The gateway to hell? Hundreds of anti-witch marks found in Midlands cave

The gateway to hell? Hundreds of anti-witch marks found in Midlands cave by Mark Brown for The Guardian

Hundreds of symbols at gorge could be Britain’s biggest collection of protective signs

If there is a gateway to hell, a portal from the underworld used by demons and witches to wreak their evil havoc on humanity, then it could be in a small east Midlands cave handy for both the M1 and A60.

Heritage experts have revealed what is thought to be the biggest concentration of apotropaic marks, or symbols to ward off evil or misfortune, ever found in the UK.

The markings, at Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, include hundreds of letters, symbols and patterns carved, at a time when belief in witchcraft was widespread. The scale and variety of the marks made on the limestone walls and ceiling of a cave which has at its centre a deep, dark, hole, is unprecedented.

Believed to protect against witches and curses, the marks were discovered by chance at the site, which is also home to the only ice age art ever discovered in the UK.

Paul Baker, the director of Creswell Heritage Trust, said the marks had been in plain sight. They had known they were there. “But we told people it was Victorian graffiti,” he said. “We had no idea. Can you imagine how stupid we felt?”

The trust was alerted to the marks last year by Hayley Clark and Ed Waters. The two keen-eyed cavers thought there were perhaps two or three markings; it soon became clear there were dozens and then on further investigation up to a thousand. And counting. “They are everywhere,” said Baker. “How scared were they?”

Members of the Subterranea Britannica group check out the witches’ marks at Creswell Crags.
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 Members of the Subterranea Britannica group check out the witches’ marks at Creswell Crags. Photograph: Historic England/PA

There is no public access to the cave but the trust is considering a multi-media presentation for visitors.

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