Roachside Cottage

Part of the living landscape of the Roaches

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

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.....

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.

As documented on these pages previously, our old central heating boiler has died and had to be replaced.

Now most people equate the words “central heating boiler” with that white shiny box on the wall in the kitchen. Not so the boiler at Roachside. The walls of the kitchen are just too thick and uneven to fit a boiler to. Our oil-fired boiler is a great industrial beast of a thing which lives in the back yard, breathing intermittent clouds of water vapour from its snout.

Hence, replacing this beast in winter, in the shadow of the back yard, 1100 feet above sea level is no mean feat. It requires coordinating two fitters and the Northern Maritime Climate over a window of two days. The two days in question were dry enough, but they were the two coldest days of 2017 thus far!

A job for a couple of tough young fitters eager to build their reputation, you may think.

Well, you may be surprised to learn that the bulk of the work was carried out by my friend and fellow Mow Cop villager, Horace Hoskins – aged 80 years! Of course Horace didn’t maul 150kg of old boiler out and lump 150kg of new boiler in unaided. He had grandson Jordan to help. But he did spend two days piping up, wiring & commissioning on his knees, back bent to the freezing wind whistling through the yard.

Horace spent several hours over the last few weeks kneeling on the cold concrete, poking and prodding and twiddling and fiddling, coaxing the old boiler though its death throws. This is what he does day in, day out. As his knees and finger joints creak and groan with 8 decades of wear and tear, he can still demonstrate a fine example to the younger generations who are following him! You just can’t keep a good bloke down.

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



We woke up to the first snow of the winter this morning – we weren’t at Roachside, we were at home in Mow Cop, which is at exactly the same elevation. There was a couple of inches of the white stuff piled on the car – a bit less on the ground.

With the oil boiler still being out of action and the electric panel heaters going full-tilt at the cottage, we took a quick trip over to The Roaches to check that all was well.

There were a good number of cars parked along the lane – people obviously getting out for their first winter outing.

We need not have worried, the trusty little heaters had kept the place at a comfortable 21°C downstairs, which is perfectly adequate for the dozens of hibernating ladybirds clumped together behind the curtain bracket in the kitchen (where they can't be reached).

Having driven there, it was too much of a temptation to have a wander along the Five Clouds and up onto the top.

Thick, low-lying cloud had enveloped the whole crag while we were booting-up and the gloom persisted over the top. As we came back down from the trig point past Doxey Pool, ghostly figures appeared in front of us; four young chaps rolling a giant snowball. They heaved and heaved the thing over the heather and it grew and grew. It was clearly generating much hilarity with them as they heaved and slithered down the slope. As we lost sight of them, it must have been at least a metre and a half in diameter. I guess if you pass this way in the spring, it’s leftovers will probably be lurking on the moor and visitors will wonder from whence it came. 

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