Roachside Cottage

Part of the living landscape of the Roaches

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

The boiler has died. After 9 visits from two experts, it still locks-out and it now makes a menacing booming/throbbing sound when reset. The manufacturer’s helpline were as baffled as the experts on site.

It’s time to replace this beast.

While we wait for the shiny new replacement, we are having to depend on the two small auxiliary panel heaters and, on very cold nights, the log burner.

Now log burners are very trendy. I love ours. They look nice, with their lazy orange-yellow flames casting a warm glow across the room. They are "cosy cottage" writ large.

They even put out a fair bit of actual heat. But, Lord, do they eat fuel?

A few nights ago, the forecast was for a heavy frost – maybe as low as -4°C.

Having exhausted the bags of logs brought from my garden, in the early evening I took a trip down to Asda, where I’d seen logs on sale at £3.50 a bag.

Four of these bags fit comfortably into a shopping trolley. By midnight, we’d burned through £14 worth!

I have to say, underfloor central heating wins “hands down” every time!

Friday evening, our good friend Jane invited us to join her at the Christmas Street Fair and the switching on of the town light display in Leek. This is quite an event. Even Father Christmas puts in an appearance, as do some of his reindeer!

We put on some vaguely respectable jeans & combed our collective hair and set off to join the throng. Near the Monument, a lorry-mounted stage had gathered a large audience for “ThunderHammer”(?) – the leaping and gyrations of the singers was unquestionably athletic and well synchronised, but the sound system overwhelmed my hearing devices, so I can’t comment on the musical aspect of the performance.

The main streets of the town centre were lined with all manner of market-type stalls, some commercial and some displaying the work of dozens of charitable and voluntary organisations. Hoards of people wandered about looking at displays & engaging in conversation.

We enjoyed an excellent Bangladeshi Chicken curry from the streetfood stall run by one group who support refugees. Scout wolfed down a couple of large pieces of someone’s pizza that they’d dropped. Further on, the ladies from the Foxlowe Arts Centre were plying their trade in Mulled Wine.

Now, as an affirmed beer drinker, I’ve never mastered the taste of wine. It’s for cooking with really. Coq au vin or Mussels in red wine, boeuf bourguignon – that sort of thing is what wine is good for. So I reckon that warming up red wine in a pan and chucking in some herbs and spices and a chunk or two of apple is about as good as you can make it.

You know what? It was really quite nice.

We finished off with a very civilised drink of proper beer in recently re-opened Quiet Woman. Good beer, lovely surroundings and excellent company. What better way to kick-off the festive season?

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.

After my good friend Horace had been this morning to make the oil boiler work properly again, Scout and I headed off to The Ship for a quick lunch. (We really have been overdoing this eating out thing just lately – not a single day missed in three weeks!)

As we drove down the Royal Cottage – Gradbach Road, coming toward us, rather incongruously, was a filthy 1960’s Volvo PV544, complete with full Monte Carlo Rally plates & livery. As we got closer, it swung off towards Flash village and was immediately followed by a Mini of similar age and livery. Then came a Porsch 365, an Opel Kadett, a Vauxhall Firenza. Each few seconds, heading towards us was a string of the most illustrious motor cars from the classic age of motor rallying.

I’m not a car nut! But these were the stuff of my teenage years, when we all read the tatty copy of Motorsport in the school library and watched William Woolard presenting Top Gear (before it was taken over by the showbiz trio and it descended into farce).

Volvo Amazons, Sunbeam Tigers & Alpines and several Alfa Spyders & Lancia Deltas. Each one looking like it had been parked in a wet field while muck-spreading was going on.

Now if I had a Porsch 365 Speedster which cost me upwards of £85 or £90,000, would I want to splatter it with mud?

Top marks to the guys who do. They are truly dedicated to keeping their prized motor cars doing what they were intended to do. It certainly wound my clock back several decades!

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!

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