I land on a wooded path, miles away from home. I chase the sunlight mile after mile, through the wind-swept pines and the darkening oaks. Not a soul in sight except the one within me. The patches of blooming trout lilies are long behind me, what lies ahead remains a mystery. Tory’s Den is beyond my wanderings, a place of unknown qualities and hidden secrets. As I approach the trailhead from Moore’s Knob, something draws me closer. Perhaps it is the promise of the unfamiliar, or the devout dedication of the wanderer to push pass their boundaries. I am drawn to the trail as an insect is to light, hopefully without the same outcome.
Tory’s Den is the outermost destination within the Hanging Rock trail system. Given the appeal of the partially paved titular destination, Tory’s Den is likely unpopulated by most park visitors, especially during the week. As expected, the trail remained my own for quite some time. I passed along serpentine switchbacks until I crested a peak topped with groves of mountain laurel and Virginia pines. From there the trail descended as sharply as a kitchen knife, forcing me to push weight onto my heels in order to stop myself from tumbling forward. It was here I began to doubt if I could complete this trek. I notice the sun hanging lower in the west, still plenty of light left but definitely leaning heavy towards the evening sky. My food and water would last many miles more, but would my mind? Would the worry of my return prevent my enjoyment of the journey? I can sing these songs as long as I please, but nothing will drive me forward except my own two feet.
Unlike the ‘walls’, ‘knobs’, or ‘rocks’ that categorize nearly all major attractions at Hanging Rock, Tory’s Den is the only one of its kind. The cave is nestled in a shallow outcropping near the park’s northern border, approximately 35 feet deep and 20 feet high. Quartzite has been worn away in jagged shelfs that could be briefly scaled if need be. As I quickly discovered, the cave is currently home to gigantic mosquitos and numerous black moths. But that’s not who originally lived here. During the American Revolution, Stokes County was located near the western front of the thirteen colonies. British and American forces fought no major battles here, but neighbors often clashed over which side deserved their allegiance. One such skirmish occurred between the Whigs, English colonists who wanted independence from Great Britain, and the Tories, colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown. At the start of the war, the Whigs seized land and property in Stokes County held by the Tories and forced them into the wilderness. Outmanned and outgunned, about 100 Tories settled in this cave near the future Hanging Rock State Park.
In 1778, a group of Tories raided Whig Colonel John Martin’s ‘rock house’ and supposedly kidnapped his daughter for ransom. By dawn, Martin had rallied a group of Whigs and attacked the ‘Den.’ Taking the Tories by surprise, Martin took most of them prisoner in retribution for taking his daughter. Once the war ended in 1783, Congress passed a law that would return any unsold Tory lands to their original owners only if they would sign their allegiance to the flag of the United States. Since that fateful day, the cave has been known as “Tory’s Den.” With a resonating waterfall a few paces to the west, the cave provides adequate shelter for any creature passing its way.
The strenuous journey has left me weary and famished, and much like the Tories, I will too call this place home for a fragmented moment in time. Just until my water and food run low. Here, it just the rocks, and the trees, and my lonesome dreams that will fill this cave up once again. Huddled low, I stare out into the boundless forest dreaming of tomorrow and the eternal promise it holds.
“I feel I should know this place, as the road winds on into wide open space”