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

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

Easington High Moor

Slack –  a shallow valley

Swang – a boggy or marshy area

Beck – a small stream

Rigg – a ridge

Bield – a sheep shelter

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Easington High Moor, Roxby High Moor and Black Dike Moor form one of my favourite places on the North York Moors. They are an expanse of heather moorland, wetland and grassy moorland. It is difficult to say where one moor finishes and another starts, the boundaries are loosely defined by the Slacks and Riggs.

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I follow the old peat road that runs beside the ancient barrow of Sail Howe. Beside the track are a couple of  large, unnamed, boundary stones.

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Wooden shooting stands march along the edge of the slack. Heather has been machine- cut in a number areas of the moor such as the one above defining the boundary of an area of burning.  A days grouse shooting on the moor in August and September will set you back £23,250. This includes a mid morning snack and lunch f or a party of 8 guns. source

1I pass one of the two Good Goose Thorne boundary stones that can be found on the moor. The beautifully mason-lettered stone stands beside it’s ancient predecessor.  The path leads me across a section of Black Dike Moor marked as Horse Flesh on the old OS maps. I then drop down to the stepping stones across Black Dike Slack and walk up onto Temple Beeld Hill.

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Temple Beeld Hill, is barely a hill. On the higher ground is Temple Beeld itself. The North York Moors has many wonderful sites, what ever its origins, this one is definitely worth a visit.

Frank Elgee’s account and sketch plan of Temple Beeld

.. the most remarkable stones known to me occur on Temple Beald Hill on Black Dyke Moor, north of the village of Lealholm. Here, on a slight elevation between two boggy valleys, a quincunx arrangement of ancient menhirs has been converted into a cross- shaped beald or sheep shelter, shown on the annexed diagram. Originally, the site appears to have been occupied by five stones which are from four to five feet high ; those at C, D and in the centre, being thin and flat, and roughly shaped, whilst the two remaining stones at A and B are more regular and rectangular in form. High stone walls at a later period have been built between the ancient stones ; the wall from A to B is straight, and about thirty-five yards long ; and the wall from C to D decidedly curved and about twenty-two yards in length. This arrangement of the walls gives ample shelter to the moor sheep, and at one time the centre was partly roofed in — the timbers of an old thatch still lie in an irregular manner across the central angles. That the five stones are of pre-historic origin is highly probable, seeing that the central one has distinct cup-like markings at the top of the only side visible. The name Temple, too, is suggestive of some ancient circle of stones, for whatever purpose constructed. It may also be remarked that the four stones are not built into the ends of the walls, but stand off a few inches in distinct hollows in the ground. Temple Beald is the simplest type of stone circle upon the moors, where they are far from common.

Elgee

Isn’t Quincunx a wonderful word?

In his 1987 book, Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North York Moors, Stanhope White describes how he surveyed Temple Beeld and sent the results to the Royal Observatory to ascertain whether the site had any astronomical alignments, none were found.

I’m sceptical regarding the Prehistoric origins of Temple Beeld as a monument. Three of the large standing may have been erected in prehistory but I suspect they may have been re-used and possibly relocated to create the sheep shelter around a central earth-fast stone. The cup-like marks that Elgee mentions appear to be the result of natural weathering. That said, I hope that one day someone proves me wrong because I love this place.

‘Noble ruins stand only where virgin stone is plentiful’

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On my return I call in on the Nan Stone located on the edge of Hardale Slack above the Roxby Peat Holes.  The stone has its name carved into it, faded but still legible. As with the Good Goose Thorn, the stone stands beside an earth fast boulder. The older stone has a cross carved into it. I have seen this on other moorland stones, I have also seen these crosses explained as the ‘christianisation’ of an ancient pagan stone. I suspect that the explanation is far simpler and involves the marking of the stone to identify it as a boundary stone. I am planning to write a blog post soon exploring these boundary stones and their meaning.

These three moors are a place that I am constantly revisiting, over the years I have learned much about the North York Moors by walking their tracks and revisiting their sites. A first glance these Moors may appear to be a featureless places, set foot on them and you’ll soon learn that this is not the case.

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Sources

The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire – Frank Elgee. 1912

Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North York Moors – Stanhope White. 1987

on blackamoor by Martyn Hudson

My friend Martyn Hudson has published a very special book called, on blackamoor. Martyn has an intimate knowledge of the moors, but more that that he has a deep love of the place, something which is very evident in his writing, as he takes us on a very personal journey through its unique landscape and history.

If you have any interest at all in the North York Moors or the history and folklore of a landscape, I would encourage you to read this beautiful book. Copies can be purchased here

martyns book

martyns book back

Watch Martyn talking about the Moors for the recent Discover Middlesbrough History Month here

 

Chasing the Solstice Sun

On an overcast Solstice day, I go looking for one of Frank Elgees prehistoric settlement sites in the Commondale Beck valley

Limekilns are few and far between on the northern moorsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tall solitary pines are also a rarity.

