Thor’s Cave from Wetton Hill

THOR’S CAVE 2:  Thor’s Cave in early light.

Chris Drabble, a writer and landscape photographer, takes a short walk to the summit of Wetton Hill to take a photograph of the magnificent Thor’s Cave. 

THIS morning I’m setting out from the delightful village of Wetton, just over the border in Staffordshire, on a short walk that will take me to a location that, in my humble opinion, affords one of the best views in the Peak District National Park. I’ve parked my car in the car park on Carr Lane and I’m happy to confirm that parking here is free and that there are also toilet facilities that are open from 10am.  I’ve arrived early and as I set off on foot, I look back to proudly acknowledge that mine is the first car in the car park. 

My route takes me left, out of the car park along Carr Lane towards the heart of the village and then left again along High Withes Lane to proceed on a steady uphill gradient towards St Margaret’s Church.  Upon reaching the corner of School Lane, I bare right onto the gravel-surfaced lane that heads north in the direction of Ecton Hill. At the point at which this lane reaches its highest elevation, I cautiously resist the temptation to follow it as it takes a turn to the left and instead, I look straight ahead to pick out a stile in a drystone wall that crests a low limestone crag. 

Beyond this stile, the footpath takes a straight line along a broad, grassy ridge that transforms my cautious progress into a confident stride. From here, there are fabulous views in all directions and I can’t resist the temptation to stop and to take some photographs. 

The low morning sun casts long shadows across the landscape and illuminates the trees and fields in shades of emerald. 

EMERALD FIELDS:  The fields around Wetton look to have shades of emerald in the morning sunshine.

Unfortunately, this easy progress is soon over as the path abruptly descends a steep bank to take a diagonal line across a field of grass and molehills. Looking up, I reach a rather imposing stile that stands at the intersection of two, high, drystone walls. An acrobatic, sharp left at this juncture permits entry onto the Open Access Land that bounds Wetton Hill. 

For the first twenty yards or so, the perimeter of the Open Access Land is low lying and rather boggy underfoot, but following a sheep rake through the Tussock Grass leads me to the intersection of a trace path which guides me on and climbs steadily and eventually onto the broad-domed summit of Wetton Hill. 

Pausing to catch my breath, I contemplate that either old age or a diet of too many puddings has finally taken its toll, but my heart rate and breathing are soon normal again and having regained my composure, I look for a line that will take me westward and along the ridge to my destination. The place I’m heading for is the rounded shoulder of Wetton Hill and although this bump stands 10 metres lower than my current position, it will provide the perfect promontory to set up the camera and tripod and capture the landscape panorama that swirls around Thor’s Cave. 

THOR’S CAVE 1:  Thor’s Cave illuminated by early light.

Thor’s Cave has the appearance of a huge, yawning entrance to an ancient pyramid. The morning light strikes its face at an oblique angle and lifts the texture of the steep limestone spires into sharp relief. The gable end of a large, barn catches the light and its perfect position in the landscape adds a sense of scale to the dimensions.  Beyond, the pointed summit of Soles Hill breaks the horizon, whilst the sweep of the Manifold valley, cradling the River Hamps, meanders around Thor’s Cave like a defensive moat.

It is believed that the human occupation of Thor’s Cave began around 11,000 years ago and continued well into the Iron Age and on, into the period of Roman occupation.  Past excavations have found pottery, stone tools, amber beads and bronze artefacts, as well as animal and human remains.

Looking at this landscape now, it’s hard to imagine that during the industrial age, this part of north Staffordshire occupied such voracious activity and was once heavily mined for copper and lead and pierced by roads and a steam railway system. The view this morning is simply breathtaking and is more reminiscent of a landscape inspired by Tolkien’s Middle Earth and I feel compelled to simply stop for a moment and contemplate the scene before me. 

While there is still good light, I quickly attach a telephoto lens to the camera so that I can zoom in and record the detail around the cave’s entrance. I was rather hoping that some people might walk out onto the summit or around the entrance of the cave to give some human interest and to enhance the impression of scale, but although I waited patiently for ages, no one obliged.

THOR’S CAVE 2:  Thor’s Cave in early light.

THOR’S CAVE 2:  Thor’s Cave in early light.

I suddenly become aware of distant voices and the laughter of children and strain my ears to try to detect their location. I then catch a glimpse of people far below me at the Wetton Mill and realise that this is where the sounds are coming from. Their chatter wafts in on thermals that are rising from the valley floor and their voices are so clear that I’m almost able to eavesdrop on their conversations.

YOUNG RESIDENT:  A young resident of Wetton Hill.

­There’s a drop of rain in the air, indicating that it’s time to go and so I carefully pack away my camera and tripod. As I walk away, I glance back to see that someone has emerged onto the summit crest of Thor’s Cave. I’m now cursing the irony of the situation and for a brief moment I consider whether I should return and take another photograph, but I decide against it and console myself that the light has already gone as clouds are moving in from the west.  

On reflection, I have to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this hour or so on Wetton Hill and I value these moments of solitude among this fabulous scenery.

As I walk back through Wetton in the rain, I stop to take one final photograph of an old farm building.  Back home and with the aid of Photoshop I’ve rendered it in black and white and then added a sepia tone to try to preserve its character.

OLD BARN: An old barn at Wetton.

Post Script: I returned to Wetton Hill late last year, but this time on a particularly cold day. Luckily, there was a gentle mist in the valley that created a wonderful atmosphere and as I watched, some people walked out onto the summit above Thor’s Cave. I had high hopes for this photograph, but I can’t say that I’m entirely happy with it, although it nicely demonstrates the contrasts in the seasons.

WINTER: Winter at Thor’s Cave.

Editor’s Note: Chris Drabble is a member of Bassetlaw Hill and Mountain Club and the Over the Hill Photographers Club. More of Chris’ photography can be found at Photo4me, Alamy and 500PX.