Thor’s Stone is known to everyone who lives, or has lived, on the Wirral.
It is a big lump of sandstone on Thurstaston Common, from where there are superb views of the Dee and across the Mersey. You are very aware that you are standing on a peninsula: in one direction is Point of Ayr and Holywell (an ancient pilgrimage site) in North Wales; when you turn to the north you can easily make out Blackpool Tower (also a pilgrimage site but never holy), 40-odd miles away.
Probably the association with Thor is a myth and of ingenious Victorian etymology. It probably has nothing do so with “Torstein’s homestead”, or whatever the real derivation of Thurstaston may be. But it is still a special place within the very special frontier zone of the Wirral. As a child I climbed it, as you simply had to do. At primary school we tried to measure its height by trigonometry and came up with a must unlikely result. In my childhood memory it was high and intimidating. We used to believe that human sacrifice had been practised on it.
I had not been there for over 50 years, though my parents still live just a few miles away. Returning this summer I was surprised to find that it still looked high and intimidating. There is no easy route up. You could easily slip and hurt yourself. Parents and older children showed little children where to put their feet. But you could still slip and hurt yourself. In the end I couldn’t quite bring myself to climb up to the top. I excused myself – wrong shoes, I wasn’t dressed for it – but I felt a bit pathetic. It is hardly the North Face of the Eiger.
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In southern Mexico there is a well-known and well-visited ruined Mayan city called Palenque. It has one of the few tall pyramids which you are still allowed to climb, despite the pile of bleeding and broken tourists at its base. You may already know, or deduce, that the sensible way to climb the high steps is sideways, zigzagging your way to the summit. It’s easier on the knees, and it is very hot out there.
You eventually get to the platform at the top, catch your breath, and look out over the site. You are in a jungle clearing. You self-congratulate, swig from your water bottle and take your photos, which are, of course, exactly the same as everyone else’s. From the platform you can’t see your sweaty co-tourists making their way to the summit – until you walk right to the edge and peer straight down. You remember that the Maya practised human sacrifice.
The views are wonderful – much better than you would think from the ground. It would be easy to say, “You go up on your own. I’ll just stay here. I can’t be bothered”. It’s a response we must try to resist.