Roachside Cottage

Part of the living landscape of the Roaches

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

I had an e-mail from the BMC (British Mountaineering Council) the other day. I’m not a member any more, having rationalised the number of organisations to which I subscribe. However, I seem to still be on the mailing list for whatever reason. They were asking for volunteers to join in with a work party clearing the forest of Rhododendrons which have enveloped The Whillans Hut (formerly Rockhall Cottage) over the last decade or two and which have invaded the cracks and crannies which form parts of several rock climbs on the crag above.

I made a mental note of the date – 4th & 5th November, and resolved to perhaps pop over and lend a hand.

On Friday evening, the lights at the Whillans Hut were ablaze, as I returned from the pub, and I recall thinking that maybe there was a decent turnout for the weekend event.

Unexpectedly, I had to spend Saturday back home & it was evening by the time Scout and I had a wander “up top” – my goodness, the Rhododendron thicket was gone, the cottage stripped naked. The cliff laid bare!

Nothing left save a smouldering heap of foliage in the grounds of the Hut and a few stumps poking out of the earth here and there.

It was obviously a good turnout! Well done to the good people of the BMC and to their hosts and guides at the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

We had friends staying at Roachside last week. My old friend Mark, with whom I’ve walked in wild places from the Grand Canyon to the Picos de Europa and Cape Wrath, his wife Julie and teenage son Ethan came over to try the place out for a few days. Aside from a very excellent dinner at The Lazy Trout and a similarly excellent lunch at The Ship, we also managed to squeeze in a decent ramble over the tops while the rain held off for a few hours. 


As we climbed up past The Don Whillans Memorial Hut (formerly Rockhall Cottage), they were captivated by this weird neo-gothic house built into the face of the cliff. I told them about its history as a Gamekeepers Lodge and latterly as the home of King Doug, Lord of The Roaches.

Doug & Anne Moller bought the cottage in about 1978 and lived there for 12 years. Doug was one of life’s characters from the “outer edge”. He had reputedly been brought in a children’s home; a bruising experience for any child, but Doug had learned to fight back and develop inner resources. Wearing his eyepatch (just part of his persona – he had two working eyes!) and living in the unbelievably primitive cottage, he carried on a running battle with the National Park Authority (Bureaucrats, he called them). The “authorities” were none too happy about Doug & Anne living there – the cottage was, at that time, no more than a cavity beneath the overhanging rock face with a neo-gothic, crenelated front grafted on to it – a sort of exotic gritstone cave. A small spring trickled out of the back wall of the cave and ran in a channel through the cave & out of the stone frontage – so it did have “running water”, but no other sanitation or features we might expect in the late 20th century. During his tenure, Doug got to be a feature of any day climbing on the crag. Most of the time he’d be quite friendly – he knew many of the climbers by name and got quite knowledgeable about the climbs. Other times, he’d chase you away, wielding a spade or even an axe. I suspect these latter reactions often followed official letters from the National Park or the Court. Sadly for Doug and Anne, they never found the solitude they sought at Rockhall Cottage and they eventually accepted the offer of the NPA to move them to a secluded farmhouse a few miles away, with rather less primitive facilities, where Doug still lives on into his 90s.

Doug wrote his life story and it was published as “Wars of the Roaches” – there is a copy in our bookshelf.

Rockhall Cottage was subsequently taken over by the BMC (British Mountaineering Council) and refurbished into the, much less primitive, Whillans Hut as it exists today.

Will there be room for characters like Doug in the 21st century? Who knows, but his brief passage through the history of the Roaches will never be forgotten!

Given the lovely weather this afternoon, we've had the kitchen door wide open again.

We've spent a lot of time here over the last 8 weeks and today was time to get everywhere cleaned up and ready for guests who will arrive on Friday. Yes, we have to go home now for quite a spell (and do some of the work that earns the money to keep this place!).

