Roachside Cottage

Part of the living landscape of the Roaches

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

I know it’s a cliché, but there really is a sense of community out in the countryside hereabouts – everyone knows everyone and the “grapevine” is infinitely faster and more efficient than the internet.Take for instance our proposed new log shed, a simple barn-type roof over the back yard of the cottage.

We wanted it to be completely in keeping with the style and tradition of the simple stone buildings on the Roaches, of which Roachside Cottage is but one. This meant locating some stone roofing – stuff that hasn’t been quarried for nearly a century. Discussing this with a neighbour, he suggested that I take a run over to see “Bill” over near Flash – he used to have a pile of roofing stones piled up in his yard from a building that fell down 50 years ago. We toddled off to see Bill and, sure enough, the pile of stone was still just about visible under the leaf litter and brambles. There was more than I needed, but better too much than too little. We agreed a price and the stone was bundled onto a lorry borrowed for the occasion.

As Bill pointed out, placing stone roofing isn’t like hanging tiles – there is a lot of skill and patience involved getting the courses straight and making sure that those courses look even as they progress from huge stones at the bottom to the much smaller ones higher up the slope. Bill thought that “Eric Thingummy” (he couldn’t recall his name exactly) could do it, or would know of someone.

We duly tracked Eric down a few days later and, yes, he could do it, but as he was now retirement age, he’d need to work with a builder friend.

We arranged for the work to be done during early October and closed our booking calendar accordingly. The builders came and the work progressed and, taking advantage of the place being empty, we decorated inside and arranged the electrical testing.

When the electricians came, they’d both worked with the builder and Eric on jobs around the Peak District years ago and half the morning was spent reminiscing about clients & customers and really memorable barn conversions. When the log-shed was finished and we tidied up, we stacked the wooden crates the stone roofing came in, ready to smash them up for firewood. Within half an hour another neighbour of ours came to ask if we could let him have these crates for some purpose on his smallholding and shortly thereafter they were gone.

In the countryside, everything has a use and there is always someone nearby who can re-use, recycle or re-adapt it for a new life.

The dearest daughter has been pretty unwell lately. When I say unwell, it’s probably difficult for most of us to imagine how “unwell” a person can be when the least of their problems is that they live permanently in a wheelchair. For Anika, “unwell” is pretty seriously unwell. Hence, to help her recovery and cheer her up I brought her up to Roachside for a day of log fire, good food and doggie cuddles.

She loves this place. She finds it relaxing and inspiring. When she’s here she’s a bit more alive than usual. It is my long-term dream to have an accessible bathroom so that she can stay for more than a few hours at a time. But that would be technically very difficult and hugely expensive.

No matter, she was enjoying the afternoon reading, with Scout at her feet, when our neighbour Phil called at the door to discuss the new log-shed he’s building on the back of our cottage. The two of them got to chatting about wildlife and Phil revealed that he has several pet owls. Owls! Anika just loves Owls – I think it stems from being the Original Harry Potter fan!

Owls have been Phil’s lifetime hobby. He used to take them to various Scout Groups and Womens Institute events to inform and educate about birds of prey – he’s a man of many talents.

After we’d sorted out the materials for the forthcoming work, he jumped back in his Land Rover and shot off home.

Twenty minutes later, there was a knock at the door and there he was with Alan, an Indian Eagle Owl! A really majestic creature with beautiful markings and feathered talons. Constantly watching, always alert. A truly regal animal, capable of looking down his beak at anyone with a withering and disdainful stare. It's not every Harry Potter fan who has an owl at the door!

What wonderful neighbours we have! It made Anika’s day to be able to see such an animal close to.

Thanks Phil!


Having spent my entire life living in the North of England (well, sometimes it felt like I was living in a succession of Premier Inns during the later part of my working life), I’ve always been a bit mystified that some people, especially Southern people, regard August as High Summer.

For me, August is very much “back end”, everything we’ve managed to get to flower in the garden has done it’s thing and the blooms are now decaying and distinctly past their best. The endless evening light of June and July is a vanishing vision in the rear view mirror of another year passing. The warmth has gone from the morning and evening sun and when we wake in the morning, it’s still only half-light.

