Caught by the River

Free Range: Rocking Stone

Amy Liptrot | 10th February 2023

Fuelled by Jelly Babies, Amy Liptrot and her children take to the moors in search of stone.

It feels like it’s been raining since Christmas. A gap in the weather combines with a tip from a friend and I decide we will go to look for the Rocking Stone, up on Warley Moor. I have become the type of parent who drags her family across desolate moors looking for interesting stones — consulting my maps and almanacs before making a plan — and I am quite happy about that. 

We drive up a sweeping single-track road then set out on foot across the bleak moor, in a bitter headwind. The five-year-old is in good heart, running off ahead, lost in a world of bog monsters and “grabbling hooks”. The toddler is less enthusiastic, woken prematurely, wanting to be carried, eyes watering in the cold. The low winter sun is reflected in bogs, the odd crow rises. We pick our way around puddles and streams and in the chill I feel awakened. 

A ‘rocking stone’ is one so finely balanced that a strong push could rock it, but this particular Rocking Stone settled some time ago. It is in fact a collection of very large slabs of gritstone, the only boulders in the area — ‘erratics’ left here as glaciers receded. When we reach it, we climb atop, onto what some call a druids’ altar, alongside wind-carved basins filled with sky. Under the stone, a tunnel is formed — a useful shelter for sheep and a delight for small children. The boys became rabbits, squeezing through gaps hiding from the fox (their dad) with a packet of Hobnobs. 

We have found a few things that make a hike with children more likely to be successful, including decent clothing with underlayers, waterproofs and boots, spare gloves and socks. It’s good to have an end point or mission like the Rocking Stone and a waymarked trail is also motivating. We are flexible with reasonable ambitions — sometimes we get a bus to the tops and walk back down. We also use healthy amounts of cajoling and bribery — a carefully deployed packet Jelly Babies can help a lot.

In this halting and chaotic manner, we’ve visited rocks in our local area including the Hitching Stone, the Bridestones, the 12 Apostles, Churn Milk Joan, Robin Hood Rocks and Tom Bell’s Cave. I’ve placed my children on boundary stones, trig points and minor megaliths, on boulders and slabs. I tell them to touch the stones, to conduct their elemental power in their bodies.

One thing I hope for my boys, in this overstimulating world, is the ability to find space inside their own minds. I notice the way their imaginations are loosened while running across the moor and climbing on the stones. As we follow the paths of the ancients to symbolic places, to rocky outcrops with open horizons, they are gaining a sense of place, finding a local landscape of myth and wonder.