Great country walks: The Roaches, Peak District, Staffordshire

Through a fairytale forest in the footsteps of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
• Five more walks tomorrow

Difficulty Easy
Distance 8.6 miles/14km
Typical duration 4 hours 30 minutes
Start and finish Roaches Gate car park, 1 mile west of Upper Hulme
Map OS explorer OL24
Step-by-step details and maps

In a nutshell

This route on Staffordshire’s Roaches, in the Peak District, follows in the footsteps of Sir Gawain from the 14th- century tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. First you head along the ridge’s high tier and down the far side through a magical tract of oaks and beech trees.

Hidden in the depths of this fairytale forest is Lud’s Church, a miniature gorge covered in ferns and moss, which many scholars have identified as the inspiration for Sir Gawain’s Green Chapel. From Lud’s Church, loop back up to the ridge to the foot of Hen Cloud, the Midlands’ answer to the Rock of Gibraltar, which offers the perfect grand finale to this breathtaking walk.

Why it’s special

The unusual landscape and weird rock formations, coupled with stunning panoramic views make this a truly memorable walk. The mighty gritstone cliffs of the Roaches strike an imposing profile, guarding the southwest approaches to the Peak District, and also offer the perfect platform to admire one of the most dramatic landscapes in Britain.

Look to the west and you take in green pastures, low wooded hills and the Cheshire plains stretching for miles. Look in the other direction and you see dark, moody moors with red gritstone walls. The hidden cleft of Lud’s Church is well worth lingering at. Although it looks like a stream gorge, it was formed by a landslip and has its own microclimate.

In the summer months it holds cascades of ferns, mosses and grass that glow a luminous green when viewed from below. There’s also spectacular wildlife to be spotted here, with peregrine falcons swooping over the crags and, if you look carefully, red grouse roaming through the heather. They can be difficult to see, so listen out for their very distinctive call, which you may hear as they take off.

Although strong walkers could easily complete this circuit in an afternoon, it is a route that is definitely best explored over a full day, giving you plenty of time to take in the vistas from the Roaches’ edge.

Reward yourself

Refuel with a homemade lunch or selection of just-baked cakes at the Roaches Tea Rooms and Restaurant in Upper Hulme. Try a traditional cheese-filled Staffordshire oatcake or sumptuous, slap-up cream tea – though they’ve got a licence if you prefer something stronger.

Get there

First Potteries 118 bus, between Leek and Buxton, stops at Upper Hulme, 20 minutes from Roaches Gate car park. The nearest station is Stoke-on-Trent, 12 miles away. See By car take the A53 and pass through the village of Upper Hulme until you reach the parking area.

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