Thursbitch - The Valley of the Demon
Thursbitch: The Valley of the Demon
The Mystic Masque’s Visit: Easter Monday 6th April 2015
Article by Charles E S Fairey, April 2015
& Photos by Mike and Charles
& Videos by Michael 'Jarl' Oakes, 2015
Please see our Flickr Album for more photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/themysticmasque/sets/72157651968755675/
Please see our following YouTube Videos:
John Turner's Memorial Stone:
Jenkin Chapel, Saltersford:
Thursbitch - Enter the Valley of the Demon:
Cheshire Novelist and Writer Alan Garner, whose novels and writings often include a mixture of fantasy, local history, folklore and mythology, researched the area around Thursbitch for his novel of the same name, published in 2003.
Alan Garner’s literary works, I’ve read and loved since young, especially since I was a child when along with my family, I often visited Alderley Edge, walking along with our dog, and had explored much of it (some things I remembered when I got Michael interested in Alan’s work and the Edge, on returning there in 2008, after a considerable gap, I found were either no longer accessible, vandalised, or my imagination had created! It is such a magical place!), so Thursbitch for me and Mike, enticed us like a Beacon! I now try to visit the Edge every year, hopefully more than once a year!
On moving from near Northwich in 1986, to near Crewe, I found my favourite church, St Bertoline’s at Barthomley (an obscure Saxon Saint), another very mysterious and historic place, and low and behold, Alan had a book featuring it too, which became my favourite, Red Shift! I often visit Barthomley, its church, its historic black and white pub, and of course the many footpaths and landscape about.
There are many treasures hidden away out there, either little known, recorded in verbal tradition, or in historic documents, or hiding beneath the soil!
Alan’s research indicated that the name Thursbitch, which is the name given to a now derelict farmstead, and a valley; the name first being recorded in 1384, to the south-east of Jenkin Chapel, Saltersford; actually means ‘Demon Valley’; which comes from the Old English words of ‘pyrs’ and ‘bæch’.
Alan also discovered stones which were aligned to the Pole Star (their alignment, re-used by local people re-utilising them into dry stone walls, and their subsequent use for Map Surveyors, carving a benchmark upon them), and linking them to the Bronze Age or even earlier! I also think that such a land mark as Shutlingsloe, which featured in Alan Garner’s first novel, ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’, might align to this supposed prehistoric stone avenue, to the south, a symbolic link, like in his novel Red Shift, between points in Time! And this alignment might also face Cats Tor and Oldgate Nick behind it!
Alan also mentioned in his research that, the burying of the dead from the pre-Christian Era and medieval and later period, may have taken place in the wilds of the valley, way before the Chapel and its graveyard ever existed! And that there may be many unmarked now or still marked resting places about!
The late consecration of Jenkin Chapel on the 18th July 1794, sixty one years after its erection, and its re-dedication from that of St John the Baptist to St John the Evangelist, adds to the air of mystery of this still desolate landscape, and begs the question, why did the Bishop of Chester take so long to accept the locally built Chapel, as Anglican Christian, in the valley of the demon, and make sure it was re-dedicated from the Wildman of the Woods, or truthfully the Desert, St John The Baptist, to that of an Evangelist?
If it was truly started as a Baptist Chapel, an ascendance of the late 16th Century Puritan faith, where every believing convert had to be baptised by being fully immersed in water, whether child or adult, then where were they baptised, down in the Todd Brook, by Saltersford Hall, which is now a narrow bridge crossing?
* * * * * * *
Alan Garner’s research and intrigue of this place can be followed in the novel but also by reading a lecture transcript he delivered to Knutsford Literary Festival to mark its publication, entitled ‘The Valley of the Demon’, which may be viewed online at http://alangarner.atspace.org/votd.html.
You must read Alan Garner’s account of his research before writing his novel ‘Thursbitch’ before truly carrying on, see above link!
So The Mystic Masque, loving all things mysterious, historic and unusual we decided to visit!
Part 1: Setting Out – Rainow – The Memorial Stone of John Turner
The Mystic Masque: Charles Fairey & Michael Oakes, along with friends Roy Rushton and Steve Simpson set out in the late morning towards Macclesfield. After Macclesfield we drove up the steep busy road to Rainow, noticing the old milestones along the route, whilst also taking notice of the foreboding mist which had settled over Cheshire since the early morning. But up here it was thicker and lingered long, making our journey, much like John Turner’s very eerie and dangerous. As we ascended the hill route towards Rainow we spotted a nice pub called the Robin Hood, (I had asked my mum who knows the area quite well beforehand, and who had told me lots about the area, that the best pub was the Highwayman, but it had closed down a few years ago, the highwayman we shall meet later!), so we decided at the Robin Hood we would end the day, after our exploration of Thursbitch and all its secrets!
For anyone visiting Thursbitch to follow in our footsteps, please remember that the Rainow road is steep, and it involves a lot of veering in and out of parked cars, as well as being a busy dangerous road, never mind the small lanes after that to access Jenkin Chapel!
After turning right up Smith Lane towards Saltersford and therefore Thursbitch, we were heading ever further into the mist, and the road was very narrow, luckily though, because we had set out whilst the weather was still bad, the road was pretty quiet, especially compared to the main roads we had left.
We came to Erwin Lane, and the Blue Boar Farm on our left just before we veered right, which was the old public house of the area, where also an Anglo-Saxon cross was situated, on this old salt way, which definitely dates back to the Roman Era. The original road goes straight on, but is a no through road now.
We slowly descended through the mists down the lane towards Nab End, and as we descended ever so slowly, and on our way down, we spotted the Memorial Stone of John Turner, on the high bank to our left, so we decided it was safe to park very close to a gateway, only a few metres in front, so that traffic could pass whilst we investigated.
