The riding school is currently awaiting demolition to make way for a new housing development. The main building was originally built in 1914 as an infectious diseases hospital with separate male and female wards.
The Prehistoric Round Barrow on the margins of the woods at the top of Patterson’s Bank is currently being destroyed by cyclists. The Barrow is one of few that survive in this area. It is a Scheduled Monument and is legally protected. It is also a burial monument and contains the remains of our Prehistoric ancestors. Action is urgently required to prevent the destruction of this beautiful monument.
A recent online conversation with a friend re-sparked my curiosity about the Tank Road. It’s an area that I’ve visited many times over the years, I’ve always felt that it was an important place but I’ve never fully got to grips with it. So I decided to walk it and try to pull together a description of the area.
I’ve always known it as the Tank Road or Old Tank Road, presumably it got this name from when it was used as a Tank training ground during WWII. The road itself is only 3.5km long, it runs between the main north-south roads to Castleton and Danby. From east to west, the road starts on the main north-south road to Danby and then crosses Gerrick Moor, Tomgate Moor and Middle heads where it meets the Castleton Road at White Cross on Three Howes Ridge.
On walking the road it becomes apparent that it was a busy route in the past, there is evidence of a number of sunken trackways, following the line of the road and joining the road from other routes, this becomes more obvious when you look at the LIDAR images of the area.
Regarding the origins of the road itself. There have been two excellent books written on the trackways of the North York Moors, Old Roads and Pannierways in North East Yorkshire by Raymond H. Hayes and Trods of the North York Moors by Christopher P. Evans. Hayes regards the route as possibly part of the Pannierman’s Causeway from Castleton to Staithes. Evans thinks it is part of a trod from Liverton Moor to Commondale. I suspect this route may have its origins in Prehistory.
Walking from east to west.
The road starts at the bend of the road that runs from the A171 to Danby where there is a small parking area. I definitely would not recommend trying to drive along the road. The road crosses a number water courses, the boggy areas have been filled with building rubble, it’s not unusual to find parts of cars on the side of the road.
The most prominent monument at the start of the road is a large Barrow, one of a group known as Robin Hood’s Butts. Danby Beacon can be seen in the distance in the image above .
The next group of monuments lie just south of the road comprising of a barrow and an embanked circular feature known as an Enclosed Urnfield. The enclosure and barrow date to the Bronze Age. The enclosure was a place where the cremated remains of the dead were placed, often in small pottery vessels. This type of monument is quite rare, they are generally only found in Northern England and Southern Scotland. Only 50 examples are known, 3 of which are within a few minutes walk of the Tank Road.
Photographing many of these prehistoric monuments is quite difficult, most of them are fairly low-lying features, covered in heather on a heather moor. The vegetation is quite low at the moment so this is probably the best time of the year to visit and once you get you eye in they are not to difficult to spot. I’ve included a few Open Access LIDAR images as they give a better idea of the form of the monuments.
To the north of the road is a large standing stone. The stone is unusual as it is ‘L’ shaped and its surface has fossil ripple marks on its surface. There are no obvious outcrops of stone on this part of the moor, but there is an outcrop with similar ripple marks on the western flanks of Siss Cross Hill just under 2km away. Perhaps this was the source of the stone.
In the top image, behind the standing stone, you can see the large burial mound of Herd Howe in the middle distance and beyond that Freebrough Hill. Just below Herd Howe is an enclosure that dates to the Iron Age. I have previously written an account of the enclosure, Herd Howe and the nearby Cross Dyke.
On my last two walks along the road I have seen quite a number of geese. I presume they are overwintering here. On my last visit this pair flew towards me honking, circled me and then headed back to Dimmingdale.
Leaving the road I followed a track south to have a look at Siss Cross. The cross is a crude unworked upright stone, it may be a replacement for the original cross. Running down the hill from the cross are a number of sunken trackways, perhaps the cross was a route-marker. Back in the 19th Century local Antiquarian J.C Atkinson discovered what he described as a flint tool making site just south of Siss Cross. He collected enough flint tools and debitage to fill ‘half a fair sized fishing basket’. The flint tools are thought to have been made by Mesolithic hunter gatherers. The site would have been a good place for a hunting camp, it is well drained and has a large viewshed, even on a muggy day I was able to look along the Esk Valley and make out the distinctive profile of the RAF site on Fylingdales Moor over 21km away.
I headed back to the Tank Road via the Trig point on the top of Siss Cross Hill. There is another Enclosed Urnfield with associated Barrows here. Unlike the previous enclosure this one is oval in shape and quite large 38x20m. Interestingly, the enclosure and the two associated barrows are aligned on the western-most Barrow of the Robin Hood’s Butts group. This alignment is also roughly the direction of the Midsummer sunrise and Midwinter sunset. The enclosure is also intervisible with the third Enclosed Urnfield on Moorsholm Rigg.
I walked back onto the road from Siss Hill and followed it down into Ewe Crag Slack. The slack is a former glacial drainage channel and is generally quite boggy. The keepers and the farmer struggle to keep the road passable down here, the place is a jumble of boulders, concrete posts and deep muddy ruts.
Ewe Crag Slack is a significant location in the study of prehistory on the moors as it was one of a number of places where Paleoenvironmental pollen cores were taken from the peat and the sediments below it. The data from Ewe Crag helped provide evidence that the people who lived here during the Mesolithic period may have been actively managing the land. The pollen cores showed evidence of forest destruction and subsequent soil erosion, this combined with charcoal deposits suggests that people may have been creating forest clearings much earlier that was previously thought.
