A recent visit to family in Cornwall gave me the opportunity to have a look around this beautiful far corner of England.
We took a drive up to Northumberland to visit the most northerly English Stone Circle, Duddo aka The Singing Stones aka The Women.
Whilst in the area we dropped in at a couple of Prehistoric Rock Art sites. First stop was Roughting Linn where ate our lunch down besides the lovely waterfall. We then walked through the bluebell-clad ramparts of the ancient promontory fort to the large outcrop in the woods. The Fell Sandstone outcrop is covered in Prehistoric rock carvings and is the largest carved rock in Britain. The most of the carvings have been placed around the edges of the outcrop and have been compared to Irish Passage Grave Art.
This part of Northumberland is littered with Prehistoric Rock Art sites, most have wonderful views over the nearby fertile valleys. Many sites are intervisible with each other, quite a few also have nearby earthworks which have been interpreted as Iron Age in date. The carvings themselves are thought to be Neolithic/Early Bronze Age in date, the relationship between the carvings and the earthworks is not fully understood but it does indicate that these sites had a degree of continuity lasting for a considerable period of time.
We headed over to Weetwood Moor to check-out the carvings on the outcrops there before moving on to Chattonpark hill and the wonderful Ketley Crags, a Prehistoric Rock Shelter, its floor covered in deep cup and ring carvings.
On such a night the hills dissolved
And re-assembled in a shifting mist,
Numb with moonlight’s touch.
We learnt that silence was not hostile,
Took upon ourselves its deepest strength
Waiting for dawn’s layered sun.
A moon that placed
As crow’s shout cracked the sky
Fled from the triggered bird-song
Hesitant, then loud.
Before our eyes, a second birth,
A new-created universe,
Green and blue and gold.
Fluted stones whose shape had shifted
With emitted heat
From bearded barley heads,
Buried to the hips,
Reclaimed their circle and identity,
Guarding and inviting
As the sun’s diurnal course
Played a slow game
With shadow shapes
Time and time and time again.
Solstice: Duddo by Stan Beckensall from Northumberland Power of Place. 2001
Map and Lidar images by permission of the National Library of Scotland
Danby – Village of the Danes
Rigg – Ridge (OScand hryggr)
Little Fryup Dale – Crossley Side – Old Wife’s Stones – Enclosure 738 (Ring Cairn) – Rake Way – Double Dykes – Bakers Nab – Hanging Stone
If you have an interest in history Danby Rigg is a great place to visit. It was a busy place in the past, the northern end of the Rigg is covered in prehistoric cairns, low walls, embanked pits, hut circles and dykes. There are also Medieval features including the Viking-Age Double Dykes, iron bloomeries and trackways. Many of these features are quite subtle, especially where the heather is long, but once you get your eye in you begin to spot them everywhere, trying to make sense of them is a different matter.
The Rigg is also rich in folklore with the Old Wife’s Stones and a Corpse Road which leads from Fryup Dale across the Fairy Cross Plain to St Hilda’s Church in Danby Dale. The dales around the Rigg are littered with tales of Hobs, Spitits and Witches.
Many years ago, when I first started visiting the Rigg, I was overwhelmed by the amount of prehistoric remains that could be seen. Over the years I have learned to focus my visits on one or two features and try and work out their relationships to the landscape.
On this visit I decided to take a look at a natural feature called The Hanging Stone. On my way to the stone I thought I’d have a quick look at the Old Wife’s Stones and a large circular monument close to the Double Dykes. It was a blistering hot day with barely a breeze, following the Old Wife’s Stones road up the side of the Rigg, I realised that midday was probably not the best time to be doing this.
On old OS maps the Old Wife’s Stones are shown as a pair of stones, today only one remains. It sits close to the Old Wife’s Stones Road at the base of the steep scarp and overlooks Little Fryup Dale, the Fairy Cross Plain and Round Hill. On the image above the road running off to the top left follows the route of the Church Road also known as The Old Hell Road, a late Medieval Corpse Road that runs over the Rigg from Fryup Dale to St. Hilda’s Church in Danby Dale.
Just to the north of the Double Dykes is a large circular monument. The ring has a diameter of approximately 20 metres, it comprised of a low stone-built ring with a possible northern entrance.
This site was interpreted in the past as a settlement site. It was originally excavated by Atkinson in 1863. It was excavated again in 1956 by W.H. Lamplough and W.P. Baker and then re-examined by A.F Harding and J. Ostoja-Zagorski in 1984. Harding’s conclusion was that it was an Early Bronze Age, Ring Cairn, one of a number of similar monuments that run across the Rigg.
Walking on to the Double Dykes, a number of fairly low upright stones can be seen along the earthwork.
The Hanging Stone sits on the scarp edge of the Rigg overlooking Danby Dale. The rock itself is part of the Dogger Formation, a group of sandstones formed in shallow seas 170-174 million years ago. The stone is covered in graffiti, there are also a number of cup marks, one of which shows signs of being pecked. Given the amount of modern graffiti on the stone it is impossible to say whether the cup marks are prehistoric or modern.
Prehistoric and Early Medieval Activity on Danby Rigg, North Yorkshire. A.F. Harding with J Ostoja-Zagorski. Royal Archaeological Institute 151, 1994.
The Place Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire. A.H. Smith 1928
Maps reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Slack – a shallow valley
Swang – a boggy or marshy area
Beck – a small stream
Rigg – a ridge
Bield – a sheep shelter
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.
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.
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
I 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.
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.
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’
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.
The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire – Frank Elgee. 1912
Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North York Moors – Stanhope White. 1987
Blakey Topping (Black-houe Top.)
