Peakland meets Lakeland - From the Roaches to Rudyard and Tittesworth reservoirs

PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 August 2019

The Roaches Photo: Gary Wallis

The Roaches Photo: Gary Wallis

gary wallis

Mike Smith heads to the Staffordshire Peak District where dramatic rock outcrops give way to vast tranquil reservoirs

Guests relaxing on the terrace of the Three Horseshoes Country Inn and Spa are able to enjoy stunning panoramic views of The Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks, where bizarre rock formations give the Staffordshire region of the Peak District National Park such a dramatic final flourish before the hills peter out into the plains of the Midlands. This well-known inn, situated alongside the roller coaster-like road linking Buxton and Leek, has been run by members of the Kirk Family since 1981 and is currently in the hands of brothers Mark and Stephen and their wives.

When General Manager Lisa Hams spoke to me on that wonderful terrace, she said: 'Members of the family have always tried to create a warm and relaxing atmosphere at the inn. In recent years, the building has been greatly extended and developed into a four-star country inn with 26 boutique-style guest rooms, including five with outdoor cedar hot tubs. We have a wellbeing facility known as the Mill Wheel Spa and we are proud of the fact that our culinary excellence has won us a coveted accolade in the county's Taste Awards as the 'Best Casual Dining in Staffordshire'. As well as being a popular holiday destination, we have become a favourite venue for weddings and civil ceremonies.'

The Three Horseshoes is located at a junction where a side-road leaves the undulating A53 Buxton-Leek road to take a more sedate path alongside the western boundary of the national park, where The Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks form an ever-present backdrop, with some of the rock outcrops resembling the sculpted heads of giants. The first sighting of a large sheet of water on the left-hand side of the road signals the approach to the Tittesworth Water Visitor Centre.

Built in 1858 to supply water to the city of Stoke-on-Trent and extended in 1963, the reservoir and its bucolic surroundings have become a favourite destination for people visiting this western fringe of the Peak District National Park. The Waterview Restaurant, from which there is an extensive view over the peaceful waters of the lake, is run by New Leaf Catering, which also operates eating places at Carsington Water and Haddon Hall. The food on offer includes scrumptious homemade cakes, freshly-ground aromatic coffee, afternoon teas and speciality 
hot dishes.

Bird Life at Tittesworth ReservoirBird Life at Tittesworth Reservoir

Adjacent to the restaurant, there is a gift shop and an interactive exhibition, but the great attraction of Tittesworth for many families with young children is the opportunity to take advantage of the well-equipped adventure play area and to participate in impromptu games of football and cricket on the large grass area between the restaurant and the lake. Also, there are two hides for bird-watching, including one that is wheelchair-friendly. Lapwing, snipe and curlew are regular visitors and, when the water levels are low, oystercatchers, plovers and herons make their appearance. As well as indulging in water-based activities, such as sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, visitors can enjoy easy walks through the woodland flanking the reservoir.

Two sculptures invariably stop walkers in their tracks. One is the 'Iron Green Man', a life-size representation by Sheffield artist Jason Turpin-Thomson of a figure who appears to be a fisherman holding a trout in one hand and a large jug in his other hand, with the exposed skeleton of his muscular body taking the form of the branches of a tree. The second sculpture is equally perplexing, for it comprises outsize wooden representations of a chair and a sofa, both of which are big enough to accommodate giants, prompting me to conjure up an image of those anthropomorphic rocks on The Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks coming to life and walking down to the lakeside to take their ease.

Although the construction of Tittesworth Reservoir required the submerging of some buildings in the nearby settlement of Meerbrook, the core of the village has remained intact. Meerbrook is a charming little place of rust-brown stone buildings, including a former schoolhouse topped by the bell that was used to summon children to their lessons, a Methodist chapel, where services are held every fortnight, and a Victorian church with a large square tower surmounted by a pyramidal roof.

The Roaches Photo: Gary WallisThe Roaches Photo: Gary Wallis

At the heart of the village there is a popular country dining pub called the Lazy Trout, whose white-washed walls contrast markedly with the dark stone of the neighbouring buildings. The friendly staff dispense five well-kept ales from a curved stone counter and serve hearty homecooked food in a comfortable dining room warmed by a log fire and also in a second dining room. Seats at the front of the pub look out onto the quiet village street, whilst those in the rear garden enjoy wonderful views across the fields towards the Peak District hills. Despite 
the modest size of Meerbrook, 
the village is a lively place, with the modern village hall in use 
on almost every evening of the week for activities such as whist drives, bingo sessions, dances 
and WI meetings.

Three miles west of Meerbrook, there is a second man-made lake in the form of Rudyard Reservoir, constructed in the late eighteenth century to feed the Caldon Canal. Unlike the lake at Tittesworth, which is wide and located in open countryside, Rudyard is long, narrow and creek-like. However, it is large enough to accommodate the Rudyard Sailing Club and the North Staffordshire Rowing Club, as well as the activities of visitors who hire canoes, kayaks and paddle-boards. In fact, the waters are a hive of activity, not least during the days of the annual Lake Festival held in August.

There is a lakeside café and a narrow-gauge railway that takes visitors on a three-mile return trip along the shores of the reservoir. Maintenance Manager Ian Burgess, whose wife Myer serves in the café and whose son Ashley works as a guard on the trains, showed me the beautifully-restored little engines and gave me an explanation for their names. He said: 'We got Merlin, King Arthur, Waverley, Pendragon and Excalibur from the Exmoor Steam Railway and we acquired Victoria, Glen Auldyn and Frances from the Isle of Mull. We are always looking to improve the area where the trains are housed and maintained. I worked as a volunteer for 18 years before becoming the Maintenance Manager. As a former joiner, I have constructed much of the station, including a new bridge over the tracks. I also drive some of the engines and train the other drivers.'

It was the railway, in the guise of the former North Staffordshire Railway, that brought thousands of trippers to Rudyard Lake in the nineteenth century, when many events were staged for their entertainment. Captain Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel, demonstrated his swimming ability there and Carlos Trower performed a tightrope walk across the lake - a daredevil feat commemorated in a tall sculpture carved from an old oak tree. A much more recent event saw the original presenters of Top Gear testing amphibious cars they had designed. Those made by Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson sank but James May's converted Triumph Herald, complete with sail and mast, performed well.

The Iron Green Man at the entrance to Tittesworth Water Visitor CentreThe Iron Green Man at the entrance to Tittesworth Water Visitor Centre

For many nineteenth century visitors, Rudyard Lake was a romantic destination. John Lockwood Kipling and Alice MacDonald, the parents of the writer Rudyard Kipling, were so fond of the lake where they had first met that they named their son after it.

Although Tittesworth might not have been adopted as a Christian name, the reservoir is certainly the equal of Rudyard in attracting the many visitors who are drawn to the lakeland below the last of the Peak District hills.

QUIZ - Can you tell the difference between the Peak District and the Lake District?

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