A Memory – The Major Lunar Standstill 2006

Remembering Margaret Curtis Teacher and Archaeologist, born 7 June 1941; died 26 March 2022

Isle of Lewis

Escaping the mad parade

Walking from Farndale up towards Rudland Rigg, we followed the track up the side of Monket Bank. The track climbs up through the old jet workings and quarries along the moor edge.

In the 14th century this route was known as Monckgate and linked Bransdale with Farndale. The track was used as a Church or Corpse Road with coffins being carried over the rigg to Cockan Kirk in Bransdale.

The road across the rigg is now known as Westside Road, in the past, it was known as Waingate, running from Kirkbymoorside Market Place in the south to Battersby Bank in the north.

We cut out across the moor towards Ousegill Head and the Three Howes. Flint tools had been found by the gamekeepers for a number of years so in September 1973 Raymond Hayes and others excavated the area. His small excavation yielded over 800 flints from an area of 3.50 x 3.0m. The site was interpreted as ‘A temporary camping site in a forest clearing, probably being occupied by hunters following red deer or other game.’

Whilst at the Three Howes we saw a Red Kite being harassed by an anxious Curlew. Once the Kite had rid itself of its tormentor it flew directly over us, a joyful moment, this was my first sighting of a Kite on the moors.

We walked back across the old peat workings and rejoined the track, moving on to the waymarker at Cockam Cross and then onto our final goal, the Cammon Stone.

The Cammon Stone is a prehistoric standing stone that sits just beside the main track. The stone is about a metre and a half tall and leans towards the west. I have been visiting this stone on and off for at least two decades, my perception is that the lean of the stone has increased over the years but I may be wrong, I hope I am. The southern views from the stone look down along Bransdale, the axis of the stone is also aligned in this direction, which is probably no coincidence.

There are a number of faded letters carved onto the western face of the stone, in the past, antiquarians had speculated as to whether these letters were Phoenician in origin. They are actually Hebrew and spell out the word halleluiah. They are thought to be the work of the Reverend W Strickland, Vicar of Ingleby. Strickland is thought to be responsible for carving a number of inscriptions in this area.

There is a second stone, a large flat slab. No one knows whether this slab ever stood upright. There is no obvious weathering patterns to indicate that it might have been upstanding but I guess that question could only ever be answered by an archaeological investigation.

We picked our way along a track that ran from the moortop into Farndale and joined the daleside road at Spout House. If you are a fan of stone walls and troughs, you will love this road, it has massive walls with stone-lined gutters and numerous multiple carved stone troughs. The stonemasons and wallers were once kept busy in this area.

Also on this road is the Duffin Stone, a massive boulder that has tumbled down from the escarpment side and is embedded into the verge of the narrow lane. The stone bears the scars of contact with many vehicles.

Etymology

Waingate – OE Waen Way – Waggon Road

Monket – The ‘Mun(e)k(e)’ spellings suggest ‘monks’, but in the absence of monastic associations one might suspect an earlier ‘Mened-cet’ (Welsh Mynydd-coed) – ‘forest hill’. Here one might compare ‘Monket House’ in north-east Yorkshire.

Cammon Stone – Cam Maen – Bank Stone.

Rudland – OE hrycg ON hyrggr ‘ridge’.

Sources

Old Roads & Pannierways in North East Yorkshire. R. H. Hayes.1988. The North York Moors National Park.

Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol.67. 1995. The Yorkshire Archaeological Society.

The Consise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1974. Oxford.

Some moorland stones

I took a trip over to Glaisdale to visit one on my favourite North York Moors standing stones. This rarely visited, tall, beautiful stone is one of a pair of upright stones located on Glaisdale Swang

Swang – a boggy stretch of land.

When I arrive at the stone I’m confronted by an anxious pheasant hen who starts running in circles around me, a tactic designed to distract me while her brood of chicks scatter for the shelter of the nearby heather.