Both sides of the stone grave like memorial had writing on, the southern side told us that:-
“HERE JOHN TURNER WAS CAST AWAY IN A HEAVY SNOW STORM
IN THE NIGHT IN OR ABOUT THE YEAR 1755”
Note: According to ‘The Story of Rainow, Rainow Women’s Institute, 1974, Page 30’, available at http://www.rainow.org/, tells us that the current stone is not original, but the original stone’s inscription included, 1735 not 1755.
The northern side recorded that:-
“THE PRINT OF A WOMANS SHOE WAS FOUND BY HIS SIDE
IN THE SNOW WERE HE LAY DEAD, H”
Whilst we photographed the stone, we reminisced about what it would have been like for John Turner in the snowstorm, and took notice of the heavy mist all around, as well as the old and ancient hawthorn trees along the road, dotted occasionally in front of the grey lines of the dry stone wall field boundaries!
A number of cars coming both ways also passed us, taking time to stop in the passing places along the narrow lane, and it was apparent for all you readers, that to stop in this gateway right after the memorial stone both on the left, was just fine, as long as you are in only one car, as there was easily enough room for cars to pass, and for the traffic to flow normally.
Whilst we were there we were then approached, from out of the mist, by baa-ing sheep, who kept advancing toward our station, wondering if we had food for them, so we decided so as not to entice them anymore, to head off towards Nab End, and then back to the meeting of the old Roman Road at Jenkin Chapel.
Part 2: The Bridge and Saltersford Hall
On the way back up the hill from Nabs End, travelling north up Hooleyhey Lane, we stopped at a Bridge which crosses Todd Brook, just before the Tudor stone built Saltersford Hall. Mike took some photos here, but this bridge had secrets to share later in our eventful day, and the bridge’s story will appear as a theme dogging us throughout our visit!
As we passed Saltersford Hall we noticed it had a date stone of a carved “1593”, and that it was built of wonderful local stone, with massive stone quoins at each corner, with an attached stone barn protruding outwards towards the road, as well as a stone carved front door Tudor Arch head as well as a triangular portico above that.
We didn’t stop here, as on the way we had read out and told each other about the history of the area, taken from the internet, including old maps and censuses, which I had shared on ‘The Thursbitches Facebook Group’, and had already decided that we should park at the Chapel and walk in an anti clockwise motion from there, down the road we had drove up, to the Hall, and then along the footpath to Thursbitch, and then return via the footpath to the East of the Chapel, meeting the Pym’s Chair Lane, and back to the Chapel as a focal point.
We decided on this action because in the old days, all the local people would have headed for the Chapel as their focal point, and therefore we felt that by parking here, and starting and ending here, we were walking symbolically, in their footsteps, and the added bonus of protection from anything that might want to harm us that day, which was as you will see a necessity, especially for those on racing bikes, who sadly, never stopped here to offer a prayer to the Baptist, as I will explain in due course.
So we easily parked within the very wide bell mouth of the old no through road and the ‘T’ junction of the road veering to the right heading for Pym’s Chair and its viewpoint and public car park. The Chapel doesn’t have a car park, but there is ample room here for a few cars parked along the verges, and we saw little traffic coming from the old road direction whilst we were there, other than two vehicles and a gentleman on a horse!
Part 3: Jenkin Chapel
As we embarked on exploring this Chapel, which according to two stone inscriptions above the door was built on June 24th 1733, and dedicated to St John the Baptist, which is also his feast day, and that the Chapel was a Free Chapel. The mist was lifting somewhat, but the area was still quite dark, and the sun was still covered.
The other stone below, told us that “As John Slack expense made – Sacred – for worship of Almighty God”, which ‘The Church of St John The Baptist, Saltersford: Jenkin Chapel, July 1977’, available at http://www.rainow.org/, tells us that it was defaced at some point and did read, “At John Slacks expense in 39 [it was] made sacred for the worship of Almighty God”, but due to the locals thinking this inscription meant John Slack had solely paid for it, it was defaced, because the Chapel was paid for and built by many of the locals and not just John Slack. But because an argument erupted after the Chapel was built, that it was in fact not built on common land but land in the ownership of the Stopfords of Saltersford Hall, the land had to be paid for, for it to become free, and it might be that John Slack paid the price for the land.
Above these two stones was a plinth, and we wondered if it had had a statue of the Baptist at one point, officiating and protecting those who entered through its tower doorway threshold, spiritually baptising them as they entered!
Note: According to ‘The Church of St John The Baptist, Saltersford: Jenkin Chapel, July 1977’, available at http://www.rainow.org/, the tower was built twenty one years after the main Chapel, in 1754-5.
Mike tried the door, to which it opened with a slow creak! We were well pleased because the internet articles we had read, had said that it was often closed to the public, but there was a woman with the key, we were told on a blog. It also tells us on the net that the Chapel will be opened for groups if they contact the people with access before they visit. It’s a pity for anyone who visits when it is closed, the notice board doesn’t mention this, and the number for the local vicar is also incomplete, due to water erosion! Maybe it was open especially for the Easter Weekend! Lucky we were!
Part 3a: Jenkin Chapel: The Interior
So we went inside to be greeted by the smell of a very damp church, with white walls and in the puritan style, with not much decoration, similar to Methodist chapels, but as I suggested, more in the style of an 18th Century Baptist chapel, and although recorded as a Free Chapel, this is apparent when remembering its original dedication to St John the Baptist, who we must add was a wanderer and often linked to desolate areas, especially as the Wildman of the Woods, never mind deserts!
