A day in the Dark Peak – Little John’s grave

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The day of the meeting we gathered at the old Fox House inn high above the Derbyshire Dales; a place we plan on using as our base for the September workshop. The inn dates back to 1773 and its stones look out over the moors with a feeling of permanence and solidity. From here you can see the enigmatic bulk of Carl Wark rising like some stone-built ship from the landscape, and above is Higger Tor, where I love to catch the dawn on my way home when the time of year permits.

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It is from there that I have watched the valley fill with mist and seen the sun cast a golden glow on the heather. When the weather is kind, I can think of no lovelier place to spend an afternoon. The weather, however, was not disposed to be kind and we were glad of the warmth of the inn as we sat and talked through the plans for the upcoming workshop in April. There is only so long you can sit over lunch, though, and few places that offer shelter at this time of year.

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There was one place though, close at hand… and one of our number had never visited the church at Hathersage, so we regained the cars and headed down into the little town. There is a tiny, narrow lane that climbs the hill to the church of St Michael and All Angels and it is not the easiest road to manoeuvre in a car… especially when, almost at the top, you realise that your timing is about as bad as it can get… the funeral party were just placing the coffin back in the hearse.I turned the car and came back down the hill.

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Our companions drove past, not seeing us and for the next ten minutes it was like a chase from some ancient silent movie as we passed and re-passed each other, frantically waving, before finally meeting in the now empty parking place by the church.

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You could not wish for a more beautiful setting and I wondered how many brides had been blessed with the green backdrop for their wedding photographs. On one side the valley spreads a green counterpane, even in winter, on the other three sides the old stones of houses that have clustered here for centuries are a mellow gold.

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Carved heads and strange creatures decorate the outer walls of the church… unemployed gargoyles ousted by modern plumbing. The broken shaft of a worn and ancient cross stands forlorn beneath the living dance of branches.

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Even in the bitter and biting cold, patches of snowdrops, daffodils and crocus dot the green of the churchyard where a giant grave marks the place where the legendary companion of Robin Hood is said to sleep beneath a watchful eye. John Little… better known as Little John.

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Little John was the challenger at the ford who fought Robin Hood with a quarterstaff for the right of passage before joining him. The origins of such legends  are lost in the oral tradition that graced our hearthfires before stories were preserved in books or used as inspiration for medieval romances.

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The first tales of Little John were  penned in 1420… and by that time the church at Hathersage had already been standing for forty years… with earlier churches on the site for at least two hundred years more than that. But it was cold and blowing a bitter wind… inside seemed the place to be…

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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
This entry was posted in Ancient sites, Churches, Landscape and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to A day in the Dark Peak – Little John’s grave

  1. I love reading of your rambles. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. smackedpentax says:

    hmmm….I wonder who is really buried under there….maybe it IS Little John…guess we’ll never know…


  3. Mary Smith says:

    Fascinating but now I have an ear worm of the signature tune from the children’s Robin Hood programme many, many years ago. I can only remember a couple of lines of the words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      ‘Riding through the glen….’ 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • macjam47 says:

      Mary, let me help you out. While you have an ear-worm, you might as well learn all of the words. Well. all of the words that were sung on the TV show (if you are really ambitious, there are four more verses). When we were young, my brother would sing this at the top of his voice over and over and over. Of he wasn’t singing it, he was humming it.

      Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen
      Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men
      Feared by the bad, loved by the good
      Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood

      He called the greatest archers to a tavern on the green
      They vowed to help the people of the king
      They handled all the troubles on the English country scene
      And still found plenty of time to sing

      Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen
      Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men
      Feared by the bad, loved by the good
      Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood


  4. adeleulnais says:

    Beautiful photos and a beautiful place. Little John`s grave, wow, I would love to see that and the last pic of the eye and the stag, very very interesting.


  5. oh, how this delights


  6. BunKaryudo says:

    What a shame! Not even gargoyles have job security these days. 🙂


  7. noelleg44 says:

    I never knew there was an actual burial site for Little John – he is such a legendary character. And what a beautiful setting!


  8. macjam47 says:

    Sue, lovely photos and history lesson, once again. I am impressed that you visited Little John’s grave site.


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