Chasing the Solstice Sun

Solstice sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”).

On a gloomy day I had little expectation of seeing the Solstice sun. I decided to seek out a Prehistoric Rock Art panel near Roxby. The site is located across from a narrow ridge that runs from the moorland to the coast. The ridge was formed by Roxby and Easington Becks running in parallel towards the coast cutting deep ravines into the glacial till. At some points the ridge narrows to the width of the track with sheer drops on both sides.

There are three known Prehistoric burial mounds in this valley. One in the woodland 250m to the west of the carved stone and another pair 1km south where the Birch Hall and Scaling Becks merge to form the Roxby Beck.

Woods

I follow the muddy footpath from Ridge lane down through the woods to a small gorge where a wooden bridge crosses the beck. The sound of running water is everywhere. The low solstice sun finally makes an appearance.

Roxby Beck

At the top of the bank the woods give way to fields. The field is pegged out for pheasant shooting. I spot a wooden structure on the hillside roughly where the stone should be.

Roxby stone uphillThe stone sits on swampy ground at the foot a low hill. The landowner has erected a fence around it to prevent damage from livestock.

Roxby stone

The stone is beautiful, it contains a number of different motifs, different sized cups, some with rings, linear motifs and a couple of faint rings that seem to ‘zone’ certain areas of the stone. Many of the cups are quite eroded, you have to move around the stone to catch the light falling across revealing the fainter carvings.

Roxby stone springQuite a lot of stone has been dumped on the boggy ground. A spring breaks through at the stone and runs down through the field to the Beck.

Solstice SunThe Solstice sun breaks through beside a dump of large boulders.

When showing people rock art for the first time, they invariably come up with their own definitive interpretation of the meaning, usually a map/chart related explanation. Show them a second and third panel and they begin to develop doubts.

Roxby stone ii

Over the years I have visited many rock art sites both home and abroad. I’ve concluded that we will probably never really know the true meaning of the carvings because we can never know the mindset of the people who created them. The best explanation that I can come up with is that the carvings may be an abstract representation of an invisible reality for the people who carved them and that the meaning may change depending on the locality. On the North York Moors there seems to be an association with burial monuments and trackways but this is not always the case.

Roxby stone i

A couple of years ago I attended a workshop at MIMA  They invited people to help create a timeline for local art. My suggestion was Prehistoric Rock Art along with prehistoric pottery, sadly neither suggestions were included in the final timeline.

Blasted

 

Sleights Moor

 

A friend and I took a walk around Sleights moor starting at the High Bride Stones, a group of Prehistoric Standing Stones that have been interpreted as the possible ruins of two Four-Poster Stone Circles or the remains of a number of Stone Rows.

HBS c1s

We followed the lines of stones to the edge of the moor and the descent into the Murk Esk valley.

Larsen sA Larsen trap, one of two in this small area, both thankfully empty.

Low Bridestones 7sDescending the bank to the Low Bride Stones on Sheephowe Rigg.

Like the High Bride Stones on the moor above, this is a very ruinous site. Archaeological surveys have revealed over 100 stones including a mutilated cairn.  The current best guess is that many of the stones once formed part of a prehistoric enclosure.

We moved north along the top of Lowther Crag to the disused Bolton Crag quarry, one source of the beautiful Middle Jurassic moorland sandstone. Across the Esk valley we can see the quarries at Aislaby. Stone from these quarries was used to build the 11th century Abbey at Whitby, the foundations of the old Waterloo and London Bridges and the piers at Whitby.

White Flint sWalking up onto the moor top we found small, loose boulders made of ‘white flint’. This stone was prized by the steel industry, its high silica content, up to 98%, meant that it was ideal for making refractory bricks and moulding sand.

Flat Howe s

We moved across the highest part of the moor to Black Brow and its two Bronze Age kerbed burial mounds, the Flat Howes. This is the highest section of the moor, there are uninterrupted views along the Esk Valley to the Kildale Gap, across the moors towards Fylingdales and down to the coast into Whitby, a fitting place to spend eternity.

