11th July 2020.
The sun was just breaking through the fading clouds once again as I picked my way down the public footpath leading away from Roach End. It was the second week in July and although warm in temperature, the sky had played tricks all morning. One minute the sun was out and all was clear, the next it was grey and overcast, specks of wetness on my cheeks. As I looked up, I remember praying to myself that the weather would hold out just a little longer in order for me to do some real exploring in an area I had longed to visit for quite some time.
We had arrived in Staffordshire at approximately 9am. It was now 11.30am and we were making good progress despite stopping countless times for photoshoots. On this occasion, I had brought my Son and his girlfriend along who both share an interest in exploring. My usual habit is to adventure solo and recently that is what had been happening but every so often, I will make exceptions and venture out with family members. More recent excursions towards the latter end of 2020 have included my best friend Kat.
Todays adventure did not really begin here in Roach End, having earlier begun at 9am from Roaches Gate approximately 2 miles back down the Roach Road. We had taken a steady climb up the rickety footpath and rocky steps to emerge out onto the top of the Roaches and proceeded to walk the ridge top footpath along the crag and encountered amazing scenery along the way. The views from the top of the Roaches are unreal. I had not quite known what to expect at the time but I was truly blown away by how beautiful it was and the fact that I had not previously given it any real thought of visiting sooner. One thing I will say, is I was definitely missing out that was for certain.
I will not further discuss the Roaches walk in this post but will attach a link to the appropriate post later on so that anyone can read if interested. The focus of this post is on a location named Lud’s Church where I began swiftly heading right after leaving the car park at Roach End.
So today I was asked the question by my very inquisitive Son Luke, why I had failed to mention Lud’s Church in my previous post. After all, it was walked the very same day that we did the Roaches, it is virtually in the same vicinity and we were there within an hour of leaving Roach End. It made no sense to him that I wouldn’t combine the two in one post and it suddenly occurred to me that it might also be the same for my readers. I therefore feel the need to elaborate on my reasons for doing so here.
Staffordshire was a relatively new stomping ground for me last year and generally still is. Up until that point, I had not really ventured much further than Edale, Kinder and the Derbyshire side of the Peak District National Park. As mentioned in part 1 The Roaches this was not a negative thing but something inside me was itching to see so much more. I had walked the above areas so often that I was beginning to become almost too comfortable to try anything else. It was largely due to this that I had been scouring the internet in search of new and worthy places of interest that would suit my needs and give me some new energy.
When we eventually discovered Lud’s Church for the first time, it became obvious fairly quickly that this was no ordinary find. It was not something that one stumbles upon very often of that magnitude…. The sheer beauty and mysteriousness took my breath away in an instant and a million thoughts swam around in my head as wondered about the many things which were likely to have happened here over the years. So intense was my fascination at this point, that after 2 hours of exploring I had to admit that this was probably the most exciting adventure I had ever had and that very evening, I made it a priority to research as much information that I could about it. The more I read, the more I realised that there was so much more to Lud’s Church than what meets the eye and therefore, this location deserved a blog post of its own.
If anyone wishes to read part 1 of the Staffordshire walk from earlier in the day along the Roaches then please click the button below to be directed to the post. It focuses on the walk over the Roaches crag beginning at Roaches Gate, Upper Hulme.
Lud’s Church walk begins at Roach End where the public footpath drops down off the Roaches and joins the Roach Road. It then proceeds to follow a public footpath which heads through woodland for a considerable distance and down into the valley. From there, the path leads right the way to Lud’s Church which is clearly signposted as people get near.
Upon approaching Lud’s Church there are 3 entrances, one of which is fenced off and is not recommended for use due to the safety aspects involved, however the remaining 2 are safe. Both entrances are at opposite ends of Lud’s Church with one in the lower section and the other at the high side. The lower entrance can be accessed by taking a footpath which heads towards Gradbach in the Dane Valley and is just to the right of the main path before reaching the higher entrance. It really does not matter which entrance is used to venture through Lud’s Church as both routes are just as spectacular and after completing the walk, it is personal choice which way people choose to return to the main path to get back to Roach End.
A world of wonders: A journey through Lud’s Church
It is amazing what you find hidden down the side of a path isn’t it? From looking at the above photograph it looks fairly ordinary to me. A woodland path, nothing more….
At the time, I remembered walking past the signpost for Lud’s Church so I knew we were near but as I stood right here on this path, I had no idea just how close we actually were. It is hard to believe that just where the path bends off to the left, just beyond that little tuft of greenery is a steep drop down into a deep and beckoning chasm. It is so well hidden that people don’t see it at first and if wasn’t for a family descending the rocky steps ahead, I would not have even known it was there at all. As I looked down through the undergrowth at this point, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people had fallen down here. The chasm is completely unfenced and there are no safety barriers to prevent falls of any kind. A short distance along, the footpath disappears downwards to some steps cut into the rock and it was here that we entered the chasm.
