Luds Church, Gradbach
You are almost on the edge of nowhere – in an area known as The Black Forest - at the point where the Westerly Pennines slip anonymously into the Cheshire plain. Nearby are places with names such as Wincle, Wildboarclough and Longgutter. Here is Luds Church (map ref 987656) – you will have to look hard to discover it. Often when I have taken friends to show them this strangest of places I have had to search again and again for the hidden entrance.
This is where they say the Lollards (condemned as heretics) hid out in the 14th Century – and it is easy to see why. Who would ever find this place without a map and a knowledgeable guide? Books will casually remark that Luds Church is ‘worth a diversion’. It is worth much more than that. Luds Church must be one of the weirdest and wonderful of places and deserving of more than a throwaway nod.
This natural cleft is over 100 yards in length and in height over 20 yards high in places. Here the light of day rarely reaches and damp mosses curl down from the walls. If you stop and listen, even on the sunniest of days, it is possible to hear the drip and drip of water from the ferns which cling to the sides of this cleft. Perhaps of greatest significance is that this spot has been identified as The Green Chapel – the very place where Sir Gawain met and battled with the Green Knight one new year’s day long ago.
These photographs were taken on that very day in 2006. Looking back into the dark cleft it is possible to distinctly see the outline, in the rock, of The Green Knight. Such is the affect of this place on a traveller that myth and reality merge seamlessly – which is which? I don’t care to remember. The original poem describes it in this way:
They rode up steep slopes where the branches are bare
They climbed up rock faces gripped by the cold
The clouds were high up – but dark underneath.
Mist drizzled on moor – broke up on the hills
Each peak wore a hat - a big cloak of mist.
Streams boiled and splashed down the hillsides about…
This is a remarkable place. You may not encounter the Green Knight but your imagination is sure to be stirred in one way or another.
How to get there
To reach it from Gradbach, find the Youth Hostel - itself an historic old mill (map ref 994661) - and walk down to cross a tributary of the Dane on a footbridge. Take the footpath up the hill to the right towards Swythamley. At the top of the rise after about 600 yards, turn sharp left to reach Lud's Church. Multimap.