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.
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.
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.
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.