Immediately upon reaching the bottom of the stone steps there are 2 routes to choose from. People can choose to continue forward or take the passage immediately to the right. We decided to explore the passage to the right first off as I had a feeling that it might lead to a dead end. The ground underfoot which at first had resembled a drought stricken river bed had very quickly turned to quagmire as we walked further and deeper into the chasm. The passage was tight in places and had water running down through small faults in the gritstone. There were many corners to squeeze around and involved scrambling over large rocks which had clearly fallen down from the top of the chasm over the years. The effort didn’t bother me though as I have always been a stickler for challenges and adventure and I knew at this early stage, that I had stumbled upon a treasure trove of it to say the least. Scrambling was a small price to pay today and I was beginning to fall in love with the place the more I saw of it.
What struck me more than anything, was how green the entire place was. Literally every wall, rock, boulder and cavern was coated in thick green moss of varying types which was impressive and looked absolutely stunning. The water which trickled down in places glistened in the shafts of light that somehow managed to filter through. As we explored further, I couldn’t help but be blown away by its beauty. I had never seen anything quite like this in my entire life and I knew right there and then that this would become a favourite for years to come.
Below is a selection of photographs taken of that particular passage on the right side of the steps at the top end of Lud’s Church.
We then continued our exploration down into the main section of Lud’s Church just past the stone staircase, where once again people can choose the route through the chasm. The easiest and most accessible route is down a further set of stone stairs and under an archway in the gritstone, however I spotted a more exciting route for me. In the photograph below people will see that the route appears blocked by a huge column of gritstone. There is however, a tight squeeze through the side which leads to another chamber in the chasm.
This route does involve serious scrambling and I decided to choose this over the main stairway. Climbing through the gap between the column though proved to be trickier than initially thought and lead downwards into what appeared to be a mini cave tunnel. This section is fascinating and definitely a place to bring the kids! My Son spent ages climbing through all the tunnels in this part and it was hard to tear him away when the time came.
Upon emerging from the tight tunnels, the journey continues further into Lud’s Church along the narrow, deep passage shown in the image below. At this point I was struck by the sudden chill I felt given the time of year. It was early July and although the weather had been hit and miss most of the morning, it had brightened up as we neared Lud’s Church. The sun, when it finally emerged had stayed out, the clouds had disappeared and it had been quite hot as we descended the steps that led down into the depths of the chasm. However now we felt the change. Realising that we must be quite deep in, it suddenly occurred to me that the sun must never penetrate this far into Lud’s Church giving the place its cold feel and it’s eerie appearance.
As I looked around me trying to take in every detail, I couldn’t help but love this strange place. It had a feel of mysteriousness about it, yet it looked beautiful in every way a place can. Although I have tried to put into words a description of Lud’s Church, it is difficult as I cannot find any words which truly describe its magnificence. The photographs I took that day just do not give it the credit it deserves.
When continuing through this passage, it eventually joins onto another passage which is much bigger and wider than the previous ones. It also meets with the main walkway from which can also be accessed from the second set of stone stairs mentioned earlier. In the photograph below, people can see how much deeper the chasm goes. A lot of moisture accumulates in this section with water dripping down from above and the stairs and surrounding rock are known to become very slippery. The soil underfoot is also prone to becoming muddy due to not ever properly drying out. This area of Lud’s Church is mostly sheltered by overhead gritstone and tucked down deep within the narrow confines of the passage meaning that the sun, although letting in a small amount of light, will never be able to properly penetrate the ground. This results in the permanently damp conditions commonly found at Lud’s Church and the quagmire we experienced that day.
A little way down from the stairway, the wider passage begins to head downhill over mossy rocks and moist soil. As we headed down I noticed that the chasm walls became higher the deeper we got. It really was a fascinating experience taking in all the surroundings and we never knew just what was around every corner. When we looked up, all we could see were the tops of the trees in the woodland above and I once more thought about the dangers of walking in the woods if having no knowledge that the chasm was there. I later learned that Lud’s Church has depths of up to 60 feet in some parts and that is a considerable drop from a great height if the worst was to happen. I have to admit at the time I was completely struck how it was left so open, although thinking about it properly, I could totally see how covering the opening with safety meshing would spoil the scenic view.
