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The Cave of Death

Reynards Cave lies half-hidden on a slope overlooking the beautiful Peak District valley of Dovedale. It is almost two caves in one, with an enormous natural archway standing as a gateway in front of it. When one reaches the skull-like cave beyond it becomes clear that there are two caverns here, the second one known as Reynards Kitchen.

A band of robbers used the caves as their hideout during the late medieval era, and in 2014 a team from the University of Leicester discovered a hoard of coins dating from almost every era in English history. Could this have been the bandits' loot, the treasure of Reynard?

Among the modern graffiti etched into the walls of Reynards Kitchen are "witch marks", protective devices etched to defend against malevolent sorcery and other ill intent, but there other more complex occult symbols here too. Maybe Reynard and his gang carved them?

Whatever their origin, something about the caves seemed to have had a deadly effect on a visiting priest in 1761. A party of upper class guests of the baronet Wenman Coke were sauntering along the Dove riverbank, looking for a picnic spot. When one of the ladies present fell suddenly ill the Reverend Langton insisted on taking her home on horseback and so, setting her up behind him as a passenger, the Reverend set off. He took a wrong turn in his haste, ending up heading towards Reynards Cave, when his horse suddenly became spooked.

The mare reared violently, throwing her riders off, sending them tumbling down the boulder-strewn slope. Langton was killed, his head crushed, while his passenger survived by her hair and the voluminous skirts of her dress entangling on a bush! Did something about Reynards Cave frighten the horse?

I take a walk along Dovedale in my book The Mystery Of Mercia II, taking a very close look at the many strange places along its banks.

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