A walk to the Source of the Ure

I wrote this account of a walk I took to the source of the River Ure in 2005. It was first posted on Julian Cope’s The Modern Antiquarian website.

The River Ure rises in the Pennines and then heads east into Wensleydale, it then flows out of Wensleydale into the Vale of York. South of York the Ure is joined by the much smaller Ouse Gill Beck and the river’s name becomes the River Ouse, I’ve never figured that one out. The river then flows south east and merges with the Trent to form the River Humber, which then flows out into the North Sea. What is significant about the Ure is its association with a number of nationally important prehistoric sites.

The Ure flows through Wensleydale, a Yorkshire Dale that has been occupied since at least the Late Upper Palaeolithic period. As the Ure flows through Yorkshire it is associated with at least 2 cursus, 7 henges, a stone row, numerous cairns, barrows, rock art sites, burned mounds and an assortment other prehistoric sites.

It is quite possible that during the Neolithic period, the River Ure was one of the ‘lines of communication’ between the Wolds culture of East Yorkshire and the Neolithic peoples of Cumbria. Evidence for this communication can be seen in the large numbers of Group VI stone axe blades found in East Yorkshire. The greatest concentration of Group VI axe blades occurs around the Humber estuary. These axe blades all originated from the Great Langdale Axe production areas in Cumbria. Reciprocally there has been a significant amount of flint, from the East Yorkshire coast, found on a number of Cumbrian sites. There are also various other correlations between the prehistoric monument types and pottery found in both East Yorkshire and Cumbria but I’ll not detail them here in this brief summary.

Neolithic_stone_axe_with_handle_ehenside_tarn_british_museumLangdale Axe Image Credit

Archaeologist Jan Harding speculates that the name ‘Ure’ derives from the Celtic word Isura, meaning ‘Holy One’. The source of the Ure captured my imagination mainly because of its location and proximity to the source of another great river that features in the prehistory of the North of England, the River Eden.

The Ure and the Eden rise within two kilometers of each other on the western edge of the Pennines. At their closest point, the two rivers pass within less than four hundred metres of each other. This means that it is theoretically possible to travel from the North Sea to the Irish Sea only walking on dry land for less than four hundred paces. I’m not suggesting that this was actually the case, where the rivers are at their closest they are merely becks. All I’m saying is that it is theoretically possible that our ancestors may have used the course of these two great rivers as a guide, a navigable route, between the east and west coasts of Britain.

Ure Head 3

Field notes

“In November days,
When vapours rolling down the valleys made
A lonely scene more lonesome”

Influence of Natural Objects by William Wordsworth

I drove down to the site via Brough and Kirby Stephen and then along the Mallerstang Valley. I parked the car in a convenient lay-by and took the footpath to How Beck Bridge and then on up to Green Bridge.

With the Howgill Fells forming one side of Mallerstang and the Pennines forming the other it is easy to see why Mallerstang probably receives more than its fair share of rain. On the day I went it was raining on and off all day, the becks were full to the brim, almost every rocky ledge on the fell had been transformed into a beautiful waterfall with the ground completely saturated. In other words, a typical upland Pennine scene.  They say that the sheep around these parts have webbed feet.

Ure Head 2
I left the path at How Bridge and followed the beck upstream. Its rough walking on the fells and involves a fair bit of bog-trotting and beck jumping, the peat on the moor side had been cut at regular intervals, presumably to aid drainage, so it was possible to follow the tracks of the vehicle that performed the peat cutting for much of the journey.
There is very little wildlife to be seen on these upland fells, a few ravens and the odd small bird, I guess the ground is too waterlogged for rabbits, but it is far from a silent wilderness, there is the sound of running water everywhere. The hike to the summit is one of those frustrating walks that presents you with two false summits to breach before you reach the fell top.
The Ure finally disappears into a flat bog on the summit of Lunds Fell. I was hoping that the source of the river would be a discernible feature such as spring but this wasn’t the case, the beck just petered out into a featureless boggy plain.

Ure Head
I sat and had a cup of coffee at the modern cairn on top of the fell, to the north I could see the Pillar marking the source of the Eden . I was just about to set off walking to the pillar when a storm blew across from Wild Boar Fell and I found myself in cloud. Not being familiar with the area, and not wanting to blunder into a bog I decided that I would call it a day and return home. I would leave the Eden for another day. As I’ve said before, it’s always nice to have something to come back for.
All in all I guess the source of the Ure is definitely ‘one for the enthusiast’ but if you want to get the general feel of the place you can drive along the Mallerstang valley and stop somewhere around SD778963. At this point, you’ll be straddling the county border, east meets west, watching the Eden flowing north into Cumbria and the Ure flowing south into Yorkshire.

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 

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

Kildale Moor

Kildale Enclosure

A Bronze Age cremation cemetery, enclosed by a bank of earth and stones surviving as an earthwork on the highest point of Kildale Moor. The cemetery measures 15m by 16.5m internally with an maximum wall height of 0.4m. The centre has been mutilated by excavation in 1941 and the wall in the east has been cut through by an excavation trench now refilled. The feature is partially visible on air photographs and was mapped as part of the North York Moors NMP. It is not possible to determine the latest evidence for the feature due to dense vegetation cover on the 2009 vertical photography. Pastscape

fox hole

Predators are prey

Remnants

DSC_0189

A lone conifer thrives until the next burning

Signing the land

 A broken ring buried in the heather

Intervisible

Fetish