Old Castle Hill

 I discovered one (a stone Row) in a small valley, Haredale, on the north Cleveland moors half-way between Commondale and Freeborough Hill. Here, on a huge natural mound known as Old Castle Hill which projects from the western side of the valley at an elevation of 800 feet, are five small upright stones in a line about 150 yards long. The row, which is not absolutely straight, runs west-north-west by east-south-east, the most westerly stone standing about fifty feet from the others which are close together. One the north slope of the mound are some pits which may be hut sites.

Frank Elgee

Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Pub. 1930


About 10 years ago I went looking for Elgee’s stone row which I managed to find using a combination of his description and the above photo, sadly all that remained were two fallen stones.  I was in the area yesterday so decided to visit the site and check that the two remaining stones were still there. My memory was a little fuzzy regarding the location of the stones so I decided to start at the head of the valley and gradually work my way along the western edge. It wasn’t long before I came across two small upright stones sticking up through the heather.

Old Castle Hill wrong stones

I was pretty sure that these weren’t Elgee’s stones but it had been a while since I’d last seen them. This was my third moor of the day, the sun was beginning to sink and I was starting to think that a large mug of coffee would be a better option than tramping through knee high heather looking for a pair of small fallen stones. While I was trying to make my mind up as to what to do, I came across a small erosion scar in a drainage ditch, looking down I spotted a beautiful flint tool sitting on the sandy soil, deep joy.

Old Castle Hill Flint

Re-enthused by my tiny discovery I decided to carry on searching for the row. I remembered that the stones were on top of a mound that protruded into the valley but the low sun, long shadows and multiple shades of autumnal moorland golds &  browns made it rather difficult to pick-out the landscape features. As I scanned the valley for signs of the row my eye was drawn to a tree a little further north, the tree was situated midway up the valley side, bathed in the low afternoon sunlight it appeared  almost luminescent.

Old Castle Hill Tree

As I walked towards the beautiful tree I noticed a short promontory of land jutting out into the valley and could make out a small stone-sized gap in a burned patch of the heather. I walked down to investigate and there were Elgee’s stones, still in situ.

Old Castle Hill stones

Stone rows are intriguing, they often serve no obvious purpose and are quite rare on the North York Moors. When I first visited the stones I was hoping that the row was aligned to the top of Freeborough Hill, itself an area of ritual focus to our ancestors, but sadly the row was not aligned to the hilltop.

Some years ago I read a book by Ray Seaton called  The Reason for the Stone Circles of Cumbria. The book details Seaton’s investigations into finding an answer the question of why there are so many stone circles in Cumbria. Seaton surveyed the circles using conventional surveying techniques, he was also an enthusiastic dowser and produced a dowsing survey for each stone ring. I don’t have any strong opinions on dowsing, each to their own, dowsers have been used for centuries to find underground water sources and had they not been successful the practice would have died out long ago but when I hear talk of ‘energy or ley lines’ I tend to switch off.

The reason I mention Seatons’s book is that, along with the book, he produced an acetate detailing all of the major compass bearings for significant astronomical events in year 2000 BC. This is a very handy tool, when used with a map and compass it gives a field researcher a rough idea of the potential astronomical significance of an alignment. Nowadays, there is sophisticated software available to give you precise astronomical data for any given time but my opinion is that our ancestors were using their eyes and a couple of sticks to mark alignments so if an alignment is out by a couple of degrees, does it really matter?


So what has all this to do with Elgee’s stone row? Well, given that the row that Elgee described was not an absolute straight line and given that there are only two stones left, both of which have fallen, the compass bearing of the alignment is approximately 120 degrees-300 degrees, Seaton’s acetate showed that this would align the two remaining stones to the setting Summer Solstice sun during the Bronze age. Perhaps I should return here for the solstice.

These stones are very small and would probably disappoint the casual visitor but If you are interested in prehistory or standing stones and want to visit one of the best Prehistoric stone rows in Britain you should call in at the Devils Arrows on the edge of Boroughbridge where you will find three huge wonderful stones, each standing over 18ft high in a field leading down to the river Ure.

devils arrows

2 thoughts on “Old Castle Hill

  1. Thanks Alen, the Devil’s Arrows are well worth a visit. They are the southerly most remains of an loosely aligned ancient ritual landscape that runs north between the rivers Ure & Swale. The Ure-Swale Plateau contains a number of henges, burial mounds and cursus monuments including the mind-blowing, unique, gigantic triple henges at West Tanfield (Thornborough).

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