Anyway, we ventured inside, recording for you all what we found, and had some photos taken of us in the pulpit too. The nave was very plain, but had original timber box pews, with entrance doors, and a balcony above, which was accessed via a stone staircase outside the tower, which presumably also held the cords for the bell, which was locked.
Balconies in churches are often where the local lords would have been seated, during services, and this one did feature the coat of arms of the Stopford family, which it looks like has been removed, recently, a family who resided at Saltersford Hall.
We noticed the ‘Morning Star’ High East Window, with the surrounding countryside depicted, which turned out to be a recent installation, and had replaced the original stained glass window depicting the bright and morning star of Revelation in July 1974, due to vandalism.
It’s always beyond me why people damage churches, which are spiritual centres for communities, and used to be open for anyone who wished to pray, because they are not only being immoral, but damaging the fabric of a community never mind the spiritual power of a place!
At this point we must remember that due to the New Testament Book of Revelation ‘The Bright And Morning Star’, previous Bible Books, not only symbolise Lucifer (Light Bringer, etc, Shining One, Morning Star), but also the Saviour of the Lord! And in the Age of Enlightenment, the Morning Star represented the Ascendance of True Knowledge, after the Catholic Church’s dominance, and their controlling of knowledge and punishment of heretics, previous to the Reformation. People began to believe that the Catholic Church had hidden the Truth from them, including the truth of the Bible’s message and hidden with Latin teachings, and the True Mystery, which is still the focus of the Underground Stream, today!
On the walls were a family memorial plaque, two sets of two tablets, relating to the Creed and the Ten Commandments, and a Lord’s Prayer shield with a Cherub above the Chancel, as well as a timber octagonal pulpit and a reading desk to the left. We then noticed a stone font in the very small chancel, just on the right of the entrance, to the Holy of Holies, the Chapel’s altar, with a small oaken wooden cover. We also noticed the older stained glass windows, of which there was a smaller higher one, and a larger more house-like lower one, as well as four grave slabs of the Turner family in front of and below the altar. We photographed these, and me and Mike gave thanks for entering the Altar area, (so that we could photograph these graves), which was behind a carved wooden palisade with carved wooden gate.
One of the grave slabs records “Here lieth the Body of Richard Turner of Saltersford Hall who died Feb:y 15th 1748/9, aged 60 Years. He was the first Corpse that was buried at this Chapel. Also Mary his Wife who died Nov.r 5th 1796, aged 92 Years”.
The history of the Chapel tells us that this Richard Turner was the father of John Turner, who was the gentleman who died in the snowstorm in 1735, and which the memorial stone by the side of the road records.
This Richard Turner maybe the Chapel’s human ‘Churchyard Guardian’, protecting the Chapel and his fellow resting dead, as he is recorded as the first body buried here, and he is buried under the Altar!
We also noticed in the windows, a local parishioner had lovingly placed vases with daffodils and a variegated holly for the Easter Services.
We then ventured outside, as the two cyclists who were having a break, sat on the two benches eitherside of the stone steps to the Tower Entrance, came inside, and left them to it, as they had us. We searched the graveyard for Turners, remember it was John Turner, who was on the memorial stone, as the four grave slabs inside. We found two more graves, one badly eroded; we then also looked for anyone who lived at Thursbitch, the derelict farmstead, which we would venture to next. We only found one occupant a Peter Lomas, who had been a servant on the farm, at the bottom of an inscription on a gravestone to one of the many Lomas’ gravestones. But whether this Peter Lomas was the servant who helped the farmers of Thursbitch, as recorded on the 1871 and 1881 Censuses, who is recorded as deaf and dumb from birth, we were unsure of!
I also pointed out the only bench end in the Chapel, which was at the entrance to the steps to the pulpit, but also on the left, and in the form of a very plain acorn. This was worn on the processing side, you could certainly feel where a thumb had rubbed it, which from other churches we visit, I had bored the others, on previous occasions, telling unknowing folk of the superstition about the rubbing of noses on carved faces, green men, etc, before a wedding or entering a church for luck, fertility, spiritual protection, etc. Before we set off outside into the Wilds of Saltersford, and the mythological ‘Thursbitch’, Mike noticed a Butterfly, a Red Admiral, fluttering, and flying to the Light, trying to escape to the Light of the lower Eastern Window, he videoed the trapped creature, but after recording the animal’s plight, he took the butterfly and released him to the outside from the entrance door. Maybe after visiting the Holy of Holies graves under floor, and giving thanks, a creature appeared to check that we were Charitable! Mike certainly proved this, was this gift of kindness and charity, our Saviour? Before leaving we all left a donation, and could see that the Chapel was certainly in need of money for its continued upkeep.
Part 3b: Jenkin Chapel: The Exterior
We also commented that there were many, many stones, which must exist under the grass blanket which covered much of the graveyard.
We also noticed that most of the trees surrounding the Chapel, were probably original to it being built, and noticed the aspect of the chapel, being much like a house, with a chimney, and a fireplace inside, as well as a bell tower, plain and innocent in this the Valley of the Demon, but we also figured out that something much more darker might exist about this site.
We also noticed that the original entrance to the consecrated ground was not by the cast iron gate, built between dry stone walls, but by stone steps which ascended and descended the wall in front of the entrance, which was a common feature of chapels in sheep grazed areas, keeping them from disturbing the graveyard, and defecating on the graves! Although the history of the area does record livestock trying to take refuge inside the warm consecrated ground, never mind the fireplace heated Chapel!
The darker side to the Chapel’s site became apparent when we were looking at the junction of three roads, once being an ancient salt route, definitely dating to the Roman Era, if not before, and three footpaths which met at this junction, which also must have been well used tracks in days of Olde. And you probably all guess what we imagined, and that was that being on a flat plain at a high point, was this place before a Chapel was placed here, a place associated with death already, that is of capital punishment, hanging of criminals, and their subsequent burial at a crossroads? Although this seems less likely when viewing Oldgate Nick above the Chapel to the East, as well as Pym’s Chair; which would have been more prominent within the local landscape.