With the sun streaming in though the door and the occasional babble of passing walker's chatter, it was almost pleasurable to be dusting and scrubbing the floor. When we came to close everywhere up tonight, I noticed a dark patch in the corner of the kitchen window frame - about the size of my thumb. Right, tight, into the corner, between the thick stone wall and the curtain rail bracket. 

Close examination revealed this to be a cluster of hibernating ladybirds. Probably about 50 or 60 of them clumped tightly together. Now do I try to shift them? The bug-hoover won't fit into the gap. If I get the tools out and dismantle the curtain rail bracket, I'll almost certainly crush quite a few of them. Maybe a court eviction order?

What did I say about a couple of ladybirds in the house being cute?

I was sitting in the kitchen here on Sunday, after having been over the moor very early to watch a beautiful sunrise, when a chap knocked at the door enquiring if he could park his car on the verge outside Roachside Cottage.

It being a really lovely morning with the forecast for the sun lasting all day, people from miles about had flocked up to the Roaches for a day out. Now, I should explain that 99% of the time, you could lie down on the road outside here and sleep for hours before anything came along and disturbed you; we regularly walk the two miles to Roach End & back, walking along the middle of the road & never see a car.
Come a sunny weekend day or bank holiday, like every other beauty spot in the country, everyone wants to come here. That’s great, people getting out and enjoying the countryside. No matter how many cars are rammed into the parking bays along here, walk a mile from the gate and you’ll scarcely see a soul. However, the wise old National Park Authority have had to step in to control the indiscriminate parking which used to cause major headaches for the local farmers. Some people just don’t seem to have any appreciation of how difficult it is to manoeuvre a tractor carrying rotary hay bale or mounted with a fertiliser hopper. Or, for that matter, the daily milk tanker.

Hence, the marked parking bays all along the road and the parking restriction signs.

Back to Sunday morning and the red-faced chap at the door; “I’m afraid you can’t” said I, “parking anywhere outside the marked bays is prohibited and the prohibition is enforced by traffic wardens who patrol the road throughout the day”.

He glowered at me.

“I’m sorry” I offered.

He glowered some more.

“You can park there as far as I’m concerned, but I’m fairly sure you’ll be issued with a parking fine if you do. You may have seen the Traffic Wardens as you drove up the road – they’ll be in a small red van”.

The glowering had now turned into full-on hostile stare – reading his thoughts, I could see “I hate you” and “you officious scroat” trying to make their way to his mouth. Fortunately he thought better of it, spun round, climbed back into his BMW and slammed the door. The engine started up and he almost collided with a VW camper as he lurched off down the road.

Safe to say, most visitors up here seem to understand the need for parking control.

In a cottage upwards of 200 years old, one has to come to an accommodation with the occasional creepy-crawly wandering across the window sill. After all, it can be cold and wet out there on the moor. Much more comfortable to squeeze in through the gap round the window and move in with the humans. This last few weeks we have  spotted a number of those little wandering woodlice. They are such great explorers! I have no idea if these ancient little chaps figure in our direct evolutionary path from the primeval slime, but their instinct to "seek out new worlds and boldly go ........" seems not unlike that of mankind.

They don't need a big supporting expedition. They don't require porters and mules. They just get on their (however many) feet and off they go. Off on their own, to seek their fortunes in a new world. They seem to fascinate Scout. She watches them intently as they climb vertical walls of lime plaster, perhaps marveling at this ability to cling to upright surfaces. Woodlice are pretty flattish in profile, so dogs just can't get their teeth round them. Obviously, as the legal owners of the cottage, we can't countenance potential squatters and when spotted, these plucky little rebels have to be vacuumed up into our hand-held bug hoover and set loose into the bracken outside. We are nothing if not humane!

Last week, one a sunny afternoon (not many of those about this autumn), we opened up the kitchen door to let the light flood in. Jammed (if that's the right expression) in the door jamb were literally hundreds of small ladybirds, crammed together all round the door frame. Probably just settled in for their winter hibernation - before some bloke with a dog shattered their plans.

They have been persuaded to move on.  One or two ladybirds; cute. Three or four hundred, not quite what we like to see in the house!

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