Upon reaching the point where the path levels out again, the passage bends to the left sharply and we found ourselves to be in a very interesting area indeed. The ground underfoot here was completely waterlogged and muddy with a planked, wooden walkway needing to be put in to make the area accessible. I was extremely grateful for this as the mud was quite deep on the day we visited and I feel that the walkway would have been impassible if the planking hadn’t been there. The walls of the chamber here were virtually vertical and very wet and mossy. There was what appeared to be an alcove on the right hand side of the walkway and an interesting looking log of wood which was completely studded with old coins. They had clearly been there many years and most of the markings on them had completely weathered or rusted away. This appeared to be a favourite section of the adventure for most people I met along the way and I was lucky to capture the images I did without people in them. It appeared that every 30 seconds someone walked past.
Immediately after walking through the chamber past the alcove and log, the way turns off sharply to the left once again and heads up some rocky steps and round a sharp corner to the right. The longer this journey went on, I was beginning to wonder exactly how big this chasm was. There seemed to be no end to it. Just passage after passage, mossy nook after mossy cranny and masses of green and lots of mystery and adventure….
Like all great things though, the end does eventually come. For right up in front of us, I could already see the bottom entrance looming up ahead before we had even got there. The passage at the top of the stairs turns right and after a small scramble round some larger boulders, it continues onwards under what appeared to be an archway in the gritstone and a picturesque overhang of tree trunk and branches.
I have to admit that I was a little sad that I had reached the end of the Lud’s Church walk that day. The feelings I had experienced upon first entering the chasm were so strong that I find it difficult to describe. I remember being drawn to the beauty of the place from the start and it’s dark, mysterious feel had made it all the more intriguing. On a first visit to Lud’s Church, it was the not knowing what to expect that made us want to explore it and soak up every surprise. Every corner we turned had something amazing waiting whether it be a tunnel, cave, alcove, archway, stairway or just the stunning views and scenery. It felt very invigorating to explore and gave me a strong sense of excitement and energy which I don’t always get on all my walks and adventures. When it eventually ended, I felt deflated and spent a few minutes waiting to see if there was anything else hidden or yet to come. I have since heard others say they felt the same thing after their first visit. It was definitely a very special experience for me and so far is in my top 3 of favourite picturesque locations to visit.
You will most likely have realised quite early on that Lud’s Church is not really a church at all. In fact, it resembles nothing of the sort. There isn’t present any alter, steeple, bells, organ or anything within it that even gives anyone a single sign or feel of anything holy or religious. It is nothing but a deep, mossy, gritstone carvern. So what is it about Lud’s Church that gives it such a name, and what exactly is it?
Lud’s Church is an 18 metre (60 foot) deep chasm which extends to 100 feet in length through the Roaches gritstone and is located in the Staffordshire Back Forest near Gradbach. Over the many hundreds of years, the chasm has become completely carpeted in thick moss, ferns and other plants giving it a magnificent green colour. For a long time, it was often named ‘Lud’s Cave’ because of how dark and closed in it is but the truth is, it has never been a cave. The roof of the chasm has always been open to all elements in most parts and historical studies have indicated that the cause was in fact a landslip. It is now no longer called Lud’s Cave due to this. The name ‘Lud’ is believed to have originated from Walter de Lud-Auk who was captured in this location during a secret meeting.
The land around that specific location is formed of Carboniferous sandstone known as Roaches Grit and extends onto the Goyt Syncline. Then there are layers of rock which contain lots of fractures and fault lines running in approximately northeast to southwest directions. In addition to this there are weaker layers of mudstone sandwiched throughout the formation of the land. As the years went by and more layers were formed, the pressure behind those layers grew until one day, a large slab of the sandstone grit broke away and slid down the hillside into the Dane Valley. Although historians and various archaeologists have tried, no one can tell exactly when the landslip occurred. It is strongly suggested that it happened post glacial but at the moment that is all that is known and the resulting landslip caused the deep gorge which has become what we now know as Lud’s Church.
A world of history and myth…
There has been many theories regarding Lud’s Church that have surfaced over the years and some have been more plausible than others. Many originate back as early as the 15th century when religion and culture were viewed very differently to how they are today. Several religious beliefs were frowned upon back in this period, one such religion being Christianity. Back as early as the 15th century the Lollards were believed to be some of the first people to use Lud’s Church as a place of worship due to its hidden and secluded nature. The Lollards were followers of the early church reformer John Wycliffe and would therefore have been persecuted for their beliefs. Later, as the years passed, it is also believed that followers of the Roman Catholic faith also used this chasm as their secret place of worship for similar reasons having faced unspeakable punishment if ever their faiths became known to opposing religions. Although there is a whole mass of transcribed evidence about the kind of treatment people suffered as a result of religion in the past, we have to trust what it states is true without actually having physical proof. From reading the works of various historians written over the years, it would suggest that a lot may be accurate however, if Lud’s Church was being used as a church of some kind, its followers could have been worshipping literally anything! It might not have been legitimate or pleasant either as other writers have suggested.