Barningham Moor

Barningham

Light constantly changes as weather moves rapidly from the west

 A stoat tracks my progress across the moor

The ruins of an ancient settlement can be found in the bracken

An ancient cairn, four millennia of beaten bounds

The reliable instability of limestone – the stone circle slowly sinking, the gill slowly growing

Eel Hill – scrying stone

Barningham Insulator

Hawsker

The Boiling well stands on the side of the road from Whitby to Hawsker. The well originally fed Whitby Abbey hence it’s other name T’awd Abba Well. A plaque on the well wall used to read

T’awd Abba Well
Also Known as The Old boiling Well

Lang centuries aback
This wor’t awd Abba Well
Saint Hilda veiled i’ black
Lang centuries aback
Supped frey it an no lack
All ‘r sisterhood as well
Lang centuries aback
This wor’t awd Abba Well

This very worn 10C Anglo Saxon cross sits beside a minor road at Low Hawsker. Much of the detail is lost. The drawing below was published by W G Collinwood in 1911.

Hawsker YAJ21WG Collingwood

Sources

Graham Chappell’s wonderful Yorkshire Holy Wells

Anglian & Anglo-Danish Sculpture in the East Riding with addenda to the North Riding. W.G. Collingwood. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 21 1911. Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Leeds

Maiden Castle

I’ve visit Maiden Castle a number of times, every time I visit I come away a little more confused.

OS Map 1857

The site is cut into the side of High Harker Hill, above an old Corpse Road, if you weren’t aware of its location you would be unlikely to stumble across it.

Maiden Castle Lidar

There are two long barrows/cairns associated with the enclosure, one is located on high ground to the west of the site, the other is at the eastern end of a massive stone avenue. The barrows are thought to be late Neolithic/Bronze age in date

Two linear mounds of stone up to 1.5m high form a unique feature, an avenue which runs for over 100m from a large ruined barrow to the entrance of the enclosure.

The enclosure ditch is up to 4m deep in places with the bank rising between 4-5m above the ditch. The counterscarp on the south side of the enclosure rises above the rampart top. This means that it is possible to overlook the enclosure from the outside implying that the enclosure was not built for defence.

MC From Hillside s

Inside the enclosure there are two circular settings that are thought to be hut circles. A recent geophysical survey has revealed other possible hut circles within the enclosure. There is also small cist visible within the centre of the structure.

Cist s

Due to its uniqueness and the lack of any dateable material, Archaeologists are unable to suggest a definitive time period for the monument. A date range from the Bronze Age to Romano-British period has been suggested.

This monument should not be seen an an isolated site.  The location of the monument in the wider landscape may give some clues to its purpose.

  • Situated within a landscape that has rich evidence of occupation since the Neolithic period. On the moor above the monument there is a stone circle, ring cairns, cairnfields and linear dykes.
  • Good access to a number of trans-Pennine routes linking the Vale of York with northern & eastern Cumbria
  • Situated within the Pennine ore fields surrounded by deposits of lead, zinc, silver and copper. A pig of lead inscribed with the name of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138) was discovered at the Hurst mine at Marrick. Lead was a valuable and abundant metal in the Roman empire.
  • The road beneath the monument turns south into Wensleydale and leads directly to the Roman fort at Bainbridge (Virosidum) and the junction of up to five Roman roads.
  • Other resources – coal and large quantities of chert. Chert was important resource for making tools in prehistory.  Across the river at Fremington Edge there are sufficient quantities of chert for it to be exploited commercially up until the mid 20th century for use in the Staffordshire pottery industries.

Sources

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

LIDAR survey via data.gov.uk
Reassessment of two late prehistoric sites: Maiden Castle and Greenber Edge in Archaeology and Historic Landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Papers No.2. Mark Bowden and Keith Blood. 2004

Why did the Romans build a fort at Bainbridge?  Swaledale & Arkengarthdale Archaeological Group. 2009

A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1914.

 

 

 

Maiden Castle and West Hagg Swaledale North Yorkshire geophysical surveys. Archaeological Surveys Durham University 2011 

Gainford Stones

 

 

Digging through some old files I came across these two pictures that I took a few years ago in the Monk’s Dormitory in Durham Cathedral.

The stones both originated in Gainford. The stone on the left is a cross shaft and depicting two beasts. The cross shaft on the right depicts two figures in knee-length tunics.

