A Walk to Thor’s Cave and the Manifold Valley
The Peak Districts are one of my absolute favourite places in the UK. They’re full of:
- Beautiful hikes
- Great climbing spots
- Some stunning views for budding photographers
They’re all-round fantastic outdoor places. On a personal level, the Peaks are synonymous with my University Mountaineering society and the people that ignited my love of outdoor activities. So with holiday’s this year looking much more like a UK affair, we decided to explore the Peaks in a short getaway. Looking for a walk neither of us had done before we came across ‘Thor’s Cave’. Attracted by the popularity of the route but also its namesake we decided to give it a go.
The legend of Thor’s Cave: where does that name come from?
Created over thousands of years by wind and water Thor’s Cave is a natural cavern. Formed over 280–360 million years ago, it was originally south of the equator under the waves of a shallow, warm sea. Once upon a time, the valley that now surrounds it would have been a beautiful sea reef.
Now above water, the mouth of the limestone cave is visible from the valley 80m — a symmetrical arch that forms the entrance. This arch looks like a yawning face as it looks out of the valley and surrounding area. I guess if you’d been there for so long, maybe you’d be yawning too!
The origin of the name remains a bit of a mystery. Some suggest it’s a corruption of the word ‘tors’, meaning hills. Others link it to the Norse God Thor — the God of Thunder. Little evidence remains to shed light on the origin of the name. But either way, this cave has a magical presence that’s nestled between the English hills. So in a way maybe both origins are right?
Past and present life at Thor’s Cave
In the past, the cave offered shelter to our ancestors from the Palaeolithic, Iron Age and Roman periods. During 19th and 20th-century excavations, items were found from burial sites (of at least seven people) to stone tools, pottery and amber beads.
When not inhabited by humans the cave was home to animals that roamed the Peaks — Giant Red Deer and Bears for example.
Since the 1950s climbers have become regular visitors to Thor’s Cave too. At 7.5m wide and 10m high at the mouth alone, difficult routes have been listed by the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) who offer guides of the area.
Now Thor’s Cave is a popular spot for tourists. The cave is easily reached on foot by following an easy path from Manifold Way. There are several car parks make nearby.
Thor’s Cave and the Manifold Valley: the Hike
This 9.2km (5.7 miles) hike should take about 2–3 hours to complete. Although on a hot day it might take a bit longer as the route is quite exposed, which makes for some sweaty walking!
You’ll start the hike in the quaint village of Wetton before following subterranean rivers through Manifold Valley. You’ll see some of the exposed river throughout the hike, and there’ll be options for a little paddling at a National Trust cafe.
Sleepy little Wetton uses its local park as a free car park during the day — just follow the signs. (No overnight stays).
From the car park in Wetton follow the public footpath out of the village and towards the hills. Soon you’ll find a signposted farm track, big enough for quad bikes and small cars. Follow the path, and possibly the other tourists, for about 500m. Then you’ll find yourself in a small dale, with sheep bleating and the green of the English hills rolling all around.
Straight ahead you’ll see the mound of the cave as it rises out of the valley. You won’t be able to see the opening of the cave until you get much closer. Follow the well-worn tracks and you’ll soon take a left turn and Thor’s Cave will be right upon you.
Spend some time exploring the old cave. Perhaps even watch a climber or two as they dance on the rocks, weaving in and out of ropes. Find your way to the second entrance just below at Thors Fissure Cavern. These long passages slope further into the rock and offer striking views from within the rock.
Satisfied that you’ve fully explored Thor’s Cave, continue the path by following a series of stone steps to your right. You’ll descend rapidly down to the valley and into the woods. At the bottom, you’ll find Manifold Trail — the old railway route of the Leek & Manifold Light Railway.
Cross the old rail-line and following the National Trust signs in Ladyside wood. Weave up and into the hills, aiming for the Church at the top who’s spire stands out from a distance. (You’ll see it when you emerge from the woodland). On your walk up don’t forget to turn around and spot Thor’s Cave from a new vantage point.
When you reach the Church have a nosy around. This peaceful spot looks down over the valley and stands proud amongst trees. On a bright sunny day, it’s one of Englands finest sights — quiet countryside villages and sleepy churches.
Work your way around the Church towards a lane that leads towards Ossoms Farm. Don’t walk quite as far as the farm but take a left-hand turn onto a public footpath. This will take you down to the bottom of the hill and a small stream. You might also meet a few locals.
Crossing the stream you’ll follow the path at the bottom of the valley. Soon you’ll cross an old stone bridge over the River Manifold and find yourself at Wetton Mill. This National Trust owned spot is perfect for a picnic, an ice cream break or a bit of paddling in the quiet river. Bring your own or stop at the National Trust tea room in one of the old mill buildings.
When you’re ready to move on head towards the back of the mill buildings to a hidden footpath. Follow the grassy path up into the hills and keep walking until you find a road leading to Manor House. Take a right turn here towards another grassy path that will take you back to Wetton, and the sleepy village.
Originally posted on Sage Adventures travel & wellness lifestyle blog: www.sageadventres.co.uk.