Erratics – Shap Granite

Marske

Runswick Bay

Hayburn Wyke

There are reports of Shap Granite boulders on the seabed of the Tees Bay. These boulders were transported by a glacier during the Late Devensian glaciation about 30,000 years ago. They originate from a granite outcrop on the fells just south of the village of Shap in Cumbria.

Dalehouse Erratic

Driving through Dalehouse today I spotted this lovely Shap Granite erratic. I got talking to the man whose land it is on and he told me that he had brought it up from the valley bottom. He also told me of a neighbour who had dragged an even larger boulder of the same rock type into his garden and was using it as a healing stone, apparently he sits on it for a period of time and it eases his aches and pains. I asked the man whether he had any similar experiences with his stone, he said that he hadn’t, the only thing he had noticed was that passing dogs enjoyed cocking their legs against it.

Shap Granite

Tank Road II

A recent online conversation with a friend re-sparked my curiosity about the Tank Road. It’s an area that I’ve visited many times over the years, I’ve always felt that it was an important place but I’ve never fully got to grips with it. So I decided to walk it and try to pull together a description of the area.

I’ve always known it as the Tank Road or Old Tank Road, presumably it got this name from when it was used as a Tank training ground during WWII. The road itself is only 3.5km long, it runs between the main north-south roads to Castleton and Danby. From east to west, the road starts on the main north-south road to Danby and then crosses Gerrick Moor, Tomgate Moor and Middle heads where it meets the Castleton Road at White Cross on Three Howes Ridge.

On walking the road it becomes apparent that it was a busy route in the past, there is evidence of a number of sunken trackways, following the line of the road and joining the road from other routes, this becomes more obvious when you look at the LIDAR images of the area.

Regarding the origins of the road itself. There have been two excellent books written on the trackways of the North York Moors, Old Roads and Pannierways in North East Yorkshire by Raymond H. Hayes and Trods of the North York Moors by Christopher P. Evans. Hayes regards the route as possibly part of the Pannierman’s Causeway from Castleton to Staithes. Evans thinks it is part of a trod from Liverton Moor to Commondale. I suspect this route may have its origins in Prehistory.

Walking from east to west.

The road starts at the bend of the road that runs from the A171 to Danby where there is a small parking area. I definitely would not recommend trying to drive along the road. The road crosses a number water courses, the boggy areas have been filled with building rubble, it’s not unusual to find parts of cars on the side of the road.

The most prominent monument at the start of the road is a large Barrow, one of a group known as Robin Hood’s Butts. Danby Beacon can be seen in the distance in the image above .

The next group of monuments lie just south of the road comprising of a barrow and an embanked circular feature known as an Enclosed Urnfield. The enclosure and barrow date to the Bronze Age. The enclosure was a place where the cremated remains of the dead were placed, often in small pottery vessels. This type of monument is quite rare, they are generally only found in Northern England and Southern Scotland. Only 50 examples are known, 3 of which are within a few minutes walk of the Tank Road.

Photographing many of these prehistoric monuments is quite difficult, most of them are fairly low-lying features, covered in heather on a heather moor. The vegetation is quite low at the moment so this is probably the best time of the year to visit and once you get you eye in they are not to difficult to spot. I’ve included a few Open Access LIDAR images as they give a better idea of the form of the monuments.

To the north of the road is a large standing stone. The stone is unusual as it is ‘L’ shaped and its surface has fossil ripple marks on its surface. There are no obvious outcrops of stone on this part of the moor, but there is an outcrop with similar ripple marks on the western flanks of Siss Cross Hill just under 2km away. Perhaps this was the source of the stone.

In the top image, behind the standing stone, you can see the large burial mound of Herd Howe in the middle distance and beyond that Freebrough Hill. Just below Herd Howe is an enclosure that dates to the Iron Age. I have previously written an account of the enclosure, Herd Howe and the nearby Cross Dyke.

On my last two walks along the road I have seen quite a number of geese. I presume they are overwintering here. On my last visit this pair flew towards me honking, circled me and then headed back to Dimmingdale.

Leaving the road I followed a track south to have a look at Siss Cross. The cross is a crude unworked upright stone, it may be a replacement for the original cross. Running down the hill from the cross are a number of sunken trackways, perhaps the cross was a route-marker. Back in the 19th Century local Antiquarian J.C Atkinson discovered what he described as a flint tool making site just south of Siss Cross. He collected enough flint tools and debitage to fill ‘half a fair sized fishing basket’. The flint tools are thought to have been made by Mesolithic hunter gatherers. The site would have been a good place for a hunting camp, it is well drained and has a large viewshed, even on a muggy day I was able to look along the Esk Valley and make out the distinctive profile of the RAF site on Fylingdales Moor over 21km away.

I headed back to the Tank Road via the Trig point on the top of Siss Cross Hill. There is another Enclosed Urnfield with associated Barrows here. Unlike the previous enclosure this one is oval in shape and quite large 38x20m. Interestingly, the enclosure and the two associated barrows are aligned on the western-most Barrow of the Robin Hood’s Butts group. This alignment is also roughly the direction of the Midsummer sunrise and Midwinter sunset. The enclosure is also intervisible with the third Enclosed Urnfield on Moorsholm Rigg.

