|An hours drive east of home is Buxton, one of the main towns of the Peak district. Ten minutes south of Buxton is a village called Earl Sterndale, it's two nearest neighbors are Glutton Bridge and Hollinsclough, it is to this area, with it's distinctive hills many cairns and archaeology rich caves that my mind and wheeled wagon has been turning.
I first came here one drizzly morning seven years ago, principally to locate and explore Dowel cave. But not knowing it's exact whereabouts I blundered around looking here and there, scrambling up and down sheer cliffs, coming face to face with a fox and sheltering from the incessant showers, during these blunderings I came upon a small cave entrance, it wasn't the cave I was looking for, I had a poke at the metal shield that kept stuff out and it fell over, on it's own, it came off in me hand, so I went in.
The cave entrance has been deliberately blocked, in it's natural state you could just walk in, now you must crawl worm like down and through. It's bigger once you are in, there is a sign pointing to the back of the cave on it says Staffs L D W A Leek moors, I was taken a back that's for sure, the leek moors must be five to ten miles away, can this cave go that far. I didn't test this assertion. So I left.
Eventually I found the cave I was looking for, Dowel cave is more open than the other, you can walk straight through the ahem...vagina shaped opening, but the further you go the more you must crouch and in the end go on all fours. I didn't go further, my only light was the camera's flash.
That was my first time. The cave turned out to have a name it was Etches cave.
The next time I came the weather was much more conducive to climbing the two main hills here Parkhouse hill and Chrome hill. I started with the latter.
Chrome hill has had songs written in its honour, by a Norwegian jazz group no less. Map doesn't say how high it is, but it is Glastonbury tor sized or a little bigger, cut in half long ways, and right at the very top my legs shake and I must crawl around on hands and knees lest gravity pull me over the side. It's from here that I watch a perfect summer sunrise, the suns warm glow slowly filled the valley below me, across the valley I can pinpoint Etches cave. Turning north is the long side of Hollins hill with it's very obvious cairn on top, I make a mental note that it's imperative to climb it one day.
But not today, south from here is Parkhouse hill, a truly great and over sized giant whale breaking the surface of the sea of grass, this hill turns out to be harder to get up.
After some aborted attempts I find the easy way up, from the east. Although this raised ancient coral reef, is lower than the other, Chrome hill, for both are such, it is much more perilous, the narrow ridge that one must traverse is like a grassy mellowed out Crib Goch, certain death one way, presumed death the other. The summit is two rocky prominences, that I wedge myself between, lest gravity get it's way, the whole place no bigger than a small kitchen, I move about very carefully. From here the two main points in view are the very obvious cairn on the next hill over, and High Wheeldon and it's Fox hole cave, all places I must go to if i'm to know and understand this place better.
Too many years later,
Eric and me are up at Hatch-a-way hill cairn, the next hill over from Parkhouse hill. It is a very good cairn, like a Llyn Brenig platform cairn, wide, high and much stone, but the view down to the valley below Chrome hill, as the sun sets and the nearest moon for a century rises behind us, is a site that words do no justice, if an over chatty nine year old is silenced it must have been pretty good.
A year later
Eric and his mate Luke accompany me up to the cairn on Hollins hill, a large grassy doughnut, with some stone showing through in the scooped out area. The sun was out but the wind was high, and with two energetic ten year olds this was never going to be a long hang out. Perhaps the two caves could hold there attention for a little longer. The two things I took from Hollins hill, was the good cairn, and the sensational view down to Chrome hill, and beyond it to Parkhouse hill.
Armed with torches and the go anywhere attitude of children sadly lacking in a sense of self preservation, we got back into Dowel and Etches, and went as far as we could without crawling on hands and knees, both caves undoubtedly went much further than I dared take my two carefree charges. Interesting to note is the list of the things freed from the soils in both caves......
From Dowel cave,
It had been used in the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Beaker, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods, but mostly used as a Neolithic burial-cave. Under these deposits was found Late Upper Palaeolithic material, which included flint tools, charcoal from a hearth, fragments of antler, and pieces of bone showing marks of cutting, radiocarbon dates from an Antler showed the cave was used around 9200 bc.
And from Etches cave,
Finds included three pieces of worked flint, sherds of a Bronze Age collared urn, two worked antler fragments in association with some animal bones, a range of faunal remains including bear, reindeer, hare and cat, and a bone point of possible Upper Palaeolithic date.
So both caves were important places in the past, all of the past apparently, especially Dowel cave. Also worthy of note, just a few tens of meters from Dowel cave entrance is the site of water pouring from a very small cave, a strange thing, water spontaneously gushing from the ground itself, a gift from the Mother.
Just a couple of months ago I took Eric and the dogs up High Wheeldon, it has a cave, barred to the public by iron gates and bricked up interior. Another Neolithic burial cave, with the oldest known bones from the White Peak, also used in the Paleolithic, plus much more. So another special place, one that was passed down through the generations, perhaps becoming more special over time. Barrows begin to be built on all the hill tops in the Bronze age, yes they are all on hill tops but they do have a view of a cave or Chrome and Parkhouse. From Pilsbury cairn High Wheeldon takes on a Pyramidal form, but from Cronkston Low the hill has it's side to us.
This last Thursday was my latest visit to the area, Harley Grange barrow had pointed itself out to me so I made a special trip there to see what was where.
The barrow itself is perhaps the largest in the area, it has an old wall crossing lowly over it's back, and many badger holes, I presume them to be badgers only because I've never heard of Red Deer digging burrows.
The positioning of this big barrow at first puzzled me, it occupies the end of a downward ridge, why wouldn't they put it at the top of the hill ? I wondered, so up I went to see if there was already something there, there wasn't.
Its positioning could only be reckoned from where it could be seen from or what could be seen by it, it was definitely projecting it's presence southwest to southeast, so that's from Fox hole cave to Chrome hill.
After the big barrow I decided I've enough time to re-climb Parkhouse hill, perfect parking and knowing the way propel me there quickly, and soon my legs are wobbling as I traverse the narrow way up. The summit has two rocky prominence's that I wedge myself between for safety, all in all it is a small place and down there wants you to come to it very quickly, I try to keep still.
From up here it all becomes clear, North is Chrome hill and looking over its shoulder is Hollins hill, not all of it just the bit with the cairn on it. Turning right we slow down over Stoup High edge cairn, over more still to Stoup High edge cairn more still to Upper edge cairn. Far below Upper edge cairn are the two deep caves of Etches and Dowel. Immediately north is Hatch-a-way cairn and above that Harley Grange cairn, East is Hitter hill with it's cairn that I haven't been to yet and beyond that High Wheeldon and Fox hole cave, near there barrows fade off into the distance for Arbor Low is just a couple of small hills away.
So why is this place special ?
Does it start in the Paleolithic, or the Neolithic when burials were taking place in caves that go on for ever, or the Bronze age when the barrows and cairns were going up.
Or is it the very distinctive almost alive hills they have here, the perfect dragons back of Parkhouse hill, the higher half dome of Chrome hill, the Pyramid of High Wheeldon. Or is it the water that magically flows through the valleys.
Or is it all these things.
It is most assuredly a special place.
Posted by postman
1st December 2013ce
Edited 1st December 2013ce
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