Derbyshire Rocks: The Story of the Painted Pebbles

Derbyshire Rocks Notts Rocks painted pebble in handWhen we posted a story a few weeks back about the Derbyshire Rocks craze – people painting, hiding and seeking pebbles – sweeping the county we didn’t realise just how popular or how long-lived it would be. More than 21,000 people are now members of the Derbyshire Rocks Facebook group with more in groups for Belper, Nottinghamshire and beyond. This is the story of one painted pebble…

“Mummy! Mummy! Muuuuummmmy! Look what I’ve found on the floor…”

Oh God…what now? Sharp, filthy, or just plain icky…my mind is already running an inventory of items found on previous walks, picked up and examined by my children as we maraud around the Derbyshire parks and countryside.

This particular venture is on a Sunday afternoon. The air is crisp and the sun is low and hazy in the late afternoon sky. Dogs dart past us, dry leaves crackling in their wake. One child is crouched atop a hollow stump examining a bracket fungus, the other runs up to me, his cheeks flushed with freshness and his hands cupped over each other.

Derbyshire Rocks Painted Pebble in tree stump

“Look! Another one!” He opens his hands to show me not visceral nature in either live or decaying form but a small, smooth pebble, painted with an intricate pattern and varnished to a shine. “This one’s got words on too!” He holds the underside of the stone up to me then pushes the rock into my own hand and rushes off to look for more treasure.

My child is a finder. In the hour or so we’ve been in the park he’s already found a lucky penny in the car park, a discarded tennis ball in a pile of leaves, and a Pokemon card wedged between the planks of the climbing frame. And while this is the only painted rock we find today we’ve found and re-hidden a number of pebbles closer to home.

This one carries the #NottsRocks hashtag but has crossed the border and is now in Alfreton Park. My child found it while ankle deep among rustling amber leaves at the base of a sturdy old tree, and he retrieves it from me moments later to re-hide it a little higher up within the jagged bark of storm-severed trunk further along in the same park.

It’s a fleeting delight for him – something to be examined and passed forward, an unuttered connection to a trail of strangers from those who painted it, to each who’ve passed it on, to those who will come after us and continue its journey. The pattern – somewhere between floral and geometric – is pretty and careful. And it’s this which is part of the appeal of the painted pebble craze: it encourages creative and care in the creation, brings fun and reconnects us to the outdoors and games in the hiding and the finding, and it shows us a community of people we may never meet but through a small object are nevertheless connected to.

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