The Hemlock Stone – Stapleford, England - Atlas Obscura

The Hemlock Stone

Stapleford, England

Left by the Devil, an ancient quarry or just plain old erosion, this enigmatic rock pillar rises 28 feet from the hillside. 


Just outside the Nottingham suburb of Stapleford (which itself means “river crossing by the rock” in Anglo Saxon), this 28-foot-tall mysterious monolith towers above a small country park. How the two-tone stone pillar got here isn’t entirely known, though there are myths aplenty.

Opinions are divided as to whether the rocky column is a natural feature, composed of a harder material than the rest of the now-weathered-away hillside, or whether it was purposefully left by workers of an ancient quarry.

A third theory states that the Devil (or, say some, a giant) hurled the rock at nearby Lenton Priory from his lair near Castleton, in neighboring Derbyshire. Apparently Satan wanted to silence the pious prayers of the Lenton monks by throwing the stone at them, but the priory-pulverizing projectile missed its target and has been embedded on its current spot ever since. 

Sadly for folklore fans, the third theory has been discounted not by theologians, but by spoilsport geologists. Apparently the Hemlock Stone is made of triassic Sherwood Sandstone, a kind of rock not found anywhere in the vicinity of the Devil’s supposed Castleton hideout. 

The etymology of the stone’s name has also proven to be something of an enigma. Witches may have used the poisonous Hemlock Plant in rituals at the site, or the mysterious moniker could be derived from the German for Heaven’s Hatchet (Himmel axt); or a Norse word meaning an overhanging (hemmelig).

The stone is the centerpiece of an annual local festival, the Hemlock Happening. The free event began as part of celebrations for the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002, and features music and dance performances with a firework finale.

Know Before You Go

The stone can be clearly seen from Coventry Lane. There is a car park 1/4 mile along the road from the park gates, and a further free car park at the Bramcote Hills Country Park around the corner on Ilkeston Road. The number 21 bus from Nottingham City Centre passes close by on Ilkeston Road. The Hemlock Happening takes place annualy on the 2nd Saturday in June.

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