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

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 a deep ditch that 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 relatively recent, 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 vaguely 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 through and the views are lost.

The barrow is a sad sight. It’s quite large, approx 10-15m diameter. It’s hard to fully gauge the dimensions due to it’s in a terrible state of repair of the structure. 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 wander over to 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 it started to snow quite heavily. My mind turned to driving home and having to tackle the steep bank from the dale bottom up 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