Of all the hills in our district, this seems to have attracted most of the attention of the Druids; who it is said were great admirers of nature in her freaks. This singular isolated hill resembles a huge tumulus or barrow of an arch-Druid, or half a Druid’s mundane egg, standing on the plane or base of its longer axis (although this is a natural hillock, detached from the main range of the Coralline-oolite, or outlier hills); and therefore from its shape, was no doubt held the more sacred by the Druids. But besides its shape, the many Druid-stones erected on the moor, both at its foot, and at a little distance off, indicate that this was a sacred mount…
..Nor will it appear at all surprising that this semi-mundane, or semi-egg-shaped hill, and the excessively dreary and secluded moor on which it stands should have been seized on, and consecrated by the Druids for the performance of their mysterious, mistaken and cruel rites. Possibly, however, this now wholly heath-clad moor might have been, in their time, partially enlivened by waving groves; especially about this hill, and the rising brow of Cross Cliff.
Descriptions Geological, Topographical and Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire. by Robert Knox. 1855
Last week I learned that Harry Aubrey Woodruff Burl had passed away at the age of 93.
Sometime in the mid 1980’s I discovered a book in a second hand bookshop called The Stone Circles of the British Isles by Aubrey Burl. I bought it, read it and re-read it, it changed my world.
Prior to finding Burl’s book, I had an interest in all things ancient and had visited quite a few prehistoric sites, my views were shaped by the writings of Janet & Colin Bord, John Michell and other writers of the alternative archaeology community. Burl’s book propelled me into the world of Prehistoric Archaeology and set me on a path that I am still happily travelling.
Burl’s field guide, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, is a must for anyone interested in the subject. My dog-eared copy has travelled the length and breadth of Britain with me. It has led me over fields, across bogs and empty moors, walking in his steps, seeking out the megalithic remains of our islands.
Burl was my entry into the world of prehistory, once discovered my bookshelves soon started to fill not only with his works but books by Daniels, Hawkes, Bradley, Waterhouse, Thom, Barnatt and Piggott to name a few.
Burl also taught me to look back to the work of the early antiquarians such as Aubrey, Stukeley, Camden, Ferguson and Borlase. I also sought out the work of more recent researchers, people who marked the transition from Antiquarianism into modern Archaeology such as Fred Cole, Sir James Simpson, Canon Greenwell, Collingwood Bruce and Frank Elgee.
When travelling to a previously unvisited area, I always consult Burl and mark my maps accordingly. I’ve explored Brittany using his Megalithic Brittany book as my guide, On my first trip to Avebury I used his itinerary to discover the stones. He has never let me down. Aubrey Burl was my teacher and my guide and I am sad that he is no longer with us.
It has been hard pleasure to see so many fine circles in Western Europe. They are one family, now dispersed, a megalithic confusion of parents, children, nieces and nephews, in-laws, second cousins, even some dubious offspring at the furthest edge of acceptability…They fascinate and perplex. Enjoy them.
A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Britanny. A Burl 1995
Gunnerkeld – Sportsman’s Spring
This beautiful concentric stone circle is situated a mile and a half north of Shap in Cumbria, an area rich in prehistoric monuments.
It is thought that the outer circle was erected during the Neolithic period. The circle is the same diameter as the famous stone circle at Castlerigg. Another similarity is the two large portal stones, a feature that can also be found at the Castlerigg circle. This leads to speculation that perhaps the two circles were erected by the same prehistoric architect.
The inner circle and a central cist were added during the Bronze Age, perhaps changing the use of the site from a place of ceremony and ritual to a sepulchral function, a place of the dead.
Another remarkable aspect of this lovely stone ring is it’s proximity to the M6 southbound carriageway, which is just a stones throw away. The soundtrack here is one of speeding traffic.
Access to the site is via Gunnerwell Farm, this is private land, if you visit be sure to ask at the farmhouse, the farmer is very friendly. Also you need to cross a stream to access the field where the stones are located, wellies are advisable.
The Stone Circles of Cumbria – John Waterhouse 1985
Prehistoric Monuments of the Lake District – Tom Clare 2007
A Guide to the Stone Circles of Cumbria – Robert W.E. Farrah 2008
When I dee, for dee I s’all, mind ye carry me to my grave by t’church-road
Street Lane – Water (Great Fryup Beck) -Long Causeway Road – Nun’s Green Lane – High Gill – Fairy Cross Plain – Water (Little Fryup Beck) – Stonebeck Gate Lane – Slate Hill – Church Way – Danby Rigg – Tofts Lane – Crossroad – St. Hilda’s Church
Choose the wrong path, risk waking The Old Wife.
Round Hill & The Fairy Cross Plain
Stoups guard the route
The descent into Danby Dale & St Hilda’s Church
Who could resist visiting a place with such a wonderful name?
I first visited this place in 2004, at that time very little was known about this strange oval earthwork. The site, on the margins of Brackenber Moor, has since been the subject of an Archaeological investigation by the Appleby Archaeological Group and North Pennines Archaeology. They have concluded that the site, and a number of burial mounds located across the moor, are Bronze Age in date.
On the ground there is very little to see. The surrounding moorland is a mix of rough pasture and a golf course. The site occupies a spit of land overlooking the George Ghyll. The ditch and bank are visible and there are a few lumps and bumps within the enclosure. What excites me about this place is the beautiful red sandstone crag and cave located on the edge of the Ghyll.
Dropping down to the Ghyll just beyond a large standing stone
Aeolian (wind-blown) in origin, the Permian Penrith Sandstone Formation formed approximately 272 to 299 million years ago in a desert environment
The main cave could easily house two or three people comfortably. There are many birds nests in the niches in and around the main cave.
The 5th hole looks towards Roman Fell.