Carboniferous Limestone – Alston Formation formed 337-328 million years ago
The road to Pateley Bridge was closed, the diversion sent me south along a series of narrow lanes. I followed an expensive-looking Audi coupe which was so wide that it struggled to stay on the lane without the outer wheels occasionally slipping into the ditch. The route eventually joined the Nidd Valley road, but instead of turning right towards Pateley Bridge the driver turned left, I guess he realised that perhaps the narrow lanes of the dales were not the right place for his oversized cruiser.
The Nidderdale road passes through a number of villages and hamlets, originally built to house workers from the flax mills and other works along the valley. The walls of many houses have had the black patina that forms on Millstone Grit walls cleaned away, this is a land of shiny Range Rovers and heritage paint. The Dales valleys have become a northern extension of Yorkshire’s golden triangle (Leeds-York-Harrogate). The average price of a house in the Dales is nearly forty percent higher than the average price of a house in Yorkshire.
Passing through Pateley Bridge and then up onto the moors. I’d arranged to meet Graeme at The Coldstones Cut. The Cut is a landscape sculpture and a viewing platform built to overlook the Coldstones Limestone quarry, the last working large limestone quarry in the district. I’ve passed this quarry many times and until recently was completely unaware of its existence.
The Cut was created by artist Andrew Sabin and opened in 2011. In his accompanying essay Sabin references the citadel of Mycenae, which I completely get. He also discusses the nature of the path through the site, this had baffled Graeme and I on our visit, why did the path through the work resemble a modern road? why the yellow lines and bollards?
The base of the Cut is adorned with the dressing of modern towns and the paraphernalia of contemporary streetscapes and rightly so because the pit that lies at the end of the Cut was formed to supply the road builders and landscape makers of 20th century Britain.
Despite the minor inconvenience of swarming small insects, we both enjoyed wandering around the Cut. The jumbled stones at the foot of the path and the weird bicycle sculpture seemed a bit out of place but in fairness to Andrew Sabin these were not part of his design. The crowning glory of the Cut is of course the drama of quarry and the landscape beyond.
Whilst at the Cut we could see the outline of this beautiful water tower in the distance, we had to pay it a visit.
Once home I began to reflect on how the operators of the quarry have recognised that their site has value and interest to the wider community. They have explored ways to allow people to engage with not only the quarry but also with the wider landscape and history of the district. This approach is the polar opposite to the situation that we currently have on Teesside where a publicly funded development corporation are taking a year zero approach to a vast steelworks site with the full support of their appointed heritage taskforce. This has resulted in historical and culturally important elements of the site being lost forever.
When Stockton was the principal port of the Tees it could take ships up to two days to travel from the river mouth to the quays. To improve the river, and decrease the travel time for ships, two great loops were cut out of the course of the river. The first cut, the Mandale, was opened in 1810 followed by a second cut, the Portrack, which was completed in 1831. A brief history of the straightening of the river can be found here.
Carl Mole and I decide to follow the course of the Old River Tees around the Mandale loop.
The mouth of the old river meets the Tees just opposite Blue House Point. The old river has been channelled into a culvert that runs across the nearby railway marshalling yards.
In the river, a large seal keeps a lazy eye on us, a group of Arctic Terns are noisily quarrelling, they’ll soon be on their way to Antarctica.
The river runs beneath the Wilderness road and the A66 dual carriageway, it then flows beneath an unused bridge onto Teesside Retail Park where it is hidden from view behind a large embankment. The shoppers and cinema goers are largely unaware of its existence.
Beneath the Teesside Park bridge, a secret galley, hidden from the busy world above.
A sunken fleet of shopping trolleys are revealed by the midday sun.
Upstream, the river is tidal, run-off water dilutes the salty river, tiny fish swim around the mouths of the culverts.
The river, canalised within concrete walls, runs beside the dual carriageway.
Concrete gives way to beautiful reed beds, we watch as dragonflies flit over the water. The river divides into two, the Fleet heads south to become the Stainsby and Blue Bell Becks, the old river heads west to Thornaby, its flow drastically reduced by a large sluice. Beyond the sluice the tide has no effect on the old river.
The path follows the course of the river to passing Teesdale Park home of Thornaby FC who play in Northern League division one. The team has a Bermudian player, Quinaceo Hunt, ‘Q’ keeps goal for his national side.