But if we ignore those aspects of the landscape, and remember that this place was a centre of paths, did this crossroads serve as a centre of death and its associated graveyard, its perfect centre of roads and footpaths, give way to this place reserved for the outcasts of society and heaven, give way to it being consecrated as a place for the ‘good’ local people, to consecrate then, for their burial, and also for their baptism, weddings, and worship, as well as to be placed in the ground, awaiting heaven, whilst alongside but previous to their interment, a place reserved for those heading for Hell! And later by the building of the Chapel, sanctifying and Christianising the site for God and his Baptist?
We also know that the crossroads was known as ‘Jenkin Cross’, which is said to be the name of a stone that existed here, marking the cross roads, and possibly after a Welsh trader who came this way, or a local person, who also traded here. Other crosses existed at Blue Boar Farm and Pym’s Chair. This cross roads was also a site of a local horse fair, which later developed into a local market, which is very apt as this route was used by the pack horses carrying salt from the Cheshire Plain into Derbyshire, and thus further afield. The roads here are known as Pym Chair Lane heading East; Moss Lane (now Hooleyhey Lane), heading South to Saltersford Hall and the Bridge, which originally was the ford; and Red Moor Lane (now Bank Lane), which headed towards the Rainow Road to the West.
Old Ordnance Survey maps also record that a school existed here, where the small stone building exists directly opposite the Chapel, according to the history, contained or still does, an old toilet. The history of the Chapel tells us that this school served the local area, but was pulled down in 1920. ‘The Story of Rainow’ tells us that this school was built in about 1860.
Recent research into the origins of the name ‘Jenkin’ as recorded on the http://www.rainow.org/, website, is that the personal name origins come from names like Wilkinson, Tomkinson, and hence, Jenkins, and Jenkinson, and hence ‘Jen’ meaning John, ‘Kin’ meaning little, and ‘Son’ meaning son, and therefore it is thought that ‘Jenkin Chapel’ means ‘John’s Little Chapel’, especially since the Chapel was originally dedicated to St John The Baptist.
Part 4: To Saltersford Hall, The Bridge and the Way to Thursbitch
After we rested a while after the enjoyment of entering the Chapel, and giving our thanks to St John The Baptist, as well as hunting for the graves of the families associated with the ‘Turners’ or those who were recorded as living at ‘Thursbitch’ on the 1841-1911 Censuses, we took photos as the mist was nearly gone of the views from this high place, and explored it’s surrounds both physically and mystically.
Whilst we rested, with sausage roll and pork pie picnic in hand, as it was lunchtime, and we had a long hilly walk in front of us, a crew of cyclists on racing bikes came down the foreboding steep hill from Pym’s Chair, and one of the back runners remarked, “bloody hell, this corner is a bit sharp”, as he navigated the deep left angle bend at Jenkin Chapel, and we thought they were asking for it, going at full pelt, down to the mists, which up here had lifted, but down by Nab End, were still prevalent, anyway, we will meet this story later!
So after our picnic, to get us all four, ready for our anti-clockwise motion down from the Chapel, we descended the hill in a southern direction, downward toward Saltersford Hall. On the way I remarked the ancient hawthorn bushes, which were few and far between, and that they were not remnants of hedgerows, as up here, in the desolate lands, dry stone walling was prevalent.
However, on our way down, Roy pointed out an old trackway coming from near where John Turner’s Memorial Stone sat, and this road, missing the crossing of the ‘Salter’s Ford’ or the ‘Bridge of Todd Brook’, later named by us as ‘The Bridge of Death’ or the ‘Bridge of Sighs’. And it could be clearly seen from the roadway we had but an hour ago travelled up, that there was a more ancient track, which travelled from nearby where John Turner’s Memorial Stone existed, to that of his family, at Saltersford Hall.
We had noticed this ancient trackway after Mike had mentioned and shown us the ancient paths leading to Jenkin Chapel, but because of my love of ancient trees, and the ancient hawthorns, I had directed our group’s attention to this long lost causeway, which was by Todd Brook and by both advances to it, surrounded and marked by ancient hawthorn bushes, and as Roy pointed out, headed straight for the Tudor Hall of Saltersford, completely bypassing Nab End. I also pointed out that there was an old barn existing beneath a wood on the other side of the Todd Brook Valley, toward, where we had earlier inspected the Memorial Stone.
Anyway, as we turned for Saltersford, I took a photo of the beautiful daffodils on view and a gatepost stone with holes within it, which people don’t remember as gates, but in this area, some gates must have not been something you opened, but Rails you removed! Especially since attaching hinges to stone was considerably harder than attaching to wood! At the same time our group wondered why the same cyclists we had met racing past the Chapel downhill, had stopped at this the Salter’s Ford / Todd Brook Bridge, congregating and speaking to themselves, they were in so much of a hurry before, but we didn’t think anything wrong at this time! The sun was shining now and it was becoming of a warm summer’s day, but in April. Steve had to remove his jacket, as he was getting too warm, but it really was after the foreboding mist, a beautiful day like that at the heat of summer. A day of contrasts it really was!
As we descended towards the Todd Brook Bridge, which the crossing of, originally gave name to the ‘Salter’s Ford’, with the Tudor Stone Hall on our left. The Cyclists were still grouped together and talking, but being historians, well most of us, we were busy taking pictures of the Hall, the Lord of the Manor’s Home, and its “1593” inscription, its stone quoins to its corners, and unknowing to me, its two stone blocks carrying a circular motif, which Roy told me might mean that originally those motifs meant they were Catholics, which I was not sure of, but remembered my ancestors who had been treated badly as Catholics in the similar landscape of the Pendle area!
