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Set within the Manifold Valley, whose river rises within a mile of the Dove on Axe Edge, Thor’s Cave may be recognisable to you if you’ve seen Ken Russell’s horror film The Lair of the White Worm (1988). The opening shot of the film features the famous landmark, and you may, as a result, feel slightly apprehensive when climbing the path up the hillside.
Evidence of the past
The River Manifold heads south through superb limestone country, twisting and turning and passing some amazing geological features. These include the copper-rich Ecton Hill, the spoils of which made the 5th Duke of Devonshire enough money to build the fashionable and elegant Crescent at Buxton in the 18th century, as well as bustling Beeston Tor.
The awesome Thor’s Cave, a gaping void in a 300 ft (91m) crag, was the home of prehistoric life forms. Along with nearby Ossom’s and Elderbush Caves, it has been excavated and revealed bones and flints from the Stone and Bronze Ages. Formed over thousands of years from the combined effects of wind and rain on the soft limestone, it probably sheltered animals like giant red deer and bears, as well as early humans. Excavations have revealed a Bronze Age burial site, although much of the evidence was lost by somewhat over-zealous 19th-century excavators.
The elegant spire of All Saints church in Grindon is visible from around the valley, earning it the nickname the Cathedral of the Moorlands. The present building is from 1848 but the first church was built in the 11th century as a chapel of ease for St Bartram in Ilam. The War Memorial tablet inside the church shows those of the village who fought in World War I.
From the car park turn left then head downhill past the play area. Immediately past The Cottage fork left on to a track and go through a squeeze stile. Cross a field and head downhill, keeping to the right of two diverging paths. Cross a bridge, go through a gate and head downhill, with the stream and the wood on your right.
At the wall at the far end go through a gap stile on your right, continuing downhill into National Trust land at Ladyside. A narrow path runs by a fence into woodland. At a gate fork right and down a field edge then back into scrubbier woodland, descending steeply to a stile by the Manifold Way.
Cross the multi-use track, then a bridge, and take the path uphill following the signs for Thor’s Cave. Immediately approaching the mouth of the cave, turn left. Continue on a track uphill, curve right before a gate and follow the path to the summit for superb views along the Manifold Valley.
Retrace your steps to the Manifold Way and turn left. Continue past a car park, then across a road by a bridge. Of two tarmac tracks, take the far right one ahead (no motor vehicles), and eventually cross two bridges.
Immediately before the third bridge, fork right, back on yourself, and cross a stile towards Grindon. Follow the path back, parallel to the road and then curving left and uphill. Go through a gate, then follow the path uphill above a slight valley. Pass through a second gate by a dry dewpond, with a bramble-shrouded wall to your right. Continue rising straight ahead through successive rough pasture fields, passing a barn some distance to the left.
Head diagonally left of a farm through a couple of fields. Fork left on to the farm road, which becomes a walled path by a barn. Fork right to join a tarmac track which starts at The White House. Turn right on to the road, then almost immediately take the first left. Follow this road back to the church then turn right for the car park.
Field paths some narrow and muddy, hard trail, limestone - may be slippery; several stiles
Hillside, valley, meadows and woodland
Keep on short lead near livestock and on Manifold Track to prevent tripping other users; under close control at all other times
OS Explorer OL24 Peak District – White Peak Area
At Grindon church
None on route
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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About the area
It was Staffordshire that bore the brunt of the largest non-nuclear explosion of World War II, when a munitions dump at RAF Fauld went up in 1944. It was also the county’s regiment that once boasted within its ranks the most decorated NCO of World War I, in the person of William Coltman (1891-1974). Going back a little further, George Handel penned his world-famous masterpiece The Messiah on Staffordshire soil. During another chapter of Staffordshire history, the county was home to the first canals and the first factory in Britain, and it had front-row seats for the drama surrounding one of the most notorious murder trials of the 19th century, that of Doctor William Palmer.
In outline, Staffordshire looks not unlike the profile of a man giving Leicestershire a big kiss. The man’s forehead is arguably the best region for hillwalking, as it comprises a significant chunk of the Peak District. This area is characterised by lofty moors, deep dales and tremendous views of both. Further south are the six sprawling towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, which historically have had such an impact on Staffordshire’s fortunes, not to mention its culture and countryside. This is pottery country, formerly at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and the driving force behind a network of canals that still criss-cross the county.
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