This classic circuit takes in several famous landmarks of the Staffordshire Peak - Three Shire Heads, Gradbach Mill, Lud's Church, the Swythamley Hanging Rock and the Roaches. In between these there is some interesting and little traversed scenery, so this is quite a full day out!
The route described starts from Flash - though you could equally well start from Gradbach or (parking permitting) the Roaches. Walk up the lane opposite Flash church and past the Wesleyan chapel to take a small track on the right which leads up to two cottages. Just past the cottages a footpath branches off right - follow it and cross the field, contouring around the western side of Oliver Hill. You soon rejoin the original track and follow it for a short distance before it forks - here you should turn off left and climb over a low hill past a small gritstone outcrop before making a steep descent down Wolf Edge to the stream below.
Cross the stream to reach a small single-track road. Turn left and then, after about 200 metres, fork right and continue past the cottages which form the tiny hamlet of Knotbury. The road turns left and contours around the hillside before arriving at a farm gate - here the path turns down to the left and continues downhill to reach a tributary of the River Dane which is followed down to arrive at the famous packhorse bridge over the main river at Three Shire Heads.
Our next objective is Gradbach, which lies some three kilometres downstream. However, you have to choose which bank to follow and neither route keeps close to the river bank. The west bank route takes a good track which after a kilometre joins a minor road which can be followed all the way to Gradbach. If this seems a little tame then take the path on the east bank which is a little more interesting. It climbs a little above the river and then follows it to Knar, where there is a footbridge over the Dane and a house and derelict farm buildings alongside it. Pass above them and take a green track which follows a rising line across the fields and, where it reaches the high point of the ridge ahead, turn right along a footpath which descends the centre of the ridge to emerge on the road at Gradbach. Note the bell-pits or crude coal mines in the fields here and note also that above Knar there is a new farmtrack across the fields which is not marked on the OS maps - it takes a higher line than the one you want.
On arriving at the road near Gradbach turn left and follow it back to the tiny side road which leads to Gradbach Mill and Youth Hostel. Continue past the mill alongside the Dane until you cross a tributary stream by a footbridge and enter the woods ahead. Here you leave the river and climb steeply up to a wide path which traverses the hillside above - turn right and follow the track uphill towards Swythamley for about 400 metres to the junction with the Lud's Church path, which is just next to a rocky outcrop. This natural phenomena is well worth a diversion, and lies perhaps 200 metres back around the hillside.
From Lud's church continue along the Swythamley path until it finally gains the crest of the ridge - which is really the westernmost extension of the Roaches ridge. Here there is a crossroads - the path you have been following continues to Swythamley, the Hanging Rock of Swythamley lies a few hundred metres along the ridge to your right, and the track to the left leads along the ridge to the Roaches. Turn left - but a visit to the Hanging Rock is well worthwhile if you have time.
The path to the Roaches is well-trodden and easy to follow along the ridge. It is in a fine situation and offers a good view to the west, down to Swythamley Hall, over the valley of the Dane and across to Bosley Cloud near Congleton. Three kilometres pass before the track crosses the small road at Roach End and then climbs up onto the Roaches proper to pass the trig point which marks the high point, at 505 metres. It's a route which is punctuated by gritstone outcrops carved into weird shapes by the elements, culminating at the south end in the main Roaches crag, with its towering face and athletic rock-climbers.
The track passes along the top of the crag and then descends steeply over rough uneven ground to the gap between the Roaches and Hen Cloud. A visit to Hen Cloud is well worthwhile, but our route turns left at the first wall and heads back to the north-east along a well-marked path which leads to a farm track and eventually back to the road we crossed at Roache End, which has looped right around the back of the Roaches.
Turn right and follow the road nearly a kilometre to a 'T' junction. Directly ahead a path leads up to the right (east) of the cottages and this takes us on what is almost a tour of the small gritstone outcrops around here - which are northern extensions of Ramshaw. After 200 metres we arrive at Newstones - covered in ferocious rock-climbing problems - and then continue northwards to arrive at Baldstones - equally intimidating - while across the moor you can see another outcrop which goes by the name of Gib Hill.
The path turns right at Baldstones and contours around the hillside to reach a firebreak in the wood ahead, which leads to another small road which is followed left to another 'T' junction. Take the footpath along the farm track straight ahead, (another track not marked on the OS map) and when it turns up towards Roundhill Farm take a stile in the fence on the right and follow a faint path which heads for the northern end of the hill which looms over Roundhill Farm. This merges with a better path which comes round behind the farm from Gib Tor and then descends steeply down the hillside to Flash Bottom to cross Flash Brook just by the farm. Continue out the other side to reach the Flash-Gradbach road - unfortunately there seems little alternative but to return to Flash along the road - it's about a kilometre and steadily uphill!