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.
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.
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
I took a walk onto Danby Low Moor to have a look around the old silica rock quarries. The quarries were active from the late nineteenth century until the mid twentieth century.
The stone was transported from the moor via an incline to a crushing plant in Castleton. The silica-rich stone was used in the manufacture of refractory bricks and foundry moulding sand.
Keepers across the moors were taking advantage of the light southerly winds, I could see the smoke from at least half a dozen moorland fires. As the day progressed more fires were lit. Smoke was blowing from the high moors into the Esk valley via Westerdale and Danby Dale.
Looking eastwards along Eskdale , a low bar of smoke could be seen running along the coast where the light onshore winds met the stronger offshore wind, pushing the smoke northwards along the coastline
The smoke from the northern moor tops gradually made its way to the escarpment edge and could be seen dropping down into the Tees valley and East Cleveland. If you were beneath the escarpment you probably wouldn’t notice the smoke, however, it was quite visible from above.
The periodic burning of the moorlands is a controversial issue with arguments for and against, there is no doubt that it is a destructive process and can have a detrimental effect on the delicate ecosystems of the upland moors and bogs.
What isn’t often discussed are the human health effects of these burnings. In an attempt to cut pollution and improve air quality, the government is currently legislating to reduce emmisions from all sectors of society but I can’t find any reference to the burning of moorland in the Government’s Clean Air Strategy
In many ways, the grouse shooting industry seems to be untouched by the modern world. It occurs to me that with the current pandemic, many people are experiencing breathing difficulties, any increase in atmospheric pollutants is not a good thing, especially for those who live in the moorland dales.
Smoke is defined as the gaseous products of burning materials especially of organic origin made visible by the presence of small particles of carbon
It is unlawful to cause emission of smoke which is prejudicial to health or causes a nuisance. [Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990] The Heather & Grass Burning Code