We follow the course through the Harewood pleasure gardens, it’s hard to believe that masted ships, bound for the Port of Stockton, used to pass along here. All that remains now is a muddy bed barely two strides wide.
This image of a single-masted sloop was etched onto a piece of lead removed from the church roof at Haughton Le Skerne. It dates to the 18th century and gives some idea of the type of ships that were plying their trade along our coasts and rivers.
The narrow, dry, beck valley disappears into a forest of elder and brambles on the edge of the A66, there are no further traces.
My friend Graham Vasey and I took a walk up to Lilla Howe, Graham was wanting to have a look at Lilla Cross and make some images as part of his ongoing Dainn series, exploring landscape and folklore.
Lilla Howe is classified as a Bowl Barrow, a large burial mound built of turf and stone. It dates from the Bronze Age and is part of a chain of barrows that run from the southern edge of the Esk valley to the Tabular Hills. This and other lines of Barrows on the moors may once have been used as boundary markers, defining the territories or estates of different groups, the mounds of the ancestors, perhaps indicating legitimacy and continuity of ownership. This use continues today as many of the more prominent moorland barrows continue to define modern boundaries.
Lilla Howe is a very ancient and important landmark, it marks the junction of four ancient parishes, Allerston, Fylingdales Moor, Goathland and Lockton. This boundary was first recorded in AD 1078 but may be much older.
The stone cross has a ‘G’ carved into its north face, this signifies Goathland, there is a ‘C’ on the southern face which is thought to represent Cholmley. The Cholmley family took ownership of the land in the sixteenth century following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the estate had previously been owned by Whitby Abbey.
It was also a junction of two significant trackways running south from the coast to the Vale of Pickering, The Old Salt or Fish Road and the Pannier Man’s Way. These tracks are now lost beneath RAF Fylingdales. Lilla Howe continues to be used as a boundary marker, it is a junction for a modern parliamentary constituency boundary.
This section of the moors is also significant as it is the point where the moorland becks and streams run to the south. The northern moors are drained by two major rivers, The Esk and the Leven. The becks and rivers of the southern moors drain into the River Derwent. Derwent Head, the source of the River Derwent is less than a mile south of Lilla Howe.
Lilla Cross sits on top of Lilla Howe, it is one of a few surviving, intact moorland crosses. The tradition is that the cross was erected as a memorial to Lilla, a lord at the court of King Edwin.
The prehistoric burial mound was re-used during the early Medieval period, two Gold discs and four silver strap-ends were found in the mound, these items were used to re-enforce the tradition that this was the burial site of Lilla, therefore dating the cross to the seventh century. Unfortunately the objects found in the mound are Scandinavian in design and date to the tenth century.
Bede’s account of Lilla
…there came to the kingdom an assassin whose name was Eomer, who had been sent by Cwichelm, King of the West Saxons, hoping to deprive King Edwin of his Kingdom and his life. He came on Easter Day to the King’s hall which then stood by the River Derwent. He entered the hall on the pretence of delivering a message from his lord, and while the cunning rascal was expounding his pretended mission, he suddenly leapt up, drew the sword from beneath his cloak, and made a rush at the King. Lilla, a most devoted thegn, saw this, but not having a shield in his hand to protect the King from death, he quickly interposed his own body to receive the blow. His foe thrust the weapon with such force that he killed the thegn and wounded the King as well through his dead body.
Etymolgy – Rivers
Derwent – Derived from British derva ‘oak’ Welsh derw &c. The name means ‘river where oaks were common’.
Esk – A British-river name identical with Axe, Exe and with Usk in Wales and Isch and others on the continent. British Isca became Esca, whence OE Esce and Aesce, which gave Esk and with metathesis Exe and Axe…and probably comes from pid-ska or pit-ska the root being pi- in Greek piduo ‘to gush forth’.
Leven – A British river-name identical with Libnios c150 Ptolemy (in Ireland) and Llyfni, Llynfi in Wales. The name may be derived from the adjective for ‘smooth’ found in Welsh llyfn.
Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930
Old Roads & Pannierways in North East Yorkshire. Raymond H Hayes. 1988
I wrote this account of a walk I took to the source of the River Ure in 2005. It was first posted on Julian Cope’s The Modern Antiquarian website.
