The Devil’s Arrows are a row of three prehistoric standing stones located in a field on the outskirts of Boroughbridge.
The stones exist in a wider, complex, prehistoric landscape, a recent archaeological survey of the surrounding area uncovered a number of features including a double timber post row and an associated ditch, extensive flint scatters and grooved ware pottery.
The tallest stones is 22.5 feet high making it the second tallest prehistoric standing stone in the UK after the Rudston Monolith at 26 feet. Graeme Chappell recently informed me that the Rudston Monolith, 44 miles away, is aligned precisely due East of the Arrows.
The antiquarian John Leland visited the town sometime between 1535 and 1540 and described the row as four upright stones with no mention of a fallen fifth stone
..little without this Towne on the west part of Watiling-Streate stadith 4 great maine stones wrought above in conum by Mannes hand.
They be set in 3 several Feldes at this Tyme.
The first is a 20 foote by estimation in higeth and an 18 foote in cumpace. The stone towards the ground is sumwhat square, and so up to the midle, and then wrought with certen rude boltells in conum. But the very toppe thereof is broken of a 3 or 4 footes. Other 2 of like shap stand in another feld a good But shot of: and the one of them is bigger then the other; and they stand within a 6 or 8 fote one of the other.
The fourth standith in a several feld a good stone cast from the other, and is bigger and higher than any of the other 3. I esteme it to the waite of a 5 Waine Lodes or more.
Inscription could I none find yn these stones; and if there were it might be woren out; for they be sore woren and scalid with wether.
I take to be a trophaea a Romanis posita in the side of Watheling Streat,as yn a place most occupied in Yorneying ad so most yn sighte.
A German traveler, Lupold Von Wedel visited the stones in 1584 and recorded seeing five stones, four upright and one lying on the ground. Thirty years later another antiquarian, William Camden visited the stones but only three were left upright, and again, no mention of a fifth stone..
Neere unto this bridge Westward wee saw in three divers little fields foure huge stones of pyramidall forme, but very rudely wrought, set as it were in a streight and direct line. The two Pyramides in the middest, whereof the one was lately pulled downe by some that hoped, though in vaine, to finde treasure, did almost touch one another. The uttermore stand not far off, yet almost in equall distance from these on both sides.
John Aubrey’s notes in his Monumenta Britannica complied between 1665 and 1693. Aubrey thought that the stones may have been part of a great stone circle. No evidence has ever been found to support his theory.
Illustration from Itinerarium Curiosum II by William Stukeley. 1776
Illustration from The Strangers Guide: Being a concise history & description of Boroughbridge by Boroughbridge. 1846
The fourth stone, toppled by treasure hunters, is thought to have been broken-up and used as the foundation for the bridge over the nearby River Tutt in 1621. There is an account of the top of the stone being taken and placed into the garden of Aldborough Manor.
If its lower portion was embedded in the bridge it may still be there. A local belief that the upper segment was set up in the grounds of Aldborough Manor (Lukis 1877, 134), has been kindly confirmed by the present owner, Sir Henry Lawson-Tancred (pers. comm.).
The Devil’s Arrows: The Archaeology of a Stone Row by Aubrey Burl. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol 63. 1991
Graeme and I have recently been discussing the fate of the fourth stone and decided to take a look to see if we could locate any traces of the missing stone.
We started at the stones themselves. There is currently a crop of beets in the field so we followed the well worn path around field margin. Whilst we were looking at the possible cupmarks on the northern stone we got chatting to a woman who told us that, whilst walking her dogs in the area, she had once experienced an energy at the stones that was so powerful it had made her feel ill.
I have enhanced this image a little to highlight the cupmarks on the stone.
We also noticed that there were lots of ladybirds on the stones, it turns out that these are Harlequin Ladybirds, an invasive species that are said to be responsible for the decline of our native species.
I’ve recently read that the grooves on the tops of the stone were caused by The Devil trying to hang his grandmother from the stone. The tale does not say why he was trying to hang her or whether he was successful. I was just surprised to learn that the prince of darkness had a grandmother
The road beside the field is currently being improved to provide access to a new housing development. It is always a little disturbing to see a development encroaching upon an ancient site.
We took a walk down to the bridge over the River Tutt to see if we could spot any remains of the stone.
The Arrows are made of Millstone Grit and are thought to have been brought to the site from Plumpton Rocks, a distance of over 8 miles. The local building stone is a fairly uniform. fine grained sandstone so the coarser grained gritstone, with it’s large quartz grains is quite easy to identify. We didn’t find any evidence of gritstone in the bridge but Graeme did spot three large dressed gritstone blocks in the kerbing leading from the bridge.
