The legend of Thor's Stone on the Wirral's Thurstaton Common

Thor's Stone on the Wirral has captured the imagination of residents and visitors for generations and it's not hard to see why, as Chris Hogg explains

Hidden deep in the wilds of Thurstaston Common stands a mysterious landmark which has fascinated generations of people. The sandstone feature is roughly the size of a house but is well concealed and as visitors wind along the approaching footpaths its existence is completely unnoticeable.

But when the trees and marshes of the common suddenly retreat the stone is revealed. Its presence dominates the surroundings and its existence seems to defy explanation.

In Victorian times, Thor’s Stone was the subject of various colourful legends. The distinguished Liverpool historian Sir James Picton believed the stone had been a place of Viking worship, where festivities and nocturnal assemblies were held in honour of the Nordic god, Thor.

Other Victorians added their own elements of intrigue to the legend, with tales of how the red colour of the stone was caused by the running blood of animal and human sacrifices. Some even suggested it was erected to commemorate the great Viking battle of Brunanburh, though not surprisingly they remained quite vague on the details as to how such a feat was accomplished.

Vikings were certainly present on the Wirral in the ninth century and though evidence suggests they didn’t stray far from the coast, their presence can be noted in other parts of Cheshire, particularly around Chester.

The village of Thingwall, a mile or so from Thurstaston, is widely believed to have been the meeting place of a Viking parliament, or ‘thing’, where local rules would have been established, and historians and archaeologists have suggested the modern day Wirral town of Bromborough is one of the likely sites for the battle of Brunanburh. Yet while these theories are regarded as pretty solid, the notion of gods and pagan rituals at Thor’s Stone is more debatable.

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It is much more likely that the stone is part of a natural rock formation known as a tor, which has occurred due to weathering and has been further exposed by the presence of an old quarry. The sandstone landscape of the area is evident underfoot as you walk across Thurstaston Common and it is most probable that harder slabs of the stone and other more durable types of stone, were quarried from the site centuries ago, leaving behind the softer and less practical Thor’s Stone.

Indeed, the softness of the outcrop can be seen today. Visitors to the stone have been carving their names into the impressionable sandstone for generations now and the elements - along with countless footsteps - have created winding gullies and channels in the feature. It is possible to reach the top of the Thor’s Stone by scrabbling and squeezing among these channels. From the top of the stone the distance to the ground seems considerably more than the 25 feet it measures and the vast woodland and marshes of the common can be seen on all sides.

The common was secured for public use in 1879 by the Town Council of Birkenhead, when it was proudly declared to be ‘a place of recreation, with proper roads, ways and footpaths to and over it in convenient directions’. This description, of course, remains true today but is far too bland a way to describe the site.

Another feature of the common is Thurstaston Hill from where a huge stretch of the River Dee is visible, as are large parts of the North Wales coast and the Clwydian Hills on a clear day. Much of the Wirral itself can also be seen from the vantage point and the iconic shoreline of Liverpool stands out before much of Lancashire beyond it.

With its rich geological as well as natural wealth, the common is something of a Mecca for the natural sciences. On top of being a local nature reserve, famed for its wide range of butterflies among other creatures, the common, which amounts to over 250 acres, is also a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Yet despite such vast expanses it is still hard to shake away the romance of Thor’s Stone. New theories may spoil some of the sentiment but as its name lives on, so too does the legend. Over a thousand years may have passed but the wonder of Cheshire’s Vikings is alive and well.

Where is Thurstaston Common? The Common and Thor’s Stone is in Thurstaston, which is just a couple of miles from the towns of West Kirby and Heswall. They are accessible from the A540, which runs from Chester. It is also possible to access the Common by way of nearby Royden Park, which is located on the B5140.

What about parking? There is a free car park just off from the A540. It is on the right hand side of the road as you drive towards West Kirby, just past the Cottage Loaf Pub (CH61 0HJ). There is also free parking at Roydon Park.

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The print version of this article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Cheshire Life 

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