I walked back onto the road from Siss Hill and followed it down into Ewe Crag Slack. The slack is a former glacial drainage channel and is generally quite boggy. The keepers and the farmer struggle to keep the road passable down here, the place is a jumble of boulders, concrete posts and deep muddy ruts.

Ewe Crag Slack is a significant location in the study of prehistory on the moors as it was one of a number of places where Paleoenvironmental pollen cores were taken from the peat and the sediments below it. The data from Ewe Crag helped provide evidence that the people who lived here during the Mesolithic period may have been actively managing the land. The pollen cores showed evidence of forest destruction and subsequent soil erosion, this combined with charcoal deposits suggests that people may have been creating forest clearings much earlier that was previously thought.

I noticed this boulder by the side of the road. The boulder has been broken but you can see that it’s original form was rounded. The rock type looks like a fine grained igneous rock, basalt or andesite. I presume it is a glacial erratic. It’s curious because less than a kilometre away, at Dimmingdale, is a barrow that was excavated in the 19th Century by J.C. Atkinson, the same antiquarian who found the Siss Cross Flints. Atkinson wrote that the barrow contained ‘blocks of basalt from the Cleveland Dyke’. It is possible that the stones came from the Cleveland Dyke, the nearest potential outcrop that I’m aware of is at Scale Cross 4.2km away, where it was quarried in the modern era. I wonder if the barrow stones may have originated closer to home as glacial erratics washed-down to Dimmingdale when the ice began to melt. One for further research.

Walking the final section of the road to White Cross my camera battery died. The final 2 images were taken when wandering the road in 2017, they are a Danby-Moorsholm guidestone & White Cross.

Resources

Lidar Maps – Open Data Maps

Old Roads and Pannierways in North East Yorkshire by Raymond H. Hayes. 1988

Trods of the North York Moors by Christopher P. Evans. 2008

Early Man in North-East Yorkshire by Frank Elgee. 1930

Excavated Bronze Age Burial Mounds of North East Yorkshire by M.J.B Smith. 1994

Along The Esk. A Guide to the Mining Geology of the Esk Valley by Denis Goldring. 2006

A contribution to the late quaternary ecological history of Cleveland, North-East Yorkshire by R.L. Jones

Historic England

The Great Stone of Deepdale

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Ghosts of Deerbolt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A megalithic plum perches on Crow Limestone

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Cinematic goings-on

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Powler looks-on

Battling Stones

The Bulmer Stone in Darlington is a Shap granite boulder. The stone was named after a nineteenth century town crier called Willy Bulmer. Prior to this it was known as the Battling Stone.

Bulmer sign

This 1895 account by Michael Denham shows that there were once a number of Battling Stones in the area.

Battling Stones

These now unused relics of a former period are still numerous throughout the length and breadth of the land, and must remain so, unless they have the ill-luck to meet the fate of the noble Piersebridge specimen, which was blown to fragments by means of gunpowder, by a fellow in the place, A.D. 1826. The are generally found on the margin of a stream, with the upper surface inclined towards the water. These stones were used by thrifty housewives some thirty years ago, whereupon to beat, battle, or beetle their home made linens or huckabacks, which even then pretty generally prevailed for domestic wear. The linen was thrown into the running stream and gradually drawn upon the stone, and there beat with a beetle or battling staff. The Piersebridge stone lay on the  north side of Carlebury beck, a yard or two below the present footbridge. Another stone of this class, but greatly deficient in magnitude, still exists on the Cliffe side of the Tees, with one side in the river. It is on the premises of the George and Dragon Inn, not far from the bridge. I have seen it used. It is a granite boulder, as was the other.

The Denham Tracts.

Michael Aislabie Denham. 1895

Shap Granite

This tale begins approximately five hundred million years ago when the north of Scotland was attached to a continent called Laurentia. The rest of Britain was joined to a continent called Eastern Avalonia. Scandanavia was part of a continent called Baltica.

Tectonic forces caused these three continents to move towards each other, the collision resulted in the loss of a huge ocean, the Lapetus, and the creation of a mountain range, on the scale of the Himalayas. This event, during which the north of Scotland became joined the rest of Britain, was called the Caledonian Orogeny and lasted about one hundred million years.

Orogenesis – The birth of mountains.

The mountain range that was formed during the Caledonian Orogeny has long since been eroded away but the rocks that were formed during this period remain, one of which is Cumbrian Shap Granite.

Shap granite is described by geologists as a coarse grained granite, formed by the cooling of a large body of igneous rock, called a pluton, which was intruded into the pre-existing Cumbrian rocks. Shap granite is very distinctive and easily identified by the large crystals (phenocrysts) of pink orthoclase feldspar contained within its matrix.

