A few years ago I found this lovely flint tool on the field margin a few yards away from the Bronze Age burial mound at the top of Patterson’s Bank.
The road on Percy Rigg runs from Rosedale Head to Guisborough. The section that runs over Percy Rigg is called Ernaldsti, after Ernald de Percy, Lord of Kildale. On a grim drizzly day I decided to walk the road from its junction with the Kildale – Commondale road to Percy Cross.
The surrounding moors are also dotted with standing stones, some are prehistoric, others are estate boundary stones. There are the remains of a large prehistoric settlement on the south west slope of Brown Hill. In 1953 Archaeologist Paul Ashbee excavated a number of small cairns and a large round barrow on Brown Hill. He discovered a rock-cut burial pit beneath the barrow and very little in the cairns, concluding that they were probably clearance cairns.A number of the earthfast stones beside the road are marked with benchmarks.
Local Archaeologist Roland Close excavated a group of hut circles beside the road. He found two large huts with paved floors, two smaller huts with central hearths and one hut with drainage ditches cutting through the two smaller huts. The main finds were nine saddle querns and some poorly-fired pottery sherds.
Close published his excavation in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. In his report he mentioned a permanent spring to the north of the huts, probably the primary source of water for the settlement.
On looking through some old maps of the area I noticed that, on the 1950 OS map, a cluster of tumuli had been marked around the spring. If these tumuli were burial mounds it could mean that that spring held some significance, other than a source of water, to the people who lived there in the past.
The spring emerges from the hillside into a man-made stone-lined trough and then flows down to the Codhill Beck. There is a standing stone close to the well, the sides of the stone have been dressed, this is probably an estate boundary stone. Unfortunately the moor above the site is covered in deep heather, I was unable to find the mounds marked on the OS map.
Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol.39 1958 & Vol.44 1972
Old Roads & Pannier Ways in North East Yorkshire. Raymond H Hayes. 1988
Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
On the coast between the Tees and Whitby there are two main high points, Warsett Hill above Brotton and Rockcliffe Hill above Boulby. These hills are also mutually visible, each with a group of Bronze Age barrows on their summits. The two summits are also intervisible with a number of moorland prehistoric sites.
There were once the remains of seven mounds on Warsett Hill but they have been ploughed-out leaving no trace on the ground. The group consisted of a cluster of six small mounds and one larger mound. The first recorded investigations of the group was by Canon Atkinson. Atkinson looked at the six small mounds and found nothing.
William Hornsby and Richard Stanton excavated the mounds in 1917, they found a few flints in the smaller mounds. The larger mound, which had been left untouched by Atkinson, was more fruitful. On opening the mound they discovered a ring of stones 30 ft in diameter, at the centre of which was a cremation burial with two food vessels. Other finds in this mound included a sherd of domestic pottery, a knife, a saw and many flints including scrapers, cores, and two leaf shaped arrowheads.
Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 24. 1917
Bronze Age Barrows in Cleveland. G.M. Crawford. 1980
Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
William Hornsby and Richard Stanton excavated a large mound on Kilton Lane known as Howe Hill. The lane runs through the east side of the mound and Hornsby records that material had previously been removed from the summit of the mound to facilitate ploughing. The pair discovered a couple of graves, one of which contained unburned bones and the remains of a hollowed-out tree trunk. A number of cup marked cobbles and a large cup and ring marked stone were also found. It is not unusual to find cup marked stones in coastal barrows, however prehistoric log burials are quite rare, only about 60 have been recorded in the UK.
Source: The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. XXIV. 1918
The rain has stopped, it’s time to get back onto the moors.
Gerrick Moor has a number of significant prehistoric monuments, a couple of good-sized barrows, a couple of hut circles, a late prehistoric enclosure and a cross dyke. All of this sounds very impressive but most of the features are quite subtle and take a little seeking out. There has also been a lot of later disturbance on the moor, it is riddled with old trackways, drainage ditches and grouse butts. The moor was also used as a tank training site during World War II.
The most prominent feature on the moor is Herd Howe, a large Bronze Age burial mound. The mound is situated on a ridge, best seen from the A174 heading east. The barrow is intervisible with a number of prominent prehistoric sites, The Black Howes to the west, Warsett Hill and Street Houses to the North, Skelder Hill (thanks Chris) and Danby Beacon to the East and views into the central moors to the south.
In the pit Atkinson found the remains of eleven cremation deposits and fragments of seventeen vessels, one of which was accompanied by a stone battle axe. Other finds included pottery vessels, flint tools, two bone pins and a bone needle.
Raymond Hayes recorded thirty six examples of these small rectilinear enclosures across the North York Moors. Once you located it’s not difficult to trace the boundary bank, it is mainly covered in Bilberry and stands out quite well against the background of heather. The bilberries are just coming out at the moment and are sweet and juicy, a welcome snack.
I headed off across the moor to check out the Cross Dyke that runs NW-SE for about three hundred meters. The dyke comprises a It a pair of banks with a central ditch running from the Tank road to the where the land starts falling off into Gerrick Haw.
