Wandering over Danby Rigg

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Walking on to the Double Dykes, a number of fairly low upright stones can be seen along the earthwork.

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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.

Sources

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

Into the Tabular Hills

The Old Wifes Way – Newgate Brow – Newgate Moor – Grime Moor – Bridestones Griff – Needle Point – Dove Dale – Staindale – Adderstone Rigg

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The Old Wife’s Way has always been a bit odd, today is no exception. The plane owner gives us a wave. We later see him flying over the fields.

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We follow the Prehistoric Dyke along Newgate Brow. I will never tire of this view.

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We leave the track and cut out onto Grime Moor, a slow worm scuttles through the shimmering red grass. An undisturbed barrow occupies the high ground

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After crossing a large enclosure, we choose to follow the less trodden path around the High Bridestones.

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The Low Bridestones on the opposite side of the valley. The steep-sided valleys of the Tabular Hills are called Griffs. They are the product of ancient climate change. The melting of the permanent ice during the last Ice Age caused lakes to build up behind ice dams, when the dams finally burst, huge torrents of water and debris formed the valleys that we see today.1

One folktale concerning the origin of how the Bridestones got their name concerns a pair of newlyweds who died after spending the night in one of the shallow caves that exist beneath a number of the stones.

There is some debate on precisely how the Bridestones were formed. What we do know is that the the outcrops are composed of Calcareous Gritstone and Passage Beds and have been subjected to processes of erosion.

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We walk along Needle Point and drop into the beautiful meadows of Dove Dale and Stain Dale.

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We follow the road out of the dale to Adderstone Rigg to take a look at the Adder Stone. Within .5km of this massive stone there are two large Prehistoric Barrow Cemeteries, indicating that this was a significant location for the people who lived here during prehistory.

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We get lost looking for a track to return to the valley bottom, we notice a small sign that simply says Rachel Whiteread, intrigued we follow the path to a forest clearing…Nissen Hut..I had no idea this was here, just stunning, the highlight of my day.

 Nissen Hut

Lealholm Moor

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I took a walk from Danby Beacon to Lealholm Moor to have a look at a Ring Cairn that I had recently read about.

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The wide track from the Beacon is made of slag, the slag would probably have been brought from the furnaces of Teesside during the early days of WWII when a large radar installation was built on the moors. Ironstone travelling from Rosedale and the Esk valley down to the furnaces of Teesside with iron-rich slag returning to the moors.

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A rainstorm blows into Great Fryup Dale from the high moors

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The storm tracks along the Esk valley, the sun briefly follows behind.

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At the side of the track a gorse bush has grown a hedge around its base, a prickly windbreak for itself and the moorland sheep

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On the rigg the thin moorland soils offer little, this is compounded by the regular burning and draining of the moors, ensuring that very little apart from heather and a few grasses can thrive. In times of increasing climate instability and the loss of native species, the management of grouse moors is coming under increasing pressure to change its ways.  Stanhope White once called the moors ‘a man made desert’.

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A moorland cross base and cradle, the remains of Stump Cross. The cross was located at the junction of 2 medieval trackways, Stonegate and Leavergate.

The cross base sits at the foot of Brown Rigg Howe, a Bronze Age Round Barrow located on a small hill. The barrow is intervisible with a number of other prehistoric monuments including mounds on the other side of the Esk Valley.

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On top of the barrow is a steel plate, a base plate of a military searchlight, used for guarding the nearby Radar station during WWII.

ironstone-axe-bladeThe Brown Rigg barrow was opened by Canon Atkinson of Danby, he found a cremation burial and a stone axe made of basalt. A number of stone axes have been found locally including one made from Ironstone, it is now in the Whitby Museum.

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Rabbits have made the mound their home, their paths revealed where the heather has been burned-off.

2I walk on to the next barrow, a gamekeeper cruises by in his large 4×4. The keepers work for the Baron of Danby, Viscount Downe owner of the Dawnay Estate. The Dawnay estate website states that the Barons ancestors came from Aunay in Normandy. I would like to think that a number of my ancestors lie beneath the earth and stone mounds of the moors.

