First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A Sunday morning over the Staffordshire Moorlands, the gritstone outcrops of the Roaches standing out along their ridge against the blue sky, and dozens of climbers already spidering up the inclines and sheer cliffs above.
The Roaches are a famous climbing playground, and no wonder. Their gritstone is harsh, abrasive stuff to which a shoe or a hand can safely adhere, and the view from the top over the rolling Staffordshire landscape is sensational. Today it was mostly youngsters climbing in bright reds and blues, their belts clinking with bundles of clips.
We followed the path among the rocks and up a rough stairway to the ridge. The Roaches rise abruptly from the surrounding countryside. They look formidable from below, and it’s a shock to find yourself so quickly up there, walking on the tops of their gnarled old heads. Part of their grim appeal is the blackness of their aspect, but flakes broken off reveal a cheerful red flush to the rock that lies below.
We stopped to admire the view over Tittesworth Reservoir, all the way southwest to where the lonely whaleback of the Wrekin topped the horizon forty miles off. Then we headed north into a cold wind.
Doxey Pool was dimpled with rings as pond skaters darted sideways across the surface. Down in the peaty depths the hag Jenny Greenteeth waits to lure young men to their doom. Where does such a story originate? Maybe from the ogreish profiles that imagination conjures up on the weathered gritstone tors that cradle the pool.
Beyond Doxey Pool we turned along a permissive path down a hillside shimmering with seedy grasses. A meadow pipit escorted us with admonitory cheeps. The last of the bilberries still hung among the leaves, and we plucked the shiny black fruit to savour the sweet/sharp juice that stained chins and finger ends.
The homeward path led through beautiful meadows and cow pastures, with the crusty tors of Ramshaw Rocks on the skyline and the hedgehog hump of Hen Cloud ahead. We scrambled up there for a final view round the compass, before descending in afternoon sunshine among climbers and walkers full of chatter about the great day they’d all had.
How hard is it? 4 miles; moderate; short sharp climbs, uneven steps.
Start: Parking laybys, Roaches Road, Upper Hulme, ST13 8UA (OS ref SK 007615)
Getting there: A53 (Leek–Buxton); turn off at sign (‘Upper Hulme, Ye Olde Rock Inn’); in 150m fork left; parking bays in 1 mile.
Walk (OS Explorer OL24): 200m north of Windygates Farm drive, right through gate (006619); half left towards hut. Through gate (006620); right; in 100m left up through rocks. In 550m at T-junction, left uphill (005625, wooden fence); up rough steps; left along ridge path. Pass Doxey Pool (004628); in 350m, right over wall by wooden fence (003631). Permissive Path to road (007633). Right in 150m, right (fingerpost). At Shawtop Farm gate (009631), left (footpath sign); through fields (arrows, Access Land symbols). In 250m at gate on right (011629), keep ahead along drive, past Hencow Farm (013627, gates, yellow arrows/YAs). On through fields. At blue-topped arrow post, right (013625) and on (kissing gate, footbridge). In 300m cross stream (014622); up, keeping fence on left. In 300m fence turns left downhill (012620); ahead here through 2 gates; left down wall to cross Well Farm drive (011619). Gates, YAs down to cross stream; up to arrow post (011618) Right to saddle (009619); left up Hen Cloud (009615); return; left to road.
Lunch/Accommodation: Three Horseshoes, Blackshaw Moor, ST13 8TW ()1538-300296, 3shoesinn.co.uk)
Info: Leek TIC, Wed-Sat (01538-395530)