Thus it was this morning, the moon was still high and very visible in the sky when one of us poked a head out of the bedroom window. The valley floor below us was filled with a grey mist. There was the unmistakable smell of autumn on the still air …..and it was chilly. Very chilly! But it was also dry and the sky was promising some sunshine.

So it was, a good 4.5 mile walk after breakfast, followed by a litter-pick and down to Leek to get some food shopping done. The air warmed up nicely and it was a lovely day.

After unpacking the bags and stuffing the fridge, we decided to have a wander round Buxton Country Park for the last bit of the afternoon.

As I was ambling up to Solomon’s Temple, thinking deep thoughts and reflecting on the meaning of life, Scout was whizzing back and forth in the undergrowth either side the track – as she always is.

Then I noticed that she’d taken on a strange green, lumpy appearance. At first, I thought it was the dappled light coming through the trees, but no, she really had become green all over and not at all the sleek spaniel I’d come out with.

She was absolutely “caked” with bindweed seeds. Thousands and thousands of them, tangled deeply into her ginger coat and clumped like hedgehogs in her flappy ears.

As we walked, all those people who normally show signs of affection for this affable spaniel, stared and recoiled in horror as this hideous green, hairy lump shambled towards them.

It took a full hour with the wire grooming brushes (which oddly were in the back of the car), to tease out these hideous things. So, if you arrive on the car park at Pooles Cavern anytime soon and spot what looks like a circular brown/green doormat-like object on the floor, well, now you know……


On Saturday, we went to Alderley Edge (about 20 miles from Roachside), to the twice yearly open day at the Alderley Edge copper mines, hosted by the Derbishire Caving Club .

What a cracking day out!

The Alderley Edge mines in Cheshire, UK, were mined from the Bronze Age (c. 4000 years ago) until the early 20th century.

Many of the mines are owned by the National Trust and have been leased from them by the Derbyshire Caving Club which maintains access, and continues to explore and search for areas of mining that have been closed for centuries.

The DCC have spent decades making safe these workings and enabling countless archaeologists to determine the history of mining and mining technology.

Twice each year, the club holds an open weekend where members of the curious public are escorted into the old workings with a knowledgeable guide.

We crouch-walked in narrow tunnels, bumping our helmets on the rock above. We learned about fault lines, shot-drilling and black powder. We even learned about how some of the shafts had been used to dump household waste in the 1950’s – the refuse piles are still there, completely undisturbed.

More than anything we learned an appreciation of how horribly hard life must have been for the miners who spent their (frequently short) working lives in the suffocating darkness, with sudden death always a mere misstep away.

Even Scout was allowed to come along – though periodically she would look up at my face, topped by a strange helmet and headlamp, and give me the “are you sure this is the right way?” look!

Footnote:  Quite a paradox that Alderley Edge, now home to mega-wealthy football stars and the super-rich of the Northwest, was once populated by people who toiled beneath the earth for a pittance.

I wonder how many of the "glitterarti" have been down here? 

After 8 days of seeing the fire tenders and water tankers trundling past Roachside, the fire is now out. Around 200 acres of our beautiful North Staffordshire moorland habitat reduced to charcoal and ash. Countless scores of small mammals, millions of insects and grubs destroyed and the moorland predator birds which depend on them displaced.

There will be several day’s work yet for the fire crews; recovering miles of hosepipe, remote pump skids and dismantling the many prefabricated tanks which have been situated strategically for the water tankers to offload into and for the pump units and helicopter to draw out of.

Thousands of man-hours of effort. Countless gallons of diesel fuel, movement of fire crews around three counties to cover the stations of the fire tenders tied up at this one incident.

Hundreds of hours for the Staffordshire Wildlife volunteers who have been intercepting and diverting walkers and would-be sightseers and maintaining the road closures to allow unrestricted access to the emergency vehicles.

All for the sake of a camp fire.

Quite possibly a camp fire lit by two young chaps who called here for water on the Wednesday evening, before the fire was spotted on Thursday morning, and who were warned to not light fires, use barbecues or smoke in the woods or on the moor.

If those two young men would like to come forward and eliminate themselves from the inquiry, I’d be so happy. I really would.

I suspect that they won’t.


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