A truly mysterious place, a deep, dark chasm hidden within the depths of Back Forest in the Staffordshire Peak District. Those walking among the trees are often only alerted to the presence of Lud’s Church by a blast of cold air emerging through a gap in the rocks, even on the very hottest day.
Lud’s Church was created by a massive landslip in the gritstone that characterises this part of the Peak District, most probably as a large mass of rock slipped slightly downhill into the Dane Valley along a fault line in the stone, resulting in an open ravine.
It’s possible for explorers to venture inside Lud’s Church and walk the length of it. At over 100 metres long, 18 metres deep, and in places only a couple of metres wide, it towers above those within, dwarfing them with its steep sides.
Inside is green as far as the eye can see. The walls are covered with dripping mosses, ferns and grasses, and arching above the chasm, forming a natural roof, are trees that have grown from both sides to meet in the middle. You don’t need much imagination to picture Lud’s Church as a place of myths and mysteries.
A Place of History and Legend
Lud’s Church has a renowned place in history and legend. In the early 1400s the chasm is said to have been used as a secret place of worship for Lollards, reforming Christians who were opposed to many practices of the Roman Catholic church and who were persecuted for their beliefs. It is likely that the ‘Lud’ of the title came from Walter de Lud Auk, who was captured at Lud’s Church during one of their meetings.
For at least a century a wooden ship’s figurehead stood in a high niche within Lud’s Church. Placed there by the former landowner in the mid 1800s, it was known as ‘Lady Lud’ and was reportedly placed there in memory of Alice, the daughter of Walter de Lud Auk. It is said that her ghost still haunts the ravine, and it’s certainly not hard to conjure up images of apparitions here.
Long before the arrival of the Lollards, it is likely that Lud’s Church would have been a place of pagan worship. Sunlight really only penetrates to the depths of the chasm during the height of summer, and it is quite possible that it was the site of Midsummer ceremonies. Indeed, it is still possible to see occasional offerings hidden on the natural shelves and within the dark, overgrown crevices.
Lud’s Church is one of the most likely contenders for the location of the Green Chapel, a key setting in the medieval poem and well known Arthurian story, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Over the centuries Lud’s Church has also been associated with tales of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, possibly as a place of refuge and hiding from his enemies.
Whatever your beliefs, it remains that Lud’s Church is a fascinating place to explore, well worth the trip into the woods.
How to Get There
The closest village to Lud’s Church is Gradbach. From the village, walk past the Youth Hostel and on downstream to cross a footbridge. Head uphill and then right, following a path towards Swythamley. At the top of the rise, turn sharp left, to reach Lud’s Church after a further 200 metres or so. Do take care exploring as it is almost always wet underfoot and can be slippery.