In search of Little John’s Grave
When someone mentioned that we might see Little John’s grave on a recent day trip, we had no option but to go in search of it
As I’m a bit flat out this week, here’s one I wrote earlier – for Medium.
For Father’s Day this year, Ian, my husband, wanted to go and have a drive through the beautiful Hope Valley in Derbyshire. We used to live less than half an hour away from the valley, but since we’d moved house, three years ago, we’d not been back.
He hadn’t decided which towns or villages to visit while we were there, but during a phone call, Son #2 just happened to mention that “Little John is buried in Hathersage”. And that was it. We had to go in search of Little John’s grave.
Little John, of course, according to legend, was Robin Hood’s number 2, his second-in-command, his chief lieutenant. They apparently met on a bridge across a river and Robin Hood challenged Little John, a giant of a man, to a bit of a duel, using staffs instead of bows and arrows. Robin lost the fight, but Little John joined his cause in any case.
Little John appears in several of the earlier tales and ballads about Robin Hood and he is apparently the only one of his merry men that Robin takes with him on what is to be his last journey. After his leader’s death, local legend, again, says that Little John built himself a small cottage, now reputedly in ruins.
We have often driven through or past Hathersage, on the Sheffield side of the Hope Valley, and we’ve even pulled in at a little shop and bought our lunch. But we’d never actually visited the town. Now, at last, we would put that right.
When we got there we followed the only sign we could see to a car park, which was at the back of the Methodist church right in the centre of the town. Outside the church, on the path that leads onto the main road, we saw this figure with hundreds of colourful ribbons on it. Our curiosity piqued, we had to see what it was.
Next to the figure was an honesty box and a box of ribbons. Each ribbon represents a prayer. What a lovely idea.
The path emerges on a busy road, across which can be found the free and gender-neutral public toilets, and a visitors’ information board. The board told us a little about Little John’s grave, and the map showed us how to get to it.
There are three churches in Hathersage: the Methodist church, a Roman Catholic church, and the parish church. The parish church was up a steep hill… and that’s where Little John is apparently buried. In case we were in any doubt, there was a sign on the wall showing us in which direction to go.
I don’t really ‘do’ hills, but it wasn’t too bad and I only had to rest once, on the flat bit in the middle. Fortunately, there are some lovely views, so there was plenty to look at to take my mind off the climb, including this pretty little house.
After a short ascent, the lychgate of the Church of St Michael’s and All Angels came into view. And after a quick walk through the churchyard, we found another sign showing us the way.
At first I thought that the little white thing was some sort of parking meter, but it’s actually a donation point for the upkeep of the church and the churchyard, strategically placed next to arguably the church’s most visited grave.
The grave lies beneath a yew tree and was once owned by the Nailor family. It is marked by a modern tombstone. Little John’s surname was often referred to as ‘Nailer’, so this adds substance to the claim.
To further support the claim, it is said that Little John’s helmet and his bow once hung in the church, but they are now at Parham House in West Sussex.
The walk up to the church and back to the car park was just under a mile and a half. The whole excursion took just over an hour, and that included taking photographs and chatting to the verger. On our way back down the hill (much easier than going up), we were treated to a lovely view of the Hope Valley.
No wonder we like it so much.
Ian is a Yorkshireman and so was Robin Hood. In fact, the outlaw was reportedly from Loxley, which is about 8 miles away from Sheffield. Therefore, quite rightly, many Yorkshire folk claim him as their own. What remains of Sherwood Forest today is only a very small part of the original forest that once stretched from Hathersage in Derbyshire to Nottingham.
So, while there is no evidence that Robin and his band of merry men truly existed, including his right-hand man, it is likely that if they did exist, then Little John may indeed be buried in Hathersage.
Speaking of Sherwood, this Grand Old Man below is now the oldest tree in the forest. Robin Hood, Little John and their men may well have hidden in one like this one… or even this very tree.
In Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, the fight between Robin Hood and Little John was filmed in Aysgarth Falls. Read about Aysgarth Falls here:
Here are a few more images from our visit to Hathersage (all photos © Ian Wordsworth):
This story first appeared in Gardening, Birding, and Outdoor Adventure on Medium.