I can see another stone on the moor edge in the distance, I know that this will probably be a guide stone but probably isn’t good enough, I head for the higher ground. The ground is marshy, so I zig zag my way up the narrowing valley following the lush green carpet of bilberry, which tends to grow on the better drained ground. Curlews and lapwings rise in alarm and noisily track my progress as I move from one birds territory to another. Towards the top of the swang, a large hare breaks cover.

As I move onto the high moor, guide stones mark the track. Many of these stones date to the 18th century, others may possibly be far older. On October 2nd, 1711, the Justices sitting at Northallerton ordered that guide posts should be erected throughout the North Riding.

A solitary pine tree on the moor top, its branches indicate the direction of the prevailing winds.

Walking across across the high moor towards Glaisdale I encounter a couple of low standing stones, one of which is close to a low mound. These stones are not on the track and are too small to be guide stones. Another group of large stones look as through they were once standing but it is difficult to say much more about them.

This guide stone was carved and erected by Thomas Harwood about 1735. Harwood erected four other similar stones on Glaisdale Rigg. The stone appears to be housed in an old cross base. It is possible to make out the inscriptions on the north and east faces, they read Gisbrogh Road and Whitby Road. The other two faces are illegible, Stanhope White writes that the south face reads Glaisdale Road TH.

Walking over to the edge of Glaisdale I find this beautiful orthostatic wall, a real joy. About a century ago, many of the original field walls, across the moor and dales, were rebuilt by professional wallers, this wall may be a survivor of an earlier age.

In his book, Some Reminiscences & Folk Lore of Danby Parish & District, Joseph Ford writes of Stone-Rearing Days. These were occasions when a farmers neighbours gathered together to build walls around newly-enclosed fields. Ford thinks that this tradition may stretch as far back in time to the original settlers of the moorland dales.

D. A. Spratt YAJ 60 1988

Etymology

Glaisdale – YN [Glasedale 12 Guisb. Glasedal 1223, Glasdale 1228 FF] ‘The valley of R Glas’

OW gleis, Welsh glais ‘stream’

Glas is a British river-name derived from the Welsh glas ‘blue, green, grey’

Sources

Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore & Customs. R Blakeborough. W Rapp & Sons Ltd. 1911

The North York Moors. An Introduction by Stanhope White. The Dalesman Publishing Co. 1979

Some Reminiscences & Folk Lore of Danby Parish & District. Joseph Ford. M.T.D. Rigg Publications. 1990

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Placenames. E Ekwall. 1974

Orthostatic Field Walls on the North York Moors. D.A. Spratt. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal No. 60 1988

The Old Stones of the North Exhibition

Circumstances have prevented me from visiting our joint exhibition, so this week we took a trip over to Grasmere to have a look. I was impressed with the way that the Heaton Cooper Studio has presented our work. The exhibition runs until the 29th May.

Prehistoric Postcards

A few years ago I bought an album of old french postcards themed around prehistoric monuments and natural rock features.

This sparked a short obsession with prehistoric postcards. I bought most of them from ebay and boot sales, setting myself the challenge of paying no more than a pound or two for each card. The obsession burned itself out after a year or two so and I decided to put the collection online for anyone to use. I uploaded about a third of the cards and then kind of lost interest. I’ll return to it one day and finish the job.

If this sort of thing interests you, the collection can be found here

The Old Stones Exhibition March 2022

My friend Tony Galuidi asked me if I’d be interested in a joint exhibition, I agreed and here it is. If you like big old prehistoric stones and you happen to find yourself in Cumbria, pop in and have a look.

Wandering in the shadow of the sacred hill

My friend Graeme Chappell and I decided to have a wander around Thompson’s Rigg. We followed the Old Wife’s Way from Horcum, dropping down along Newgate Brow into the valley below.

We crossed the fields to take a look at the standing stones at the foot of Blakey Topping. These stones have been interpreted as a possible ruined stone circle.

