Lud’s Church is one of my favourite places, and I enjoy the 11 mile walk that also visits Danebridge, The Roaches and Hanging Stone, so it was a pleasure to be asked to lead this little amble with the LDWA’s East Lancashire Plodders.
The walk starts near the Ship Inn.
There are numerous stories associated with the pub, mainly concerning its name. It is thought that Sir Philip Brocklehurst, a relative of Sir John Brocklehurst who owned nearby Swythamley Hall, sailed with the explorer Shackleton on one of his many expeditions to the Antarctic, as an Assistant Geologist, although history states that he may well have been a paying guest. It was often thought that the sign on the Ship Inn related to the famous Endeavour, from a 1914 expedition, but it depicted the Nimrod in Antarctic Ice. Others say that the Ship is named after another vessel, known as the Swythamley, which was owned by a close friend of the Squire, and that the pub was named in his honour.
The current sign seems to have more to do with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight than with the Endeavour!
Despite forecast rain, a good turnout of twelve Plodders - myself, Sue, Reg, Jim, Neil, Nancy, Bernard, Andrew, Paul, Roger, Phil and Allan, assembled at Danebridge for this escape from East Lancashire to the distant land of North Staffordshire.
A crossing of the River Dane at Danebridge was first recorded in 1190, where it was known as Scliderford, meaning a slippery ford. In 1357, Sliderford Bridge was constructed. This was rebuilt in the seventeenth century, using stone. Unfortunately, the new stone bridge was washed away by floods in 1631 and replaced a year later by another, more sturdy, bridge. The present bridge dates from around 1869, and was funded by the two Counties of Cheshire and Staffordshire, with each paying £1,000 for its construction and upkeep. Materials were supplied by the Brocklehurst family, of Swythamley Hall.
Today’s weather was in fact 'fine', albeit a bit cloudy, and we managed the whole walk without the need for waterproofs. Meanwhile it rained in Lancashire. Perhaps we should head south more often! After a few steps we passed Wincle Brewery - set up in 2008 from a redundant milking parlour - where some of us thought we spotted the shadowy figure of erstwhile Plodder 'R Norman', nursing a pail of beer. We left him to it and headed up through autumnal woods to gain a view of Hanging Stone, our first objective.
The Hanging Stone perches on the hillside like a giant fist, a sentinel overlooking Swythamley, on the Staffordshire side of the River Dane. Swythamley Hall stands in a fine park and was originally a mediaeval hunting lodge belonging to the Abbey of Dieulacres near Leek. The hall was granted to the Traffords by Henry VIII in 1540 and became their home and that of their successors, the Brocklehursts. Unfortunately the original house burned down in 1813, so the modern building is a rebuild dating from then. The Brocklehursts had an adventurous history. As mentioned above, one of them accompanied Shackleton to the Antarctic. The Hanging Stone bears a plaque to Colonel Brocklehurst, who was killed in Burma in 1942. A game warden in the Sudan, he started a private zoo at Swythamley when he returned to Britain, and during the Second World War the animals were released into the countryside because there was no food for them. The wallabies from the zoo survived and bred around the Roaches until recently. In fact there continue to be rare sightings, which have surprised many walkers and climbers over the years.
The plaque reads:
“Lt. Col. Henry Courtney Brocklehurst. 10th Royal Hussars and Pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, 1916 - 1918. Game Warden of the Sudan. Born at Swythamley, May 27th, 1888. Killed Whilst On Active Service, in Burma, on Commando. June 1942.
Horses he loved and laughter, the sun. Wide spaces and the open air.
The trust of all dumb living things he won, and never knew the luck too good to share.
His were the simple heart and open hand, and honest faults he never strove to hide.
Problems of life he could not understand, but as a man would wish to die he died.
Now, though he will not ride with us again, his merry spirit seems our comrade yet.
Freed from the power of loneliness and pain, forbidding us to mourn or to forget.
Erected by his devoted brother – 1949”
There’s a second, earlier stone plaque at the foot of the stone:
“Beneath This Rock
August 1, 1874 was buried
A Noble Mastiff
Black and Tan
Faithful as Woman
Braver than Man
A Gun and a Ramble
His Heart’s Desire
With the Friend of his Life
The Swythamley Squire”
Swythamley has been convincingly identified as the castle of the Green Knight of the classic mediaeval poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and nearby Lud's Church as the knight's 'Green Chapel'. This probably means that the unknown author was connected with Dieulacres in some way.
There is no record of Hanging Stone being used for hanging - the name describes its look rather than its function! However, it did claim one of our number, as Reg decided a low level stroll would be more to his taste today. I think he could smell the beer at the Ship Inn, as it later transpired that he had gate-crashed a Rucksack Club party with some luminaries who were known to him, so whilst we were hauling ourselves over The Roaches he was taking a rare break from leading a Plod in order to get sozzled in the pub.
From the top of Hanging Stone, there's a fine view of Shutlingsloe, the 'Matterhorn of the Peak District', and dramatic photos can be gained of those brave enough to stand on the edge of the stone, which overlooks the Cheshire (or should that be Staffordshire?) plain. We didn't go close to the edge today, for fear of being blown off. Nor did we spot any wallabies.
Phil led the wind blasted group of Plodders along the ridge that is called Back Forest, high above Roach End Farm, beyond which we employed tarmac for a while to take us below The Roaches to Roaches Gate, where we edged out of Phil's slipstream and headed past a hovering kestrel and a group of climbers, below the BMC's Don Whillans Memorial Hut.
