Outdoor Climbing – The Roaches

Outdoor Climbing – The Roaches

Outdoor climbing is definitely something that we at StartClimbing want to encourage young climbers to do. Once you’ve read our articles about preparing to go outdoor climbing, your next choice is where to go.

The Roaches was recommended by Lilia (@lilia.climbs).

“Some really fun high grades and lots of other easy grades”
“Lots of options for bouldering and trad”
“It’s got some really cool scenery”
“It’s compact so you don’t have to walk far. The boulders and trad are really close together”
“I really liked the fact there was bouldering and ropes there”
“I really liked the caves nearby”

The Roaches is an area of the Peak District in Staffordshire, England. It’s name comes from roches, which is French for rock. The area is popular with families for rock climbing and hillwalking due to it’s easy access, beautiful scenery and variety of routes.

Thank you to Stu at Peak Climbing School for his extra tips and local inside information. (@peakclimbingschool)


The Roaches are located near Upper Hulme, above the Leek and Tittesworth Resevoir, approximately 30 minutes from Stoke on Trent or Buxton on the A53. Access is via Roach Road and plenty of parking can be found along this road in laybys. The rocks can then be accessed via an easy walk on a gravel/stone path of around 500yards.

Type of Climbing

The stone in this area is gritstone – which means it’s texture is gritty, rough like a rough sandpaper. This makes it easier to grip but the rough surface can be harsh on softer fingers. Due to it’s nature, the rock erodes fairly easily (in geological terms) so you don’t tend to find sharp corners and edges but it also means some of the popular locations rocks are a little ‘polished’ through useage.

Some of the best bouldering in the country is found on grit. The routes at The Roaches are mainly slabs with very few overhangs. There are 4 main areas for bouldering, the Spring Boulders which are easy to access, but are smooth and in wet months the ground is boggy and the rocks damp. The Lower Tier which is mainly in a pine forest contains plenty of easy access low grades and are weather-sheltered. This can mean on hot days it’s a great for shade but can also mean it gets humid and the rocks more mossy. Upper Tier has high quality climbs but is very popular and some areas are well worn. Unlike the other areas though the rocks dry very quickly. Quieter and with smaller boulders, so great for beginners and younger families is Skyline End.

There are wide range of Trad routes, ranging in height from under 10m to over 40m, multipitch climbs.

Good For:

  • Some of the highest quality Top50 Trad routes are located in this area
  • Plenty of easy access low grade routes for beginners or younger children. Many are easy enough to be completed in just trainers.
  • Most of the trad routes have easy access to set up top ropes
  • Most routes have a nice, easy descent
  • Lots of low grade routes that are great for beginners to practice gear placement.
  • Although some of the rocks (mainly lower footholds) are polished, there aren’t polished full routes.

Not so good for:

  • The fog and mist can sit in the morning, making the rocks quite damp until mid morning.
  • The area is popular (for good reason) and can become busy, especially on a nice weekend. Queues can form for popular routes at peak times.
  • Don’t go with just one boulder mat! Many routes will need multiple to be completed safely.
  • Midges – towards the end of the summer, like most crags, The Roaches has it’s share of biting insects.
  • In summer there is little shade on the Top Tier or Spring Boulders. Sunburn is a serious risk, so take plenty of suncream and water.

Guide Books

A good guide book is essential for any trip, giving information on access and all the routes. You’ll have a lot more fun if you know what you want to climb and how to find it. The following books contain good information covering The Roaches area.

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Of interest to kids and families

The Don Whillans Memorial Hut is a building with an interesting history, carved and built into the rock. It is now owned by the BMC and used as a climbers bunkhouse available for rent. Children will love living in a cave and the fact it looks like a Hobbit castle.

The interesting Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was believed to be set near here. The main part of the story takes place at Lud’s Church, a beautiful rock chasm near Gradbach a short walk away.

If you’re not feeling confident to go out alone, a family climbing session can be booked through Peak Climbing School covering a half day of roped climbing and bouldering at The Roaches.

There is a fun weaselling course. Think of weaselling like a natural obstacle course, rock hopping and scrambling to get to the finish. Kids love it. In one section there is a tunnel good for small/young climbers that involves a bit of scrambling. Helmets needed. (Starts to the right of Spring Boulders).

Whenever we have been there has a been an ice cream van at the entrance by the car park and the local pub, comes highly recommended. The Winking Man at Upper Hulme allows camping/camper vans on site and has good reviews.

The Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, who manage the area, run family friendly nature walks and wildlife spotting trips that can make for a fun addition to a climbing trip. Details can be found on their website.

Other Useful links:
The BMC website – including their Regional Access Database
UKClimbing website including crag guides and logbook

DISCLAIMER – The author is not a qualified climbing instructor and all climbers should ensure they have the skills, training and equipment necessary for climbing before embarking on the activity. All climbers enter into the activity of climbing at their own risk and should always be aware of the possibility of serious injury or death as per the BMC participation statement that can be found on their website.

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