If quaint villages and picturesque hamlets aren’t your thing, then maybe you’d like to take a stroll along The Roaches. It’s a place where wallabies roamed, where a Knight of the Round Table challenged a strange figure to a duel, and where a maleficent mermaid wants nothing more than to drag you to the depths of a bottomless pool.
While The Roaches (the name, by the way, is just a corruption of the French for rock: ‘roches’) are replete with myth, mystery and legend, the wallabies aren’t a fairy tale. Sir Philip Lee Brocklehurst, who was part of Shackleton’s famed Antarctica expedition, owned a private estate here until 1975 and charged people to walk the lands that you’ll discover on my route. His brother, Henry Courtney Brocklehurst, was a passionate game hunter and collector of both dead and live animals, and he built a zoo on the estate which was home to yaks, llamas, wallabies and apes. Some of the wallabies escaped and bred and, though rare, are still occasionally spotted to this day.
Human activity at The Roaches dates back to the Bronze Age, with discoveries of artefacts still being uncovered in recent years. In 2015, workers restoring a footpath uncovered an urn that was dated at around 3,500 years old. Nowadays, there’s a well-defined path to the summit which, on a clear day, will give you breathtaking views that extend as far as the mountains of Snowdonia in Wales.
I wasn’t lucky enough to see the views on this occasion. When I parked my car, the dense fog yielded a visibility of less than 20 meters. It’s been a common theme on recent walks, but it has its own beauty in a way. After making my way through the boulders to the top of the hill, which is a fairly easy but steep walk from the layby, I was greeted with a view into the trees that must only have been imagined previously in stories set in Rivendell.
From here, a short walk through the haze brought me to Doxey Pool for the location of our next legend. Some accounts maintain that this strange body of water is bottomless; others say that it’s inhabited by a malignant mermaid called Jenny Greenteeth, sometimes described as a blue nymph. The legend says that she fell in the pool on a foggy day whilst walking along the top of the Roaches and ever since has been enticing unsuspecting victims down to the pool and to their watery grave…
From Doxey Pool, the walk takes you between more imposing boulders and off the moorland. I love the layers you can see in the gritstone rocks at The Roaches. These rocks were formed around 300 million years ago when a range of mountains was pushed up to the north and an immense Amazon or Mississippi-sized river spread its delta over much of what is now England (and Holland and Belgium).
Finally our walk takes us toward the battleground of our knight, Sir Gawain. The tale recounts that this valued member of King Arthur’s Round Table met his greatest test fighting a strange figure, referred to only as the Green Knight, at Lud’s Church. After challenging King Arthur and his court to a game, the Green Knight says that he will allow whomever takes up the challenge to strike him with his own axe, on the condition that the challenger find him in exactly one year to receive a blow in return.
Responding to King Arthur’s stunned silence, Sir Gawain takes on the challenge himself and cuts off the Green Knight’s head with a single deadly blow. To the amazement of the court, the now-headless Green Knight picks up his severed head and, before riding away, reminds the knights of the terms of the pact – that the second fight will happen here, at the Green Church, one year hence.
While technically a gorge formed by a large landslip, it’s really more of a gulley. Once you’ve found the entrance and clambered over disorderly rocks, a boardwalk will make the boggy bottom of the gulley more-or-less navigable. Here, you’ll find cut tree limbs leaning against the fern and moss-clad rocks, each struck with hundreds of coins in a nod to pagan wishing trees. Some say the Druids worshipped here. Other stories tell that Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and Bonnie Prince Charlie hid from the authorities in the chasm.
It’s unclear where Lud’s Church gets its name, but it’s possible it was named after Walter de Ludank or Walter de Lud-Auk who was captured here in the early 15th Century when it was used as a secret place of worship. Or, it may have been named after the Celtic god, Llud. It’s unclear, but either way there are no shortage of tales about this mysterious place.