So we ascended to the right of the old stone barns of Saltersford Hall, following the footpath along an ancient lane, up the hill to the supposed Valley of the Demon!
On route past Saltersford Hall, we looked back to the house and barns, and noticed that the rear of the house was also constructed from massive 16th / 17th stone quoins, with ancient blocked up stone mullioned windows, marking out the East end of the Hall being larger than now resident. I also expressed that the site plan of the hall was symbolic of a cruciform shape, i.e. the ranges of the hall extended from the centre, with four gables into a cross shape, but with the northern end, i.e. towards Jenkin Chapel being somewhat truncated. This added to what our friend Roy had suspected, that the two circular carved stones at the front, in his understanding, represented a Catholic household, and hence its cruciform shape.
This seems somewhat unbelievable when we realise that one of the Stopford’s served Oliver Cromwell, as a Parliamentarian; a Puritan and destroyer of pagan idols and antiquities, never mind Catholic monuments; but as Alan Garner’s interviewee had told him, what happens up here in this remote valley, who else is to know! And maybe the builders of the Hall were Catholic before the Stopford’s became resident?
Whilst ascending the hill from Saltersford Hall, we passed a number of Sheep Pens, and Stephen made a discovery, that this area was well used by the descendants of the Hall, as a Sheepfold, for he picked up a rusty pair of sheep shears, which Michael quickly also handled, but knowing them to be the farmer’s, they placed them back into the dry stone wall!
So we ascended what looked on the maps, a gentle slope, which turned out to be a long long ascent to a hill, which didn’t look too high at first, but we did notice on the way, that a plastic tank existed to the far left of us, half way up a hill, and me being a Surveyor, I told our group that this was the drinking water supply, a spring water supply, for the residents of Saltersford Hall, which later made Mike thirsty, filling his flask up on the many springs upon this ancient trackway!
On the way, Mike shouted out, “Stop!, look there’s a hare”, on the other side of the valley of Todd Brook, and we all tried to photograph the creature, but like a hare, he / she wasn’t stopping for no one, especially whilst Mike stopped us, and I looked back to the Bridge over Todd Brook, namely ‘Saltersford’, and said again those cyclist are surrounding a person laid out on the side of the road. Which our group took notice of, but still denied the cyclists were surrounding somebody, and just chatting, until an early response local ambulance arrived, at which the others grew in interest, especially being this Todd Brook, the old Salter’s Ford, the crossing of the brook of the Valley of the Demon! We felt sorry for this chap then, and hoped that he would be whisked off to the local hospital to be treated, presumably from an injury sustained from falling off his bike at the bridge.
Anyway, we ventured on and when we were at the highest spot before descending to ‘Howlersknowl’, which on old maps is translated to ‘Owler’s Knoll’, and means ‘Alder’s Hill’, as in the water loving tree, we looked back, and now a proper ambulance had arrived, and the cyclist was still laid on the verge surrounded by his fellow cyclists and paramedics!
Anyway, the footpath took us into the yard of Howler’s Knowl, and we took its path to the left, past a 17th Century Barn, yet again with massive stone corner quoins, and veered right, in front of a later farmhouse, and saw that the footpath continued just to the right, outside the front gate, over a dry stone wall, with not a stile, but a ladder with a central platform over, which took me and Roy some time to navigate!
After accomplishing the ladder obstacle, we followed somewhat of a slow ascending hill through fields with dry stone wall boundaries, and when we passed the farm, we noticed that the original path was actually to our right, before the now modern footpath veered us left, in front of the farm, as a laboured stone track greeted us at, and to the back of ‘Howler’s Knowl’, and so we followed this onward and upward!
We followed this well worn and anciently metalled track, which must have took some labour to construct; as we had done from Saltersford Hall, except for the Howler’s Farm short diversion, and we met the high point of the next passage, and we all decided to take a break, to rest for a while.
Before we rested, Mike had run out of juice, but had inspected a stream crossing the well worn path, and seeing it as the first rising of the water, checking behind the wall it was not frequented by sheep, and being safe, he filled his water flask, and took a long well earned swig!
After this spring by this ancient trackway to Thursbitch, we crossed into what to our disbelief, but to what I had read, the most desolate area we had known, obviously the Valley of the Demon! We were on the highest point on the way down, till we descended downhill to this lost and derelict farmstead!
At this point I said “there’s a helicopter coming, I can hear it!”, to which I was met with disbelief, but my group was proved wrong, as a yellow helicopter vibrated the whole valley and circled above the Bridge by Saltersford Hall, till it landed, in between the ancient hawthorn bushes, to the north of the bridge!
Mike at this point as we directed him, videoed this, to capture the point when the Valley of the Demon rang with the echoing noise and vibration of a modern flying machine, as it was very unnerving, and we waited whilst he filmed this, as the cyclist who was surrounded by his fellows by the verge, and already looked after by two ambulances, and must be in a very bad way for an air ambulance to arrive. It was apparent he had been moved to the verge of the road and bridge to enable traffic flow, as we had seen on our earlier hill ascent, and had received a local quick response ambulance, which took about half an hour to arrive, a proper ambulance that took about an hour to arrive, and now a helicopter ambulance that had taken about an hour and a half to arrive, to take the casualty of the ‘Salter’s Ford’ to hospital!
We felt for the chap, and his life, but remembered ‘their hell for leather descent’ from Jenkin Chapel, with one of them claiming, “bloody hell this bend is sharp!”, and put two and two together, and decided that if they had been more wary, this place we had visited, and which we already knew was called ‘The Valley of The Demon’ may have claimed another unknowing victim!
