Regardless if you are only visiting the UK or are a resident, you will notice one thing about it, you can’t rely on the weather. Most of the time it is foggy or gloomy which clearly is not the best weather for hiking ... or is it? There is a truly mystical place in the Peak District, well hidden in the woods, that should be visited on a damp, foggy day. Lud’s Church is a chasm located in the Forest Wood near Gradbach. The path leading towards it is very wet and muddy so make sure you are dressed properly for this adventure.
Many legends surround this unusual, 18 meters deep landslip. It is said that The Green Knight from the Arthurian legend performed his rituals there and at some point, the famous Robin Hood and his men were residing in The Green Chapel. Some even claim that Bonnie Prince Charlie was hiding in these woods during his campaign.
No one knows if the legends are true but the place itself is definitely worth visiting. Typically, people combine the Lud’s Church walk with The Roaches walk, however you can do them separately if you don’t have that much time to spend. The whole loop is about 11 km long (7miles), with the highest point at 505 meters. The parking options are slightly limited. There is a small car park nearby (Roach Rd, Upper Hulme, Leek ST13 8UA), with car spaces assigned by the road but on a nice day it does fill very quickly. There is also an option to use the public transport, with a bus stop on the same road.
From the car park, you can either follow the road for a while and start your hike from the Hen Cloud point or join the walk a bit earlier, at the level of Rock Hall. The name Roaches comes from Norman French and simply means rocks. The massive rock formations along the whole trail mark the south-western tip of the Pennines and make this place unique and magical. Some of them are so big that, like the Hen Cloud, are considered summits themselves! The place is very popular with rock climbers as it offers numerous opportunities to practice their skills. One of the most popular challenges in the area is The Sloth, where you spent a large amount of time hanging upside down.
We have started our hike from the path close to the Hen Cloud, however we only passed it on our right and carried on to the left, towards the main trail. All in all, the path is well prepared, with few muddy sections and after conquering the first peak it mainly goes downhill. However, be prepared to climb a fair number of stairs and fight your way through some narrow, rocky paths.
Personally I enjoy walking this trail in thick fog as it lets you focus only on the rough, rocky, mossy landscape and forget everything else. The unique shapes of the rocks, the deformed trees teleport you to a fantasy world where fairies, goblins and wizards live just round the corner. One section especially reminded me of the staircase to Mordor from the Lord of the Rings. Once at the top, on a clear day, you should be able to see the Tittesworh Reservoir. From this point just follow the path and enjoy the view.
After passing The Queen’s Chair the next highlight is the mysterious, shallow Doxey Pool which is said to be the home of the seductive mermaid, tempting young men and dragging them into the watery grave. According to the legend, the mermaid was Jenny Greenteeth, who fell in the pool on a foggy day and has been haunting the place since then.
From this point the path starts to ascend again leading to the official Roaches summit marked by a trig. Again, if the weather allows it, you should have a nice view on the Shutlingsloe from here. All we could see was the fog.
After reaching the Bearstone Rock head towards the main road. From here you should see a sign pointing towards the direction of Lud’s Church. Since this is a circular walk, you can walk towards the Black Brook, through the forest or go to the left through the fields. It is entirely up to you. We have decided to cross the field and follow the muddy path ahead.
After some time, you will reach the first crossroads. Here you can try your luck and turn right, entering the forest here or carry on, alongside the stone wall, until you reach the next crossroads. Even though the trail isn’t very clear, there are few signs along the way that should help you to stay on the right path. It is a long, rather boring walk and you will doubt yourself few times along the way if you are heading in the right direction but trust me it will be worth it. Once you have reached the final crossroads, turn right. If you wish to make a small detour, you can turn left and visit the Hanging Stone, which is a rock formation straight out of the Lion King.
Once you have entered the forest it will get tricky and messy. There are numerous paths throughout the whole area, so it is very easy to get lost there. Additionally, as I have mentioned earlier, it is a landslide so you will not be able to see it from a distance. We have spent a fair amount of time going in circles as we kept walking past it! Covered in ferns and mosses the entrance is well hidden. Any technology that you can use to your advantage at this point will save you some time.
There are two main points where you can enter the landslide and both will be slippery and muddy so be really careful and take your time while descending. Personally, I would not attempt to visit Lud’s Church while it is raining as you might very easily slip or lose your shoes in the mud.
As soon as you descend you will very quickly forget that you are in the middle of a forest. The place is truly mystical and very quickly you start to realize why it is called a church. Suddenly the concept of time and place disappears, and you start to feel like you would cross some portal to a different dimension. The walls towering over you are covered in green and lush moss and the silence is simply blissful. There are few narrow passages so you might need to squeeze through the rocks here and there or simply find another way out.
Once you are ready to leave this amazing place you can either head back the same way or follow the path through the forest, alongside Black Brook. There are few footbridges and signposts helping you find your way through the forest so even without a map you should still be able to find your way out. If you have a compass you should head East and at some point you will reach the main road next to the Bearstone Rock. Here, if you had enough of hiking, you can simply follow the road to your car or return via The Roaches.