Scout and I had a busy day today. It snowed a sort of wet soggy snow last night & then froze hard.
Now that the days are beginning to lengthen, our early starts have begun to coincide with the faint lightening of the sky before dawn. Thus it was this morning; off over the top to Roach End, crunching through the crust on the snow’s surface, breath misting my glasses as we climbed steeply through the Lower and Upper Tiers. It was a cracking walk, the lethargic sunrise casting a pink glow over the snowy slopes to the east and, to the west, still some brooding cloud hanging across the Cheshire Plain. We arrived back at Roachside just as the sun was beginning to crest Hen Cloud and, feeling a bit peckish, we hopped into the car and carefully made our way to The Lazy Trout for one of Iraklis’s Cypriot breakfasts (highly recommended).
By the time we’d digested the morning newspapers (on-line) and lingered over a second coffee, it was time to get on our feet again.
Now we hadn’t been over to the Goyt Valley for some weeks, which is something of a travesty. On freezing, clear days like this it’s a “must”!
To cut about 4 miles off the journey, we opted to go over the Dane Head road – a steep, hairpinned, single ribbon of tarmac & grass which winds its way over Axe Edge, more than 500m above sea level. It’s bleak. It’s exposed. And if you don’t know the place like the back of your hand, when the snow has drifted across the road, it’s easy to drive straight off the road and onto the moor – and then sit there until help arrives. We do know this place well, we walk across here regularly and have been doing so for 50+ years.
No problem for us, we also have four wheel drive, traction control and high ground clearance.
Sure enough, the snow had drifted significantly, obscuring where the road edge blends into ditch and heather.
As we trundled along at not much above walking pace, keeping a close eye on the odd few snow-pole markers which have survived the ravages of winters past, we were confronted with a Ford Fiesta sitting in the middle of the road, in a half-metre snowdrift, the surface of the snow about a third of the way up the driver’s door. Not just any old Ford Fiesta of course – this one had low-profile tyres. Really handy when you need to drag the belly of the car through a snowdrift!
We pulled alongside and asked the driver if he needed assistance (I was sure I didn’t have the tow-rope in the car, but I couldn’t just leave the bloke to freeze to death, could I?).
He responded that he was “just having a bit of trouble getting traction at present”, but that he was OK and that he “wasn’t in any hurry” and that he’d “got all day”.
I hope my look of incredulity wasn’t too obvious as I acknowledged him with a “thumbs up” and trundled off, all-terrain tyres crunching in the snow…….
The rest of the morning was taken up encountering two other not-dissimilar situations where completely unsuitable vehicles had become stranded in the most bizarre situations. One, a two-wheel drive saloon car, stacked high with bikes, on a single track, 1 in 3 hairpin covered with ice, under overhanging trees which were lower than the bikes!
The other, again, on a single track road and a good mile from the nearest farmhouse, where a young woman in a really tiny city-car was sliding about all over the road with wheels spinning furiously and progressing along the road sideways. Now I enjoy a challenge, but some folk just go too far………
I have written here previously about how people have been sending me information about Roachside Cottage and I am deeply grateful for all of them. They are all very clearly as enthusiastic about The Roaches, the landscape and the history of the place as I am.
Just a few days ago, Mary Joynson wrote to me with information about her grandfather; William Wain, who was born at this very cottage in 1877. His father, Mary's great grandfather, was named Isaac and he scraped a living from farm work and shoe mending. They rented the cottage at the time, but by 1881 had moved down to the less isolated environment of Meerebrook, where he was presumably a bit more conveniently located for his customers!
Not only did Mary fill in a little piece of our history, but she sent me this wonderful photo taken in 1937. What a lovely Christmas present!
This morning we went for an early morning stomp round Rudyard Lake. This place so beloved by one notable Victorian couple that they named their son after it and he became one of Britain’s most celebrated and prolific writers and poets; Rudyard Kipling.
For a dozen reasons we haven’t been there for some weeks. It’s been a regular (3 or 4 times a week) plod for us for the last two years or so. Even when we’re not walking round its wooded slopes, we bring the kayak and paddle the four and a bit miles of its shore (fortified by the occasional bacon & cheese oatcake at the café).
We love Rudyard.
In spring, the new growth on the trees and the incessant call of mating birds lifts the spirit after the grip of dark winter months. In summer, there are the noisy families with children riding on the little steam railway, the rowing club races and the sailing dinghies leaning on the breeze. In the autumn, the woods of beech, oak, sycamore and chestnut become a tunnel of gold and russet tones through which shafts of sunlight lay a dappled carpet on the path. And, on winter mornings such as this, the grip of ice and snow and stillness.
This morning, just for a short time – less than half an hour, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise as we came down the lakeside. By the time we arrived at the dam, it had gone and the snow was falling again.
A couple of weeks ago, one of the good people of The Roaches Appreciation Society posted a link to the BBC iPlayer for a repeat showing of the Simon Armitage programme about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I watched it last night.
I was aware from my schooldays of the existence of the poem and its association with the Roaches, but I hadn’t realised just how key to the dramatic finale the bleak, gritstone outcrops of The Roaches and, more particularly, Ludschurch are.
For those who don’t know of the poem, it’s a bit like England’s answer to an Icelandic Saga. An epic, 2500-line poem, commencing in the court of King Arthur and written in the 14th century in Middle English (like the Canterbury Tales), by a master storyteller whose name is sadly unknown. It influenced many writers over literary history; notably one J R R Tolkien.
The poem doesn’t specifically mention The Roaches or Ludschurch, but the description of the landscape and the dialect in which the poem is written give us a much more robust claim to the story than the other two contending locations.
Armitage delivers a very convincing case in this programme. Even the weather throughout its filming played its part – mist and drizzle and driving rain. Just like today.
There are two books of the poem on our bookshelf here at Roachside – one in the original Middle English and (much easier to read) a brand new translation.
Even easier, if its still there, watch the iPlayer.....
I’ve known Roachside Cottage for as long as I can remember. It was always “that place I'd love to live”, right back to the days when I came here on my Dad’s shoulders in the 1950s. Its remote position and commanding outlook always captured the “wilderness man” in me.
When we bought it this summer, it was a dream come true – despite the fact that I can’t actually live in it because of its designation as a “short-term rental property”. Since we’ve been up here doing a few little jobs to get the place in order, we’ve been gathering various bits of historical data from passers-by, neighbours and even the local expert on Peak District vernacular architecture, Faith Cleverdon.
As part of this quest to delve into the history of this cottage of ours, I posted a request on the Facebook page of “Roaches Appreciation Society”. Within hours, I’d had a couple of dozen responses (every one from someone who, I’m sure, would also love to live here too!) with information about former residents, names of contacts I might pursue, offers to include the cottage as a subject in a sunrise photoshoot and a truly fabulous painting by Stephen Crofts completed in the mid 1990s. My thanks to Stephen for permitting me to use this image here.
It’s not surprising that groups like the Roaches Appreciation Society (and SWT & others) exist when our beautiful Staffordshire uplands inspire such enthusiasm