Anyway we ventured on after this break, whilst the whole valley vibrated with the landing of a rescue helicopter, which many of the sheep still didn’t notice, yet we felt was unnerving! So we trekked on, and we got to the high point of a hill, which turned out to be the summit of many hills along this ancient track to Thursbitch.
On our way down from our rest, we were greeted to a sky battle when we heard the croaking of Ravens, and looked up to be greeted by two Ravens battling a Buzzard, and chasing the raptor out of the valley in the direction of Cats Tor. Later the Ravens returned, and we watched these mysterious creatures for a while, as we descended the ancient track.
In front of our passage was the ruined farmstead, which we knew as researched as ‘Thursbitch’, was secretly hidden by the hills we had gone up and down, completely hidden in the valley, other than the parachute gliders stationed on Cats Tor, and it was desolate, and it did appear out of nowhere, and yet still so far away, yet perspective was playing tricks!
But we had Thursbitch in our sights, we had waited long enough for the helicopter to take the Valley of the Demon’s victim back to civilisation, and yes we had wished him well, but yes, Thursbitch was in our sights, and we were now descending a hill rather than climbing, yep, the farmstead was in the distance and seemed very far away, but in no time we had reached its entrance, after saying hello, to two walkers travelling the footpath from Longclough, to the south, over the hill and on the other side of the valley, towards Macclesfield Forest!
Roy also noticed that there was a red metallic object swaying and watching us from the hillside to the west of the farmstead, next to a field bounded by dry stone wall, which we zoomed in on, and found to be a helium filled children’s balloon, laughing and joking that maybe it was the Demon!
Part 5: Thursbitch: The Valley of the Demon
So we had arrived at our destination, so we began exploring the ruined site, firstly we spotted a ford to the west of the derelict farmstead, which we headed for, viewing an ancient tree and a derelict outbuilding with a candle recess.
We then explored the derelict ruin, figuring out which area was the house and which was the barn, by inspecting the old maps of the site for reference. We also looked at the two entrances, one a cart way the other for foot passage, as well as two small square buildings at the two front entrance corners of the yard.
We also noticed a massive large stone gatepost which had fallen over, which like Alan Garner had mentioned, did look like a prehistoric monolith, which had been re-used. Further down the track through the site, another stone gatepost stood erect, yet its geology was different, it contained quartz crystals, and again didn’t look like the other stone gateposts we had seen on the way up here.
These two gateposts Alan had discovered were part of an alignment heading up the hill to the south, and aligned to the North Star, which meant they might be a Bronze Age Standing Stone Avenue, making this site ancient, and ever more magical and mysterious.
We also found a stone lined well to the east of the front entrance as well as a stone lined trough just in front of the ruined farm’s main building. On further inspection the well and trough existed in line with a small steam which ran from a spring to the east, and out of the hillside itself, and must run underground, under the historic farmstead, and then reappears on the other side of the farmstead’s enclosure wall, running down to the ford across Todd Brook. At this point I reminded our group of holy sites built over running water.
Steve also found two large stones still insitu, but with two semi-circular holes at the top, with a gap in the middle, which he thought may be a seating for a circular grinding stone, placed in the middle, which we thought was the best function of these, but the grinding stone long gone, as we did try and find it. This grinding stone’s supporting stones exist to the east, at the rear of the ruined buildings, on the inside of the stone walled enclosure of the farmstead.
We decided then to have a break after photographing all the farmstead’s features and exploring the site, making sure we tried to find anything interesting. We sat by the stile at the south end of the farmstead, and had a small picnic to re-fuel us after the long trek here. We also had a group photo taken by the quartz crystal stone gatepost, with the ruined farmstead behind.
When we were sat absorbing the semblant and peaceful remoteness of the site, we thought of the occupants back in time, wondering what they made of us, visiting, and what life was like for them in this remote valley, and how cut off from other people you would have been. As well as how life would have been like for them with no television, electric supply, or central heating system. And how no one would know what was going on here, in the days of Olde, without making the long trek we had done, even in the low cloud, mists or snowstorms, a person on a horse would find it rather inaccessible!
But we thought instead of being couch potatoes, they would have had all the beauty of this remote valley to explore and absorb, as well as the hard labour of looking after their sheep flock, lambing and then shearing, and probably had a few dogs who kept them company.
After our break we explored the site some more, whilst Mike headed for the Valley of the Demon, which we thought started on the right hand path of the stream, as just past the farm, Todd Brook split into two sources.
When Mike returned, he said we all must go and explore the Valley as it was very beautiful and like a chasm, so we headed out there and explored another beautifully remote area, and when we looked back to Thursbitch, we had a beautiful aerial view of the farm, high up from the source of the Valley of the Demon, which Alan had told us in his Lecture, that this source started in a chasm like cave, which was often viewed as a home to demons, in folklore!
When we looked back we also saw that the strip fields to the eastern side of the ruined farmstead, were a lot greener than other fields, and smaller than the ones home to sheep, which as historians, we viewed them as being where the families who lived here grew their arable crops and vegetables, as in this remote setting they would have had to grow all their own food stuffs, and be self sufficient, as any market would be miles and miles away, never mind the next farm! And over the years the soils had been fertilised, making the soil more fertile, and hence the greener colour, whilst the fields and hillside surrounding them were shades of brown in colour, revealing the poor nature of the original soils.
In front of us, on the way down from the source of the Valley of the Demon, we noticed a steep ascent to the high ridge of ground, which travelled from Pym’s Chair to Oldgate Nick and to Cats Tor in front of us, which on the Tithe Maps records a field to the immediate east of the farm, which was known as ‘Catstair Piece’ recording the steep ascent for anyone who wanted to escape the valley to the ridge above.
