Roachside Cottage

Part of the living landscape of the Roaches

Peak District National Park - Upper Hulme, Nr Leek ST13 8UB

Yesterday we had a long trip into my old stamping ground of Mid Wales, to the 40th birthday party of an old friend of my daughter’s; friends from the age of about 5 I recall.

We had a lovely day at their place near Machynlleth – the sun shone almost all day and we sat out chatting to old friends and neighbours we hadn't seen for years.

The down side was that Scout spent most of the day travelling in the back of the car – not racing about the moors. Hence, today, we were out early in the Macclesfield Forest to do an 8 mile circuit, off round Teggs Nose.

No sooner had we set off from the car, than we found that the main track down through the forest was fenced off with stout permanent fencing and large “Footpath Closed” signs. A smaller notice gave the reason as “storm-damaged trees in dangerous condition”. We detoured over Pigford Moor and re-joined the track above Trenterbanks. A hundred metres down the trail; same again – “Footpath Closed”. Thus it was on almost every main track in the forest with at least one diversion onto the “Mountain bikes only” downhill trail.

Now, in my day job, as a consultant in “high hazard engineering” (primarily gas, but also petroleum, cryogenics, construction etc), I get well remunerated to ensure installations are safe to construct, operate and ultimately to demolish. Hence, when I see the application of “health and safety” being used completely inappropriately through some misplaced aversion to risk, my reaction can vary from just annoyance at someones misunderstanding of risk analysis, to professionally seething at “Corporate pseudo-speak” – peddling an illusion of concern for Joe Public.

The risk of a storm-uprooted tree, leaning against other trees, falling onto a passer-by who's walking on a track wide enough for two quarry dumper trucks to pass, is microscopically small – probably less that the chance of being struck by lightning.

The likelihood of twisting an ankle scrabbling down a slope of loose rocks eroded by the passage of thousands of downhill mountain bikers is a few orders of magnitude greater.

The chance of suffering life-changing injury, by being hit by a couple of “downhillers” unable to stop on the loose rock is, at very least, measurable on a scale of 1000.

As my former boss, a very blunt but logical Texan, used to say; “do the math”!

Oh! and the birthday boy? He was shot through the skull with a nail gun some years ago. He is paralysed down one side, can’t walk and has no functional speech.

Now there was a job for a risk assessment….

I’ve just eaten the dog’s dinner – quite literally. A very enjoyable dinner it was too.

Before you conjure up a vision of me sitting at the kitchen table spooning my way through a can of Pedigree Chum and before animal rights activists protest on the basis that Scout is being starved of nutrition, I should enlighten you;

We took a walk round Rudyard this afternoon, as we were returning home from Roachside, and we called in at The Rudyard Hotel for a coffee and shortbread. (why do so many of these tales revolve around Scout and me in, or going to, eating places?)

No sooner had we chucked my wellies in the porch and opened the door, than one of the young waitresses passing through the bar shouted “Hello Scoutie”. A good ear-ruffle ensued for a couple of minutes while I ordered my coffee at the bar. I took my seat and was engaged in conversation by one of the locals who always admires Scout.

A moment later, the waitress reappeared with a slice of roast beef in her left hand and a bulky tin foil parcel in her right hand.

My dog, Princess as she is, is regularly spoiled thus when we call here. The slice of roast beef was fed, bit by tempting bit, to this ginger spaniel who shakes with anticipation.

The foil parcel is her takeaway!

Today’s takeaway weighed more than half a pound. These are the “nog-ends” from the lunchtime carvery! Prime beef, best turkey and honey glazed ham.

Now Scout can’t eat that much meat in one go. (Well she could, but it wouldn’t do her sensible diet any good at all) Half a pound of meat would stretch out to probably a week, mixed with her biscuits.

I’m not sure how long it’s safe to keep cooked meats – I don’t want my poor dog to end up with a tummy ache.

Hence, I’ve just eaten a good portion of it with a few “cook from frozen” roast potatoes, my previously frozen braised red cabbage, frozen peas and instant gravy.

Not bad for a lash-up meal eh?

This tale of woe started on the night I brought my daughter home from a long spell in hospital, just before Christmas. I’d delivered her back to her home & made sure she was comfortable and, about 8pm, set off home in thick fog.

Halfway there, a set of weirdly unequal headlamps came out of the fog directly towards me, careering from side to side and clearly out of control. I stopped quickly and there was that familiar crumpling sound as the oncoming vehicle gouged into the drivers door and along the side of my car. The miscreant didn’t stop and I gave chase – not a very long chase as the very badly damaged car had clearly become undrivable and ground to a halt only a few hundred yards from the impact. (Unknown to me at the time, this car had collided with a bus and destroyed the driver’s compartment, shortly before I first saw it)

To my surprise, a young woman jumped out and ran off through the fields into the darkness.

To cut a long story short, she was rounded up by a couple of Police dogs and charged with a long list of offences for which she was sentenced last week to 12 months prison, suspended for two years, a 5 year driving ban and a alcohol rehabilitation order.