We decided to head over to nearby Aldborough to see if we could track down the top fragment of the fourth stone.
Aldborough is a small village on the outskirts of Boroughbridge. It is the site of a walled Roman town called Isurium Brigantum. We enquired at the Manor House regarding the whereabouts of the stone, the owner told us that they have looked for evidence of the stone in the manor grounds but not found any trace of it.
In the centre of the village is a large column called the Battle Cross. A nearby plaque states that the cross commemorates the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. The plaque also mentions Thomas Earl of Lancaster who was in collusion with the Scots. A Yorkshireman rarely passes up the opportunity to have a pop at his Lancastrian neighbours.
The local church is reputed to be built on the site of a Roman Temple, there is a carving inside the church which is thought to portray Mercury.
Having arrived at a dead end in our search for the fourth stone, we decided to visit the site where, according to legend, the devil stood when he threw the Arrows, How Hill.
How Hill is just over 7 miles west of the Arrows. The first written record of the hill is from 1346 and refers to it as the site of a medieval chapel dedicated to Saint Michael, possibly a place of pilgrimage. The site became a ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The tower was rebuilt in 1719 and further domestic buildings were added to it during the 19th century. It is likely that the tower was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh
What surprised both Graeme and I were the views from the hill, although relatively low lying it has a fantastic viewshed, the Pennines in the West, the North York Moors in the east and as far south as Drax power station.
The tower is currently boarded-up, it’s a substantial building, quite singular in design. It has a slight air of malice about it, I’m not sure I’d like to visit it in the dark, as Graeme once did. On checking the BGS website I discovered that the bedrocks around the hill are Plumpton Gritstone, the same stone as the Arrows, perhaps the folklore is right and the Arrows did originate from here.
The Devil’s Arrows should be viewed as one of a number of prehistoric monuments that align roughly north-south through North Yorkshire. I recently found this lovely pdf booklet which details this alignment. Booklet
I’m not sure if anyone has ever tried to tie-in the Arrows with the Prehistoric monuments that extend eastwards towards the Yorkshire coast, both Graeme and I believe that it is not unreasonable to think that there may be a connection.
A woodcut by Carl Mole
Excursion – A movement of something along a path or through an angle
This is an amazing collection of monuments, all of them excessive in size. There is a colossal earthwork enclosure with four entrances; the largest stone circle in western Europe surrounding the remains of the fifth and seventh biggest rings; and the remnants of two Coves, a holed stone and two avenues. Aubrey Burl. 1995
Even the most Gothic of poetry could not evoke the impact that this colossus has upon any mind sensitive to the lingerings of prehistory…As long ago as 1289 the earthwork was called Waleditch, Old English weala-dic, ‘the dyke of the Britons’. Aubrey Burl. 2000
The monument we see today was excavated and reconstructed by Alexander Keiller during the late 1930’s. A number of the stones, including the one pictured above, were reassembled using the remaining fragments.
I once took a holiday in Avebury, staying in the Keiller Room at the Red Lion pub allowed me to spend a couple of chilly November evenings and frosty mornings walking alone amongst the stones. I recently returned, sadly the Red Lion no longer takes guests.
The stones and the surrounding landscape have informed the work of Barbara Hepworth, John Piper, Paul Nash and many other artists.
The church, unlike the pub, sits outside of the henge. When siting the original church, it must have seemed futile to try and christianise a pagan monument of such magnitude. The Saxon baptismal font is thought to depict a bishop trampling on a pair of dragons.
Many of the stones were thrown down and buried by christians during the fourteenth century. The stones were once again attacked during the mid-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many stones were smashed for buildings.
Herepath, the power of the name compelled me to walk along it to the Ridgeway.
At home, on the North York moors, my eyes are often cast downwards onto the margins of the path looking for flints. Here the track is made of flint, I felt quite overwhelmed.
I had set myself the challenge of finding a single, specific, stone amongst the sarsen drifts (Grey Wethers) of Fyfield Down. Julian Cope calls this area The Mother’s Jam.
Polissoir – A block of coarse stone, sometimes as an earthfast boulder or natural outcrop, used for grinding and polishing stone tools.
The bowl and grooves of the sarsen polissoir are as smooth as marble. A potential polissoir has been found built into the fabric of the nearby West Kennet Long Barrow with another incorporated into the Stone Circle at Avebury.
Singing at Delling’s Door.
The Ridgeway, one notable landscape Archaeologist believes that it may have first been established as a trackway at the end of the last ice age.
Heading south along the Ridgeway, the summit of Silbury Hill reveals itself.
Silbury Hill is the largest man made mound in Europe.
