If you’re looking for an off-beat discovery to build your next UK staycation around, I’ve just the thing: two cottages built into a rock at a magical place called Kinver Edge in Staffordshire, north-west of England. Kinver Edge is a 250-million-year-old sandstone escarpment with a network of houses carved into its three rocks – Holy Austin, Nanny’s and Vale’s – and an iron age hill fort. The ones at Holy Austin have been restored and can be visited.
They’re known as the Rock Houses and they look like something out of a storybook. In fact, rumour has it they inspired Tolkien’s Hobbit holes. He hasn’t confirmed this, although he did live in nearby Birmingham, so it’s food for thought. The last residents left in the 1960s and they lay abandoned until they were bought and donated to the National Trust 30 years later in the 1990s.
The National Trust then set about restoring them to make them safe and recreating the interior details using early photographs, postcards and records.
Even the landscape around the cottages has been transformed into how it once would have been. It features a little meadow of grass and wildflowers, and an orchard of apple and pear trees, whose fruits the Kinver cave dwellers would have made into jam. Just in front of the houses, you’ll see a little hillside allotment where peas, pumpkins and cabbages are growing, similar to the one created hundreds of years ago by the farm labourers, hawkers and gamekeepers who lived here self-sufficiently.
At one point, these cave homes were home to 44 people – around 11 families – until the 1960s when residents were persuaded to swap their caves for local council housing, leaving their legacy behind. It’s thought the first inhabitants stumbled on it in the early 17th century, though official records date from 1777, appearing in a book with a very long-winded title, Letters on the Beauties of Hagley, Envil and The Leasowes with critical remarks and Observations on the Modern Taste in Gardening, by Joseph Healey, who discovers the homes after getting caught in a thunderstorm.
He describes the homes as well-furnished, “curious, warm and commodious and the garden extremely pretty”. Joseph also notes that the residents had access to water and were extremely welcoming, and proud of their homes, delighted even to recount the stories of their ancestors who had built them.
He also says that when it was a community, residents would welcome visitors and serve refreshments like an unofficial café, right in their living room or in their front gardens with views of the English countryside.
Find out more about visiting the Kinver Edge Rock Houses here.