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I arrive at the Ring Cairn. As with most surviving North Yorkshire moorland Ring Cairns there is very little to be seen, the 14 meter diameter ring can just be made out in the heather.

What draws me to these places is not necessarily the physical remains of the monuments but the opportunity to walk and observe their viewsheds, seeing how they sit in the landscape and speculate on their relationship with the many other prehistoric monuments of the area. Lines of mounds running across the moors and along the coast, marking the trackways and territories of the people of the Bronze Age.

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intervisibility/alignment – monuments – invasion beacons – radar stations – trackways

axe – ironstone – scoria

 

A great article on the WWII radar site at Danby Beacon http://liminalwhitby.blogspot.com/2012/12/danby-beacon.html

Heather Burning Article Yorkshire Post March 2020 

 

 

Haredale

Out of lockdown I took a short trip up onto the moors.  The skies were grey and threatened a downpour but it had to be done. I chose Haredale, it’s close to home and one of those places that many people pass but few visit.

Haredale is a short valley running across the western edge of Moorsholm Moor from the top of Smeathorn Road down to the A171 Moors road. A small beck runs through the valley and crosses beneath the Moors road to become the Oven Close Beck which after a short run becomes the Swindale Beck then the Hagg Beck, which joins with the Liverton Beck to become the Kilton Beck and eventually finds the sea at Skinningrove.

I’ve been interested in this tiny dale for years as it’s on the margins of an area of quite intense prehistoric activity. Half a mile to the east of the valley there are burial mounds, enclosures and prehistoric rock art. At the head of the valley is a probable prehistoric trackway that follows a line of Bronze Age barrows across Stanghow Moor to Aysdale Gate.

Moorsholm moor

On the valley side is a glacial mound called Old Castle Hill. A row of at least 3 standing stones were erected on the low hill that juts out onto the dale and probably dates to the Bronze Age.

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Today there are only two stones left, both of which are laying flat in the heather.

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There are also a pair of small upright standing stones at the top of the valley.

tracksThe head of the valley is deeply scarred with long linear ditches, these were caused before the modern road was constructed. The ditches are multiple trackways formed by people and horses using a track until it became too deep or difficult to navigate, and then starting a new trackway parallel to the original. Over a period of a few hundred years, multiple trackways are formed. These features can be seen all over the moors.

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On arriving on the moor I walked down on the keepers track along the western edge of the valley towards the stone row. When I was last on the moors they were still in their winter coat of browns, there are now vivid green patches of bilberry spread across the valley, in a month or two the heather will begin to bloom and the bilberries will be ripe and sweet.

On the opposite side of the valley is a large erosion scar, when ever I’m around here I take a look to see what is washing out of the peat. I scrambled down to the valley floor. In my joy at being out on the moors again I neglected to pay attention to  where I was walking, what I thought was a small island in the middle of the beck was in fact a deep bog. My first leg went in to the top of my thigh, my second leg, just over the knee. A moment of panic, I’m stuck in a bog at the bottom of a valley with no one around, time to be calm, I lay across the surface and slowly levered my legs out of the mire.

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I sat on the bank for a few minutes checking that I’d not dropped anything into the bog, car keys, camera all present. I was sodden and mud-caked but happy, laughing at myself for making such a basic error.

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I had a mooch around the scar, at its head is a chalybeate (iron-rich) spring, the red waters of the spring contrast with the grey stoney clay, eroding-out from beneath the peat..

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..then the heavens opens, soaked from the feet up and now being drenched from the head down, I decided to give up and head back to the car.

This may all sound a bit grim but it isn’t. It’s days like these that make me feel truly alive and thankful to have such wonderful places to escape from the present awfulness of the world.

Postscript

On checking the North York Moors Historic Environment Record, the Stone Row and Standing Stones are listed as prehistoric but unlike nearby prehistoric monuments, show no statutory protection, which is a shame as they could so easily be lost.