I noticed this boulder by the side of the road. The boulder has been broken but you can see that it’s original form was rounded. The rock type looks like a fine grained igneous rock, basalt or andesite. I presume it is a glacial erratic. It’s curious because less than a kilometre away, at Dimmingdale, is a barrow that was excavated in the 19th Century by J.C. Atkinson, the same antiquarian who found the Siss Cross Flints. Atkinson wrote that the barrow contained ‘blocks of basalt from the Cleveland Dyke’. It is possible that the stones came from the Cleveland Dyke, the nearest potential outcrop that I’m aware of is at Scale Cross 4.2km away, where it was quarried in the modern era. I wonder if the barrow stones may have originated closer to home as glacial erratics washed-down to Dimmingdale when the ice began to melt. One for further research.
Walking the final section of the road to White Cross my camera battery died. The final 2 images were taken when wandering the road in 2017, they are a Danby-Moorsholm guidestone & White Cross.
Lidar Maps – Open Data Maps
Old Roads and Pannierways in North East Yorkshire by Raymond H. Hayes. 1988
Trods of the North York Moors by Christopher P. Evans. 2008
Early Man in North-East Yorkshire by Frank Elgee. 1930
Excavated Bronze Age Burial Mounds of North East Yorkshire by M.J.B Smith. 1994
Along The Esk. A Guide to the Mining Geology of the Esk Valley by Denis Goldring. 2006
Escaping the crowds of Saltburn we headed to Cattersty Sands at Skinningrove. Skinningrove has none of the seaside amusements of it’s neighbour so sees far less visitors, what it does have is a beautiful beach and a very good fish and chip shop which, sadly, was closed today.
Iron was mined here before the discovery of the main seams in the hills at Eston and prior to mining, iron-rich stone was collected from the beaches at Hummersea. An ironworks was established above the town in the late nineteenth century to process the local iron ore with coal and limestone imported from County Durham. The slag from the furnaces was poured onto the cliffs and also used as a building material in and around the village. The cliffs are an impressive site and are now home to nesting Fulmars and Jackdaws.
The names Cattersty, Hummersea and Skinningrove are all Scandinavian in origin. The cliffs to the south of the village are the highest on the east coast. Archaeologist Dr. Steve Sherlock’s work at nearby Street House has revealed evidence of occupation since at least 3900BC.
The Skinningrove/Loftus area does not see a great many visitors compared to other parts of our district but it has a fascinating landscape and rich history, all well worth seeking out. If none of this interests you and you just fancy a walk on a mile of so of beautiful uncluttered beach I’d recommend a trip to Cattersty.
If you want to learn more about Dr. Sherlock’s work at Street House there is a video here of him giving an online lecture at the Royal Archaeological Institute.
Disclaimer – Subterranean Redcar is quite a dramatic title, you may possibly be a little disappointed.
During lockdown I’ve been taking occasional walks from Redcar to Saltburn, setting myself the challenge of never following the same route home twice. About a month ago C. had told me that she had heard that there was an underpass that ran under the railway line linking Redcar with Marske.
There are not many accessible underground spaces around here so I resolved to find it. I had a look at the maps but couldn’t find any trace of an underpass. A couple of weeks later I was chatting to a friend at work and mentioned the underpass “oh you must mean the one in East Redcar, we used to call it Piss Alley.”
C. was heading to Redcar today so I scrounged a lift. I grew up in Middlesbrough and my knowledge of the geography of Redcar is quite poor. I asked C. to drop me off on West Dyke Road, which she did, unfortunately the road I thought was West Dyke Road is actually called Redcar Lane. Between Redcar Lane and West Dyke Road lies Redcar Racecourse. The racecourse cuts a large swathe through central Redcar and is surrounded by a high perimeter fence. I asked C. if there was any way to get from one side of the racecourse to the other without having to walk all the way around it, she didn’t know, I set off to find out.
I walked across the playing fields towards the racecourse and noticed a woman in the distance walking purposely along a footpath that led towards the racecourse fence, I decided to follow the same path. To my great delight I came to a tunnel that ran beneath the racecourse. As tunnels go it wasn’t a particularly long and possibly only qualifies as an underpass. but if this were a football ground, a passage to the pitch of a similar length would definitely be called a tunnel. The dictionary defines an underpass as a road that goes underneath a railway or other road, no mention of racecourses so I’m going to claim it as a tunnel.
Leaving the tunnel I found myself a few hundred metres away from Redcar Lane so set off to find my next target, the railway underpass.
I finally found the narrow cut between two houses, it would have been quite easy to miss. I walked along the cut and there it was, Piss Alley. To be honest, after the joy of finding the unexpected brutalist corrugations of the racecourse tunnel this was quite a let down, it was short with second rate graffiti and didn’t smell of urine. Although the latter may be due to pubs being closed for many months.
Much is made, and quite rightly so, of the bridges of the Tees, however we have another historic bridge on Teesside that is often overlooked. The Billingham Branch Bridge was built in 1934 by Dorman Long to carry the northern approach road to the Newport Bridger over the now-disused Billingham Branch railway. The Grade II listed bridge is reputed to be the first welded steel bridge in Britain.