Twenty years ago, when Mrs MP and myself were still full of youthful energy and vigour, we drove from Nottingham to near to where we are presently staying in order to traverse the mighty Roaches. We had with us our two border collie companions at that time, Teasel and Rhiannon. When we set out from the car park the weather was fine but by the time we got onto the ridge itself a dense fog had descended and although we managed to follow the path without falling off the edge, we couldn't see anything beyond about ten feet in front of us. This was a great shame as the views are known to be stunning.
It has taken us over two decades but, this week, on Monday, we finally returned to the Roaches to take them on again and hopefully get to actually see some of the countryside that surrounds them. And this time we got lucky. The weather was fine and clear all day and the breathtaking scenery was ours to behold.
We parked our car by the side of the gated road that winds its way from the village of Upper Hulme and off into the middle of nowhere. Below us was Tittesworth Reservoir, which we had visited the day before.
Near the beginning of the walk as the path begins to scale the hill towards the ridge we passed Rockhall Cottage, a nineteenth century mock gothic villa that features a kitchen hewn into the rock itself. Originally a hunting lodge it is now let out to groups of rock climbers visiting the area. The Roaches have been an important rock climbing site since the 1950s when two Manchester lads, Joe Brown, a builder, and Don Whillans, a plumber, kicked off the "working class revolution" in climbing on their daunting rock faces with just gym shoes for footwear and Joe's mother's discarded clothesline for a rope. Don Whillans went on to attain many achievements including surviving above twenty three thousand feet for five days without any food, the first ascent of Annapurna's south face and decking anybody he didn't like, especially coppers intent on removing him from licensed premises. Ironically, the present custodian of the Rockhall Cottage (now known, in his memory, as the Don Whillans Memorial Hut) is the local bobby.
Shortly after reaching the first of the ridge's tops we passed Doxey Pool. The waters of this small tarn are so black with peat that you could almost believe the local legend about Jenny Greenteeth, a hideous monster with green skin, long hair and very sharp teeth who lurks beneath the surface of the water ready to grab hold of the ankles of any person (or border collie) who strays too close, dragging them to a muddy, watery grave.
Safely passed the dangerous puddle we continued to the upmost summit (where Quiz had his photograph taken, Edmund Hillary style). Then down the other side we went to Roach End.
However, even though we had achieved far more than our first visit to the place twenty years ago, this was not to be the end of our expedition on this day. There was somewhere else that I had always wanted to see for myself lurking in the woods a mile or so further on, the mysterious chasm known as Lud's Church.
"Lud's Church (sometimes written as Ludchurch) is a deep chasm penetrating the Millstone Grit bedrock created by a massive landslip on the hillside above Gradbach, Staffordshire, England. It is located in a wood known as Back Forest, in the White Peak, towards the southwest fringe of the Peak District National Park... Over 100 metres (328.1 ft) long and 18 metres (59.1 ft) deep, it is mossy and overgrown, wet and cool even on the hottest of days.
"The area has a place in Christian history: the Lollards, who were followers of John Wycliffe, an early church reformer, are supposed to have used this as a secret place of worship during the early 15th century, when they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Lud's Church may have been named after Walter de Ludank or Walter de Lud-Auk who was captured here at one of their meetings." (Wikipedia)
However, more important than any of this is the fact that it was in this mysterious "green chapel" that the virtuous Sir Gawain beheaded the Green Knight for the second time. Yes, seriously, it is. Or, rather, it has been pretty much proven beyond any doubt that the Fourteenth Century alliterative romance, "Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight", used Lud's Church as the inspiration for the Green Chapel in the story and that the Roaches themselves are also described in the tale.
"Great crooked crags, cruelly jagged,
the bristling barbs of rock seemed to brush the sky."
The place is spooky and extremely damp. Although it is impressive I would not want to be vicar of this particular church. It feels like there may be much more than just the ghost of a headless, green night inhabiting the place waiting to do horrible things to visitors less virtuous than Sir Gawain.
For some reason, which is nowhere made clear, in the middle of the chasm is an old tree branch, with hundreds of coins stuck in it. If I was whatever god this money was supposed to buy off I would tell the phoney pagans who put it there to clear off and to only come back carrying folding money.
After our visit to the underworld we made our way out of the woodland and up onto the ridge above Lud's Church. After a mile or so we descended and crossed pasture land to the road from which we had started. Unfortunately, we had to trudge a couple of miles along this road before we finally got back to our car. It had been a hard going, eight mile walk, that left me feeling tired and sore. But we came and we conquered and this time we saw as well. The gods of Lud's Church must have been smiling down on us.