Rey Cross ii

OE stan ‘stone, stones’ is a very common pl. el. It is used alone as a pl. n. in STAINES, STEANE, STONE, where a Roman milestone or some prominant stone of another kindmay be referred to.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1959

I recently took a trip over the Pennines to Cumbria. On the way home I stopped on Stainmore to have a look at Rey’s Cross. The Cross is located in a lay-by beside the A66. The A66 crosses the Pennines through the Stainmore Gap, a Pennine pass that was created by the flow of ice sheets during past glacial periods.

Historically, This part of Stainmore has always been important. The moor is rich in late Prehistoric remains. It was also the site of a large Roman marching camp, within the ruins of the camp is a wrecked prehistoric stone circle. Legend has it that the stone cross was raised as a memorial to Eric Bloodaxe, the last king of York, who was slain on the moor in 954.

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The cross, situated near the highest point of Stainmore, is close to an ancient county boundary, is a weathered shaft set into a substantial stone base and is thought to date to the early anglo saxon period. The name`Rey’ is thought to have been derived from the Old Norse element `hreyrr’ which can be taken to mean a heap of stones forming a boundary.

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One of the earliest references to the stone is from The Chronicle of Lanercost where it is call ” Rer Cros in Staynmor ” The chronicler states that it was set up as a boundary marker. The boundary was between the Westmoringas and the Northumbrians, the Glasgow diocesan border, before that it marked the border between the Cumbrians and the Northumbrians.

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The antiquarian William Camden tells us ” This stone was set up as a boundary between England and Scotland, when William (the Conqueror) first gave Cumberland to the Scots.”  Camden was incorrect, at the time of the Norman conquest much of Cumberland was already under Scot’s rule. The historic county of Cumberland was not established until 1177, however the stone could still have marked the boundary of the territory.

The A99 was widened in the early 1990’s so in 1990 the stone was moved from the south side of the road to its present site on the north side. An archaeological survey and excavation was undertaken as part of a wider archaeological project, sadly no burial was found beneath or around the stone.

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What fascinates me about this stone is that it marks a place that has been significant to the people of our islands for thousands of years. The people of the Neolithic period used this as route way between the east and west coasts. Later, the people bronze age erected a stone circle close to the site. Later still, the Romans heavily fortified road to guard the legions marching between Catterick and Penrith and it has remained the primary northern trans-pennine link ever since.  A hundred or so metres west of the stone is the modern east/west boundary between Cumbria and Durham and the route was also once the medieval border between Scotland and England. East meets west, north meets south all within sight of the weather-beaten old stone.

Three stones

Blakey Ridge – The Honey Poke – Flat Howe – Esklets – Sweet Banks – South Flat Howe – Bimshaw – Blakey Gill Head

It was a fine day on the coast so I thought I’d take a walk onto the moors. As I climbed onto Castleton Rigg the wind picked-up and the skies started to darken. I decided to wander over to the head of Westerdale via Flat Howe and the remains of the Blakey colliery bell pits.

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The moorland path starts at one of the most accessible of the moorland prehistoric standing stones, Margery Bradley. The view is to the south into Rosedale.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe path is marked by small walker’s cairns and the occasional estate boundary stone. This one, marking the boundary of the Feversham Estate, has been broken for many years.

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Moorland sands wash out from the peat and collect on the trackway.

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Towards the head of the valley the remains of ancient trees are visible where the peat has eroded away.

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Sediment profiles taken at nearby Esklets also provides a vegetation record from the late Mesolithic, showing a heavily wooded landscape dominated by alder and hazel, perhaps indicating low stature woodland, rather than oak forest.

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Netting made from natural fibres has been laid on the worst of the eroded areas, presumably to give the moorland grasses a foothold and try to limit the erosion of the peat.

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The weather suddenly changes as a storm blows-in from the west. As the storm increases I decide to head back.

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The storm has passed, I arrive back on Blakey Ridge close to the old road mender’s boundary stone.

Source  North East Yorkshire Mesolithic Project Phase 2 Report by Mags Waughman

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.