I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part eight of my account, parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven can be found here… After the intense afternoon we’d just had, it seemed like a nice idea to do a bit of sightseeing, and Sue and Stu had just the place. Rowtor Rocks, at Birchover, is a natural stone outcropping that, three centuries ago, was carved and shaped by local parson Thomas Eyre (relative of the family whose name inspired Charlotte Bronte) into a network of caves, stairways, pillars and chairs. There are older markings there too – cup and ring marks, and a very rare quartered-sun carving, indicate that this was a place of significance since Neolithic times.
We arrived and parked, the sun still shining above, and started up the twisting path leading up to the rocks. There were people coming and going, families and couples and people with dogs, all of whom stopped to smile or exchange a greeting as we made way for each other on the narrow path. And at the top, the rocks waited. They were curious indeed.
Thomas Eyre, when carving the stones, was apparently creating the twelve stations of the Cross. However, there were no obviously Christian symbols or imagery to be found – instead, chiselled caves and carved faces. I remarked as much to our companions, that I couldn’t see much that was Christian about it. Perhaps that’s where the problems began…
Sue, who had visited the rocks many times, began to point out things of interest, including a perfectly poised massive boulder that could, if pressure was applied, be rocked. However, as she was pointing out a skull-faced boulder, we noticed a woman standing nearby. Dressed in jeans and a flowery top, she was close enough that she seemed to be listening to what Sue was saying. However, by the frown on her face, she didn’t seem impressed. She was also holding quite a hefty stick, which she was waving around in an odd manner, swiping at branches. I can’t explain it any other way than it was the sort of thing you’d do if you wanted to appear not to be listening, yet you were.
However, it didn’t bother us unduly – if she wanted to listen, that was fine. We went past her, avoiding the stick, and stepped through a sort of entry gate carved into the stones. Sue pointed out a small cave and, at that moment, I looked up to see a man striding along the rocks above. He was dressed oddly compared to the other walkers we’d seen, in high-waisted pleated trousers and a fitted collared shirt, both in khaki shades, as well as a slouch hat. With his mustache and muscular build, he put me in mind of the Great White Hunter trope, a figure from the past.
We continued along the path a little way, Sue pointing out a narrow staircase carved in between two of the rocks. I supposed that was how the man got up there. She also told us to watch our step, as there was a sheer drop to the other side of us, with views to the valley below. The odd woman, in the meantime, had moved past us and was at the other end of pathway, still waving her stick around and frowning. Sue and one of the companions decided to go into the small cave and look around, while Stu moved ahead. I took a couple of photos, then turned around to see the man in khakis almost on top of me, his broad shirt-front filling my vision. I stepped back and to the side, smiling, as you do in such situations, but he kept coming at me. There was no smile on his face, none of the shall-we-dance thing you do in such situations and, as I stepped back again, I was conscious of the sheer drop behind me. The situation felt very strange and uncomfortable, so I put both my hands up and said ‘I’m moving to the side,’ stepping deliberately out of his path. He made a ‘Hmph’ noise and kept going, joining up with the stick-waving woman. The whole interaction only took a couple of seconds, but left me feeling a bit stunned. Sue, in the meantime, had had emerged from the cave, telling me later that she had felt me being threatened. The whole thing was so strange that I said ‘What’s with those two?’ and, as a group, we watched them for a few moments. They seemed to be together, but they weren’t talking to each other, both frowning, the woman still waving her stick. Then they moved away, out of view… except there was no other way down from where they were and, when we followed their path a few moments later, they were gone.
So who were they? A couple of eccentric locals who didn’t like visitors to ‘their’ rocks? Perhaps they’d been offended by my ‘not much Christian here’ comment? I don’t know. But the really odd thing was that, when we discussed it afterwards, while we could all agree on what the man was wearing, both Sue and Stu saw the woman wearing a 1940’s style tea-dress, while our other companion and I saw her in jeans and a flowered top…
An unexpected mystery, and a really weird end to an already intense day. But then, that’s what sometimes happens on weekends like this 🙂
We continued our way around the rocks, exploring caves where darkness became light, depending on how you looked at it, contemplating the three ‘judgement’ seats, admiring the rare Neolithic sun carving, and just enjoying the late-afternoon sunshine. The sense of oddness dissipated after the strange couple left, and it was a pleasure to wander around and just look at things, rather than ponder their greater mysteries.
Afterwards, we drove though sunset hills towards Castleton, where a special dinner was booked. After the day we’d had, the golden light felt like a reward, and the perfect way to head into what was going to be a challenging Sunday. But that’s a story for my next post…
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