Approached on foot from the south, on the cycle track, 19 August 2004. The tarmac surface of the track did not please me but it's still worth walking in that way to get that first magic glimpse of the huge limestone bluff looming out of the trees high above the river. That view created a wonderful prehistoric vibe. I could imagine a plume of smoke and the shouts and cries of a paleolithic tribe living around the cave, which nestles high up under the cliff. The walk up to the cave is worth the effort, tremendous views up the valley. A very commanding position. Not a very comfortable cave for a permanent habitation but, because of it's position, it surely must have been occupied by hunting groups. Imagine the post- ice-age scene while your're up there, with herds of elk and maybe a mammoth or two roaming down the valley!
It's a walk of about one mile to Thor's Cave, either down a dry valley from the village of Wetton or along a cyclepath which runs alongside the River Manifold.
I chose to approach the cave from the cyclepath, crossing the river on a footbridge below the cave. The riverbed is usually dry here, apart from in very wet weather, as the river disappears into swallowholes in the limestone bedrock and travels underground through this part of the valley.
Thor's Cave is a popular calling point for visitors to the Dovedale area and the path up to the cave has been provided with many steps. The entrance to the cave can be very slippy on the usually wet floor, made smooth by the passage of many feet. An internal fissure allows light into the cave and a torch is required to explore its inner reaches.
Occupied from the end of the ice age, a Bronze Age burial has been found within.
Thor's cave has obtained a diversity of names. Dr. Plot calls it Thyrsis cavern, Thor's house, Thurshole, and Hobhurst cave, some of which names appear to have originated with the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, who now call it Huzzes Tar, which according to traditions handed down from father to son, was formerly the retreat of a very mysterious being called Hobhurst.
[...] There is a small opening in the rock immediately below Thor's Cave, which is known by the name of Radcliffe's stable, from a person of that name having concealed his horse there when the Scotch rebels were making marauding excursions on marching through the country in 1745.
From Samuel Carrington's 'Account of the Excavations and Discoveries in Thor's Cave, Wetton Dale...' in Reliquary 6, April 1866.
I'm sure Stubob will know which is the latter cave, after his feats of mountaineering, and the likelihood of anyone being able to stable a horse in it.
The Fiddling Hobthurse of Thor's Cave in the Manifold Valley, whose "fiddling" or screeching filled the cavern, was however something more than a harmless sprite. One cannot go far wrong in taking him to be the god to whom sacrifice was offered on the altar in the cave. Thor's Cave, as a matter of fact, has nothing to do with Thor. Its old name is Thursehole, the cave of the thurse or fairy..
Notes on Staffordshire Folklore
W. P. Witcutt
Folklore, Vol. 52, No. 3. (Sep., 1941), pp. 236-237.
Well here's some weirdness which would certainly have caught the eye and imagination of anyone who could have seen it in prehistory, if that's possible (bear with the first bit, without it the second makes no sense).
To the Editor of the Staffordshire Advertiser.
"Sir,—The extraordinary explosions that issue from a cleft in a rock near Wetton (an account of which lately appeared in the 'Reliquary') are a circumstance extremely puzzling ; so much so that a satisfactory solution appears almost hopeless. The attempt by your correspondent that appeared lately in your valuable paper is certainly very ingenious, and to many may appear a satisfactory one. But residing, as I do, in the immediate vicinity, I am well acquainted with the district and with circumstances that set aside the mere possibility of the reports being caused by pent-up atmospheric air upon the accession of a flood filling the subterranean course.
During the present hot and dry summer a river(except to Darfur bridge, a little below Wetton mill) has had no existence, yet loud explosions were heard by several persons on the 25th of June, and as well attested as any of the previous ones. Besides, no flood, however great and sudden, could produce an explosion or expulsion of air from the fissure in the rock, which is sixty or seventy yards or more above the bed of the river. The subterranean course throughout is directly beneath the upper or surface one, and, owing to the dislocations of the strati, numerous communications exist betwixt them. Not many of these holes or clefts can be seen on walking along the dry bed, owing to their being covered by blocks of limestone, bouldered grit, stones, and pebbles.
Whilst we were clearing out Thor's Cave, which overlooks the bed of the river, a heavy thunderstorm, in the distance, suddenly filled the subterranean passage with water, which also flowed down the previously dry bed at the surface, when I witnessed a novel and pretty sight—numerous small jets of water forced up by pent-up air, which indicated tbe progress of infilling in the underground channel.
Noiselessly the puny fountains continued to advance, and the water from below to rise and mingle with the stream above. It is evident, when the communications are so free and requent, that other causes than pent-up air originate the loud reports that issue from the fissure in the rock. With respect to the flames said to be seen after the reports, we have the united testimony of three men, two of whom were certainly highly terrified at the time, but they still positively adhere to their first relation.
The third person was a cool spectator, who went purposely to a neighbouring eminence, and as near as he durst venture, to witness the occurrence.
It has been suggested that large cavities, connected by strait and intricate passages, may exist, where falls of rock take place occasionally, and that cherty fragments, by producing sparks, would ignite hydrogen gas. However scientific individuals may differ in their attempt to explain the cause, the fact that explosions do occur is too notorious to be ignored, although nothing similar in nature has been recorded.—Yours, &c,
" SAMUEL CARRINGTON."
"Wetton, Aug. 10th, 1870."
The jets of water sound truly strange. And you can't help wondering whether that's why the cave is 'Thor's Cave' - Thor had a hammer and was responsible for lightning (hence the explosions and the flames?). Yep it's another of my speculations but I like it. Yeah I know - it's more likely to do with Thyrs / Thurs cave, and linking back to Hobthrush...
(An unrelated but bizarre fact is that 'The Verve' filmed one of their videos here, apparently.)
Samuel Carrington from Wetton excavated the cave in the 1860's. His finds included flint artefacts, a stone adze and bronze brooches. The most interesting of the finds was a Neolithic/Bronze Age skeleton buried in an upright position in the clay of the caves floor.
In the 1920's, a druid from Onecote named Ralph de Tunstall Sneyd, and some of his followers reinstated the Gorsedd ceremony at Thor's Cave.