The narrow, slippery path leads me to the very top of the hill, dominating the endless fields around Birchover, a tiny traditional village in rural Derbyshire in the middle of the Peak District National Park.
What brought me on such a rainy November day to this place?
‘There were no druids here,’ I grumble to my friend in disbelief, who walks uphill a few paces ahead and doesn’t want to wait for me.
The next moment, I’m ready to take my words back.
Boulders of all shapes and sizes, covered in thick, green moss, create walls and pedestals. Some of them look natural, others are definitely man-carved. A set of steps lead to a cavern, and I can see it extends further down and disappears in the damp darkness. The labyrinth of caves and tunnels cuts deeply in the bowels of the hill.
Following my friend along the climbing path, I enter a large opening with a row of benches, basins, collecting rainwater, thrones, and altars—everything here has been fashioned out of stone.
I circle the structure to take some photos. Many of the boulders have been carved with some ancient symbols, including serpents, circles, and cups.
The rain intensifies, turning fallen leaves into a dangerously wet carpet, and I descend another set of the carved steps, looking for a shelter under a massive man-made overhang. I occupy a narrow stone bench under it, and my friend takes a seat next to me.
The raindrops bounce off the stones and drip from the overhang, turning into puddles on the path and collecting in the basins. The bottle-green fields stretch far beyond the horizon. A cottage here, a farm there… The autumnal landscape is grim but solemn.
Despite its mysterious, almost magical appearance, Rowtor Rocks can’t claim a Druids’ past. It was built at the end of the 17th century by a rather peculiar local individual, Thomas Eyre. Fascinated by Druidic culture and beliefs, which came back into fashion in those days, Eyre extended the natural system of caverns in Rowtor Rocks, building two additional caves and carving the stones to practice Druidic rituals.
Derbyshire is full of archaeological sites, dating back to the Bronze Age. Doll Tor, Stanton Moor, and the Nine Ladies Circle are just a few miles away from Birchover. Thomas Eyre didn’t need to travel far for inspiration for his temple.
Sitting under the mighty stones and staring at the valley down below, I ask myself why Eyre has chosen this place to build his “temple”. It wasn’t just the proximity of the ancient sites or his obsession with Druidic religious practices. It was something much bigger, far more mysterious—the energy of the place, its tranquil look and feel. He came here to contemplate, to free his mind from everyday routine, to become one with nature like the ancient Druids did.
‘We didn’t find the Druids’ temple after all,’ my friend says after a prolonged pause.
I nod. ‘We didn’t. This place is far more important than any temple. It’s a temple of Nature, created by nature itself with a little bit of help from a Man.’
Valeriya Salt is a multi-genre author from the United Kingdom. Born in Belarus, she’s lived for many years in Ukraine and Russia before settling down in the north of England. Apart from creative writing, she has a passion for travels, arts, history, and foreign languages. Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including The Copperfield Review, Bewildering Stories, and Strange Fiction ‘Zine SF&F.