Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Thor's Cave is a hilltop cavern in the Peak District of England. It looks out over the Manifold Valley and spectacular views are had from it's mouth on a clear day. During the Victorian era a small railway was built through the valley to make market trading transport easier for the inhabitants and a stop was put in at the foot of Thor's Cave. It became a popular attraction on holidays with hordes of people clambering in and out of it's yawning entrance. The railway fell into disuse long ago and the line left for nature to reclaim so the valley is now a beautiful and peaceful walking route.
Why the name Thor's cave? Two possibilities stand out. The nearest village or town is Wetton, which stands along what was the oft-disputed border between the Danish Viking Danelaw and the Anglo Saxon side of Mercia. The border would often have been in violent conflict, creeping back and forth by a few miles over the years but it's fair to say there was a big Danish presence and influence in the area. This is borne out by the many place names around the Peak District bearing names of Danish origin and also attributed to their gods such as Odin's Mine at Castleton. Perhaps the cave was dedicated to the thunder god by them and possibly a sacred place?
The other possible explanation is that the cavern was once sacred to the Anglo Saxons while still pagan, and dedicated to Thunor, the Saxon cognate of Thor. Place names such as Thundersley and Wednesbury attest to being places associated with Thunor and Woden respectively, so this is a definite possibility. An Anglo Saxon comb has been found inside the cave along with some Roman fragments, but much older flint arrow heads and axes have been excavated too so there has been activity here for a long time. The old Brittonic word “tor” is one more possibility as to the origin of the placename, along with the more remote possibility that Thor's Cave actually comes from “Thirst Cave” which suggests an association with the old Peak District tradition of “hobs” or goblins living in caves. Not to be confused with Thirst House Cave near Buxton!
Regardless, today this iconic landmark retains an atmosphere all of it's own, and arriving there early before the crowds then clambering into the womb of the cave you get a real feeling of peace inside. Thor's Cave was used as a main location for the good but mad horror film The Lair of the White Worm, with Hugh Grant and his party assaulting the giant beast inside with dynamite and bagpipes, although today I'd say the real danger is the treacherous muddy slope leading to it! A very unique Neolithic site is just a mile away from Thor's Cave, the twin cairn burial place of Long Low. It is the only cairn of this type in England, once literally two burial chambers linked together by a high earthwork.
What better suggestion for a Bank Holiday walk than making a circuit of the Manifold Valley beginning and ending at Thor's Cave?
Thor's Cave from the Manifold Valley below
As featured in The Lair of the White Worm