Sunday, 27 July 1924 The Roches – Part one

Last night I went to Tom’s place, to spend the night so that we could get an early start for Staffordshire this morning.  We were up before 6 this morning, and at 7.15 we were crashing along the unending setts in the direction of Stockport, which we reached in due time.  Another four miles of setts brought us to Hazel Grove, where we struck the Macclesfield road, soon reaching the latter town, and traversing the awkward streets, we joined the Leek road.  Now the hills closed on each side of us.  Bosley, then Rushton, the ‘kick off’ place for the Dane valley, and climbing the long hill, we stood above the Churnet valley, with the beautiful, extensive Rudyard reservoirs below us, and farther away the well known Congleton ‘Bump’, The Cloud.  Our road ran through some pretty pine woods down to Poolend, and we entered the smoky, dirty town of Leek.  We were glad to get out of it, and we joined the Buxton road, came a long climb through Tittlesworth, over Blackshaw moor, then a sudden shoot downhill into Upper Hulme, where the New Inn made us lunch (not recommended).  Here was a good view of the valley towards Leek, and in the opposite direction, the Axe Edge (Buxton) road winding over the side of rocky Hen Cloud.  The Roches stood before us, a line of beetling crags in two separate masses, the nearer being the higher.  Came a steep drop to a croft, across a broad water splash, then uphill until we were almost beneath the cliffs, at 1,100 ft.

Taking a path that wound still nearer, we left the bikes in the bracken, and commenced the scramble to the highest point.  I tried to find a direct way to the top, and climbed a precipice, almost reaching the summit, but an overhanging mass of rock was too much for me.  It was a ticklish job coming down again, and I felt that queer sensation running down my spine when I saw the sheer drop below.  I like rock-climbing, but I am no cragsman.  However, I got down alright, and took an easy route to the summit, from where an extensive view could be had of the surroundings.  A mist spoiled any but the nearer points.  Coming down again, we rescued our bikes and joined the quickly deteriorating road at the foot of the Roches.  Just beyond the Five Clouds, the road dipped and swung sharply left, but a stony track led straight on through a gateway.  We followed this uphill, staying a moment to gather some wild flowers, a species of pansy, in two shades, yellow, and a soft, deep purple.

The summit was reached at 1,300 ft.  Below, in the deep, densely wooded dale, a boisterous river splashed and gurgled over its rocky bed.  The track took us downhill to a farm, where it ended altogether, but not to be outdone, we continued through the bracken to where the trees started.  A little farther, we were forcibly stopped by a deep cliff.  Here we left the bikes for a moment, and scouted round in search of a likely descent.  We found none, but there was one unlikely way that looked extremely dubious, but we decided to take the risk, and went back for the bikes.  Had we known what we were taking on, I am inclined to think that we should have given it a miss, but if there is the slightest possibility of getting anywhere with a bicycle, you can bet we will try!  I led.  At least I went first, and made a fine start by slipping round a tree and over the roots.  The machine followed closely and soon caught me up, falling on top of me.  Disentangling myself, I proceeded down the steep muddy bank more cautiously, the bicycle coming with me in spasmodic fashion.  Then worse came, for we entered a large patch of nettles, bracken and grass.  We had to go through it or turn back, and it was too late for that now even had we the mind, for we pride ourselves on the fact that only a sheer impossibility will cause us to turn back, once we have embarked on a project.  This has got us in many a ‘hole’ such as last week – but we have always got out of it.

The nettles did their work well, but we had become imbued with the enthusiasm, so to speak, to carry on, come what may.  Nearer the river, many hidden streams were found by the orthodox method of ‘putting our foot in it!’  At last I reached the river, and pulling my shoes and stockings off, I left them on the bank, shouldered the bike, and waded across.  I was just going to return for my footwear when Tom came splashing across with his on!  In one hand he carried mine, and when I got in the middle he threw them to me.  They fell short and sailed away downstream, rapidly getting waterlogged.  I had a bit of a scramble to get them, then I replaced them on my feet and we sat down roaring with laughter at the humour of the whole thing.  The way we had come looked very formidable from here.  The wooded dale was very pretty though, showing a wonderful combination of wood and rock and water.  The worst was over, but not the longest.  We had detected a path halfway up the bank on this side, and now we made for it.  I attempted to climb over a half broken wall with the bike on my shoulder, but brought the whole issue on top of me.  Luckily, little damage was caused, and the next attempt was successful.  A stiff slippery scramble brought us to the path, which had evidently not been used for years, owing to fallen trees and growing trees in the middle of it.

Although it was very faint, and we had to leave it many times owing to barriers, we made some appreciable headway, but the scenery around was ample compensation for all our bruises.