#176 – The Roaches Edge in Staffordshire

The Gritstone edges of Staffordshire

The Gritstone edges of Staffordshire

Staffordshire is not exactly an area known for its mountains, but it is the home of a fine set of gritstone crags known as The Roaches. Rock-climbing had been popular at The Roaches since the earliest days of the sport – the crags are near to the big towns and cities of Northern England and are of easy access. This area has a huge importance in the history of rock-climbing in the UK, and it was one of the places where climbing standards rose dramatically in the 1950’s.

A busy day on the gritstone crags of The Roaches

A busy day on the gritstone crags of The Roaches

Rock climbing at The Roaches, above the Don Whillans Memorial Hut

Rock climbing at The Roaches, above the Don Whillans Memorial Hut

In 1951, climbing legends Joe Brown and Don Whillans first climbed together on these rocks on a route that they named Matinee, as it was climbed in the afternoon with a large ‘audience’ watching! The climb’s grade of HVS (5b) is not regarded as being particularly difficult by today’s standards, but climbs like Matinee were a huge leap forward in difficulty at the time. The climbing club hut at the bottom of the crag is now named after Whillans as a memorial.

Hen Cloud at the southern edge of The Roaches edge

Hen Cloud at the southern edge of The Roaches edge

Border Collie ‘Mist’ at the summit of Hen cloud

Border Collie ‘Mist’ at the summit of Hen cloud

Heading back to The Roaches

Heading back to The Roaches

For lesser mortals, there is a fine walk out along the edge of the gritstone escarpment. I had worked out a route for Chris and Border Collie ‘Mist’ that headed north taking in the whole length of the edge, with a surprise waiting at the far end, but we started by going south to collect another rock outcrop called Hen Cloud.

More climbing crags

More climbing crags

Looking down

Looking down

The view south along The Roaches edge

The view south along The Roaches edge

Having completed the Hen Cloud diversion, we returned to the main Roaches ridge. The climbing crags were busy, their popularity guaranteed by quality rock-climbing and a very short walk in from the road. The ridge above the crags was also fairly busy, with walkers taking advantage of the warm weather.

Doxey Pool

Doxey Pool

Heading north along The Roaches Edge

Heading north along The Roaches Edge

The paths above the climbing crags were also busy

The paths above the climbing crags were also busy

Rock formations

Rock formations

The inevitable ice cream van – near Roach End

The inevitable ice cream van – near Roach End

One of the early landmarks is a tiny lake called ‘Doxey Pool’ – it isn’t very deep, but legend has it that a water nymph lives there, and when not otherwise engaged she lures unsuspecting walkers to a watery grave. The only creature venturing near to the water was ‘Mist’, but the water spirit didn’t seem to be interested in dogs, so we pressed on to the end of the gritstone rock formations to a road crossing with the inevitable ice cream van.

Heading for Lud’s Church

Heading for Lud’s Church

‘Mist’ above the entrance to Lud’s Church

‘Mist’ above the entrance to Lud’s Church

The small chamber at the entrance

The small chamber at the entrance

The chasm beyond the entrance chamber

The chasm beyond the entrance chamber

It’s quite narrow in places

It’s quite narrow in places

Beyond the road, the high ground became less dramatic, but there was a surprise in store ahead. A chasm known as ‘Lud’s Church’ has opened up on one of the fault lines in the rock, making a cleft 15 metres high, 100 metres long, and just 2-3 metres wide. In the 15th Century is was used as a place of worship by the Lollards, who were regarded as heretics and persecuted – a local legend also claims that Robin Hood hid here.

Is this the ‘Green Chapel’ in 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'?

Is this the ‘Green Chapel’ in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’?

 One muddy Border Collie!

One muddy Border Collie!

One of the most interesting legends connects Lud’s Church with the medieval poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, and it has been suggested that the inspiration for the Green Knight’s chapel came from here – it is certainly very green in the cleft, with moss covered walls. At the far end of the cleft our exploration ended at a large area of mud which ‘Mist’ decided to have a paddle in!

Heading back through Back Forest

Heading back through Back Forest

On The Roaches edge again

On The Roaches edge again

From Lud’s Church we took a slightly different way through a wood to get back to the road, then it was back along the Roaches edge to the start point. The highest point of the day was a mere 505 metres, but although I prefer my hills big and pointy the day had been full of interest. Doxey Pool came in useful on the way back as a place to wash a muddy Border Collie, but the water spirit must have been busy elsewhere.

Heading back

Heading back

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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5 Responses to #176 – The Roaches Edge in Staffordshire

  1. Fantastic – I always enjoy your posts Paul. Don Whillans was a hero of mine – I first heard about him in a Chris Bonnington book I read some years previously – a real character by all accounts.

    • Cheers SP – when I started climbing I remember seeing a photo of Whillans on ‘Sloth’, and I couldn’t imagine anyone ever being able to climb a route like that! Apparently it’s one of the trade routes on the crag now, with much more difficult climbs nearby, but one heck of an achievement in its day!

  2. That looks great walking (although the climbing would be no good to me being typical gritstone – just can’t do that). Lud’s Church is fascinating – looks a bit like Conistone Dib.

    I have to admit to not being a fan of Whillans but I love his hut!
    Carol.

    • Gritstone climbing is a bit ‘Marmite’ in my view – I started my climbing on it, but my favourite would always be good solid volcanic rock, as in the Lakes, Snowdonia, etc. I guess you’re a limestone lass Carol, especially if your climbing club goes to the Dales a lot – limestone is a bit Marmite as well, but when it’s solid it’s not so bad 🙂

      • I’m probably only a limestone lass ‘cos that’s all we’ve got round here apart from gritstone. But my single climb on Langdale volcanic was very firm and very obliging for holds 🙂

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