An unexpectedly unforgettable hike in the Peak District National Park
The Roaches and Lud’s Church Loop was one of my first hikes in the Peak District and an instant favourite. I’m ashamed to say that my recent trip to the Peak District was my first. Despite being a keen hiker and having travelled the world, the UK was fairly untouched for me until recent years, so I’ve been getting round to visiting all of those places I grew up hearing about. The Peak District was one of them, and it did not disappoint.
A moderate 12.4 km loop is located in Staffordshire, England within the Peak District National Park, this circular route takes on the impressive gritstone ridgeline of The Roaches before descending into the Forest Wood and leading you to Lud’s Church, which is not at all what you’d expect.
My husband Tom found this hiking route for us so I wasn’t at all surprised when the first thing we had to do was climb the steep 500 ft edge of The Roaches. (Unfortunately, my childhood French did not suffice to pre-warn me that The Roaches comes from the French ‘roches’ for ‘rocks’, but sometimes ignorance is bliss.)
There’s a difference between a long hard climb and short sharp burst though, and the climb up was certainly the latter. A path ‘of sorts’ winds its way up between dramatic crags and boulders, forcing you at times to stop and track the next best path to take, getting your blood pumping and your legs engaged, and when you do reach the top, the payoff is huge. Far-reaching views over Leek and Tittesworth Reservoir.
With the hardest part done, all that’s left is to follow The Roaches’ impressive ridgeline, that’s if you make it past the evil mermaid…
This area, including The Roaches, is steeped in local legend, with sinister tales linked to Doxey Pool, a small dark pond found at the top of the Roaches, which is apparently home to a malevolent mermaid called Jenny Greenteeth. (Although we didn’t spot her or hear her spooky song through the mist.)
Take in 360-degree views for most of your miles – a picnic-ers paradise, you may want to bring lots of snacks just so you can stop and take in the view.
Whilst you are spoiled with views along the ridge, everyone loves a bit of variety, and this trail does not disappoint. After crossing the road that will later lead you back to your car, the trail continues along the ridge and then slowly descends towards Forest Wood.
As the landscape changed I began looking out for the so-called ‘Lud’s Church’. Expecting to round a corner and find an ancient ruin or dilapidated old chapel of some sort, and a plaque of course.
Instead, we found ourselves in an opposite landscape to the one which had led us there, walking through an eerie naturally formed chasm. The air suddenly cooler; there was a strangely prehistoric air to this weird and wonderfully green place, its rock face overgrown in moss, ferns, and lichen.
Lud’s Church is in fact a 60 ft gorge in the bedrock formed by a landslip, believed to have been place of refuge for religious rebels and outlaws in the early 1400s, it may have been named after Walter de Ludank who was captured here during a secret meeting.
Shrouded in tales, some still believe it to be the dwelling of the devil, whilst legend has also spread whisperings of a connection with Arthurian tale. Supposedly Lud’s Church is the ‘Green Chapel’ from the medieval story of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ and believed to have been used by Robin Hood and his Merry Men as a hiding place.
The Road Section
After Lud’s Church the trail guides you out of the woodland and back to the road you crossed earlier. Whilst the walk back to the car from here is all tarmac, it’s a fairly quiet country road, especially in the off-peak season, offering far-reaching views and a chance to simply walk and reflect over what has been an incredibly unique walk.
The route is mostly well-worn rocky trail, woodland path, and some road walking.
Things to know before you go
- There are lots of free spaces to park along the road, although it can get busy during peak seasons so arrive early for stress-free parking
- Bring provisions for a picnic on route or plan to visit the nearby Roaches Tea Rooms & Restaurant for a post walk refreshment and bite to eat.
- The trail is suitable for dogs, but they may need to be kept on the lead along the ridgeline for safety and is areas near pasture and grazing animals.
- Consider your route, I personally do not recommend doing The Roaches climb down as some areas are very steep. Or find alternative routes that avoid the steep climb.