Thor’s cave

Deep within the Manifold valley lies the intriguing prehistoric Thor’s cave. 

It is a place I have visited from a very early age and have been fascinated with its incredible situation overlooking the epic valley 260 feet below but also its ancient history. It is a place that has been used for thousands of years both as a place of refuse and safety, a place of rites and ritual and a place of burial.

As well as humans who would perhaps now be over 30,000 years old, all kinds of animals including those now long extinct such as bears and mammoths once used this place. 

The origins of the name of the cave are uncertain – it could be in reference to the Norse God or it could be a deviation from ‘Tor’, old welsh for a hilly or rocky peak. 

The Natural History of the County of Stafford by Robert Garner (published 1844) tells us of Thor’s Cavern; “It’s more usual name is Thur’s house, Thursehole, or Hobhurst Cave.” 

The English dialect dictionary by Joseph Wright (published 1898) defines Thurse or Thurs as “an apparition; a goblin”, and Thurse-hole or -house as “a hollow vault in a rock or hill which served as a dwelling”

On top of the cave overlooking the valley

The cave has been sacred ground for many millennia and there is undoubtedly an ancient and mysterious feel to the place. Pagans, Druids and all those with a sense of adventure and intrigue still venture here with a similar sense of wonder and curiosity as our ancestors would have recognised.   

As you enter the cave, it’s cavernous and enchanting atmosphere become apparent. It is over 30 feet high and 25 feet wide. The holes look curiously organic, like veins in flesh and you can really feel the life in the stone.

It is not difficult to understand why this place was so special to our ancestors. Not only is access quite difficult, making it perhaps no more than a place of safety at first, it is spectacular, inside and out. 

It is said that when we stand in the open air and see the green and growing land, we are aware of the richness of life on earth. To stand within this cave is to feel the life of the earth.

Our ancestors must have felt it too.

They were here ten thousand years ago and left the bones of animals that are now extinct. And when they came, they never left. Amber beads, worked flints, a polished stone axe, sherds of pottery, an earring and armlet… fragmentary glimpses of life from those earliest days, right through the Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age and up to Roman and medieval times.

This is also the final resting place of at least seven people with burials discovered within the cave during excavations in the 19th and 20th centuries.   

During the Upper Palaeolithic (38,000-11,500 years ago), Britain was linked to mainland Europe by the area now known as Doggerland. Britain was populated intermittently due to periods of glaciation and warming and bands of hunter-gatherers usually left only ephemeral traces in the archaeological record. The main exceptions are the flint tools and polished stone axes such as those found at Thor’s Cave.

Evidence from the cave suggests that it was in use well into the Iron Age and Roman periods. A bone comb found here possibly dates to the Iron Age. Other evidence of cloth making from the caves has been uncovered in the form of spindle whorls, small weights used to assist in spinning yarn from fibres.

As you climb around the rear and on top of the cave the views on both sides are spectacular and you can see the ancient hamlet villages of Butterton and Grindon on the other side of the valley. 

The Cave is apparently haunted by a solitary figure who stands at its entrance – it is supposed to be the ghost of a Roman centurion soldier. Locals also tell of supposed haunting of someone who committed suicide by throwing themselves down into the gorge below

The cave was used as one of the sets in the 1988 horror film by Ken Russell, “The Lair of the White Worm” which starred a young Hugh Grant. It was also used for the cover. The cave was used in the filming of The Verve’s 1993 video for their single “Blue” and is also pictured on the front cover of the band’s first album, A Storm in Heaven. 

As you explore the cavernous fissures and contemplate all those who have been here before it becomes apparent how special this place always was and still is and how much wonder it still elicits from all those who venture into here. 

I wonder what those inhabitants 9,000 years ago would have thought as they look out over the valley compared to what we do today. This exact spot could have been their communal ‘kitchen’ as they roasted meat over a fire and tended to children, surrounded by tools and objects for hunting and warmth.

A different reality indeed but one which you can fully imagine standing here in the cool of the cave as the light beams over the valley illuminating the rich tapestry of the carpet of the world that lies outside. 

The air blues, softens

from here; some days you see stars

or their ghosts at noon.

– Chris Jones
On top of the cave overlooking the Manifold valley

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