We were meeting the third of our triad for lunch on Friday some miles from our base in Sheffield. First, however, we had something to do… somewhere we needed to visit. We had tried and failed on a few occasions now. This time we knew where we were going… well, we hoped so. We were on a mission.
We were greeted by jackdaws as we left the car by the pub, and a woodpecker and blue-tits flashed in as we set off down the path that skirts the face of the steep sided valley below Fin Cop. We were seeking a ruined fairy castle, but first we had to find our way through the enchanted forest.
Of course, it isn’t a really a castle; it just looks like one… and the forest is real. But the Fae associated with the place in the stories seem to be more goblin-like than fairytale. There are legendary giants turned to stone, tales of death, skeletons and virtuous virgins. What else would one do with a Friday morning before a meeting?
The ‘castle’ is only about three quarters of a mile as the crow flies. It is, or certainly feels, a little further as the intrepid adventurers walk… down rain-damp, slippery pathways covered in fallen gold from the trees, up steep banks where the thick moss and wildflowers hide the treacherous rubble of previous rockfalls underfoot…. And finally to a hidden pathway that took us to our destination and which would provide us with a far easier route back, I have to say.
There were once brachiopods and corals in a warm, shallow sea here. Now their fossilised skeletons are visible in the exposed rocks high above the current level of the waves far away. The wind in the trees, however, calls the tides to mind and far below the rushing water of the fall can be heard before we climb too high for it to reach us. All around the trees are heavy with berries, hips and haws, blood red against the grey morning.
It is an incredible place of fractured rock, rent and shattered by the elements into fantastic shapes. Great drifts of stone litter the earth and faces seem to loom from every angle. Yet, in spite of the hard edged stone, there is a gentleness to the place, an underlying joy that is hard to explain. The crows watch us as we invade their domain and we are watched too by the giant whose home we have come to see.
A great fissure in the rock face is his doorway, a tunnel beneath fallen boulders his threshold. Today we will not enter, The rocks are wet and slippery and we do have to remain at least fairly tidy for our meeting. Another day, however, that might be a different matter.
For now it is enough to have finally reached this place and take in the unique feel of the towering stones as we look back along the valley where the river shines beneath a grey sky, reflecting light in the watery mirror of its surface. All too soon we had to leave and head on back to the car. The skies began to clear and our route was far simpler on the way back, as if having persevered and attained our goal we were given passage… although, having failed to procure the traditional offering of cream for the denizens of the place a price in blood was paid. Quite inadvertently, I might add, as the half healed thumb split as I changed my walking boots, echoing the crimson of the berries on the hillside. Even so, it seemed appropriate… mere mortals always pay a price, say the old tales, for a passage to the Otherworld and the morning had indeed felt as if that was where we had been… somewhere out of time and beyond the world.