We then rose gently up a rocky path to a good spot for lunch with views towards nearby Tittesworth Reservoir, and distant hump of The Wrekin - over 40 miles away. In the far distance the outline of Snowdonia was also just about visible.
The name Roaches has evolved recently from 'Roches' as the area used to be known only 100 years (or less) ago. 'Roches' is the French word for rocks.
The Roaches Estate, which includes Hen Cloud, was purchased by the Peak District National Park Authority in the 1980s to safeguard the area from adverse development. In clear conditions, it is possible to see much of Cheshire and views stretching as far as Snowdon in Wales and Winter Hill in Lancashire. The Roaches are the most prominent part of a curving ridge which extends for several miles from Hen Cloud in the south to Back Forest and Hanging Stone in the northwest. Nearby are the broad hills of Gun and Morridge.
Hen Cloud rose prettily to our south, but some members of this motley group were more concerned about the presence around us of Rock Climbers. "Will I mange OK" asked Jim "I have no equipment." "Oh dear" I replied "the rest of us have ropes and harnesses!" Perhaps that's why Reg dropped out and went to the pub, but even without his fatherly guidance we did somehow manage to scrabble our way up the vertigo inducing cliffs that led eventually to a lump of white concrete at 472 metres, our highest point of the day. As leader, I felt obliged to venture as high as I could, but nobody followed - it was windy on top.
We then started the long descent to Lud's Church and were soon back in the woods, where a well signed path led us inexorably to the back door of this fine geological artefact. Only Andrew by-passed the top entrance, shown at the top of this posting, from where we slowly descended into the main auditorium.
The natural cleft is over 100 metres in length and over 20 metres high in places. The light of day rarely reaches and damp mosses curl down from the walls. Even on the sunniest of days, it is possible to hear the drip, drip of water from the ferns which cling to the sides of the cleft, which has been identified as The Green Chapel – the very place where Sir Gawain met and battled with the Green Knight one New Year’s Day long ago.
Lud's Church is formed within the thick bed of coarse Carboniferous sandstone known as the Roaches Grit, which here dips northeastwards into the Goyt Syncline. The rocks of this area are traversed by numerous roughly northwest-to-southeast-oriented faults and fracture planes. In addition, weak layers of mudstone exist within the sequence. It is along such lines of weakness that a large mass of the Roaches Grit bounding the northeast side of the rift has slipped slightly downhill into the Dane Valley resulting in the open rift. The age of the movement is unknown but is likely to be post-glacial.
It is believed that the chasm was considered by early Pagans to be a sacred place, most likely due to the phenomenon that occurs on Midsummer Day, where only on this day does the sun's light penetrate deep into the chasm. Lud, known as Nud in Welsh, or Nodens by the ancient Britons, is a major Celtic deity associated with many parts of Britain and with the Arthurian Fisher King and, by way of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Man.
The area also has a place in Christian history: the Lollards, who were followers of John Wycliffe, an early church reformer, are supposed to have used this as a secret place of worship during the early 15th century, when they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Lud's Church may have been named after Walter de Ludank or Walter de Lud-Auk who was captured here at one of their meetings. A wooden ship's figurehead from the ship Swythamley formerly stood in a high niche above the chasm, placed there by Philip Brocklehurst, then the landowner, around 1862. It was called 'Lady Lud' and was supposed to commemorate the death of the daughter of a Lollard preacher.
A number of climbing routes up the sides of the chasm were pioneered during the 20th century but climbing is now discouraged so as to protect the lower plants that have colonised the damp rock-faces.
In legend, Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and Bonny Prince Charlie are all reputed to have hidden from the authorities within the chasm. Ralph Elliott, local Luddites (known to be active in the area during the Luddite protests), and others have identified Lud's Church as the Green Chapel of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'.
Another legend has it that Lud's Church was named after a horse: supposedly, a huntsman was pursuing a deer and as he followed it on horseback he was led to the chasm. The hunter failed to see the danger but his horse, Lud, did: when the rider went too close, the horse bucked and threw him to his death in the chasm. There are also connected rumours that originate from a similar period in time, suggesting that the hunter that was killed still roams around the woods and the area. It is said that he is covered from head to toe in moss and leaves so the locals called this legendary being the Green Man.
It was a little muddy in places on this visit, but unlike a solo lady walker who appeared to be stalking our party (bizarre, I know, but true) we did find our way past the numerous mossy murals to the front entrance. Here, tea was taken and the remnants of a cake were shared out (most of it having been eaten at previous halts).
From the church, our route casually followed the course of the River Dane, back to Danebridge past a rare breed sheep farm where the farmer’s car registration plates are nearly as interesting as the sheep!
Before reaching the farm, we passed a landslip that in March 2011 looked like this:
Now it looks like this:
Interestingly the water was forced by the original landslip to flow on our side of the river, resulting in further erosion and a landslip (unseen in today’s photo) just below the path from which the photo was taken.
Nature at work!
After the sheep farm, we met Reg, stumbling along after his encounter with the alcoholically inclined members of the Rucksack Club. He seemed pleased to see us, especially when Bernard offered to carry him back to Danebridge. Then Bernard remembered that he had a bad ankle and changed his mind. So Reg had to walk.
Adjourning to The Knott Inn for refreshments, we had our only real mishap of the day, ten minutes proving to be insufficient time for Roger to get his car into a position whereby it was pointing in the right direction. Or did he just change his mind and go straight home? We may never know.
Our route today was about 17 km (11 miles), with 600 metres ascent, and took about 5.5 hours.
Click here for a 43 image slideshow.
Note: The text in blue has been taken from previous postings and from Wikipedia and other sources.