The Hanging Stone is a large rocky outcrop of the Staithes Sandstone Group. The outcrop lies at the northern end of Ryston Bank. The steep sided outcrop has the appearance of a huge natural altar, the flat-topped platform has extensive uninteruppted views over the Tees Valley, Guisborough and the coast to the North and East. The recent clearance of the modern forestry plantation also allows views to Roseberry Topping and the Cleveland Hills.
I have not been able to establish the origin of the name Hanging Stone but the are many sites across Britain that bear the same name, including many on the North York Moors, some refer to similar outcrops and others to single standing stones, the most famous being Stonehenge. I think the most obvious explanation of the name is that these outcrops, often famed for being local viewpoints, simply ‘hang’ over the landscape. Eilert Ekwall, a renown researcher of the origins of place names investigated the origins of the village of Hanging Chedder in Lancashire, he discovered previous references to the name as Hingande and Hengande, simply meaning ‘steep’.
What particularly interests me is the possible significance this outcrop may have had to our prehistoric ancestors. There is a trackway which runs below the outcrop, the trackway runs from Hutton Lowcross to Great Ayton Moor and Roseberry Topping, both areas of activity during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age periods. Along and aligned to this track are the remains of four Bronze Age burial mounds. This may indicate that the track marked a significant boundary during the Bronze age and the monuments were placed on this highly visible ridge as a territorial marker.
Placing burial mounds along the top of a prominent ridge would announce the presence of the ancestors of the people who lived there, legitimising ownership of the territory. The alignment of burial mounds is a common occurrence on the North York Moors, Frank Elgee surveyed and mapped many groups on the NYM for his book Early Man In North East Yorkshire, published in 1930. In the 1980’s Don Spratt published a study on North Yorkshire moorland barrow alignments and concluded that they could possibly mark Bronze Age territorial boundaries.
Archaeologist Richard Bradley, amongst others, has discussed the origins of prehistoric monuments and their connection with natural features such as rock outcrops. Perhaps the Hanging Stone was a place of significance to the hunter gatherers of the Mesolithic period and this significance has been carried across the millennia to be finally encoded in the ritual landscape of our Bronze Age ancestors. Evidence of Mesolithic hunter gatherer groups using prominent view points as temporary camps has been found at nearby sites such as Highcliff Nab, Eston Nab and Beacon Moor, all of which are intervisible from the Hanging Stone. All of these sites are also associated with later prehistoric activity and monuments. As Bradley states, ‘Landscapes can be monuments and monuments can be landscapes.’
Whatever the origins of the Hanging Stone, it is only a short walk from Hutton Lowcross and it’s a great place to sit and take in the landscape.
The Place Names of Lancashire. Eilert Ekwall 1922
Early Man in North Yorkshire. Frank Elgee 1930
Prehistoric Boundaries on the North Yorkshire Moors. Don Spratt 1981
The Significance of Monuments. Richard Bradley 1998