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Sunlight briefly breaks through, a moment of joy

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The sound of the train fills the valley

The settlement site sits on a terrace overlooking the Commondale Beck. Elgee found other sites on located on the same terrace on both sides of the river.

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An old hollow way leads to one of the many rocky outcrops on the valley side, a quarry for field walls and butts.

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Clouds are moving rapidly westwards across the moors, I catch a glimpse of the sun.

An alignment of grouse butts runs across the moor, tops covered with fresh turfs.

The moor is sodden, there is a possible alignment of standing stones on the moor top

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I return to the road, blue skies can be seen through a break in the clouds above the Kildale Gap, I head west.

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On the edge of the escarpment I encounter the sun, I drink tea and bask in its warmth.

Ramsdale, The Grey Horse Stone & The Old Wife’s Neck

..Knox was perhaps the first to recognise the stone triangle. He records one from Ramsdale Hill Top, Two miles west-south-west of Robin Hood’s Bay made of stones 4-6 feet high..another near Stoup Brow forms an acute triangle, the tallest stone known as the Grey Horse Stone being not more than 5 feet high.

Early Man in NE Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930

Scarth Wood Moor

I took a trip, with my friends Emily and Martyn, to Scarth Wood Moor today to look for the Seven Stones. Unfortunately we all assumed that someone else would bring a map, which none of us did.

I tried and failed to convince Martyn that it is possible to navigate a moor using Rowan trees. Emily demonstrated her pareidolic skills, collected some bones and told us tales of hunting Warthogs.

The Seven Stones were discovered by Frank Elgee in the 1930s,  The stones are the most visible part of a number of orthostat walls. The moor has been a busy place in the past, there are recent stone quarries, small enclosures and burial mounds. Flints have been found on the moor that are characteristic of the late Mesolithic. All of this within sight of a popular tourist spot for Teesside day trippers known locally as Sheepwash.

Easington Moor – Middle Rigg

Danby Beacon

Easington Moor (Danby Low Moor) can be a pretty damp place at the best of times, after recent rains the moor is well sodden. Crossing the moor is difficult, large tracts of sedge, cottongrass and sphagnum are best avoided. Away from the keepers tracks, walking a straight line between any two points on the moor without stepping into a bog is almost impossible

This area of the moor is rich in prehistoric monuments, I wanted to see if I could find a triangular stone setting described by Frank Elgee in his 1930 book, Early Man in NE Yorkshire.

Elgee’s description.. It lies immediately east of the large barrow..The stones form a right-angled triangle, one side of which is about 30 yards long, the other two about 24 yards. The stones are 5-7 feet long with broad bases.  

I was only able to locate one of Elgee’s stones, the photo above shows the stone with the barrow in the background. The barrow is unusual as it has been constructed on a low platform.

A series of embanked, segmented pits are roughly aligned on the barrow. The description below is taken from English Heritage’s Record of Scheduled Monument

The pit alignment on Middle Rigg runs approximately parallel to the line of three barrows, about 120m to the north east. It is in two main sections, slightly offset from each other, with the 23m gap between the two sections lying opposite the central barrow. Each section of the pit alignment is further subdivided into segments, with each segment typically having between two and four pairs of pits flanked to the NNE and SSW by a pair of banks. Each segment is divided from the next by a slight change in direction, or a small break in the flanking banks. The two lines of paired pits are typically centred 10m apart and are up to 3m in diameter with the banks 12m to 18m apart and up to 1m high. The western section of the pit alignment is 138m long and includes 34 pits arranged in four shorter segments. The eastern section is 115m long and has 30 pits divided between five segments. The pits are associated with three large barrows on the same NNE-SSW alignment.

Archaeologist Blaise Vyner describes the pit alignment as sealing a spur of land occupied by the Three Howes and therefore one of  a group of monuments found on the the Moors called Cross Ridge Boundary Monuments.

Just north of the pits and barrows is a large standing stone known as the Long Stone. The stone about 2 meters tall. I’ve never been sure whether this stone is prehistoric or not. It’s sides have been squared and it has a semi-circular carved area on its south face. The sheer size of the stone and the un-squared deeply weathered top indicate that it is quite ancient and not a typical estate boundary stone, as to its origins, who knows?

Sources

The brides of place: cross ridge boundaries reviewed. Blaise Vyner 1995

Early Man in N.E. Yorkshire. Frank Elgee 1930

Pastscape 

A STONE CIRCLE, HOB’S HEAP & THE COAL MINES OF HARLAND MOOR PT. 3

Hob-Trush Hob, wheer is thoo?

