TAKE A LOOK AT... (in Derbyshire)

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 30th April 2001 (p1 & p5), reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.


Caves are worth looking into. Passers-by find them irresistible, as far as daylight allows at least. One of the more accessible caves is Windy Knoll, below Mam Tor. In the 1870s a picture of the Dark Peak in Ice Age Britain was revealed when almost 7,000 bones - of grizzly bear, bison, wolf, roe deer and reindeer - were excavated from a now back-filled fissure inside Windy Knoll Cave. Tens of thousands of years ago this was a swampy water-swallow, trapping large numbers of animals which had stopped to drink on their seasonal migrations.

The former occupation of numerous Peak District caves by our 'cave-man' ancestors makes them particularly interesting. Evidence of early use was discovered in Ravencliffe Cave in Cressbrook Dale, where a Palaeolithic hunter of 40,000 to 30,000 BC left a flint scraper amongst bones of woolly rhino, bear, reindeer and wild horse. Other Palaeolithic finds come from many limestone caves in the western Peak District, probably used seasonally by groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers. Their flint implements, together with bones of red deer and reindeer, wild horse and bison, were left in Elder Bush Cave and Thor's Fissure Cave in the Manifold Gorge. Early tool makers worked inside Ossom's Cave, apparently using an upright stone for a bench and a bison bone as an anvil. A sea shell was also found in this cave. Finds from Dowel Cave near Earl Sterndale included flint blades, reindeer antler fragments and remains of birds and fish. The more easterly One Ash Cave in Lathkill Dale and Harborough Cave near Brassington have also yielded evidence from the same period.

In common with other natural caves and rock shelters, Dowel Cave was also used for Neolithic burials, between approximately 3,000 - 1,800 BC. Here excavations revealed the skulls of ten people, from a baby to an old man, interred with grave goods which included joints of meat, flint tools, a bone pin and the headless body of a dog!


Displayed in Buxton Museum are Bronze Age artefacts from Thor's Fissure Cave, with dolphin bones of Mediterranean origin and amber beads as evidence of trade with mainland Europe. Rings and bands of Irish gold of this period have been discovered in Ravencliffe and Harborough Caves. The so-called Beaker Folk occupied Wetton Mill Rock Shelter, Elder Bush Cave and Fox Hole Cave near Earl Sterndale, leaving a wide range of goods from arrowheads to pottery and domestic implements such as bone pins, hollowed needles and spatulae.

Evidence of Iron Age cave-dwellers demonstrates an evolving lifestyle with advances in artistic skills. An outstanding bronze brooch, bronze knifeblades, iron fasteners and buckles, and pottery were excavated from Harborough Cave. From Ravencliffe Cave came another fine brooch and pottery; glass beads from Frank i'th' Rocks Cave in Beresford Dale, and iron blades and pottery from Old Woman's Cave at Taddington.

It seems likely that caves which revealed jewellery, coins and personal belongings from the Roman period were at that time occupied by groups of native Britons. In the Middle Ages, caves were favoured as appropriately simple dwellings for hermits. Inside Hermit's Cave at the base of Cratcliffe Rocks, near Birchover, is a 4' crucifix carved into the rock and a niche, thought to have housed a lamp.

Nobody knows the story behind the single early human skeleton discovered in a cave to the rear of Hob Hurst's House, a rocky outcrop in Monsal Dale and the legendary abode of a giant. On the other hand a cave in Bradford Dale could not keep a secret when in 1643 Royalist Christopher Fulwood of Middleton - who had raised a thousand Peakland men for King Charles - his from Sir John Gell's troops, for he was cornered in the cave and mortally wounded.

The most notorious chasm in the Peak is Eldon Hole near Peak Forest; long believed to be a direct entrance to Hell, it is still a most fearful and dangerous place although now known to be merely the only true pothole in the Peak District. The tales of its bottomless pit were confirmed in Elizabethan times - by a man who went mad and died 'of a phrenzy' after being lowered into its depths, but finally disproved in 1770. New ground was broken by potholers as recently as the mid 1960s. Eldon Hole, though part of the Peak legend, is best kept at a distance but most of the other caves mentioned can be visited with sensible precautions and a good torch.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 30th April 2001.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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