There has been claims made over the years that forms of witchcraft, Paganism and Devil Worshipping has all taken place in the depths of Lud’s Church with sacrifice ‘offerings’ being made. It apparently was common at certain times of the year to discover the head of an animal placed high up on the ledges of the chasm. Another myth was that the chasm was created by the Devil himself after he scraped his fingernail over the Earths crust.
A myth that surfaced years ago was also that the famous Robin Hood and Friar Tuck were believed to have used Lud’s Church as one of their many hiding places amongst others whilst trying to evade the authorities. Of course this is only hearsay and none of it can actually be proven. There are many more myths and stories based on Lud’s Church and its immediate surroundings but I will not delve into them here. To discuss all of them would be complete plagiarism and would defeat the object of this blog. I added a few of them just to set the scene of the location and give a small insight into the mysteriousness of such a place. If anyone reading this wishes to delve further into the history of Lud’s Church, there are plenty of writings out there. As mentioned earlier though, some are more plausible than others.
Distance walked: 4.10 miles
Total Accent: 600 ft
I thoroughly enjoyed this particular adventure from start to finish. The route from Roach End was a gradual downward trek along a woodland path which on the day we went was easily accessible. When stating this here I mean for the fit and able bodied hiker. This route is not suitable for wheelchair users or people with poor mobility. There are various stiles and rocky terrain and depending on the weather and recent rainfall, the route can become fairly boggy indeed. In saying that, the scenery just here alone is stunning and there are various footpaths to take if wishing to explore these woodlands more closely.
On approaching Lud’s Church, there is a signpost which lets people know they are close but apart from that there is little else. As shown earlier in this blog people can see how easily the chasm can be missed. If entering via the top entrance, the path ventures quite close to the chasm edge without being obvious about it and in my opinion, can quite easily be fallen down. I have spoken to various other explorers who know the area well who state that they have seen signs which warn of ‘danger of falls’ and ‘warning steep cliffs’. I have to say that on the day I visited in July 2020, there were no such signs. The path itself is safe enough however if people know that the chasm is there. It is just worth baring in mind to be extra vigilant and be careful if straying off the path in this location.
The day I visited Lud’s Church was on a busy Saturday on a summer’s day at a period when lockdown was somewhat relaxed. It meant that within no time, the place was absolutely heaving with people. I was fortunate that I did get some parts of the chasm to myself for short periods but this didn’t last long. My advice to anyone planning on visiting and wanting the place to themselves is to either get there very early or visit mid week and preferably on a school day.
When climbing into the chasm I would strongly advise sensible footwear and a warm layer as it is quite cold down in the bottom. The ground underfoot becomes extremely boggy and can completely flood out especially after heavy rain fall.
There are no toilet facilities on this walk and no food and refreshment outlet anywhere near Lud’s Church. The nearest food outlet is the Roaches Tea Rooms in Upper Hulme. There are however plenty of beautiful places to sit in the path edge leading up to Lud’s Church for picnics and a break.
I have had many interesting conversations with various people about their experiences at Lud’s church and each one has more or less said the same thing. Everyone has been blown away with amazement in one way or another. I have spoken to a few though who have said they don’t like Lud’s Church… That it has a bad feel to it and it made them feel that something evil occurred there in the past. I have to say that I did not feel anything like this on my visit and I would love to visit again preferably in a winter season to see how different it looks then. I have seen some spectacular photographs taken by other explorers in the snow and showing absolutely huge icicles hanging down from the top. Maybe one day I will experience it in person.
So once again, Thankyou for taking the time to read this blog about Lud’s Church in the Staffordshire region of the Peak District National Park. I have so enjoyed writing this and reliving these wonderful memories from my first exploration of it. Maybe you are just a reader of blogs and that’s it, or maybe this has encouraged you to don your walking boots and try this place out. Either way, I thank you for reading and making this possible for me. All the best in your adventures.
All photographs for this blog post were taken by myself Lucy Bailey using iPhone 7 camera. They have been further edited and copied for use in blog from my Instagram account soloexplorer23 found on my Contact Me page.
Special Thanks to Andrew Beavers, a Yorkshire walker and YouTube vlogger who gave me some useful information about how Lud’s Church was formed which then, after additional reading, enabled me to contribute further to this blog post.