I’s tryin’ on my left-foot shoe,

An’ I’ll be wi’ thee–noo!

After a little bit of  to-ing and fro-ing Chris and I arrived at Obtrusch Rook. The cairn is not not difficult to find, it’s marked clearly on the OS map, visible on the ground and set apart from the bell pits. It isn’t located on the highest part of the moor but you can see that the site was chosen to maximise the views across Farndale and Blakey Rigg to the north and east with the Vale of Pickering opening out to the south. The cooling towers and chimneys of the power stations at Drax and Ferrybridge are visible on the far horizon, a distance of about 60 miles.

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The ruined cairn with Blakey Rigg in the distance. A Sonotaphonomist provides scale.

Frank Elgee discussed the origins of the name Obtrusch Rook in his wonderful book, Early Man in North East Yorkshire (1930)

Rook, from the old Norse hraukr, means a pile or heap of anything, more particularly of stones or turves, though occasionally, as in the present instance, it is bestowed on barrows. Obtrush or Hobtrush was the name of a local supernatural being, akin to an elf or hobgoblin, of whom many quaint stories are current, and who haunted ancient sites. Besides Hobtrush Rook, the goblin’s heap, we also have Hob-on-the -Hill, a barrow on Guisbrough Moor, Hob Hill, an Anglian burial ground near Saltburn; and Hob Hole near a prehistoric settlement in Baysdale.

rudland-map

The cairn is fairly ruined and shows very little of the features recorded during its 1836 excavation by the  pioneering Yorkshire Geologist, John Phillips. His account is given below.

obtrusch

Near the line of the road which has been mentioned, a conspicuous object for many miles round, was the large conical heap of stones called Obtrush Roque. In the dales of this part of Yorkshire we might expect to find, if anywhere, traces of the old superstitions of the Northmen, as well as their independence and hospitality, and we do find that Obtrush Roque was haunted by the goblin. But ‘Hob’ was also a familiar and troublesome visitor of one of the farmers, and caused him so much vexation and petty loss, that he resolved to quit his house in Farndale and seek some other home. Very early in the morning, as he was trudging on his way, with all his household goods and gods in a cart, he was accosted in good Yorkshire by a restless neighbour, with “I see you’re flitting.” The reply came from Hob out of the churn – “Ay, we’re flutting.” Upon which the farmer, concluding that change of air would not rid him of the daemon, turned his horse’s head homeward. This story is in substance the same as that narrated on the Scottish Border, and in Scandinavia; and may serve to show for how long a period and with what conformity, even to the play on the vowel, some traditions may be preserved in secluded districts.

This goblin-haunted mound was elevated several feet above the moorland, and was covered with heath. Under this was a great collection of sandstones loosely thrown together, which had been gathered from the neighbouring surface. On removing them, a circle of broader and larger stones appeared set on edge, in number 25, or, allowing for a vacant place, 26. Within this was another circle, composed of smaller stones set edgeways, in number 25 or 26 ; and the centre of the inner space was occupied by a rectangular kist, composed of four flagstones set edgeways. The sides of this cyst pointed east and west and north and south ; the greatest length being from east to west. On arriving at this fortunate result of our labour, our expectations were a little raised as to what might follow. But within the kist were no urns, no bones, no treasures of any kind, except a tail-feather from some farmyard chanticleer. The countrymen said this place of ancient burial had been opened many years ago, and that then gold was found in it. It seemed to us that it must have been recently visited by a fox.

Considering the position of the kist, set with careful attention to the cardinal points; the two circles of stone; the number of these stones, which if completed appeared to be 26; it seemed not unreasonable conjecture, that the construction contained traces of astronomical knowledge, of the solar year, and weekly periods. I dare not confidently affirm this. Was this a relique of an early British chief, or of a later Scandinavian warrior ? for such circles have been raised in Scandinavia and the Orkney Islands by the Northmen, and this is a district which the Northmen colonized. A similar circle of stones occurs at Cloughton near Scarborough.

The Rivers, Mountains & Sea Coast. London.1853

Box Hall

 

Box Hall1

 

Box Hall or Pinnican Hill is a defended prehistoric settlement located on a south west facing slope of the Commondale beck valley about a kilometre north west of Castleton. On the ground you can see a low bank an ditch approximately 3-4 metres wide and 1m high.

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Image from Zoom Earth

Box Hall

The site was excavated by Frank Elgee who found nothing. It was also excavated in 1959 by Rowland Close who cut three trenches through the bank and ditch and two pits, one within the enclosure and one close to a nearby cairn. He found burnt stone and charcoal in the trenches and the base from a Late Bronze Age or Iron Age pot.