Cross dykes are thought to a prehistoric territorial boundary. There are a number of similar dykes across the North York Moors, Blaise Vyner records at least fifteen, many of which are associated with prominent burial mounds. It is not unreasonable to speculate that these monuments had a ritual function.
The heather has just come into bloom on the south facing bank.
Looking down to the northern end of the dyke into Gerrick Haw towards Dimmingdale with Moorsholm Moor and the Black Howes in the distance.
Bronze Age Burial Mounds in Cleveland. G M Crawford 1980
North east Yorkshire Studies: Archaeological Papers. Raymond H Hayes 1988
Moorland Monuments CBA Research Report 101. Blaise Vyner 1995
Lilla Cross stands on Lilla Howe, a Bronze Age burial mound. The cross is said to commemorate Lilla, who according to Bede was one of King Edwin of Northumbria’s thegns who died in AD626 saving Edwin from an assassins knife. It is unlikely that the cross commemorates Bede’s Lilla as the cross was erected at least two centuries after his death. The mound was excavated in 1920 and pieces of Anglo-Danish jewellery were found.
The cross and mound have a significance in the landscape of this part of the moors. They form a boundary marker for the lands of the abbey at Whitby, the boundary of four medieval parishes and a waymarker for two medieval packhorse roads.
Swart, adj. Black Looking
Houe, n. A hill of considerable size. A tumulus.
Near Swarthoue on Dunsley High Moor, which was no doubt, a Druid’s station, are several ancient stone-pillars, only about three feet high. Two of them stand one hundred west from this houe, and west from one another; a small houe also stands a few yards west from them. At a distance of one hundred and ten yards north by east of these, two more similar pillars, stand at nearly the same distance from, and also in the same direction from, each other. These four old erect stones forming a long square, may possibly be only parts of other figures, such as triangles or circles, or a long avenue. In setting these, reference seems to have be made to the cardinal points, and perhaps, also to that conspicuous tumulus, Swarthoue, with which they form a nearly right angled triangle. The circular margin of that houe was set round with low curb-stones. It is about twenty yards round at the base, and from ten to twelve feet high.
Descriptions, Geological, Topographical and Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire
Robert Knox. 1855
Samuel Anderson excavated the barrow in 1852. On the outlying stones he notes –
There has been a line of large stones pointing from one barrow to the other, only two of which remain to remind the Antiquary that the ‘Modern Goths’ have been pilfering Antiquity of its relics…I may mention that there are many markings on the two stones between the barrows numbered 1 and 2 but whether the work of man or time cannot now be determined altho’ some of the marks correspond with these on a stone found in the barrow which has evidently been done by the parties forming it.
Minutes of opening Ancient British Tumuli in the neighbourhood of Whitby
Samuel anderson 1852-1853
A lowland barrow on Five Hills Lane just north of Middleton Tyas. The barrow is located below the brow of a hill in a small plantation of trees. There are views good views to the east across the Tees Valley to the Cleveland Escarpment.
Copper was mined at Middleton Tyas in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries with the deposits being described as being some of the highest grade ore in Europe. Given the amount of prehistoric activity in this area, from the Neolithic period onwards, it makes me wonder whether our ancestors were also aware of these deposits and any traces of their activities were obliterated by later workings. There is definitely evidence of metal working at the nearby Iron Age royal site of Stanwick.
Easington Moor (Danby Low Moor) can be a pretty damp place at the best of times, after recent rains the moor is well sodden. Crossing the moor is difficult, large tracts of sedge, cottongrass and sphagnum are best avoided. Away from the keepers tracks, walking a straight line between any two points on the moor without stepping into a bog is almost impossible
This area of the moor is rich in prehistoric monuments, I wanted to see if I could find a triangular stone setting described by Frank Elgee in his 1930 book, Early Man in NE Yorkshire.
Elgee’s description.. It lies immediately east of the large barrow..The stones form a right-angled triangle, one side of which is about 30 yards long, the other two about 24 yards. The stones are 5-7 feet long with broad bases.
I was only able to locate one of Elgee’s stones, the photo above shows the stone with the barrow in the background. The barrow is unusual as it has been constructed on a low platform.
A series of embanked, segmented pits are roughly aligned on the barrow. The description below is taken from English Heritage’s Record of Scheduled Monument
The pit alignment on Middle Rigg runs approximately parallel to the line of three barrows, about 120m to the north east. It is in two main sections, slightly offset from each other, with the 23m gap between the two sections lying opposite the central barrow. Each section of the pit alignment is further subdivided into segments, with each segment typically having between two and four pairs of pits flanked to the NNE and SSW by a pair of banks. Each segment is divided from the next by a slight change in direction, or a small break in the flanking banks. The two lines of paired pits are typically centred 10m apart and are up to 3m in diameter with the banks 12m to 18m apart and up to 1m high. The western section of the pit alignment is 138m long and includes 34 pits arranged in four shorter segments. The eastern section is 115m long and has 30 pits divided between five segments. The pits are associated with three large barrows on the same NNE-SSW alignment.
