Sunday 9 October 2011

The Green Knight's Chapel for Sale

Last year it was reported that the Peak District National Park Authority (NPA) had put the Staffordshire Roaches estate up for sale.

The Roaches is situated in Staffordshire just north of the town of Leek, 'The Queen of the Moorlands', in the south west of the Peak District National Park and one of England’s most popular walking spots, renowned climbing venue and home to Lud’s Church, the site identified as The Green Knight's Chapel.

It is notoriously difficult to positively identify geographical sites from Arthurian literature but one site that does fit perfectly is Lud’s Church as the location of the Green Chapel from the late 14th century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Green Knight's Chapel has been identified as Lud’s Church because of the poet’s use of dialect words and rare topographical terms used in the poem appear in place-names all very local to the Roaches and this area of the Staffordshire Moorlands.

"Then the knight spurred Gringalet, and rode adown the path close in by a bank beside a grove. So he rode through the rough thicket, right into the dale, and there he halted, for it seemed him wild enough. No sign of a chapel could he see, but high and burnt banks on either side and rough rugged crags with great stones above. An ill-looking place he thought it."
Lud's Church is an huge natural chasm in the rock on the hillside above Gradbach, on the north side of the ridge, formed by a landslip which has let a cleft which is over 20 yards high in places and over 100 yards long, though in some places only a couple of yards wide. The place has many myths and legends associated with it, most famously Gawain and the Green Knight, were it is said that here the hero of the Arthurian romance slew the Green Knight, symbolic of death, rebirth and fertility.

The estate also boasts the site of the castle of the Green Knight; situated on the Staffordshire side of the River Dane, Swythamley Hall was originally a medieval hunting lodge belonging to the Abbey of Dieulacres. Swythamley Hall has been identified as 'Hautdesert',  in the classic medieval poem.

It is thought the poem may have been written by a Cistercian monk at the nearby Dieulacres Abbey, just north of Leek, known as 'The Pearl Poet' who's works exist in a single manuscript, in a dialect particular to the north west Midlands of England. The manuscript contains four poems: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Patience, and Purity. They appear to have been written by a single author; and of these, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is considered to be one of the classics of English literature. Like the anonymous poet, nothing now remains of the Abbey.

The NPA has owned the area since 1980 but is now looking for partners to help manage the area's 975 acres after having its government grant cut by five percent and selling the land is one option that is being considered by the authority. The moorland estate includes a former gamekeepers grade II listed cottage which is let to the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) for use as a climbing hut.  Much of the land is currently let on a grazing tenancy.

The Estate is designated at national and European level as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area.  It is also protected in existing and future planning policies as what is known as a Natural Zone. The moorland is important for a whole range of National Park objectives, including its biodiversity, cultural heritage, natural beauty, recreation and tourism values.

The NPA has three options; a partnership to jointly manage the estate; leasing it to another organisation, or selling the whole estate. If the estate is sold it will be with strict rules to ensure it's continuing protection. The NPA advertised in Summer 2010 for partners to help it to better manage the Roaches Estate and received nine expressions of interest, a mixture of environmental and land management organisations and individuals, some proposing a lease, some a purchase. Likley partners were thought to be The National Trust, The Wildlife Trust, the British Mountaineering Council and the RSPB.

Access to the Stafforshire Moorlands site will be maintained as most of the area has open access under the Countryside Rights of Way Act. However, any potential sale cannot rule out the possibility of restricted access or charging for access.

The BMC and the Ramblers Association have voiced there concerns to restricted access and the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council has come out and opposed the sale, vowing to do everything possible to ensure that local concerns are addressed and that it is never closed to the public.

"The knight turned his steed to the mound, and lighted down and tied the rein to the branch of a linden; and he turned to the mound and walked round it, questioning with himself what it might be. It had a hole at the end and at either side, and was overgrown with clumps of grass, and it was hollow within as an old cave or the crevice of a crag; he knew not what it might be."

The NPA has set out draft objectives for how it wants to see the Roaches protected and enhanced by any new partner, which it has sent for consultation to local councils, neighbours and interest groups, providing the best outcome for the future of the Roaches, including conserving its wildlife, heritage and landscape, ensuring open access, increasing understanding of its special qualities, looking after its farmland to high conservation standards and managing traffic. Shooting rights are specifically excluded.

The Roaches and Lud's Church should be in safe hands; three interested parties have submitted formal tenders for managing the Estate; the Land Trust, The National Trust and the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.  The NPA is delighted with the quality of all three submissions.  The tenders are presently being analysed, and a decision on the preferred party is expected to be made by the end of 2011.

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1 comment:

  1. UPDATE:
    The Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA) has announced its decision on management of the Roaches estate. As from spring 2013 the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust will be the new managers of the Roaches Estate on behalf of the PDNPA by way of a 125 year lease.

    Between 2012 and 2013 management of the Roaches estate will transfer from the PDNPA to the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. The transfer is being forced by the government, which provides the bulk of the PDNPA's funding, imposed budget cuts of 30% up to 2015.

    Although not currently a Trust nature reserve, the Roaches estate is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and forms part of the South Pennine Moor Special Area for Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA) the area holds numerous internationally important habitats including blanket bog and upland moorland.

    The 394-hectare (975-acre) estate, famous for its famous climbing crags also includes moorland, woodland and grassland, Gradbach Youth Hostel and car park and the British Mountaineering Council's Rockhall Cottage.

    The Staffordshire Wildlife Trust will conserve and enhance the wildlife, heritage and landscape of the Roaches estate and ensure open access and improve footpaths.


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