Legendary Cave: OS Grid Reference – SD 6553 4677
John Dixon took a bunch of us on a pleasant amble here via the Fair Oak Circle site. From Fair Oak, go round the back of the farm and past the small cluster of hidden cottages, then bear right down the dirt-track and up the slope, then cross the field in front of you, going over the stile, following the footpath round the eastern edge of the slightly limestone New Laund Hill, and down again, thru the gate. From here, head diagonally across the field 150 yards towards the fencing at the woodland edge. Over the fence, into the trees, head halfway down the steep-ish slope and keep your eyes peeled for the rocky outcrop nearly halfway down. Alternatively, an easier way here is apparently from the Inn at Whitewell. Go across the river via the stepping stones (or wade!) and follow the footpath uphill towards a farm, where you’ll find a large steel gate on the left that leads into the woods. Here there are 2 paths: follow the higher of the two until it starts bearing to the right. Once here, look up the hill to the right you’ll see the rock outcrop. The caves are there!
Archaeology & History
There are at least 3 caves here, close to each other along the edge of the small footpath a few yards apart. The small rounded entrance of the northernmost one (photo, right) is reported by English Heritage to have had no human remains found therein, but further investigation is required here. The main cave however is where intriguing prehistoric finds were located. It appears that the entrance was deliberately built-up and blocked by stone walling a few yards inwards, giving the remains found therein a state of protection and sanctity. Writer and historian John Dixon (2004) tells what was in the cave:
“In 1946, an excavation was carried out on the site by the archaeologist Reginald C. Musson. In front of the larger cave is a flat platform on which evidence of Bronze Age daily life was found. This included animal bones, a pebble pounder (used to extract marrow from bones) and shards of a food vessel.
“All that survived of this tripartite collared urn was a large rim-collar shard, two fragments displaying neck/shoulder/body elements and five smaller pieces, probably from the base of the body. This is the only collared urn to have been found in a cave in Lancashire. Its tripartite Pennine form assigns it to an early Bronze Age date.”
The artificial walled entrance may not merely have been an ingredient giving sanctity to the place, but this could well have been a site for ritual shamanic practices, including prolonged rites of passage and death rituals (authentic ones, not the modern pagan nonsense). The ‘ritual death’ elements are highly probable here for, as John Michell (1975) told, caverns and crevasses are “most responsive to the necromancer’s invocation”. It’s geomancy, spirit association and the archaeological finds therein are strongly suggestive of this usage. (Eliade 1989, 1995; Maringer 1960, etc) Bearing this in mind, it is of some concern regarding the individual who thought it wise to spray-paint his name against the wall of the cave entrance (see photo); for many are those even in these days of shallow minds who fall prey to the car-crashes and creeping madness brought upon themselves by desecrating ancestral sites of ritual magick. It would be intriguing to keep a prolonged eye on the ‘Forsh’ who painted his ego in this cave of dead spirits…
Not surprisingly, the little people hold legend here. Jessica Lofthouse (1946) found tales of these ancient peoples in several places close by, but at the Fairy Caves specifically,
“everyone knew that these little caves in the limestone at Whitewell were the homes of the little folk.”
…And in relation to the ingredient mentioned above, about ritual use of the cave in ancient times: are there any serious ritual magickians who’ve spent time working in this cave, overnight or longer, and who can let us know of their encounters here? (long shot, I know – but it’s worth asking, considering the probable use of the place) Or perhaps spontaneous encounters of other people here…
- Dixon, John, The Forest of Bowland, Aussteiger Publications: Clitheroe 2004.
- Eliade, Mircea, Shamanism, Arkana: London 1989.
- Eliade, Mircea, Rites and Symbols of Initiation, Spring Publications: Woodstock 1995.
- Lofthouse, Jessica, Three Rivers, Robert Hale: London 1946.
- Maringer, Johannes, The Gods of Prehistoric Man, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London 1960.
- Michell, John, The Earth Spirit: Its Ways, Shrines and Mysteries, Thames & Hudson: London 1975.
© Paul Bennett & John Dixon, The Northern Antiquarian