Shap Granite, Albert Rd Middlesbrough

Shap Granite, Albert Rd Middlesbrough

The granite intrusion is limited to an eight square kilometres area on the Fells, a couple of miles to the south of the village of Shap.

shap map

There are two rocks called Shap granite, pink granite and blue granite. Pink granite is a true granite, it is an igneous rock which originates from a large reservoir or Batholith, deep within the earth’s crust. Blue granite is a metamorphic rock known as Hornfels. The Hornfels was formed when the native rock around the granite intrusion was altered by temperature and pressure. The zone of altered rock around the intrusion is known as a Metamorphic Aureole.

Shap Granite, Albert Rd Middlesbrough

Shap Granite, Albert Rd Middlesbrough

Both the pink and blue granites are exploited for commercial purposes. Pink granite when cut and polished is used as an attractive and extremely durable building stone. With the coming of the railways it became a popular architectural stone with the Victorians and has, and still is, been used as a decorative stone on buildings throughout Britain. Blue granite is usually crushed and used as aggregate for concrete or as hard-wearing road chippings.

Shap Granite - Middlesbrough Station

Shap Granite – Middlesbrough Station

Five to six thousand years ago, the first farmers arrived in Eastern Cumbria. The main rock type on the low moors and valleys around the Shap area is Carboniferous Limestone. The land around Shap is fertile and well drained, an ideal place for the pastoralists and their animals to settle. Once communities became established they marked the land with their stone and earth ceremonial monuments.

The valleys and moors around Shap are littered with pink granite boulders, this was not lost on our ancestors and the majority of the stone monuments in the local area are built almost entirely of Shap granite boulders. The most obvious reason for this is availability but I believe that our ancestors may have placed a spiritual value on the distinctive granite boulders. The large feldspar crystals in the granite are the colour of flesh, The texture and colour of weathered limestone can resemble bone.

A few stone circles they have a single limestone boulder or in the case of the Oddendale Concentric circle, two stones, one in the outer ring and another between the two rings. Some, but not all, of the of the regions monuments are intervisible, forming a long chain of ritual monuments along the Lowther and Eden valleys.

Large single erratics are known as Thunder Stones; No one knows the origin of the name other than a general belief that these stones were cast down to earth by the gods or a race of giants.

One of many Thunder Stones

Oddendale – One of many Thunder Stones

Eastern Cumbria is particularly rich in prehistoric monuments; the village of Shap was once the location of one of the most impressive monuments in Northern mainland Britain, the Shap Avenues. Little remains of this monument but by looking at the archaeological remains and antiquarian accounts we can build up a picture of what it looked like. A few years ago a good friend and I researched the Shap monuments, an account of our research and fieldwork can be found here Shap MA Blog

Stone Circles Map

The reasons why Shap and the North of Britain are littered with granite boulders probably alluded our ancestors. Up until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the occurrence of these stones was used as evidence of a catastrophic flood event as described in the bible. This theory, diluvianism, remained unchallenged until 1840 when a young Swiss naturalist called Louis Agassiz brought a new theory to Britain based upon his observations on the movements of Glaciers in the Alpine regions.

Agassiz toured Northern England with the Reverend William Buckland, Professor of Geology at Oxford University. Their theory of glaciation and the glacial transportation of material was not readily accepted by the scientific establishment of the day but further evidence-based studies gradually gained support and glacial theory was accepted.

Dromonby Shap Granite Erratic

Dromonby Shap Granite Erratic

These ice transported boulders became know as glacial erratics, to further the study of glaciation during the nineteenth century local naturalist groups were enlisted throughout the North of England and Scotland to help. These groups often formed Boulder committees who engaged in fieldwork, logging locations and rock types of erratics throughout the Northern Britain. This information along with the study of landforms was then be used to build maps tracking the movements of the ancient ice sheets and glaciers.

Many Shap granite boulders have been found in the Tees Valley, some have even been given names, the Bulmer Stone in Darlington and the Great Stone in Deepdale. Others have been used as curiosities on village greens and parks. There is even an account of a group of boulders beneath the sea, close to the mouth of the River Tees.

Erratics apart, Teesside has another link with the Shap area. Behind the village is a large Limestone quarry; attached to the quarry is an industrial site that processes the limestone. The site was formerly owned by British Steel and is currently operated by Tata Steel. Limestone is an essential ingredient in the production of iron and steel, it acts as a flux, removing impurities from the molten iron and helping slag to form. The basic recipe to create one ton of iron is; two tons of iron ore plus one ton of coke plus half a ton of limestone.

Iron Hill & Hardendale Quarry

Iron Hill South & Hardendale Limestone Quarry

The recent decline in the iron and steel industry in Scotland and the North of England has led to a collapse in the market for flux-grade limestone and the closure of many quarries. The Hardendale quarry is now closed and the limestone plant at Shap is currently up for sale.

Kemp Howe

Kemp Howe and the Tata Limestone Works

The Shap area is a place that continues to draw me back. The terrain is soft, the landscape is dense in history, the vistas are open and the skies can be endless. My genius loci exists amongst the stone circles and limestone pavements on the rolling uplands of Shap.

White Hag Limestone Pavement

White Hag Limestone Pavement