The River Ure rises in the Pennines and then heads east into Wensleydale, it then flows out of Wensleydale into the Vale of York. South of York the Ure is joined by the much smaller Ouse Gill Beck and the river’s name becomes the River Ouse, I’ve never figured that one out. The river then flows south east and merges with the Trent to form the River Humber, which then flows out into the North Sea. What is significant about the Ure is its association with a number of nationally important prehistoric sites.
The Ure flows through Wensleydale, a Yorkshire Dale that has been occupied since at least the Late Upper Palaeolithic period. As the Ure flows through Yorkshire it is associated with at least 2 cursus, 7 henges, a stone row, numerous cairns, barrows, rock art sites, burned mounds and an assortment other prehistoric sites.
It is quite possible that during the Neolithic period, the River Ure was one of the ‘lines of communication’ between the Wolds culture of East Yorkshire and the Neolithic peoples of Cumbria. Evidence for this communication can be seen in the large numbers of Group VI stone axe blades found in East Yorkshire. The greatest concentration of Group VI axe blades occurs around the Humber estuary.
These axe blades all originated from the Great Langdale Axe production areas in Cumbria. Reciprocally there has been a significant amount of flint from the East Yorkshire coast found on a number of Cumbrian sites. There are also various other correlations between the prehistoric monument types and pottery found in both East Yorkshire and Cumbria but I’ll not detail them here in this brief summary.
Archaeologist Jan Harding speculates that the name ‘Ure’ derives from the Celtic word Isura, meaning ‘Holy One’. The source of the Ure captured my imagination mainly because of its location and proximity to the source of another great river that features in the prehistory of the North of England, the River Eden.
The Ure and the Eden rise within two kilometers of each other on the western edge of the Pennines. At their closest point, the two rivers pass within less than four hundred metres of each other. This means that it is theoretically possible to travel from the North Sea to the Irish Sea only walking on dry land for less than four hundred paces. I’m not suggesting that this was actually the case, where the rivers are at their closest they are merely becks. All I’m saying is that it is theoretically possible that our ancestors may have used the course of these two great rivers as a guide, a navigable route, between the east and west coasts of Britain.
“In November days,
When vapours rolling down the valleys made
A lonely scene more lonesome”
Influence of Natural Objects by William Wordsworth
I drove down to the site via Brough and Kirby Stephen and then along the Mallerstang Valley. I parked the car in a convenient lay-by and took the footpath to How Beck Bridge and then on up to Green Bridge.
With the Howgill Fells forming one side of Mallerstang and the Pennines forming the other it is easy to see why Mallerstang probably receives more than its fair share of rain. On the day I went it was raining on and off all day, the becks were full to the brim, almost every rocky ledge on the fell had been transformed into a beautiful waterfall with the ground completely saturated. In other words, a typical upland Pennine scene. They say that the sheep around these parts have webbed feet.
I left the path at How Bridge and followed the beck upstream. Its rough walking on the fells and involves a fair bit of bog-trotting and beck jumping, the peat on the moor side had been cut at regular intervals, presumably to aid drainage, so it was possible to follow the tracks of the vehicle that performed the peat cutting for much of the journey.
There is very little wildlife to be seen on these upland fells, a few ravens and the odd small bird, I guess the ground is too waterlogged for rabbits, but it is far from a silent wilderness, there is the sound of running water everywhere. The hike to the summit is one of those frustrating walks that presents you with two false summits to breach before you reach the fell top.
The Ure finally disappears into a flat bog on the summit of Lunds Fell. I was hoping that the source of the river would be a discernible feature such as spring but this wasn’t the case, the beck just petered out into a featureless boggy plain.
I sat and had a cup of coffee at the modern cairn on top of the fell, to the north I could see the Pillar marking the source of the Eden . I was just about to set off walking to the pillar when a storm blew across from Wild Boar Fell and I found myself in cloud. Not being familiar with the area, and not wanting to blunder into a bog I decided that I would call it a day and return home. I would leave the Eden for another day. As I’ve said before, it’s always nice to have something to come back for.
All in all I guess the source of the Ure is definitely ‘one for the enthusiast’ but if you want to get the general feel of the place you can drive along the Mallerstang valley and stop somewhere around SD778963. At this point, you’ll be straddling the county border, east meets west, watching the Eden flowing north into Cumbria and the Ure flowing south into Yorkshire.