We said our bye byes to Thursbitch, and we left some food for the few birds we had seen and heard tweeting, which we thought must be descendants of those small garden birds which must have lived here when the farm was occupied, and hence, we had up to now, not been taken by the Demon of this Valley! Thanks Jenkin!
Part 6: Thursbitch: Back to Civilisation and Jenkin Chapel
We took the same path we had trod, back to Howlersknowl, and crossed the ladder over the stone wall to the front of the farm.
Now instead of going back via Saltersford Hall, as we had decided we would trek back to the Chapel in a circular motion, before our walk, we descended a small hill down the footpath and gravel drive of the farm, crossing another stream, and then we ascended a somewhat steep hill to the Pym’s Chair road. We got to the Pym’s Chair road, Mike and Steve, by using a cattle grid, but me and Roy used a gate instead.
We noticed that this route for anyone who didn’t want to park at the Chapel, was more direct than the way we had taken via Saltersford, and that it was less of an uphill and downhill struggle, for those not used to walking, and we also took notice that there was ample parking for at least 4 cars by the side of the road, next to the cattle grid and gate way entrance to Howlersknowl.
We then descended down a steep slope along the tarmac road back to the Chapel, noticing walled up gateways where two lost cottages had stood, which we had seen from old map inspection.
We finally arrived back at the Car, and yep, we were pretty shattered from the long walk, which we felt was at least 4 miles up and down hills!
We raided what drinks we had left at the car, and rested on comfy seats for awhile before setting off, as well as taking some more photos of the Chapel, now that Chapel was basking in the sunshine.
We then headed for Pym’s Chair to take in the views at the top of the Valley.
Part 7: Pym’s Chair Viewpoint
Here we took some more photos of Oldgate Nick, Pym’s Chair, Ladbitch woods and Cats Tor.
Whilst inspecting the notice board and learning of Pym the Preacher or Pym the Highwayman, which we thought of robbing travellers along this busy route, and thinking the pub that has now shut down in Rainow, the Highwayman, must record Pym in its name.
We could just imagine a preacher giving his sermon from the rocks of Oldgate Nick to the south of us, or the rich pickings for a highwayman on this old salt and trade route.
However whilst we were reading the notice board a gentleman was descending from the sky straight down upon us, he shouted respectfully, move lads, as he was one of the parachute gliders we had viewed at Cats Tor when travelling to and from Thursbitch. But we all laughed, and said well maybe the Devil did descend from Heaven here, and get trapped in a thorn bush, which we had mentioned to each other earlier in the day! Or maybe this glider was our angel protecting us from the Valley of the Demon, whilst we explored its secrets, watching over us from the Tor of the Cat! We dodged his parachute wings, and safely allowed him to descend, at which his dog also arrived from nowhere to greet him!
Part 8: To the Robin Hood Inn and Home
Anyway after investigating Pym’s Chair and its amazing views across the surrounding area, and the Cheshire Plain, miles to the west, but just visible through a lower haze, we took a slow drive down the steep hill, back to the Chapel, and headed back the way we had came when the valley was covered in mist, but now covered in warm sunshine.
We again stopped at the Saltersford Bridge, and the scene of the cyclist’s accident, which we now after inspecting the Valley of the Demon, and realising that Todd Brook flowed from his hiding place, and the place we had coined as ‘The Bridge of Death’ or the ‘Bridge of Sighs’, earlier, to investigate this scene of such a tragic event earlier in the day. I had told our group about the story of the ‘Hairy Hands of Dartmoor’ which is a legend of hands which grab a person’s car steering wheel whilst travelling over an old bridge which formed part of an old Lych way or funeral way, near Bellever Forest in Dartmoor. We immediately saw who the actual demon of this bridge was, and it wasn’t in fact the Demon of the Valley, but in fact Cheshire East, the local Council, responsible for the upkeep of the highways, as it was pitted in massive linear potholes, and to any cyclist it was apparent these were an actual death trap.
We wished that those cyclists, one of which had been most unfortunate, we had seen racing past the Chapel, had known the area for its dark secrets, and possibly they might have asked Jenkin for a blessing, and possibly had slowed down at the bridge, if they had investigated their route properly, and then would have known about the potholes, and might have been even warier if they had read Thursbitch and known about the demise of John Turner.
It was also weird that a cyclist we saw when we parked up by the Chapel in the morning, came down from Pym’s Chair, well before the racing group who came after, studied his map, and instead of going any further, after sitting on his bike in deep thought about where to go for over 20 minutes, turned round and went back up the hill! Had Jenkin warned him, and instead of travelling down to the ‘Bridge of Death’, went back the way he came, unlike the racing group coming afterwards, who luckily stayed saddled around the right angled corner!
After visiting, I researched the archaeological finds of the area on Historic England’s (formerly English Heritage’s) Pastscape website, and like Alan Garner had found, there had been a discovery of a Bronze Age sword blade and cattle horns, in the same vicinity as the Bridge we had named as ‘The Bridge of Death’, which certainly backed up the idea Alan has, of the area being steeped in pagan sacrifice, and was the bridge, which was originally a ford, a site where sacred bulls had been sacrificed to honour the Demon, whose waters flow from Thursbitch, and quench his blood thirst?
After starting our return journey again, we were met by a young lad in a soft topped opened roofed Mercedes, who was going far far too fast for the road, with his young girlfriend in the passenger seat, and if I hadn’t of made sure I was going slowly, and carefully, he wouldn’t have been able to stop in time to revert another accident. We all remarked after we passed him, that maybe another victim would be claimed by the Valley of the Demon, today, especially with the potholes covering the bridge!
