We knew the story. Both James and Paul himself have told how it was found, when Paul and his brother, exploring the moors as children, had come upon the strange passageway…and how the smaller of the brothers had been ‘encouraged’ to crawl down the low tunnel, finding that it led deep within the hill. We knew of the subsequent explorations and of the very strange happenings when, on several occasions, the blocking stone had moved of its own accord.
No explanations have been found, nor have any of the very many archaeologists contacted by James and Paul been able to offer any suggestions as to what the tunnel might be. On this moor completely covered by more archaeology than you can imagine, it is an anomaly; a single, unexplained tunnel in one of the few patches of moorland where there are…apparently…no surviving remains of the ancient culture that revered the land. Finding it, though, even when James knew exactly where to look, was no easy feat with the bracken so high. On top of that, “Even if we are right next to it, if the blocking stone is in place, we’ll never find it,” said James.
We had almost given up when Stuart had the idea of taking bearings from one of James’ photographs. Even that didn’t seem to work. “Can’t you ask the fairies again?” he said, referring to our finding of the elusive ‘wood-stone’. Sure enough, the fairies obliged and a moment later I found the tunnel, complete with its blocking stone in place.
Flat out on the floor, a few minutes later, I am thankful for the added padding of the years otherwise, being the smallest, I know who would have been prodded to emulate Paul’s younger brother. As it was, we managed to see a fair distance into the hill by torchlight. The roots of bracken force their way between carefully laid stones…this is no rabbit warren or accident of nature. This is man-made.
Too narrow and far too deep to be a shelter or even a smuggler’s drop-off point left over from the days of evading the excise man, too narrow to allow a person to reach in and pass anything back…including the soil from its digging… It reminded me of the star-shafts in the pyramids. “It looks like the lightbox at Newgrange…” said Stuart. Later, as we walked away, I was struck by the shape of the hill itself… looking awfully like a long barrow where there are no long barrows. It would have to be a huge one…
James was back on the internet that evening, emailing every archaeologist he could find. Again. It is not as if the research has not been done. Old maps, aerial photos and old records have been pored over and knowledgeable folks consulted. And yet, once again, although he had some interested responses, none of the archaeologists accepted James’ offer to come and have a look.
Now, it must be said that if it were a lightbox or star shaft, which even we admit would be really unlikely, it could be as great a find as Newgrange. Or the Sutton Hoo burials. It could even rewrite part of history. You would think there would be one archaeologist prepared, for a free lunch, to leave the office and have a bimble, because, let’s face it…finding Tutankhamen’s tomb was unlikely too. And while there may be no gold, nothing more than bones at the end of the tunnel, it could be one hell of a find…
The long walk back to the Cow and Calf was enlivened by discussion and speculation. There was one more thing we were going to see though before we parted company with James. The Badger Stone is at some distance from where we were. It would have been good to walk there, but it was getting quite late in the day by this time and there is a track that leads fairly close. We took the cars, knowing we would part company after we had seen the stone.
The Badger stone is possibly the best carved stone on the moors. For its history and a discussion of the symbolism carved here, read Paul Bennett’s article here. I hadn’t seen it for years and was disconcerted by how much the erosion has been hastened by our modern, polluted air. Like the Swastika stone, close by on the edge of the moor, the carvings have been visibly diminished within my own short lifetime, carvings which had survived the assault of thousands of years of wind and rain. I wonder how much longer they will last and how many more such stones will now be lost before they are discovered… for ‘new’ carvings are being discovered on these moorlands all the time.
The stone changes with the shifting light and weather. Its colour is never stable and what you see depends on how the light hits the stone. Conditions were far from ideal, but even so, the plethora of carvings is mind-boggling… almost a hundred of them. There is an unfinished swastika… nothing to do with the later misappropriation of this ancient symbol… and many cup and ring marks that have been the subject of much discussion. Their true interpretation remains unknown and may always do so. I was struck, coming as we had from Scotland, by their resemblance to the aerial view of the tombs at Clava Cairns. But to do a bit of misappropriation of my own, our day in the hills had come to an end. Taking leave of James, all that remained was the final drive back to Sheffield, once again taking the back roads and high roads over the hills to arrive long after nightfall. We still had a day left before I had to head south again… but that was a different story. We had work to do…