Slain Hollow & King Ina’s Rock, Alton

Alton is one of my favourite places.

Ever since childhood many of my fondest and earliest memories are of great days around the world renowned theme park, Alton Towers, nestled in the beautiful Staffordshire countryside, a few miles away from where I grew up.

The Churnet valley from Tootle rock with Alton Castle visible on the right and Bunbury hill on the left

The ancient village of Alton has been inhabited for well over a thousand years.

There is a great sense of mystery to the place, with many local legends, myths and hidden histories.

Alton castle – the remains of a Norman castle are still visible on top of the rocky outcrop. The first stone castle was built following the Norman invasion by Bertram III de Verdun who also founded nearby Croxden Abbey. The current Gothic revival castle was built in 1847, designed by A W Pugin, who also designed the Houses of Parliment. 

Alton and Farley are Anglo-Saxon names. Alton means Aelfa’s settlement, and Farley refers to a clearing in the woods.

In 1086 Alton and Farley were described as ‘waste’, the Domesday wording for an area without value for taxation. Within a century the Norman castle had been built and its supporting population was served by a church first recorded in 1176.

Alton

An Iron Age fortress was located on what was known as ‘Bunbury hill’ which now sits within the boundaries of the Alton Towers on one side of the stunning Churnet valley facing the castle on the other side.

It is likely this was also occupied by Bronze Age people as early as 1200 BC.

The Saxon King, Ceolred of Mercia built a fort on this hill around 700 AD which would have been a prominent and important settlement given it’s position on top of the valley.

The embankment known as Bunbury Hill was once a hill fort. This now sits within the boundaries of Alton towers theme park

In 716 AD the site was beseiged by King Ina of Wessex.

On top of the rock

It is said that King Ina was encamped at what is now known as King Ina’s rock about a mile up the valley (located just behind where the current hotel complex is located).

Ancient plaque carved into the rock stating the distance to Alton Abbey (renamed Alton ‘Towers’ in the 1830s)

He would have settled here before the battle and is said to have held a Parliament underneath the rock before and following the battle, a perfect site to gather his troops and attack from as well as retreat to.

The rock face

The two Kings were fighting for the settlement which is thought was located on the site of where the current ruins of the gothic mansion stand. The battle is mentioned in a local chronicle and considered to have ended in stalemate, although it is sometimes claimed Ceolred was the victor.

The spot where it is said King Ina held parliament

The battle that ensured was so bloody and violent and the loss of life so great that the area on which the fighting took place has ever since been known as ‘Slain Hollow’, the exact site of which is now part of Alton Towers’ tranquil oriental water garden.

The oriental water garden at Alton Towers which was supposedly the site of the centre of the battle and the centre of ‘Slain Hollow’

As you approach the rock some 1,304 years later it is hidden amongst dense woodland, standing proudly at the top of the valley.

Curious trees on top of the rock

It is clear that this has been a landmark as well as place of significance and activity for thousands of years. There is a sense of history surrounding this ancient and cavernous space.

The cavern inside

You can easily imagine the Great Saxon warrior King preparing for battle, devising strategy and instructing his henchmen underneath this great outcrop.

Underneath the rock

People have been coming here for over a thousand years thinking about the events which unfolded on that day.

Looking up from the bottom of the rock

I can hear the bonfires crackle as the sparks float into the starry night whilst the warriors pensively gaze over the peaceful Churnet valley below, tentatively awaiting the call of the dawn and their destiny.

Local Legends – A plaque on the floor within the nearby Talbot Inn pub

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