On the way past John Turner’s Memorial, we stopped at a gateway, where we knew from Alan Garner’s research was the site of a field named ‘Osbaldeston Croft’, which he linked to a standing stone of Balder, the Norse God of Light. Mike took some photos of another large stone gatepost, which again looked like a standing stone, rather than a gatestone, and had been built into the dry stone wall.
We also slowed down past the Blue Boar Farm, before we carried on towards Rainow, inspecting the name plaque of the farm as well as the site of the Anglo-Saxon cross.
As we had decided on the way up, we came to the Robin Hood pub, and stopped for a well earned drink, well everyone except me, as I was driving, so I had a coke.
But as we waited at the bar, and we had mentioned Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and of course its inclusion of ‘The Bridge of Death’, in that film, we had yet another coincidence, the pub had Black Sheep Brewery’s ‘Monty Python’s Holy Grail’ Beer on tap, as if we needed anymore proof that we had visited the Valley of the Demon!
* * * * * * *
And now I shall leave the reader with this last poem, which is linked to our watering hole, we stopped at for a much needed drink, and to relax our aching legs!
According to ‘The Story of Rainow, Rainow Women’s Institute, 1974, Page 30’, available at http://www.rainow.org/, the Robin Hood Inn was known in 1825 as ‘The Robin Hood and Little John’, and according to this book, up to about 1930 the Inn Sign read:-
“My ale is fine my Spirits good
So stop and drink with Robin Hood
If Robin Hood is not at home
Stop and drink with Little John.”
We had definitely met another little John, but not Robin Hood’s friend, but Jenkin, so yes, this is a nice symbolic end to this story of our visit to the remote and desolate Valley of the Demon and St John the Baptist’s Chapel, another Wildman of the Woods, much like Robin Hood! We certainly had been spiritually protected ever since we had entered the Valley, thank you Jenkin, may we meet again!
* * * * * * *
Here’s my poem which was inspired by our visit to Thursbitch: The Valley of the Demon:-
Beware The Valley Of The Demon
by Charles E S Fairey
Beware The Valley of the Demon
Remember to invoke Jenkin’s Sermon
For otherwise the Desolate One Shall Take Them.
For His redeemer stands at the crossroads
All traffic by which eternally comes and goes
And the waters below the Devil’s Bridge, tempts and flows.
Remember the Baptist and his chapel’s bell
Ringing out across this valley its warning knell
To remind us, it was here to thorn bush, the Demon’s Dark One fell.
Look out across this, the unforgiving valley
And remember its multitudes deathly tally
For this is Hell and the Dark Lord’s quarry.
Let Baptist’s Sermon sing out across this Vale
Don’t ignore Jenkin otherwise your soul for sale
And the Dark One shall appear without mercy or fail.
At the Bridge of Sighs outside ancient hall
Those who ignore Jenkin shall come to fall
For it is not God but the Devil who calls.
Think of Cat’s Tor, Old Gate Nick and their rocks
Think of the ghastly Stranger and his door to door knocks
Only the Baptist can protect this Vale and its flocks.
In the Chapel and pew remember the Lord
Inside safe from the Dark One’s horde
For it is when you listen, saved, but the ignoring and sinned
Into his catacomb you shall be kindled and called.
Beware The Valley of the Demon
Remember to invoke Jenkin’s Sermon
For otherwise the Desolate One Shall Take Them.
For He fell from Heaven
To this His desolate haven
And all you should ask Jenkin, Is Save Them, Save Them.
For if they hear Him call them
Then the Bridge of Sighs and the Valley of the Demon
Shall take them, possess them and destroy them.
But there is at the crossroads a Chapel and bell
Rung by the wary folk of the flock of Jenkin
And when its valley echoing beware beware knell
Is heard by those who in this valley dwell,
Flock to its sacred walls and within take safe haven
For otherwise an eternity in Thursbitch spent, the Valley of the Demon.
Please see our Flickr Album for more photos:
Please see our following YouTube Videos:
John Turner's Memorial Stone:
Jenkin Chapel, Saltersford:
Thursbitch - Enter the Valley of the Demon:
Bibliography & Sources
The Valley of the Demon: Alan Garner’s lecture delivered to Knutsford Literary Festival (marking the novel Thursbitch’s publication) (http://alangarner.atspace.org/votd.html)
Thursbitch, Alan Garner, 2003
The Church of St John The Baptist, Saltersford: Jenkin Chapel, July 1977 (http://www.rainow.org/)
The Story of Rainow, Rainow Women’s Institute, 1974 (http://www.rainow.org/)
Jenkin Chapel (Wikipedia) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenkin_Chapel)
Jenkin’s Chapel (Article) Peak District Online Website (http://www.peakdistrictonline.co.uk/jenkins-chapel-c10187.html)
Into the valley of the Demon (Article) ludchurch Website (https://ludchurchmyblog.wordpress.com/places-of-interest-in-cheshire/into-the-valley-of-the-demon/)
Jenkin’s Chapel (Article) ludchurch Website (https://ludchurchmyblog.wordpress.com/places-of-interest-in-cheshire/jenkins-chapel/)
Thursbitch (Article) (http://www.grahamharvey.org/thursbitch.htm)
Old Cheshire Maps (http://www.cheshirehistory.org.uk/archive/)
Old Cheshire Tithe Maps (http://maps.cheshire.gov.uk/tithemaps)
Old Ordnance Survey Maps (https://www.old-maps.co.uk)
1841-1911 Census Returns for Thursbitch (www.ancestry.co.uk)
Modern Ordnance Survey Map (http://www.streetmap.co.uk/)
Google Satellite Imagery (Google Earth)
Historic England’s (Formerly English Heritage’s) Pastscape Website (http://www.pastscape.org.uk/)