Wandering the backroads that meander through the hills between Staffordshire and Derbyshire was something I had been promising myself for a while. The map is the last thing on my mind… I just point the car in a generally northerly direction and let the roads take me where they will.
In this way, I get all the joy of discovery, even though there are occasions when I find things that lead to a gnawing frustration… because I invariably find them when there is not the time to explore. Especially when I am looking for places to pull over on the narrow roads to take in a particularly fine view.
I did have enough time for a couple of village churches before I was due at my destination, but the looming presence of Thor’s Cave would have to wait for another day. It is somewhere I have long wanted to visit, but, what with one thing and another, I had yet to see it. I was vaguely aware that it was somewhere in the Manifold Valley, but I didn’t even know that was where I was until I turned a corner and a saw it just hanging there, right in front of me.
I had only seen pictures until that moment and the sheer presence of the place does not come across in a photograph. Stopping was impossible on that narrow stretch above the drop into the valley below, so I continued driving, hoping I would find afield gate to pull into to capture at least some kind of shot.
The countryside is wearing its summer gown. The lowering clouds and recent rain made every colour ultra-vivid as I tried to find a parking spot. At the bottom of the hill, I gave up. There was somewhere to park… but there were more midges over the river than I fancied risking.
Turning the car, I headed back up the hill towards Wetton, where I had seen a church that needed to be looked at…and I found a place to briefly stop. The cave mouth is huge, over thirty feet high, and I knew that over ten thousand years ago our ancestors had seen it as a special place. Tools and burials have been found in the caves and … we were going to have to come back.
It was one of those days…the ones where tantalising glimpses are given that will need further research and exploration… the first breadcrumbs on the trail of our newly re-opened quest. Far vistas, ancient church towers, hillforts, mounds and caves, all glimpsed in solitude from the car.
It is a curious thing, part of the alchemy of how we work, that although we may both have these ‘placeholder moments’, it is not until Stuart and I visit the sites together that their full import makes itself known. My meanderings are little more than an advance scouting of the area that throw up just enough interest to tempt us back.
Thor’s cave has been flitting in and out of our adventures for a couple of years now, but we had yet to venture close enough to get a glimpse. The old Roman Road that runs beside Arbor Low had, thus far, been our unconscious boundary.
As I drove, the places and sites we already knew began to fit into a greater landscape as the roads ‘joined the dots’ in knowledge, expanding the area of awareness. The subsequent research and those odd coincidences that make you sit up and take notice would throw up several more sites with which we already seemed to have a tenuous connection.
It felt as if a clean wind had blown open a musty room and let the fresh air and sunlight back in. Without warning, we seemed to be back on track…though where that track may lead us, is anyone’s guess. Wherever it goes, it will be an adventure….