The Barrow Cemetery on Overton Hill is crossed by the remains of a Roman Road.
The Sanctuary is located where the Ridgeway meets the modern A4. The monument consisted of two concentric rings of standing stones, it was destroyed in the 18th century ‘to gain a little dirty profit’ (Wm. Stukeley 1724). Concrete posts mark the locations of the stones
The stones of the West Kennet Avenue led me back to Avebury.
A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain Ireland & Brittany. Aubrey Burl. 1995
The Stone Circles of Britain Ireland & Brittany. Aubrey Burl. 2000
This morning I headed over to Westerdale Moor. I’ve been visiting this moor for many years and have always had the place to myself. As I walked up to the moor from Hob Hole I noticed a group of estate workers over on Little Hograh Moor, I made a small bet with myself that I’d be getting a visit from a gamekeeper within half an hour of setting foot on the moor.
The heather is in full bloom and the moors look stunning, after a few short minutes my boots were covered in a fine dusting of heather pollen. Later I encountered thousands of tiny bees congregating on a sandy bank at the side of the path, I presume these were Miner bees making the most of the pollen harvest.
My first landmark on the moor was the standing stone which can be seen from the footpath on the west end of the moor, this stone is below the crest of the ridge and is about 1.2m tall
Due north of the stone and about 100m over the ridge of the moor is an alignment of standing stones and boulders that runs for about 70m towards the Baysdale Beck, also known as the Hob Hole Beck. This alignment has been interpreted as a Bronze Age boundary and features in Blaise Vyner’s inventory of Cross Ridge Boundaries.
Returning to the path I noticed an object embedded in the dry mud at the side of the track. It was a Swiss Army knife, it had obviously been there for a while and had a name dymo-taped onto it, Roger Pybus. I pocketed the knife and a minute or two later noticed a large 4×4 pickup heading across the moor towards me, less than half and hour, I had won my bet.
I walked up to the pickup and had a chat with the keeper. He was friendly enough and told me that he was checking to ensure that I wasn’t going to have a barbecue or fly a drone over the moor. He told me about the sculpture that his boss had erected on the far horizon. I told him that I was more interested in standing stones and asked him if Roger Pybus was one of the blokes he worked with, he said he was so I gave him the knife to return to its’ owner.
On the skyline, Seated Man, a sculpture by Sean Henry commissioned by the estate owner David Ross and erected on Castleton Rigg. To the right of the sculpture are a group of visitors.
The keeper, satisfied that I wasn’t a hungry drone pilot, went on his way and I continued eastward across the moor. This side of the moor is dotted with low cairns and banks.
My next destination was the large embanked enclosure on eastern end of the moor. The enclosure is located on fairly level ground just before it dips down into the valley to where the River Esk meets the Baysdale Beck.
The Enclosure is about 40m square with fairly well defined walls. The walls are made of stones with the occasional large upright stone on the inner face. The walls stand at about 1.5m high and 2-3m wide. There is a 3m entrance on the east side. The general consensus is that the structure is Iron Age in date, but this is not certain.
I spent a little time walking around the enclosure and admiring the views along the Esk Valley to Castleton and then headed back to the road and Hob Hole via the Esk Valley Walk footpath.
Regarding the relationship between Hob Hole and the prehistoric remains, Stanhope White makes this observation
..the belief in a race of little men who lived under the earth may stem from the first interaction of the Celts with the indigenous Bronze Age people. When from time to time, a howe was opened for some purpose, possibly to win stone, if the so-called incense cups were found, they were regarded as proof of the presence of little men.
The North York Moors. An Introduction. Stanhope White. 1979
Frank Elgee’s map of Crown End.
A lidar image and aerial view of the Crown End enclosure
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.
John Aubrey’s Monumenta Britannica compiled between 1665 & 1693
Marcus H aka Soiled at Mayburgh Henge
THE MONUMENT COMMONLY CALLED LONG MEG AND HER DAUGHTERS, NEAR THE RIVER EDEN
A WEIGHT of awe, not easy to be borne,
Fell suddenly upon my Spirit–cast
From the dread bosom of the unknown past,
When first I saw that family forlorn.
Speak Thou, whose massy strength and stature scorn
The power of years–pre-eminent, and placed
Apart, to overlook the circle vast–
Speak, Giant-mother! tell it to the Morn
While she dispels the cumbrous shades of Night;
Let the Moon hear, emerging from a cloud;
At whose behest uprose on British ground
That Sisterhood, in hieroglyphic round
Forth-shadowing, some have deemed, the infinite
The inviolable God, that tames the proud!
William Wordsworth 1833