I know I go on a bit (maybe more that a bit, actually) about the sunrises we have here on The Roaches, but I'm making no apology for that!
We took an early morning wander over the Roaches Ridge this morning as the sun was coming up - and there was only Scout and I who saw it. Special days!
Stepping outside the front door at Roachside Cottage on a December evening or night has the effect of stunning many of our visitors with the intense, claustrophobic, enveloping darkness.
For those not used to living in a remote location in sparsely populated countryside, the absence of light comes as an enormous surprise.
From our front door, the nearest light you can see is fully 1.5 miles away at New Zealand farm. A few other farmyard lights are dotted across the Gun Hill side of the valley, but all are just pinpricks in a velvet blackness – that is, until the eyes have adjusted to the sparsity of photons or if we have a brilliant moonlit sky. The glow of the streetlights in Leek are 4 miles and more and form a narrow string of twinkling specks in the middle distance. Towards the western horizons, the lights of Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester Airport and Liverpool sometimes underlight the cloudbase with a slightly unearthly glow.
Such dark sky is pretty rare in the UK, south of the Scottish border. For this reason, we frequently get astronomers parking along the roadside into the small hours, with their tripod-mounted reflector telescopes and flasks of hot tea.
Even hardier are the brave photographers with 8 layers of clothing, patiently sitting out their time exposures on the bleak moorland, just a couple of hundred metres behind our cottage, while they slowly descend into hypothermia and who post their images on the Roaches Appreciation Society Facebook group. The Milky Way, in all its glory!
You can see one such striking image at;
Just a couple of generations ago, this celestial wonder, our own little spiral arm of our own tiny galaxy, one of a hundred billion such galaxies, would have been seen by almost everyone in Britain outside the biggest cities. Now it’s seen by astonishingly few of us.
This is just another good reason for a stay at Roachside – that’s why we leave you the binoculars in the cottage – but bring your own warm togs!
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.
We were out bright and early this morning, to catch the sunrise from up on the ridge behind Roachside Cottage. It was gorgeous! We saw just one person; a photographer, one of the regulars I think, all muffled up in his duvet jacket and mittens. He’d probably been there since total darkness. We didn’t speak. These chaps are often bent over their cameras, adjusting and twiddling – best not to interrupt them sometimes. We see their beautiful compositions on the “Roaches Appreciation Society” Facebook page. They are all very talented and obviously very driven, to get up here well before the first glimmering of sunrise.
We yomped along over the ridge to Roach End and returned along the road. Near the Merebrook turning, a rusty old van was perched perilously on the embankment. It was the local drystone wallers. They are two blokes of late middle age who seldom speak, other than a cursory “Tow reyght? (a good North Staffordshire greeting which translates as “Are you well?”).
Theirs is spartan existence. Up in the cold and drizzle, in the wind and the frost. No amenities here. Wrapped up in countless layers of jumpers and coats, they barely speak to each other, each instinctively aware of what the other is doing on the opposite side of the wall. Just the sound of the sheep up on the hillside and the periodic chipping with a brick hammer to sculpt an unruly chunk of stone into submission to find its place in the slowly growing wall.
Later in the day we called round at our neighbours along the road and, unable to resist another wander out in brilliant sunshine, carried on back towards Clough Head and The Hanging Stone. As we sat on the ridge above Clough Head, a Moke (one of those cross-country buggies used by hill farmers) trundled along the path below us, leading a line of cattle being brought to fresh pasture from their summer nomadic existence on the moor. In the stillness of the late afternoon, with almost no wind, the sound of the cattle plodding along, the occasional “c’mon” or whistle from the two young stockmen combined to fill out a picture of a wonderful autumn day on the Staffordshire uplands.
We came back all the way along the ridge as the sun dipped to the horizon and the moisture in the air started to condense into a milky veil below us.
These are the days we remember forever.
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....