In 2004 Graeme Chappell and I were fortunate enough to visit the ongoing excavation on Fylingdales Moor.
It was in what was thought to be an early Bronze Age ring cairn that a late Neolithic intricately carved stone was found. This has become the best known discover on the moor made in the aftermath of the fire. A further stone bore grooves and cup-marks similar to those found on the nearby earthfast rocks. The stones have been placed in a ring as the end point of what may have been a long period of ritual significance.
I recently found a bag of photographs that I thought were lost. Amongst the photographs were a few that I took in 2003 after a devastating fire swept across Fylingdales Moor. The fire burned off the peat deposits along with dense heather and bracken cover and in the process gave us a brief look at the prehistoric landscape that potentially exists beneath many of our moorlands.
The fire revealed a wealth of archaeology on the moor ranging from prehistory to the Second World War. If you are interested in finding out more I’d recommend seeking out Local Archaeologist Blaise Vyner’s excellent booklet, Fylingdales Wildfire and Archaeology. 2007. Published by North Yorkshire National Park.
The Whitby Museum at Pannett Park is one of my favourite places to spend a couple of hours so when I saw a flyer for this exhibition I headed over the moors at the first opportunity.
The two nice ladies at the desk said to me ‘it’s probably not what you were expecting, it’s an artists response to the Fylingdales site.’
The exhibition is the result of Michael Mulvihill’s three years of exploring the objects in the sites archive and the history of RAF Fylingdales. I enjoyed the exhibition, if you go I would recommend that you read the accompanying booklet, which is excellent.
The exhibition runs from the 3rd of August to the 3rd of November. There is also a public program of events which can be found here
Two Minutes to Midnight – Richard Clay explores why we are no longer afraid of nuclear annihilation, and whether we should be.
On reflection, the objects on display will have a different meaning depending on your own personal experience. I was born in the 1960s, there was a civil defence siren located on the perimeter of my primary school playground, the four minute warning and the Doomsday Clock were ever-present in our lives. The threat of a nuclear attack was a very real one, the RAF Fylingdales early warning station was a constant reminder of this.
It all started a few years ago when I was studying a map drawn by Robert Knox. Knox’s map was published in 1849 and titled; A map of the country round Scarborough, in the North & East Ridings of Yorkshire : from actual trigonometrical survey with topographical geological and antiquarian descriptions / by Robert Knox, of Scarborough formerly marine surveyor to the East India Company, on the Bengal establishment.
What caught my eye was a stone at a junction of a number of tracks on Sneaton Low Moor called Old Wife’s Stone. This stone doesn’t feature on any subsequent maps and I couldn’t find reference to it in the modern literature. A few years ago I went looking for the stone and found nothing. My thoughts turned to it recently when it was announced that Sirius Minerals had been given permission to sink a mine at Sneaton. I knew that the road where the stone had been located would be used as an access road to the mine site and therefore, over time, could potentially be widened to take the heavy vehicles accessing the site. I decided to have another look for the stone before any improvement work took place.
As on my previous visits, the only stones I could find were a couple of upright stones that had probably once served as gateposts and a stone carved with a ‘C’ and an ‘X’ marking the boundary of the Cholmley estate, this boundary was also the Medieval boundary of the Whitby Abbey lands. Having found nothing, I decided to head out onto the moor and follow the track south along Shooting House Rigg.
Even in summer the moor here is boggy and is not particularly popular with walkers. Picking my way through the stands of low, gnarly pines I was visited by at least a dozen large, curious, iridescent dragonflies, none would stay still enough to be photographed. Standing in this low wood in a bog surrounded by these beautiful insects with the sea-fret blowing across the moor was a magical other-worldly experience.
One returning to the path, I noticed dozens of chirruping Stonechats perched upon the stone wall, as I approached they would fly on a few yards ahead of me, announcing my presence on the moor.
A boardwalk has recently been built to help walkers cross a particularly boggy section, the bleached timber contrasted against the red grass gives the structure a sculptural feel, it also makes a very satisfying sound as you walk across it.
The moor on this northern section was used as a bombing decoy site during WWII, these sites were known as QL Sites. The site was comprised of rows of lights to give the impression of buildings and factories when seen from the air by enemy bombers . Amongst the QL sites were also Starfish Decoy Sites which simulated bomb damage by setting fires and producing smoke. The remains of these sites can be seen on the ground as a series of low trenches, they are best appreciated on aerial photographs such as the one above.
Heading south I came to an empty stone socket, this is all that remains of John Cross, a Medieval moorland cross. The last time I was here there was a stone marked with the Cholmley ‘C’ stuffed clumsily into the base. This stone is now laying nearby. I also noticed another stone with a worked section that would fit into the socket and wondered if this could be the remains of the original cross. A few mason-cut stones poked through the turf indicating the location of the pedestal marked on the first OS map of the area, published in 1853.
I followed the path down to one of my favourite places on the North York Moors, The Cross Ridge Earthworks and the standing stones known as The Old Wife’s Neck.
In Archaeological terms the earthwork is classed as a Prehistoric Cross Ridge Boundary comprising an impressive series of three parallel banks and ditches running across a spur of land for almost a kilometer. To the west of the dykes is a large cairnfield, old maps also show cairnfields to the north and south of the dykes, much of which was probably destroyed by the multiple trackways across the moor coupled with clearances by the War Department during WWII when the moor was used as a military training ground.
Update. Recent work by Archaeologist, Blaise Vyner, and his team, has suggested that there may have been far fewer cairns in this area and that the original OS surveyors may have been mistaken.
The site has a personal significance to me, it contains a pair of standing stones one of which is the Old Wife’s Neck. I consider this anthropomorphic megalith represents the Divine Hag of the North York Moors, The Old Wife, who is also known in the north of our islands as Carlin and Cailleach, a primal, supernatural being. I have written about the Old Wife/Cailleach elsewhere so I’ll not bore you with any more of my ranting here.
After spending a little time with The Old Wife I walked down to the wide deep valley of Biller Howe Dale Slack. The slack is a remnant from the last Ice Age, when it was formed by water overflowing from an ice dammed lake in the upper Iburndale valley.
Frank Elgee reported that hundreds of flint arrowheads were found in Biller Howe Dale and uses this as evidence for prehistoric warfare. I have followed up on Elgee’s source (The Gentleman’s Magazine 1857 ii 445-7) and there is no mention of the flint finds, the reference is actually to an article on the great Yorkshire antiquities forger Flint Jack. During my visit I did find evidence of warfare in one of the erosion scars. Unfortunately it was modern warfare, remnants from when this part of the moor was used as a training ground during the preparations for the D-Day landings in 1944.