One of the creepiest spots in my hometown of Buxton, Derbyshire is also one of the most mysterious. Overlooking the northern edge of the town is a damaged Bronze Age burial mound called Fairfield Low. You could be forgiven for missing it; despite occupying one of the highest points in Buxton, it is encircled by a thick crown of trees on private farm land. Some locals are aware of its existence but know it as Skeleton Wood or Skellybob Wood (whatever a skellybob is!)
Local antiquarian Micah Salt excavated Fairfield Low in 1895 on the night before Halloween. He discovered human remains, noting that the sight had been previously disturbed, probably by lime burners. The skull now sits on the desk in the town museum’s Boyd Dawkins study. It belonged to a man who died in middle age. It seems likely that Micah Salt’s morbid discovery is the culprit for the location’s eerie nickname.
Intrigued, I set off to investigate the sinister place for myself. The summer of 2015 has been generally cold and wet in these parts, hardly like a summer at all. As you can see by my companion’s photographs, it was my good fortune to enjoy an uncommonly warm and sunny day.
Most of modern-day Fairfield is a vast labyrinth-like housing estate and it is easy to get lost unless you know your way around. Quizzing several residents as to the whereabouts of Fairfield Low did not help. As I’ve already mentioned, they call it Skellybob Wood. I focused my attention on the trees on the highest hill, rising above the multitude of rooftops. Finding it was not impossible. Getting to it was a different matter!
Stumbling onto the right path was sheer luck. There are no sign posts and the first part winds its way round the back of a large industrial estate and through a maze of allotments. Here we encountered an elderly lady who had heard of Fairfield Low but by this point we were in its shadow. The lady was perturbed by the gun I was carrying. I explained that it was actually an umbrella.
There is no public access to Skeleton Wood and by climbing a couple of walls, we were technically trespassing (apologies to the owner). The cows that know the wood as home did not seem particularly impressed that we were there. One bovine occupant in particular had the most intimidating stare I’ve ever seen on an animal; so much so that we felt compelled to circumvent it. Even when we reached the tree line, we discovered further resentment from a group of tracksuited teenagers who were loitering around in the wood.
Despite the opposition, I was pleased to find myself in the footsteps of Micah Salt, on top of what was clearly a burial mound. The ancient tomb is so well hidden by the trees, it is impossible to see it until the final ten metres of the climb. There is a deep gouge into the hillock. Whether this is the product of Salt’s excavation, the work of lime burners or a more supernatural disturbance is unclear. Skeleton Wood certainly has a very tangible and peculiar atmosphere. The warmth of the sun is replaced by a chilly breeze that gently rustles the leaves. The trees are old and twisted and command a solemn reverence, like graves in a churchyard.
We felt no need to linger but before departing, I noted the unfamiliar view out towards Dove Holes. Dotted around the landscape are several other mounds that looked suspiciously man-made. The Neolithic henge called The Bull Ring is in that direction too. It strikes me that there was a lot of activity in this area thousands of years ago. The hills and dales evidently resonated with significance for our ancient ancestors. Standing here, I can’t help but wonder who they were and what they would think now, looking upon the sprawl of Fairfield estate. In Skeleton Wood, their ghosts linger, whispering forgotten secrets amongst the trees.
Photos by Jen Francis of Explore Buxton