Searching out the Devil

The curious pre-historic feature known as ‘The Devil’s Ring & Finger’.

Tucked into a corner of a field in northeast Staffordshire, the Ordnance Survey Map shows a curious feature written in gothic writing. Having an interest in history, I decided that this feature was worth seeking out. ‘The Devil’s Ring and Finger’ is rather unique to this part of the world and something that would be more at home on a lonely moor on the western seaboard of Britain.
So what is ‘The Devil’s Ring and Finger’? My research showed that it was once part of a pre-historic burial mound but what is left is not in situ and was moved a couple of hundred yards to the field boundary a few hundred years ago. It consists of a large circle of stone with a large hole in the middle with a standing stone propped up alongside it. Both stones show much weathering and today lie almost hidden and forgotten just off a footpath west of the village of Mucklestone.

It was time to investigate and make a day of it by doing a circular walk by taking in another curious feature that had come to light during my research. On the one dry day of a week of wet weather last October, Tony Littler joined me for this circular walk in the area.

Unusual plaque on a house at Mucklestone.

A peaceful setting in the churchyard at Mucklestone.

We are setting out from Loggerheads in Staffordshire (not the one in North Wales), and taking the minor road cum track to reach the village of Mucklestone. We pause to read a plaque on a house in the village which reads ‘On this site stood the smithy of William Skelhorn at which Queen Margaret had her horse’s shoes reversed to aid her escape from the Battle of Blore Heath 23rd September 1459’.
Nearby, we wander around the churchyard before setting out west on a field path which is initially a bit overgrown. Crossing the B5415, we now take a minor road to Mucklestone Lodges and here turn right on a field path. I want to take a look now at a pre-historic site known as ‘The Devil’s Ring and Finger’ which lies just off the right of way. This megalith is not signed but we easily find it by crossing a broken down fence and crossing some rough ground to a field boundary. The two stones are quite impressive with one stone forming a large doughnut type circle with a large hole in it whilst the other stone stands upright alongside it and is well weathered and gnarled. Using your imagination it looks as if it might have belonged to the devil!

Back on the path, we continue through Norton Forge which is situated on the infant River Tern which itself forms the county boundary with Shropshire. Not far from this spot is an unusual gravestone not visited on this walk but the gravestone is dedicated to fifty four cattle which died in 1866 as a result of one of the last outbreaks in this country of the disease Rinderpest. The outbreak started in the nearby village of Bearstone and at the time there was no known cure. The following inscription (which is taken from the Norton in Hales village website) on the stone reads ‘THIS STONE IS RAISED AS A MEMENTO OF THE GREAT CATTLE PLAGUE OF 1866 WHICH SWEPT 54 HEAD OFF THIS FARM IN 14 DAYS OF MARCH THEY DIED WITHOUT REMEDY AND HERE LIE.’

Norton in Hales and the Brading Stone on the village green.

At Norton Forge we join a track before taking a field path into the attractive village of Norton in Hales. It is now time for our morning break and a large shelter with ample seats is an ideal spot. The village green has another interesting megalith which is known as the Brading Stone. The date is uncertain but tradition has it that anyone found working after 12 noon on Shrove Tuesday, was taken to this stone and either beaten, bumped, or rolled on this stone.

A view from Willoughbridge Park – one of many on this stretch of the walk.

We leave the village via Bellaport Road and soon take a field path on the right and now we cross several fields towards the farm known as The Grove. Near here we veer east, briefly following a track before crossing several more fields where way finding isn’t exactly easy as we have to find gaps in thick hedges with hidden stiles but at least they do exist. Beyond Bellaport Old Hall we have to cross a stream twice and the little bridges over this watercourse are well hidden. One of the main problems in this area is that there is a fair amount of waterlogged ground hidden in the mowing grass that you are often upon before you realise it. The muddy Poplar Lane which is a track is joined briefly before taking another path across fields to the next village of Knighton. We opt here for an early lunch in a bus type shelter as there is a seat. It isn’t necessarily the best spot as it is by a road but at least it provides a dry spot to sit.

The unusual RC Church at Ashley.

Leaving Knighton we soon take a field path eastwards which crosses a field with a bull in which thankfully carries on grazing. A quiet lane is then followed to Pipe Gate.
Heading south from here we join another field path which is rather overgrown at one point where it crosses some streams on plank bridges. The path continues across ploughed fields before reaching a rather wet spot where we have to divert slightly. The next section of the walk is through the slightly higher area of Willoughbridge Park. The area is well wooded with extensive former quarry workings on our right which had just been left to nature but the boundary fence is full of warning signs. A lane is later joined before climbing an awkward bank to take another path across a ploughed field. Later we cross the A53 and take the lane into the village of Ashley. The Roman Catholic Church here is of an unusual design and is a white washed building. Another path is soon followed before heading back towards Loggerheads following minor lanes and using a short link path. Nearing Loggerheads, we take another path which turns out to be overgrown and here we have an issue with slurry leaking across a field so it is obvious why it is little used. The next path presents some problems with brambles at the end but we manage to push our way through. Reaching Loggerheads we take to an enclosed path between up market houses but the second path which borders the village school is fairly overgrown. At least at the end of this enclosed path we are on the road for the short walk to the car after an interesting and adventurous walk.

I will be leading this walk again for the group on the 14th April but in the opposite direction.