After spending some time at the stones we walked onto Thompson’s Rigg. The Rigg is only a mile long. Its flanks slope down into the valleys of the Grain Beck to the East and Crosscliff Beck to the west. The moor is surrounded on three sides by higher ground and gently slopes to the south, where it narrows to form a valley which eventually leads to Langdale End and Howden Hill, a hill very similar in appearance to Blakey Topping.

About a third of the way along the Rigg the trackways bends, at this point, running diagonally to the trackway, is a cross ridge boundary. The boundary is a banked structure that bisects the full width of the moor and is topped, in parts, with large stones. The official scheduling for the area states that, Although this boundary forms part of the post-medieval field boundary system in the area, it is considered to incorporate elements of an earlier construction which had origins in the prehistoric period, contemporary with the cairnfield. source

In his book Early Man in North East Yorkshire Frank Elgee wrote, A wall of upright stones crosses the Rigg between the farm and the barrows, he also includes the boundary on his map of the area

It is curious that despite the earthwork being mentioned in the official scheduling of the area and despite it defining the the northern limit of the cairnfield and barrows and its close resemblance to other moorland cross ridge boundaries, this significant structure does not appear in either Don Spratt’s 1993 or Blaise Vyner’s 1995 inventories of the cross ridge boundaries of the North York Moors.

South of the large boundary earthwork we started to encounter many cairns, most are in deep heather and difficult to define, at least one of this group appears to be a large ruined barrow.

We continued south, traipsing through the deep heather to a grassy area containing a beautiful Platform Cairn. Platform Cairns are rare on the North York Moors, they are defined as, A roughly circular monument featuring a low, more or less level platform of stones surrounded or retained by a low stone kerb. Some may feature a small central open area, thus resembling a ring cairn. Source.

There is a large stone and hollow in the middle of the cairn implying a possible ruined cist, it is evident that this cairn had been excavated in the past. Graeme reminded me that we were only seven miles from Pickering, once home to James Ruddock.

James Ruddock was a nineteenth century commercial barrow digger. Between 1849 and his death in 1859 he opened many of our moorland mounds in search of finds to sell to the gentleman collectors of his time. His main client was the antiquary Thomas Bateman, he also opened barrows for Samuel Anderson of Whitby.

Unfortunately Ruddock did not always keep precise notes regarding the locations of his diggings, many of his finds have ended up in our museums with vague labels such as, from a mound 6 miles north of Pickering.

Moving further south we encountered this lovely, fairly well-defined ring cairn.

On the south eastern flanks of the Rigg is a group of hollow ways, these are not considered to be prehistoric.

At the southern end of the Rigg is this orthostatic wall which contains many large stones, some of which appear to be buried into the ground. If the wall contained unburied stones it would be classed as a boulder wall. The walling is definitely not prehistoric but may contain stones from an earlier feature.

Not far from the walling is this three foot high standing stone, located within an area of low banks and cairns at the southern end of the Rigg.

Blakey Topping and Thompson’s Rigg are well worth a visit, There is a wealth of prehistoric remains to be seen within a relatively small area. The area is owned by the National Trust and is not managed for grouse so has a mixture of habitats, we saw plenty of birds including Skylarks, Snipes and what I think were a large flock of Fieldfares.

If you visit this lovely place, what you’ll undoubtably notice is that wherever you are on the moor, Blakey Topping is the dominant landscape feature. Graeme and I agreed that this beautiful hill probably had a deep significance to the original inhabitants of this area. A sacred hill? perhaps even a sacred landscape?

Resources

Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930

Orthostatic Field Walls on the North York Moors. D A Spratt. YAJ Vol. 60. 1988

Linear Earthworks of the Tabular Hills, Northeast Yorkshire. D A Spratt. 1989

Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire edited by D A Spratt. 1993

CBA Research Report 101: Moorland Monuments’ in The Brides Of Place: Cross-Ridge Boundaries Reviewed, B Vyner. 1995

OS Map – The National Library of Scotland

Postscript

To illustrate Graeme’s comments