COLUMN: A home for more than 50,000 years
Frost clung to the ground as I stepped into the gorge. It gripped the low laying vegetation, coating the brambles and ivy in a white casing before the sun rose to free them from their icy shackles.
Although the sun had risen, its effects weren’t to be felt for the next few hours inside the gorge. This is a separate world, hidden deep in a crack in the earth.
I was at Creswell Crags, a place that straddles the border between north Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It’s famous for being home to humans as far back as 50,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age.
The cliffs of the gorge are dotted with caves that tribes of people would make their home for the summer months after migrating across the vast grasslands following herds of reindeer, bison and woolly mammoth from southern Europe.
Although it’s the past that the Crags is most famous for, it serves as home for a wealth of biodiversity in the modern day. The first thing to admire is the stunning scenery. The limestone cliffs that form the gorge rise up high to your left and right. Trees cling to the top of the cliffs as ivy tumbles down its face like locks of hair.
You’re standing in nature’s colosseum – an amphitheatre hewn out of rock 200 million years ago. Jackdaws make the holes in the cliffs their home and hundreds of them swirl over the gorge echoing a harsh call that seems born out the stone itself.
The woodland and grassland that surrounds the gorge is also home to all kinds of animals that fly, scurry and slither. Grass snakes hunt the frogs that spawn in the pond in the meadow, spotted flycatchers (a locally rare bird) seem to thrive here in the summer while stoats make use of the dry tone wall that runs through the trees.
It’s fascinating to walk through a landscape where the past and present collide so harmoniously. If you’re looking for a place to discover this weekend, you could do much worse than a visit to Creswell Crags.