Image Source – The Sculptured Stones of Scotland Vol. 2 John Stuart. 1856

In Moor

To celebrate the summer solstice I decided to head over to Purse Moor to try and find a carved rock that was discovered in 2000. After much searching I failed to find the rock so walked over to In Moor to have a look at a site that was first described in the late 1940’s after aerial survey of the area. I first came across a reference to it in Hayes & Rutter’s research report on Wade’s Causeway.

An oval-shaped enclosure bounded by ruined stone walls and measuring 488 feet NE-SW and 230 feet NW-SE. Containing 25 small cairns usually 12-15 feet in diameter. Iron slag and flint flakes found on surface. Date and purpose unknown.

In late 2009 a large fire broke out on the moor revealing the site. I visited shortly after and took these photos.

On returning, the moor has regenerated and the site has once again has disappeared into the heather. It can still be seen on aerial photographs.

 

Sources

Wade’s Causeway by R.H. Hayes & J. G. Rutter. Scarborough & District Archaeological Society Research Report No. 4  1964

Pastscape

Yorkshire Rock Art

Percy Cross Rigg

The road on Percy Rigg runs from Rosedale Head to Guisborough. The section that runs over Percy Rigg is called Ernaldsti, after Ernald de Percy, Lord of Kildale. On a grim drizzly day I decided to walk the road from its junction with the Kildale – Commondale road to Percy Cross.

Percy Rigg Standing StoneThe surrounding moors are also dotted with standing stones, some are prehistoric, others are estate boundary stones. Ashbee MapThere are the remains of a large prehistoric settlement on the south west slope of Brown Hill. In 1953 Archaeologist Paul Ashbee excavated a number of small cairns and a large round barrow on Brown Hill.  He discovered a rock-cut burial pit beneath the barrow and very little in the cairns, concluding that they were probably clearance cairns.Percy Rigg bench markA number of the earthfast stones beside the road are marked with benchmarks.

Local Archaeologist Roland Close excavated a group of hut circles beside the road. He found two large huts with paved floors, two smaller huts with central hearths and one hut with drainage ditches cutting through the two smaller huts. The main finds were nine saddle querns and some poorly-fired pottery sherds.

R Close plan YAJ 44

Close published his excavation in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. In his report he mentioned a permanent spring to the north of the huts, probably the primary source of water for the settlement. 1953 Well Map

On looking through some old maps of the area I noticed that, on the 1950 OS map, a cluster of tumuli had been marked around the spring. If these tumuli were burial mounds it could mean that that spring held some significance, other than a source of water, to the people who lived there in the past.

The spring emerges from the hillside into a man-made stone-lined trough and then flows down to the Codhill Beck. There is a standing stone close to the well, the sides of the stone have been dressed, this is probably an estate boundary stone. Unfortunately the moor above the site is covered in deep heather, I was unable to find the mounds marked on the OS map.

Sources

Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol.39 1958 & Vol.44 1972

Old Roads & Pannier Ways in North East Yorkshire. Raymond H Hayes. 1988

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

A Walk to Warsett Hill

On the coast between the Tees and Whitby there are two main high points, Warsett Hill above Brotton and Rockcliffe Hill above Boulby. These hills are also mutually visible, each with a group of Bronze Age barrows on their summits.  The two summits are also intervisible with a number of moorland prehistoric sites.

There were once the remains of seven mounds on Warsett Hill but they have been ploughed-out leaving no trace on the ground. The group consisted of a cluster of six small mounds and one larger mound. The first recorded investigations of the group was by Canon Atkinson. Atkinson looked at the six small mounds and found nothing.

William Hornsby and Richard Stanton excavated the mounds in 1917, they found a few flints in the smaller mounds. The larger mound, which had been left untouched by Atkinson, was more fruitful. On opening the mound they discovered a ring of stones 30 ft in diameter, at the centre of which was a cremation burial with two food vessels. Other finds in this mound included a sherd of domestic pottery, a knife, a saw and many flints including scrapers, cores, and two leaf shaped arrowheads.

Sources

Pastscape.org.uk

Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 24. 1917

Bronze Age Barrows in Cleveland. G.M. Crawford. 1980

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland