Wandering in the shadow of the sacred hill

My friend Graeme Chappell and I decided to have a wander around Thompson’s Rigg. We followed the Old Wife’s Way from Horcum, dropping down along Newgate Brow into the valley below.

We crossed the fields to take a look at the standing stones at the foot of Blakey Topping. These stones have been interpreted as a possible ruined stone circle.

After spending some time at the stones we walked onto Thompson’s Rigg. The Rigg is only a mile long. Its flanks slope down into the valleys of the Grain Beck to the East and Crosscliff Beck to the west. The moor is surrounded on three sides by higher ground and gently slopes to the south, where it narrows to form a valley which eventually leads to Langdale End and Howden Hill, a hill very similar in appearance to Blakey Topping.

About a third of the way along the Rigg the trackways bends, at this point, running diagonally to the trackway, is a cross ridge boundary. The boundary is a banked structure that bisects the full width of the moor and is topped, in parts, with large stones. The official scheduling for the area states that, Although this boundary forms part of the post-medieval field boundary system in the area, it is considered to incorporate elements of an earlier construction which had origins in the prehistoric period, contemporary with the cairnfield. source

In his book Early Man in North East Yorkshire Frank Elgee wrote, A wall of upright stones crosses the Rigg between the farm and the barrows, he also includes the boundary on his map of the area

It is curious that despite the earthwork being mentioned in the official scheduling of the area and despite it defining the the northern limit of the cairnfield and barrows and its close resemblance to other moorland cross ridge boundaries, this significant structure does not appear in either Don Spratt’s 1993 or Blaise Vyner’s 1995 inventories of the cross ridge boundaries of the North York Moors.

South of the large boundary earthwork we started to encounter many cairns, most are in deep heather and difficult to define, at least one of this group appears to be a large ruined barrow.

We continued south, traipsing through the deep heather to a grassy area containing a beautiful Platform Cairn. Platform Cairns are rare on the North York Moors, they are defined as, A roughly circular monument featuring a low, more or less level platform of stones surrounded or retained by a low stone kerb. Some may feature a small central open area, thus resembling a ring cairn. Source.

There is a large stone and hollow in the middle of the cairn implying a possible ruined cist, it is evident that this cairn had been excavated in the past. Graeme reminded me that we were only seven miles from Pickering, once home to James Ruddock.

James Ruddock was a nineteenth century commercial barrow digger. Between 1849 and his death in 1859 he opened many of our moorland mounds in search of finds to sell to the gentleman collectors of his time. His main client was the antiquary Thomas Bateman, he also opened barrows for Samuel Anderson of Whitby.

Unfortunately Ruddock did not always keep precise notes regarding the locations of his diggings, many of his finds have ended up in our museums with vague labels such as, from a mound 6 miles north of Pickering.

Moving further south we encountered this lovely, fairly well-defined ring cairn.

On the south eastern flanks of the Rigg is a group of hollow ways, these are not considered to be prehistoric.

At the southern end of the Rigg is this orthostatic wall which contains many large stones, some of which appear to be buried into the ground. If the wall contained unburied stones it would be classed as a boulder wall. The walling is definitely not prehistoric but may contain stones from an earlier feature.

Not far from the walling is this three foot high standing stone, located within an area of low banks and cairns at the southern end of the Rigg.

Blakey Topping and Thompson’s Rigg are well worth a visit, There is a wealth of prehistoric remains to be seen within a relatively small area. The area is owned by the National Trust and is not managed for grouse so has a mixture of habitats, we saw plenty of birds including Skylarks, Snipes and what I think were a large flock of Fieldfares.

If you visit this lovely place, what you’ll undoubtably notice is that wherever you are on the moor, Blakey Topping is the dominant landscape feature. Graeme and I agreed that this beautiful hill probably had a deep significance to the original inhabitants of this area. A sacred hill? perhaps even a sacred landscape?

Resources

Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930

Orthostatic Field Walls on the North York Moors. D A Spratt. YAJ Vol. 60. 1988

Linear Earthworks of the Tabular Hills, Northeast Yorkshire. D A Spratt. 1989

Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire edited by D A Spratt. 1993

CBA Research Report 101: Moorland Monuments’ in The Brides Of Place: Cross-Ridge Boundaries Reviewed, B Vyner. 1995

OS Map – The National Library of Scotland

Postscript

To illustrate Graeme’s comments

Howe Hill, Felixkirk

Howe Hill is a prominent mound in the centre of the village. It was previously thought to be a Norman earthwork or Motte but is actually a prehistoric burial mound dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age. The site is still marked on the modern maps as a Motte.

The barrow has a beautiful tree growing on it and sits upon a natural knoll that has been bisected by the main road into the village. The primary views from the barrow are to the west across the Vale of Mowbray to the distant Pennines.

There is a Norman connection with the village, the local church was rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century contains a number of Romanesque carved stones including this lovely capital depicting foliate heads.

Lilla Howe

My friend Graham Vasey and I took a walk up to Lilla Howe, Graham was wanting to have a look at Lilla Cross and make some images as part of his ongoing Dainn series, exploring landscape and folklore.

Lilla Howe is classified as a Bowl Barrow, a large burial mound built of turf and stone. It dates from the Bronze Age and is part of a chain of barrows that run from the southern edge of the Esk valley to the Tabular Hills. This and other lines of Barrows on the moors may once have been used as boundary markers, defining the territories or estates of different groups, the mounds of the ancestors, perhaps indicating legitimacy and continuity of ownership. This use continues today as many of the more prominent moorland barrows continue to define modern boundaries.

Lilla Howe is a very ancient and important landmark, it marks the junction of four ancient parishes, Allerston, Fylingdales Moor, Goathland and Lockton. This boundary was first recorded in AD 1078 but may be much older.

The stone cross has a ‘G’ carved into its north face, this signifies Goathland, there is a ‘C’ on the southern face which is thought to represent Cholmley. The Cholmley family took ownership of the land in the sixteenth century following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the estate had previously been owned by Whitby Abbey.

It was also a junction of two significant trackways running south from the coast to the Vale of Pickering, The Old Salt or Fish Road and the Pannier Man’s Way. These tracks are now lost beneath RAF Fylingdales. Lilla Howe continues to be used as a boundary marker, it is a junction for a modern parliamentary constituency boundary.

This section of the moors is also significant as it is the point where the moorland becks and streams run to the south. The northern moors are drained by two major rivers, The Esk and the Leven. The becks and rivers of the southern moors drain into the River Derwent. Derwent Head, the source of the River Derwent is less than a mile south of Lilla Howe.

Lilla Cross sits on top of Lilla Howe, it is one of a few surviving, intact moorland crosses. The tradition is that the cross was erected as a memorial to Lilla, a lord at the court of King Edwin.

The prehistoric burial mound was re-used during the early Medieval period, two Gold discs and four silver strap-ends were found in the mound, these items were used to re-enforce the tradition that this was the burial site of Lilla, therefore dating the cross to the seventh century. Unfortunately the objects found in the mound are Scandinavian in design and date to the tenth century.

Bede’s account of Lilla

…there came to the kingdom an assassin whose name was Eomer, who had been sent by Cwichelm, King of the West Saxons, hoping to deprive King Edwin of his Kingdom and his life. He came on Easter Day to the King’s hall which then stood by the River Derwent. He entered the hall on the pretence of delivering a message from his lord, and while the cunning rascal was expounding his pretended mission, he suddenly leapt up, drew the sword from beneath his cloak, and made a rush at the King. Lilla, a most devoted thegn, saw this, but not having a shield in his hand to protect the King from death, he quickly interposed his own body to receive the blow. His foe thrust the weapon with such force that he killed the thegn and wounded the King as well through his dead body.

Etymolgy – Rivers

Derwent – Derived from British derva ‘oak’ Welsh derw &c. The name means ‘river where oaks were common’.

Esk – A British-river name identical with Axe, Exe and with Usk in Wales and Isch and others on the continent. British Isca became Esca, whence OE Esce and Aesce, which gave Esk and with metathesis Exe and Axe…and probably comes from pid-ska or pit-ska the root being pi- in Greek piduo ‘to gush forth’.

Leven – A British river-name identical with Libnios c150 Ptolemy (in Ireland) and Llyfni, Llynfi in Wales. The name may be derived from the adjective for ‘smooth’ found in Welsh llyfn.

Sources

Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930

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

Lilla Cross on Lilla Howe, Fylingdales Moor. Historic England

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Bede. The Ecclesiastic History of the English Nation. 1949

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1974

Horn Ridge Dyke

In common with most people I feel as though many aspects of my life have been on hold for the past 12 months. My list of places to visit gets longer and longer. Now that lockdown is easing I seem to have a mental log-jam of what to do and what to see.

I have been planning on visiting the Cross Dyke of Horn Ridge for quite some time as it is one of the few local dykes that I haven’t visited. Once again, it was a chance online conversation with a friend that spurred me into action.

The sun was shining, the forecast was giving out wintery showers, this was perfect for me, half decent weather and less chance of meeting anyone on the moor-top.

I drove down to Farndale and walked up the keepers track that runs up the side of Monket House Crags. The track is not too steep and takes you through an area covered in spoil heaps from the 19th century jet workings. When I started walking the sun was shining, within a few minutes a wintery squall blew in from the north leaving a dusting of snow on the hillside. The squall was intense but short-lived, this became the pattern for the rest of the day.

I followed the track south along the gentle rise of Horn Ridge. From the high point the land begins to gently slope down to the south, the eye is drawn along the valley of the River Dove to the dale end with the moorland above Hutton Le Hole and the Vale of Pickering in the far distance.

As you walk down towards the very obvious earthwork you become very aware that you are on a narrowing promontory of moorland , the fertile dale on either side, hemmed in by the dark domineering presence of Rudland Rigg to the West and Blakey Ridge to the East. As you near the Dyke you can see through the central gap to a fairly level area with the barrow beyond, the effect is quite striking.

The Dyke itself runs the full width of the upland, terminating where the land drops off at either end. Its total length is approximately 300m.

Approaching it from the north it appears to be quite an impressive earthwork fronted by deep ditch has been dug along its whole length. When viewed from the south it appears less imposing.

A section of the Dyke was excavated by Raymond H. Hayes. He was unable to find any evidence that might give a date to the earthwork. He observed that with the ditch ‘its builders did not cut the rock as in Iron Age or Roman ditches.’

There are a couple of stone settings within the dyke on the south side but these look like a modern shelter or grouse butt and a trap built by keepers to catch small mammals. These moors are not a friendly place for any creature that threatens the grouse population. Last year 5 dead Buzzards were discovered hidden beneath a rock just 3km north of the Dyke.

Walking south towards the barrow, a squall blows in, the views are lost.

The barrow is a very sad sight. It is quite large, approx 10-15m diameter. It is hard to fully gauge its dimensions as it is in a terrible state of repair. The scheduling entry for the monument mentions ‘a central excavation hollow around 4m by 2m, with a second 1m diameter pit in its west side.’ The keepers have also recently built a trap into one of the holes in the mound.

I took a walk along the western edge of the ridge. There are reports of cairns and hut circles in this area. I was just starting to spot them when a heavy snow storm started. My mind turned to driving up the steep bank to Blakey Ridge. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t mind being trapped in Farndale but with the current conditions i.e. the Feversham Arms being closed, I decided that the western edge of Horn Ridge was one for another day and turned for home.

Sources

Google Earth

Heritage Gateway

A History of Helmsley Rievaulx and District. 1963. Editor – J McDonnell

The brides of place: cross ridge boundaries reviewed. – Blaise Vyner. In Moorland Monuments CBA Research Report 101. 1995

The ongoing destruction of a Prehistoric Round Barrow on Patterson’s Bank

https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/soapwell-wood-damage-mountain-bikers-20207591?fbclid=IwAR0wnHEwGSZ8cvEilmhQMX5nmqrXHo_94ppyWpYgGShfcVJrXbv3LSSiQbc

The Prehistoric Round Barrow on the margins of the woods at the top of Patterson’s Bank is currently being destroyed by cyclists. The Barrow is one of few that survive in this area. It is a Scheduled Monument and is legally protected. It is also a burial monument and contains the remains of our Prehistoric ancestors. Action is urgently required to prevent the destruction of this beautiful monument.

Stone

Crossing the muddy, cattle-churned field from the Hutton Road, there are various earthworks visible in the low winter sun. This was once the site of a Medieval leper hospital overlain by a nineteenth century tramway, built to transport ironstone from the local mines.

I follow the path uphill, the woodland sits in the winter shadow of the escarpment. I stumble up the steep, muddy track to the lichen-splattered, table-top outcrop, the Hanging Stone.

Many visitors have left their mark on the outcrop.

Out of the shadows, walking from Ryston Nab along Ryston Bank, warmed by the low winter sun. A line of prehistoric barrows follows the scarp edge, the ancestors watch over Bousdale. An intake wall, now in ruins, has been built across the barrows, the tumbled wall stones contain fossils. There were once other cairns here, marked on the early maps, erased by the forester’s plough.

I leave the footpath and follow a line of boundary stones across Hutton and Newton Moors. The stones follow a low ridge and have been erected on top of prehistoric mounds. The mounds are most likely Bronze Age in date, all have been disturbed by excavation. The boundary stones date from the mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries and mark the parish boundaries between Newton, Pinchinthorpe, Hutton Lowcross, Guisborough and Great Ayton.

Ryston: rhiw – Welsh ‘hill, ascent’

Roseberry Topping – Othensberg 1119

Gallow Howe – Prehistory to the Cold War

Gallow Howe was a large prehistoric burial mound located beside the moorland road that runs across the high moors connecting Eskdale with the Vale of Pickering. Today, there are no traces of the mound to be seen and it is no longer marked on the OS maps.

In 1863 R.C Atkinson, described the mound as a chambered cairn 7 – 8 feet in height and about 9 yards in diameter, with a kerb of stones standing 3-4 feet high around its base. On excavating the mound, an internal dry stone walled chamber or cist, 5 feet long 3 feet wide, was found. The excavator dug 5-6 feet down into the cist and found nothing.

Atkinson also tells us that there was a tradition that a gallows once stood on or near to the mound.

It’s unfortunate that large cairns close to roads were often used as convenient quarries for road menders and stone wallers. Today, the only trace of the site is a nearby stone carved with the name Gallow How, the stone is one of 25 erected along length of Castleton Rigg to mark the boundary between the Westerdale and Danby estates.

The site is intervisible with other large barrow groups along the Esk Valley margins including Danby Beacon which can be seen on the far right of the image above.

A lorry passing the site of Gallow Howe carrying moorland stone… there’s a metaphor here somewhere.

In her book, An Illustrated Guide to Stone Antiquities on the North Yorkshire Moors, Elizabeth Ogilvie wrote that the gallows was in use until around 1760 and that a gibbet* stood on the howe long after it was last used.

She also wrote that the Hand of Glory, which is now in the Whitby Museum, was alleged to have come from a corpse hanged on Gallow Howe.

Gallows sites were viewed as places of dread, inhabited by the lost souls of those executed, they were often located in liminal places. This site, a gallows built on top of a pagan burial mound, on an estate boundary, on an empty moor would have been seen and understood by everyone travelling to the dale. Two thousand years earlier, the Chambered Cairn may have been located here for similar reasons.

The site maintained its strategic value into the twentieth century. During the Second World War it was used by the Royal Observer Corps. During the Cold War an underground bunker was built on the site to monitor radiation levels during a nuclear attack. The bunker was abandoned in the 1990s and has recently been restored and can be visited on open days

* A gibbet was a cage or set of chains where the body of the hanged person was left to rot as a warning. The body was sometimes covered in tar to preserve it.

Sources

Map extract reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’

J.C. Atkinson. Traces of our Remote Ancestors The Gentleman’s Magazine Vol. 214. 1863

E. Ogilve. An Illustrated Guide to Stone Antiquities on the North Yorkshire Moors. 1996

Gallows image credit  Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

S. White. Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North Yorkshire Moors.

Castleton Cold War Bunker


Boundaries, Pits & Zeppelins

I’ve been interested in the notion of boundaries recently so decided to combine this with a wander over Easington High Moor following the route of an eighteenth century perambulation that I found posted online a few years ago.

route

Manorial perambulations are an ancient practice, the boundaries of the district are walked to confirm ownership and ensure that no territorial infringements have taken place. What is interesting about this route is that it continues to be used as a formal boundary to define at least 13 different regional, county, unitary authority, parliamentary, and parish territories.

The route starts on the little-walked western section of the moor beside the Danby Road at a stone called Harlow Bush, the perambulation states that it is also called Harlot-Busk,  Harlot-Thorn, otherwise Harlow-Thorn, otherwise High- Thorn.

The early OS map shows Harlow Bush and High Thorn as two separate stones. I was unable to find the latter stone but there has been much road widening since the map was drawn so the stone has either been removed or is lost in a mass of gorse and brambles at the junction between the Danby and Moors road. it doesn’t take the moor long to swallow-up the fallen.

A number of the stones have dates carved into them, mainly from the early 1800s and post-date the enclosure of the moor in 1817. The names of the perambulation sites imply that prominent stones and trees were used as boundary markers, this was formalised during the 19th century by the erection of many of the boundary stones that we see across the northern moors today. Some of them, especially the earth-fast stones, probably pre-date this period.

Others stand beside older stones and bear their names.

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I cross a marshy section and come across a long section of cast iron pipe. The 40″ diameter pipe is a remnant from an attempt to build a railway across the moor. The railway, known locally as Paddy Waddell’s Railway, was supposed to be built to carry iron ore from the mines at Skelton and Brotton to the ironworks of Grosmont. The project was halted due to lack of funds and a recession in the iron trade

The Great Dinnod stone has fallen, beside it is a concrete post marked GT on one face and DT on the other. Further along the low ridge is the Little Dinnod, still standing.

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Beneath the Great Dinnod ridge is a beautiful low grassy valley, it’s a marked contrast to the heather moorland that surrounds it. The valley terminates at the Mellowdale Slack. As I walk along the slack, dozens of tiny birds fly out around me and land in the trees. It’s a magical place. I stop and sit in the shade of a beautiful Rowan listening to the chirruping birds and watch dragonflies busying themselves along the valley.

Refreshed, I climb up onto Middle Rigg to have a look at a form of Prehistoric boundary marker, a Segmented Pit Alignment or SEPA. Double pit alignments have been found in other parts of our islands but this particular class of monument is unique to the North York Moors. This definition is taken from the excellent official blog for the North York Moors National Park

A SEPA earthwork however is made up of two or three pairs of pits inside two parallel enclosing banks largely made from the spoil from the pits, these are generally in what appear to be conjoined segments. The segmentation suggests development over time rather than a linear structure created in one go as a land boundary.

In each case the SEPAs appear to be aligned with nearby Bronze Age barrows (burial mounds), which suggest the SEPA are Bronze Age too and could have had a related ritual purpose. The alignment of all the SEPAs is north-west to south-east. This alignment seems to have taken precedence to any alignment with the barrows. The parallel banks were oddly low, which means the earthworks were not prominent in the landscape when they were constructed, unlike the barrows.

1716

Most of the pits are filled with grasses and sedges, the low enclosing banks are visible where the heather has been burned-off.

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One of the pits has an excavation trench running across the pit and bank. This may have been left from Canon Atkinson’s 1848 excavation where he interpreted the pits as the remains of an ancient British pit village.

lidar

There is another line of pits close to the SEPA, this has a much more recent history and has nothing to do with boundaries. The LIDAR image above shows the pit alignments and barrows of Middle Rigg. It also shows a curving line of four pits, these are bomb craters caused by the dropping of bombs during a Zeppelin raid on the North Eastern coast in May 1916. A full account of the raid can be read here

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I walk over the rigg to the Long Stone. This beautiful monolith with it’s strange disc is probably one of the tallest stones of the Northern Moors and is one of my favourites. Is it prehistoric? I don’t know but would like to think so. It is also a fitting end point for my wander across this section of this lovely moor.

Sources

Maps and Lidar image reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The Official Blog of the North York Moors National Park

Zeppelin Raids Gothas and ‘Giants’, Britain’s first blitz by Ian Castle

The Sheep Fold by Bryan Hoggarth

Into the Tabular Hills

The Old Wifes Way – Newgate Brow – Newgate Moor – Grime Moor – Bridestones Griff – Needle Point – Dove Dale – Staindale – Adderstone Rigg

the old wifes way1

The Old Wife’s Way has always been a bit odd, today is no exception. The plane owner gives us a wave. We later see him flying over the fields.

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We follow the Prehistoric Dyke along Newgate Brow. I will never tire of this view.

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We leave the track and cut out onto Grime Moor, a slow worm scuttles through the shimmering red grass. An undisturbed barrow occupies the high ground

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After crossing a large enclosure, we choose to follow the less trodden path around the High Bridestones.

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The Low Bridestones on the opposite side of the valley. The steep-sided valleys of the Tabular Hills are called Griffs. They are the product of ancient climate change. The melting of the permanent ice during the last Ice Age caused lakes to build up behind ice dams, when the dams finally burst, huge torrents of water and debris formed the valleys that we see today.1

One folktale concerning the origin of how the Bridestones got their name concerns a pair of newlyweds who died after spending the night in one of the shallow caves that exist beneath a number of the stones.

There is some debate on precisely how the Bridestones were formed. What we do know is that the the outcrops are composed of Calcareous Gritstone and Passage Beds and have been subjected to processes of erosion.

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We walk along Needle Point and drop into the beautiful meadows of Dove Dale and Stain Dale.

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We follow the road out of the dale to Adderstone Rigg to take a look at the Adder Stone. Within half a kilometer of this massive stone there are two large Prehistoric Barrow Cemeteries, indicating that this was a significant location for the people who lived here during prehistory.

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We get lost looking for a track to return to the valley bottom, we notice a small sign that simply says Rachel Whiteread, intrigued we follow the path to a forest clearing…Nissen Hut..I had no idea this was here, just stunning, the highlight of my day.

 Nissen Hut