Wade’s Causeway – Chris Whitehead


This arrived today, as with all of Chris’s recordings, it is delicate, atmospheric and rather beautiful.

The disc is available to buy from the Semperflorens website 

From the sleeve notes

All sounds used in this composition were recorded on Wheeldale Moor in North Yorkshire, England. Amongst the wild heather a sinuous, linear stone structure known as Wade’s Causeway crosses the windswept land like a mile long scar.

At first thought to be a Roman road, the origin of Wade’s Causeway now seems less certain. many hold it to be a Neolithic or Bronze Age boundary structure, or possibly the remains of a later Medieval road.

Wade was a mythical giant said to dwell near Whitby. His presence deeply permiates the folklore of the area.

Many thanks to Chris Corner for his advice and for mastering Wade’s Causeway

Blakey Topping

There are three primary characters that feature in the local folklore regarding the creation North York Moors landscape, Wade the Giant, his wife Bell and the Devil or Ould Scratch. In the case of Blakey Topping there are two main folk tales that explain the creation of the hill.

The first tale is that Blakey Topping was created by Wade the Giant. Wade and his wife Bell had a falling out, Wade became angry and Bell ran off over the moors. In his rage Wade, scooped up handfuls of earth and threw them across the moors at Bell. Blakey Topping, Roseberry Topping and Freebrough Hill were the result. The place where he scooped the earth from is now the Hole of Horcum

Blakey Map

The second tale concerns an unnamed witch who made a pact with the devil that involved surrendering her soul. When the devil met the witch to claim his prize, she changed her mind and flew off over the moors. The devil then scooped-up handfuls of earth and threw them at the witch. Those handfuls of earth are now Blakey Topping and Howden Hill. As with Wade, the place where he scooped the earth from created the Hole of Horcum, which is also known as the Devil’s Punchbowl, it is said that you can still see his finger marks on the sides of the great depression. The route the witch took to escape the devil is a track called The Old Wife’s Way.

There are three standing stones at the bottom of the hill, these have been interpreted as the remains of a stone circle or a stone avenue




Wade & The Old Wife

A few weeks ago I was at a wedding at St. John the Baptist’s Church in Egglescliffe. In the porch of the church I noticed what Iooked to be a horned head carved into a stone beside the inner door, I then noticed another head carved onto the same stone. The only written reference I can find to the carved heads is in a 1993 Archaeological Assessment of the church which states that The imposts are chamfered beneath, and carried by jamb shafts with carved capitals (much worn) bearing simple volutes on the faces and human heads on the angle. 

To me, the head carved beneath the ‘volute’ may actually be an element of the original carving, possibly representing a horned character. Had the heads been carved after the volute they would have been carved into the stone rather than in bas-relief. I cannot say this with any certainty but it’s an intriguing thought.

Egglescliffe heads Egglescliffe heads i

There are a number of ancient stones in the porch, one that caught my eye was a stone is described in The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture

A (broad): Surrounded by wide grooved mouldings. Above a horizontal grooved moulding is a winged motif divided by a double vertical band which terminates in plant or scroll motifs. Above this may be the legs of two figures. No trace of decoration on the lower panel survives.

B (narrow) and C (broad): Tooled away. Possible traces of a grooved moulding on right edge of B.

D (narrow): A grooved moulding edges the shaft and divides it into two panels horizontally. The lower part of the upper panel bears a crude incised plant-scroll with a drop leaf falling from a coil. No trace of decoration on the lower panel survives.

Egglescliffe wayland Egglescliffe waylandi

In the discussion section of the Corpus is the following

This piece is clearly linked with Anglo-Scandinavian ornament. The strange motif on face A may be abstract (see Burton in Kendal, Westmorland: Collingwood 1927, fig. 195) or part of a draped figure (see Leeds: ibid., fig. 194; or York, Newgate: Pattison 1973, pl. 42). These motifs have also been interpreted as Weland and his flying machine: Lang 1972. The thick scrolls are also found at Burton in Kendal and at Chester-le-Street (no. 9, face C). Whether this winged creature is thought of as Weland or not, the combination of the bound element and the incised scrolls reflects Anglo-Scandinavian fashion.

Weland was the son of the giant Wade, his mother was Walchilt, a giant who lived beneath the sea. Wade is a well-known figure in local folklore. He is said to be responsible for, along with his wife, Bell, the creation of many of our moorland landscape features including Freebrough Hill, Blakey and Roseberry Toppings, he is also credited with building Mulgrave and Pickering Castles. The Roman road over Wheeldale bears his name and there are two standing Stones at Goldsborough known as Wade’s Stone.

It always thrills me to find local connections to the giant Wade. He features in both Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythologies and probably entered into the local folklore when these communities settled Northern England. What we may never know is was there a supernatural being prior to Wade?, who did the ancient Britons believe created the landscape. I believe clues to the identity of this being may be found in the folklore of the Scottish highlands as this area remained fairly untainted by Continental influences. The supernatural being responsible for the creation of many landscape features in these tales was the mother, warrior, hag, virgin, conveyor of fertility, the Cailleach. Professor Annie Ross describes the Cailleach as;

More static and more archaic than the gods, she remained tied to the land for which she was responsible and whose most striking natural features seemed to her worshippers to be manifestations of her power and personality.

I have previously written about the Cailleach’s connection to the area here The Old Wife’s Well

Freebrough Hill

This beautiful hill has always fascinated locals and visitors alike. Prior to the twentieth century a number of antiquarians and historians speculated  as to whether Freebrough Hill was natural or man made. It was often compared to Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, the largest man-made mound in Europe. Sadly, the hill is completely natural and bears a scar where sandstone was once quarried from its flanks. There are a number of folk tales concerning the hill and it’s origins.

Freebrough was supposed to have been created by the Wade, the giant of the moors. The origins of Wade and his wife Bell are unknown but they were primal deities, responsible for the creation of many of the landscape features on the North York Moors.  Another tale attributes the creation of the hill to the Devil. Apparently ‘Ould Scratch’ was enraged by a witch who had outwitted him. As the witch made her escape the Devil threw handfuls of earth at her across the moors, thus creating not only Freebrough Hill but also Roseberry and Blakely Toppings. The resulting hole, from where the Devil had gouged out the earth, became the Hole of Horcum or the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’.

Freebro van My favourite tale regarding the hill is the story of Edward Trotter, a farmer who lived in Dimmingdale during the reign of King Edward II. Trotter was checking his sheep on the slopes of the hill when he discovered a tunnel leading into the hill. He crawled into the narrow opening which soon opened out becoming large enough to walk along. After a while he came across a heavy wooden door which led to a dimly-lit chamber. On entering the chamber Trotter met a large man, dressed in chain mail, guarding the chamber. Beyond the guard he could see a number of men, dressed in armour, sleeping around a large wooden table. The guard hushed Trotter and told him that the sleeping knights were King Arthur and his knights. The guard told Trotter that the knights were sleeping until a time when they were required to free England from tyranny.

The guard swore Trotter to secrecy and allowed him to leave, Trotter returned home and told his wife about the tunnel and the sleeping knights. The following day they returned to the place where Trotter had discover the tunnel but could find no trace of it. Mrs Trotter accused her husband of dreaming the whole event.