Roachside Cottage

Part of the living landscape of the Roaches

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

The scorching summer continues. We’ve seen a few little showers – but they were tens of miles away from here. Up on the Staffordshire Moorlands it’s dryer than the Kalahari – and hot too.

Hence, man and dog have been seeking out walks in comparative shade. Forest and valley, river and canalside mostly.

Yesterday, we took very early morning trip down to Froghall Wharf at the end of the Cauldon Canal & had a splendid breakfast at the newly restored Hetty’s Tea Room. What a transformation! The former wharfage office and store has been made into one of north Staffordshire’s premier tea rooms. The plan was to walk up the canal towards Cheddleton and come back on the steam train.

For the first time in many such walks along this tow-path, there was nary a spot of mud at all. As the canal wends its way along the valley of the River Churnet, it has long sections which are shaded by the woodland which cloaks the valley side. Even so, it was hot! Even the wildlife seemed to be sapped of energy. We walked past a Little Owl at almost touching distance. He viewed us with his schoolmasterly gaze and seemed to be saying “I just can’t be bothered to move”.

By the time we reached Cheddleton, one of us was wringing wet with sweat. The other was wringing wet with canal water.

Nevertheless, the good people of the Churnet Valley Railway allowed us tickets to travel on their train.

Since the school holidays have started, the train was full and there was a short delay while another carriage was hauled out of the siding and added behind the giant American steam loco.

Sitting there dozing in our first class compartment, the smell of oil and smoke and sulphur and the sounds of buffers and couplings clanking, combined to transport me back to my childhood in a pottery town where steam locos seemed to be trundling past almost every street – either on the main passenger line through the city or on one of the myriad coal lines & pottery clay sidings.

These sidings were often our play-spaces and, when we were lucky, the loco driver would sometimes let us up on the footplate while they pushed and pulled wagons – imagine that happening now! I guess the drivers probably thought it was safer to have us there in the cab, where they could see us, than have us potentially being squashed under a few hundred tons of clay wagon!

Nostalgia - This is the power of smoke and steam…..

This summer’s extraordinary drought has wreaked havoc with the moorland flora & fauna. Several large tracts of moorland have been ravaged by fire and, everywhere, open water has all but disappeared. It’s been a hard time for the wildlife and now, as the rain still refuses to fall, the vegetation on the high places is beginning to look more like the scrub and brush of the High Chaparral than “England’s mountains green”.

The effect on our endlessly changing landscape has been to introduce new colours not often seen in the Peak District. In particular, the bilberry bushes have been desiccated to a rich burnt orange-brown, probably not seen this extensively since 1976.

One of the regular camera wielding ladies who pass by here frequently told me that she’d come up to get some shots while this infrequent effect was still enriching the vista and had set up her tripod near the Five Clouds. Peering through the viewfinder and framing her shot, she witnessed one of the orange-brown hummocks undulate slightly back and forth …. and then rise up onto it’s four legs!

She had just made her first acquaintance with either Bella or May – the two young Highland heifers who moved into our neighbour’s fields at Spring Cottage a few weeks ago! These lovely, gentle animals are set to grace the Roaches for years to come, as their owners, Fran & Rich, intend breeding from them - look out for little ones next year.

Don’t ask me which one is which, but they have a Facebook page, would you believe?