The Esoteric Maze of Rowtor Rocks
Rowtor Rocks is one of the strangest places in the Midlands. Standing on the edge of the Derbyshire village of Birchover, this is a massive stack of giant boulders piled around a central natural stone structure and it has been shaped and altered by humans since the Neolithic age.
The bulk of the alterations were carried out by Thomas Eyre, a bizarre local figure, during the late 1600s. Eyre inherited the old Rowtor Hall estate which included the rocks within its lands and was parson at the local church. There is a lot of gossip and misinformation about this fellow around the internet, much of it insisting that he was a founder member of the Ancient Order of Druids, a group based around masonic and fraternal societies. This is impossible as the AOD was formed in 1781, while Eyre died in 1717! Whatever the truth of it, Reverend Eyre spent a lot of time and money on creating a strange and otherworldly place within the rocks, creating three new caves and altering the single natural cavern considerably.
The four “rooms” all had smart stone doorways built onto them along with steps leading down to them, as well as curiously arched walls that appear to have been carved out to amplify sounds. One cave, extended and shaped into a cube by Eyre, has a tiny hole bored all the way through the rock – what purpose would this have been used for?
Such is the magnitude and chaotic nature of the rocks it is difficult to tell what is the work of Eyre, what is natural, and what is ancient. Time seems to bend and stop completely as you explore the many tunnels, caves and passageways. The stairs and square caves were carved by Eyre's men but ancient people may have left their permanent marks too. A set of cup and ring marks is visible on one rock along with a curious serpent figure. I have no doubt that between the Neolithic age and the 1600s many different communities held Rowtor Rocks as sacred. The actual name of the place is derived from an Old English word for “rocking rock”, and still today some of the gigantic stones could be made to wobble a little, perfectly balanced as they are. One such rocking stone was the target of a dozen local lads on Whit Sunday 1799, who decided to see how much they could get the rock to wobble.
They succeeded in rocking the stone completely out of it's cradle, sending it crashing down the hill and taking two of the youths with it!
In my opinion Thomas Eyre fashioned Rowtor Rocks into a place of esoteric initiation, probably into a Rosicrucian or Masonic order. The candidate would begin at the bottom of the hill, noting the carved cross and snake image, next to which is an odd stone carved out to make a bowl, perhaps to take an offering or to ceremonially wash one's hands. They would then make their way up and down the various carved steps to the caves, opening each door in turn and facing whatever challenge was within. Finally crawling through the third very low cave with it's two columns as a possible representation of the Temple of Solomon, then clambering through the hole at the end and into the final cave, emerging into the open air and then bathing in the stone “bath tub” carved out next to it.
On one part of Rowtor Rocks Reverend Eyre had the stone fashioned into a throne on which he would sit and write his sermons while looking out across the valley below for inspiration. I can believe that, but the other features in the rocks would have taken a great deal of time and effort to create, hacked away by picks as they are, and so some serious intent must be presumed.
A visit to Rowtor Rocks is highly recommended as you can enjoy a cold pint or two at the excellent Druid Inn next door after your explorations. Within a couple of miles radius you can also find the Nine Ladies stone circle on Stanton Moor, Doll Tor circle in woods nearby, the other strange rock formation of Robin Hood's Stride and the atmospheric Nine Stones Close almost in its shadow.
I take an in-depth look at Rowtor Rocks and its neighbours in my book The Mystery Of Mercia, available at the link in the comments.