My car wasn’t badly damaged, just a big groove along the two doors, but two new doors had to come from Sweden. Hence, by the time the body shop took my car in for repairs last week, the winter storm was being forecast. The Beast from the East blew in with howling wind, plummeting temperatures and swirling powder snow drifting over the moorlands.

For the second time in two winters, I was now without my 4x4 Volvo (a veritable snow-tractor) and driving a two-wheel drive hire car with auto transmission, entirely due to someone else’s stupidity. Not a hope in hell of making a trip from home, 1100 ft above sea level, to Roachside which is almost precisely the same elevation.

Now the water supply at Roachside is a feat of technology, being pumped up the hill through two of our own pumps, one of which is in a little housing down the fields from the cottage. It is very substantially insulated. But, of course, if no water is passing through the holding tank, the temperature will slowly decay to whatever the air temperature outside is. It’s vulnerable! I’m acutely aware of this vulnerability and when we have very cold nights coinciding with no-one staying at the cottage, I drive over and run the water for a while to keep things safe.

Obviously, this week, it has frozen almost solid – the nightmare scenario. The tank was bulging with a giant ice-cube of about 250 litres volume.

A potential £1000+ bill to replace the pump & ancillaries?

As I write this, my little mountaineers petrol stove is humming away inside the pump house slowly, ever so slowly, thawing the place out.

12 months prison, suspended for 2 years? Grrrr….

We bumped into Frank this morning, shortly after daybreak. We had an inkling he was somewhere close when the sheep on both sides of the road all broke in to a trot towards the gateways where, a few moments later, Frank appeared on his quad-bike pulling a trailer of hay and sheep-nuts.

Frank farms at the head of the clough, right up onto the moor where, probably exclusive to the Roaches, rain falling on the eastern flank drains to the Irish Sea and on the western slopes, follows a tortured route through the Midlands to the North Sea.

Frank is one of those people essential to Britain’s upland scenery. A diminutive, wild-haired, gnarled-faced upland farmer, thin and wiry as a willow sapling and every bit able to bend double, heaving bales of hay and sacks of feed, day in, day out.

He’s always cheerful and chatty, even when he’s clearly rushing to get the sheep sorted out before being off to work.

Most days when we are out and about we see Frank doing his “other job” – the one that earns the money to subsidise his lifestyle tending the sheep and stewarding our wild countyside. The life into which he was born all those years ago, but which today is even less profitable than in days long gone. By day, Frank is a haulier, driving his big red lorry hither and thither, loading and unloading, collecting and delivering.

Picture the idyll - farmer and dog striding across breeze-blown grass and tussock, flanked by quietly grazing sheep in their summer coats on a warm June day. Butterflies ascend and flit over the heather and larks sing to the wind.

Except, up here in the Peak District, like in Britain’s other wild upland places, not every day of the year is a “June” day. Up here, farmers repair walls in the wet and wind with freezing fingers. They spend endless time collecting sheep which have strayed due to some thoughtless “townie” failing to shut a gate. Driven by the welfare needs of their flock, they are out at the crack of dawn to tend their sheep, whatever the weather forecast said last night about "avoiding unnecessary travel". These are the men (and even a few women) who are made of steel. Not just any old steel either. This is top quality, high tensile, spring steel. The sort that mankind relies on to take immense loads, to bend and flex and not to fail.

How old is Frank? I don’t know. He looks older than Gandalf, maybe even Methuselah.

He told me once about driving the lorry out from their farm during the fierce winter of 1963 – so he’s at least 8 years older than me – which makes him mid-70s minimum.

Will there be other “Franks” 20, 30, 40 years from now? Now there’s a challenge to some young farmers!

Phil is one of my oldest mates.

I was a Guard of Honour at his wedding 50 years ago, when he was my Scout Leader, and later we worked together for some years in the gas industry.

He turned 70 last Friday and several of our colleagues thought it would be a good way to celebrate if we went out for a walk on the hills. After a few locations were discounted due to some of us being a bit less fit than we’d like to be, it was decided that we’d meet up at Roachside and take a wander over to the Ship Inn for some lunch.

Early morning the weather was pretty dreary, but after we’d all gathered, had a cuppa and those who hadn’t been to Roachside before had had a good look round, the sun had come out and a gorgeous day stretched out in front of us.

Off we went and it wasn’t long before one of our number, who’s not been too well lately, was obviously having breathing problems and making very slow progress. Hence, it wasn’t a difficult decision to just walk to Roach End and back down the road to have lunch at The Lazy Trout.

Now when five old blokes get together for lunch and there are three items on the menu which all have “pulled beef” in their title, you can guarantee that something like an episode of “Last of the Summer Wine” is going to unfold.

Now I have to say the ladies in The Trout are brilliant. They are patient to a fault. They don’t mind taking orders from people who change their minds or want something extra with this, or don’t want tomato with that.

Our waitress really got the measure of us, in a very good-humoured way. After about six attempts to clarify what we wanted, with four of my vocal buddies chipping in simultaneously, she handed one of my mates her tablet thing and said “do it yourselves”!

I just knew I should have taken a notebook and pencil

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