We knew that the stone circle of Wet Withens was close by and stopped to see if we could find it, even though the heather is high and that makes finding many of these small Derbyshire circles almost impossible. So it was to prove that day, though we were accompanied by a trio of sheep for most of the way they seemed to have little interest in our quest. Simply being there, though, with the heather in full bloom and panoramic views across the valley was a sheer joy for me. From Eyam Moor in Derbyshire over the valley to the hills of Yorkshire, with Carl Wark on the skyline, another unexplained hillfort we have yet to visit.
The weather was as changeable as spring… warm sunshine one moment, stormy skies the next. We sat on the short grass of an ancient burial cairn and drank in the heather for a moment. There was an opening in the cairn… part of it had collapsed in the middle, probably from something digging and it felt a little strange sitting there not knowing what lay beneath.
Of course, with a camera in hand, that at least we could remedy to some extent, in spite of my companion’s insistence that it was a) a hobbit hole and b) I would fit down there head first with no trouble at all. There are, however, limits to my sense of adventure and while I might well be a) hobbit sized, I did not want b) to bring me face to face with the occupant, living or dead, in the confined space of a tunnel thank-you-very-much.
Even so, it was a magical world down there. Laying on the damp grass, again, not an unusual position when there is a camera to hand, I managed to get a good look down what I can only assume to be a rabbit hole… possibly no longer occupied as there had been no sign of any animals passage there aside from our escort of sheep.
Silvery cobwebs barred the entrance, roots glowed in the flash light and lichens seemed luminescent even without the flash. The tunnels seemed to stretch for miles, though doubtless that was an illusion. I wondered how many people got to see this far inside a burrow…or a barrow .. with their own eyes. It was a surreal landscape, a hollow hill. Once ‘inside’ there was no way of measuring scale, all points of reference disappeared and I really did feel like Alice, not knowing what strange creatures of myth and magic I could meet…or if I would come face to face with a white rabbit. I had to wonder if Lewis Carroll had ever stuck his head inside a similar tunnel. I could quite see how the story had been born had he done so.
The tunnel seemed to reach right into the hill, a faery pathway lit with witchlight and without the usual measure of scale it looked as if you could have ridden a horse down it. It made me wonder just what is going on beneath our feet, in the earth we think of as solid ground. Over the weekend we had seen unexpected caverns and gaping holes in the landscape, mines and fissures, tree roots that grew as steps up a hillside and now these hidden highways. So much that we take for granted when we look only at the surface, believing we understand yet seeing only a small part of what is truly there.
We turned back after a while, with still no sign of the mark stones we had been told to head for. The wind was strong and chilly, the light fading and the rain threatening once more and we drove back to Sheffield through swathes of heather, under the bulk of Carl Wark so lately the horizon of another county. We had achieved only part of what we had intended over the weekend yet, once more, had been given so many unexpected gifts along the way. You need to have a plan of sorts or you would never set out in the first place, but our travels have certainly taught us that the plan is only a framework to hold possibility… what happens next is the adventure.