Roachside Cottage

Part of the living landscape of the Roaches

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

As one of us get older and edges into his 70th year, the arthritis grinding in the toes and ankles become more uncomfortable, the torn cartilage in the knees makes them wobbly & unreliable, getting out for a long walk can sometimes be less than appealing.

But when the extremities are more cooperative & the split cartilage is behaving, we can seize the opportunity to have a more extensive plod. After all, at this age, we can change our plans at whim, several times in a day and we're unlikely to cause disruption to anyone else!

Today we were up on Dane Head, the boggy moorland at the head of the Dane Valley for a "splosh" down to Three Shires at first light. We were in thick fog and soon after leaving the car the world was reduced to a small circle of reeds and heather with just the "chuck-chuck-chuckle" of the occasional Grouse taking flight with a ginger spaniel in hot pursuit.

There's a kind of sensory deprivation on the moors on foggy days which closes out the rest of the world and allows uninterrupted thought.

It's very therapeutic, but perhaps not recommended for anyone not totally familiar with navigating in this terrain! I love these moorland spaces and I've walked here philosophising to myself since I was a young teenager. I doubt I could get lost here if I tried.

Afterwards, we journeyed down into Leek for a mid-morning breakfast at The Foxlowe &, still feeling good, off for a circuit through Gradbach, Back Forest & Ludschurch to make the most of the day.

A day well worth the effort!

Scout exploring the waters of the Back Dane in Back Forest

After Scouts' really boring day yesterday, sitting in the car on the hospital car park, I felt she deserved a proper walk today. Hence, at 08:00 this morning, we were out in the Goyt Valley to watch the early morning mist slowly evaporate in the rising sun.

The valley was empty of people, I guess partly due to the narrow road through it being closed while logging operations take place - the valley has thousands of Larch trees, some of which are succumbing to Phytophthora ramorum, a sort of fungal disease that slowly kills the host tree. Seemingly, the best way of stopping the spread of this "pandemic" is to thin the trees out to put huge spaces between them and let many more mixed native species fill the gaps.
Down at the Erwood Reservoir, it was obvious that the Peak District is still in some severe drought.

If you can see Scout, right at the bottom of the picture, she’s about 4 metres below where the water level ought to be.

As we used to say in the 1976 drought; “Save water, bath with a friend “!

With the water level so low, it almost seems ridiculous that new parapet fencing has gone up over the Erwood Bridge. presumably to protect the never-ending procession of idiots who have, every year since the bridge was built, sought to throw themselves off the railings and into the freezing cold water below. Given that the water level has a variable depth of about 3 metres max -  to dry bedrock as a minimum, this odd human behaviour has resulted in countless broken legs, broken pelvises, massive head trauma and the occasional permanent paraplegia.

So, to prevent further strain on the health services of N.W England, we need to build a replica of Stalag XVII in this otherwise beautiful and fragile landscape. 

Rockhall Cottage (now the Whillans Hut), where Doug lived his eccentric life.

Doug Moller, self styled “King & Lord of The Roaches” has died - probably about age 90 or 91. 

Also frequently referred to as the “Mad Axeman” or "Dougie the Pirate", Dougie was the colourful resident of Rockhall Cottage (now the BMC Don Whillans Climbing Hut) for many years, along with his wife Ann.

They moved into the cottage - effectively a damp cave with an ornate, castle-like frontage grafted onto it, with no electricity supply & water which seeped out of the wall into a stone trough, overflowing into a channel which ran out through the front door. He fought an epic battle with the authorities to continue living there, even petitioning the likes of Margaret Thatcher & Princess Dianna.

He could be extremely friendly or he may just take an instant dislike to someone and chase them with the gigantic wood axe which he frequently carried on his shoulder.

Born in the very early 1930s, Dougies family of six siblings grew up in separate children's homes in County Durham & he was only reunited with one of his brothers at the age of 72.

Despite his 12-years of being a monstrous thorn in the side of both the Peak Park and the Staffordshire Moorlands Council (not to mention the local Police!), Dougie lost his fight with the Peak Park when they eventually got him to exchange Rockhall Cottage for a small holding at Knotbury., where Ann sadly died in a tragic accident when her nightdress caught fire.

His book “Wars of the Roaches” was a weird autobiography-cum-fantasy & we have a copy on our bookshelf here for guests to read.

Doug was probably a product of his disruptive upbringing. He didn’t, or more probably, couldn’t fit into “normal” society. He'd been in the "Glasshouse" as a National Serviceman for insubordination following which he lived in Southern Africa for a while before trying hill farming in North Wales

On a good day, he could be really pleasant & engaging, shouting out instructions to climbers who seemed to be struggling on the Raven Rock above his cottage. That’s how many of us who climbed there in the 1970s & 80s will remember him.

Farewell Dougie, King of The Roaches.

Not quite "au bord de la Seine", more "au bord de la Cauldon Canal".

Early this morning we took a lovely stroll out along the Leek Branch of the canal and back along the Cheddleton Branch. Autumn colours are just starting to appear.

The Cauldon is itself a branch of the Trent and Mersey canal and was opened in 1779 to link the limestone quarries of Caldon Low and the Lime Kilns of the Churnet Valley with the Potteries and the national canal network. A short spur into Leek provided for the transport of bulk materials such as coal into the town. 
Alas, the old Leek canal basin became an industrial estate in the 1970s, but there is access to the remaining length of the canal from a small car park off Barnfields Road, where a couple of really excellent circular walks start by following the towpath.

One of these walks has the Hollybush Inn at Denford at the mid-point - an idyllic spot with excellent food and beer. Alas, this morning we were far too early for any such treat!

This valley will be spectacular in a few days, maybe a couple of weeks from now as the Beech and Oak turn gold and red/brown, shedding their leaves to settle into their winter dormancy.

The weather forecast is set to get hot and dry again!

In the Staffordshire Moorlands we've had very little rainfall all through the spring and summer. The constant wind through the spring dried out the surface and the ground covering foliage and the spectacular heatwave we experienced last week just added to the tinderbox conditions.

We drove home across the Peak District last week watching a huge plume of smoke rising from suspiciously close to where we live. Arriving home we were confronted with six fire tenders, 3 from Cheshire & 3 from Staffordshire, parked in our driveway and blocking the farm track outside.

The fire came within 3 metres of our stables, our bathroom is flecked with bits of ash & our neighbours have lost a garage, all their garden machinery & new summer house.

It’s only 4 years since we had a similar experience at Roachside Cottage & 80 hectares of moorland burned for four weeks.

What started this fire? We’ll never know, but it’s certain that some careless or stupid human behaviour is at the root.

Please, whenever the countryside is as dry as this (we’ve had almost no measurable rain since early April), take care!

No barbecues, No cigarettes, No naked flames

This is the view from our dining room window

Fire crew amongst our new shrubbery - but they're not watering our plants.

This is as close as I want fire to get to my house!!

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