Archaeologist Blaise Vyner describes the pit alignment as sealing a spur of land occupied by the Three Howes and therefore one of a group of monuments found on the the Moors called Cross Ridge Boundary Monuments.
Just north of the pits and barrows is a large standing stone known as the Long Stone. The stone about 2 meters tall. I’ve never been sure whether this stone is prehistoric or not. It’s sides have been squared and it has a semi-circular carved area on its south face. The sheer size of the stone and the un-squared deeply weathered top indicate that it is quite ancient and not a typical estate boundary stone, as to its origins, who knows?
The brides of place: cross ridge boundaries reviewed. Blaise Vyner 1995
Early Man in N.E. Yorkshire. Frank Elgee 1930
Hob-Trush Hob, wheer is thoo?
I’s tryin’ on my left-foot shoe,
An’ I’ll be wi’ thee–noo!
After a little bit of to-ing and fro-ing Chris and I arrived at Obtrusch Rook. The cairn is not not difficult to find, it’s marked clearly on the OS map, visible on the ground and set apart from the bell pits. It isn’t located on the highest part of the moor but you can see that the site was chosen to maximise the views across Farndale and Blakey Rigg to the north and east with the Vale of Pickering opening out to the south. The cooling towers and chimneys of the power stations at Drax and Ferrybridge are visible on the far horizon, a distance of about 60 miles.
The ruined cairn with Blakey Rigg in the distance. A Sonotaphonomist provides scale.
Frank Elgee discussed the origins of the name Obtrusch Rook in his wonderful book, Early Man in North East Yorkshire (1930)
Rook, from the old Norse hraukr, means a pile or heap of anything, more particularly of stones or turves, though occasionally, as in the present instance, it is bestowed on barrows. Obtrush or Hobtrush was the name of a local supernatural being, akin to an elf or hobgoblin, of whom many quaint stories are current, and who haunted ancient sites. Besides Hobtrush Rook, the goblin’s heap, we also have Hob-on-the -Hill, a barrow on Guisbrough Moor, Hob Hill, an Anglian burial ground near Saltburn; and Hob Hole near a prehistoric settlement in Baysdale.
The cairn is fairly ruined and shows very little of the features recorded during its 1836 excavation by the pioneering Yorkshire Geologist, John Phillips. His account is given below.
Near the line of the road which has been mentioned, a conspicuous object for many miles round, was the large conical heap of stones called Obtrush Roque. In the dales of this part of Yorkshire we might expect to find, if anywhere, traces of the old superstitions of the Northmen, as well as their independence and hospitality, and we do find that Obtrush Roque was haunted by the goblin. But ‘Hob’ was also a familiar and troublesome visitor of one of the farmers, and caused him so much vexation and petty loss, that he resolved to quit his house in Farndale and seek some other home. Very early in the morning, as he was trudging on his way, with all his household goods and gods in a cart, he was accosted in good Yorkshire by a restless neighbour, with “I see you’re flitting.” The reply came from Hob out of the churn – “Ay, we’re flutting.” Upon which the farmer, concluding that change of air would not rid him of the daemon, turned his horse’s head homeward. This story is in substance the same as that narrated on the Scottish Border, and in Scandinavia; and may serve to show for how long a period and with what conformity, even to the play on the vowel, some traditions may be preserved in secluded districts.
This goblin-haunted mound was elevated several feet above the moorland, and was covered with heath. Under this was a great collection of sandstones loosely thrown together, which had been gathered from the neighbouring surface. On removing them, a circle of broader and larger stones appeared set on edge, in number 25, or, allowing for a vacant place, 26. Within this was another circle, composed of smaller stones set edgeways, in number 25 or 26 ; and the centre of the inner space was occupied by a rectangular kist, composed of four flagstones set edgeways. The sides of this cyst pointed east and west and north and south ; the greatest length being from east to west. On arriving at this fortunate result of our labour, our expectations were a little raised as to what might follow. But within the kist were no urns, no bones, no treasures of any kind, except a tail-feather from some farmyard chanticleer. The countrymen said this place of ancient burial had been opened many years ago, and that then gold was found in it. It seemed to us that it must have been recently visited by a fox.
Considering the position of the kist, set with careful attention to the cardinal points; the two circles of stone; the number of these stones, which if completed appeared to be 26; it seemed not unreasonable conjecture, that the construction contained traces of astronomical knowledge, of the solar year, and weekly periods. I dare not confidently affirm this. Was this a relique of an early British chief, or of a later Scandinavian warrior ? for such circles have been raised in Scandinavia and the Orkney Islands by the Northmen, and this is a district which the Northmen colonized. A similar circle of stones occurs at Cloughton near Scarborough.
The Rivers, Mountains & Sea Coast. London.1853