the China Garden....
The dearest daughter has been pretty unwell lately. When I say unwell, it’s probably difficult for most of us to imagine how “unwell” a person can be when the least of their problems is that they live permanently in a wheelchair. For Anika, “unwell” is pretty seriously unwell. Hence, to help her recovery and cheer her up I brought her up to Roachside for a day of log fire, good food and doggie cuddles.
She loves this place. She finds it relaxing and inspiring. When she’s here she’s a bit more alive than usual. It is my long-term dream to have an accessible bathroom so that she can stay for more than a few hours at a time. But that would be technically very difficult and hugely expensive.
No matter, she was enjoying the afternoon reading, with Scout at her feet, when our neighbour Phil called at the door to discuss the new log-shed he’s building on the back of our cottage. The two of them got to chatting about wildlife and Phil revealed that he has several pet owls. Owls! Anika just loves Owls – I think it stems from being the Original Harry Potter fan!
Owls have been Phil’s lifetime hobby. He used to take them to various Scout Groups and Womens Institute events to inform and educate about birds of prey – he’s a man of many talents.
After we’d sorted out the materials for the forthcoming work, he jumped back in his Land Rover and shot off home.
Twenty minutes later, there was a knock at the door and there he was with Alan, an Indian Eagle Owl! A really majestic creature with beautiful markings and feathered talons. Constantly watching, always alert. A truly regal animal, capable of looking down his beak at anyone with a withering and disdainful stare. It's not every Harry Potter fan who has an owl at the door!
What wonderful neighbours we have! It made Anika’s day to be able to see such an animal close to.
I know it’s a cliché, but there really is a sense of community out in the countryside hereabouts – everyone knows everyone and the “grapevine” is infinitely faster and more efficient than the internet.Take for instance our proposed new log shed, a simple barn-type roof over the back yard of the cottage.
We wanted it to be completely in keeping with the style and tradition of the simple stone buildings on the Roaches, of which Roachside Cottage is but one. This meant locating some stone roofing – stuff that hasn’t been quarried for nearly a century. Discussing this with a neighbour, he suggested that I take a run over to see “Bill” over near Flash – he used to have a pile of roofing stones piled up in his yard from a building that fell down 50 years ago. We toddled off to see Bill and, sure enough, the pile of stone was still just about visible under the leaf litter and brambles. There was more than I needed, but better too much than too little. We agreed a price and the stone was bundled onto a lorry borrowed for the occasion.
As Bill pointed out, placing stone roofing isn’t like hanging tiles – there is a lot of skill and patience involved getting the courses straight and making sure that those courses look even as they progress from huge stones at the bottom to the much smaller ones higher up the slope. Bill thought that “Eric Thingummy” (he couldn’t recall his name exactly) could do it, or would know of someone.
We duly tracked Eric down a few days later and, yes, he could do it, but as he was now retirement age, he’d need to work with a builder friend.
We arranged for the work to be done during early October and closed our booking calendar accordingly. The builders came and the work progressed and, taking advantage of the place being empty, we decorated inside and arranged the electrical testing.
When the electricians came, they’d both worked with the builder and Eric on jobs around the Peak District years ago and half the morning was spent reminiscing about clients & customers and really memorable barn conversions. When the log-shed was finished and we tidied up, we stacked the wooden crates the stone roofing came in, ready to smash them up for firewood. Within half an hour another neighbour of ours came to ask if we could let him have these crates for some purpose on his smallholding and shortly thereafter they were gone.
In the countryside, everything has a use and there is always someone nearby who can re-use, recycle or re-adapt it for a new life.
On Saturday, we went to Alderley Edge (about 20 miles from Roachside), to the twice yearly open day at the Alderley Edge copper mines, hosted by the Derbishire Caving Club https://www.derbyscc.org.uk/ .
What a cracking day out!
The Alderley Edge mines in Cheshire, UK, were mined from the Bronze Age (c. 4000 years ago) until the early 20th century.
Many of the mines are owned by the National Trust and have been leased from them by the Derbyshire Caving Club which maintains access, and continues to explore and search for areas of mining that have been closed for centuries.
The DCC have spent decades making safe these workings and enabling countless archaeologists to determine the history of mining and mining technology.
Twice each year, the club holds an open weekend where members of the curious public are escorted into the old workings with a knowledgeable guide.
We crouch-walked in narrow tunnels, bumping our helmets on the rock above. We learned about fault lines, shot-drilling and black powder. We even learned about how some of the shafts had been used to dump household waste in the 1950’s – the refuse piles are still there, completely undisturbed.
More than anything we learned an appreciation of how horribly hard life must have been for the miners who spent their (frequently short) working lives in the suffocating darkness, with sudden death always a mere misstep away.
Even Scout was allowed to come along – though periodically she would look up at my face, topped by a strange helmet and headlamp, and give me the “are you sure this is the right way?” look!
Footnote: Quite a paradox that Alderley Edge, now home to mega-wealthy football stars and the super-rich of the Northwest, was once populated by people who toiled beneath the earth for a pittance.
I wonder how many of the "glitterarti" have been down here?