Perhaps the UK’s largest concentration of protective marks – also known as Witches’ Marks – has been discovered at Creswell Crags.
A limestone gorge on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border with a history dating back 60,000 years. Known as ‘Apotropaic marks,’ hundreds of witches’ marks have been discovered carved into the walls and ceilings of the caves, particularly centred over dark holes and large crevices.
The marks are likely to be of great interest to visitors to the area.
Believed to ward off evil spirits from the underworld, this chance discovery of an unprecedented number and variety of witches’ marks was made by keen-eyed enthusiasts. This discovery is nationally significant as it is potentially the biggest collection of apotropaic marks ever found in one place in the UK. The caves at Creswell Crags are protected as a scheduled monument and Historic England advises on their ongoing management.
Hayley Clark and Ed Waters were the ones who initially discovered the marks back in October. Members of Subterannea Britannica, they were on a field trip to Creswell Crags following their autumn conference in Nottingham.
Hayley described the moment that she and Ed discovered the marks:
“We were just waiting down there, there was a big group of us… [To see witch marks] you have to shine the light at a certain angle to get the shadow. We were both independently having a look, and I asked, ‘Are you doing what I’m doing?’. And he said, ‘Yes, have you found any?’ And then John [who leads the tours] came along and we said, ‘We think you might have some witch marks’.”
Alison Fearn, a postgraduate researcher at Leicester University, has a particular interest in the thought process behind the marks. There are striking similarities between the marks found at Creswell Crags and similar sites such as Wookey Hole and Goatchurch, she explained – all are found in high concentrations around areas that might typically frighten people, such as dark holes and tunnels.
She described why this find was so exciting. “It was the amount that was found here and in this particular context; they’ve been hidden in plain sight. They’ve just been there for 200-300 years and nobody’s really paid them much attention at all.”
Tim Caulton, Chair of Trustees at Creswell Crags, spoke about the impact that this would have upon Creswell Crags. “From a visitor attraction point of view, it’s great news that we have this and can offer it to the public. It’s special. We think we’ve got by far the largest number of protective marks in a cave in the UK.”
He felt that the discovery wouldn’t change the identity of Creswell Crags as an ancient heritage site – currently known for having the only verified Ice Age cave painting in the UK – but would simply add to its identity. “We are always going to be known as a prehistoric site. This is about people making their mark on the unique landscape, and actually, it’s a similar story.”
Alex Broughton, Marketing and Communications Manager at Visit Nottinghamshire, the official tourist board for Nottinghamshire, expects this discovery to have a positive impact on tourism in the local area.
“This is an incredibly exciting time for Creswell Crags – the discovery of the witch marks will no doubt mean an increase in visitors for them, which is brilliant. It’s great to see that they’re making the most of this incredible opportunity with a brand new tour, enabling people to see the witch marks for themselves and understand the fascinating history behind them, as well as a new retail range so visitors can purchase souvenirs afterwards. Visit Nottinghamshire is privileged to have been part of this exciting landmark discovery and we look forward to working closely with Creswell Crags in the future.”