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

Nature in Her Freaks – Blakey Topping

1

Blakey Topping (Black-houe Top.)

Of all the hills in our district, this seems to have attracted most of the attention of the Druids; who it is said were great admirers of nature in her freaks. This singular isolated hill resembles a huge tumulus or barrow of an arch-Druid, or half a Druid’s mundane egg, standing on the plane or base of its longer axis (although this is a natural hillock, detached from the main range of the Coralline-oolite, or outlier hills); and therefore from its shape, was no doubt held the more sacred by the Druids. But besides its shape, the many Druid-stones erected on the moor, both at its foot, and at a little distance off, indicate that this was a sacred mount…

knox map ..Nor will it appear at all surprising that this semi-mundane, or semi-egg-shaped hill, and the excessively dreary and secluded moor on which it stands should have been seized on, and  consecrated by the Druids for the performance of their mysterious, mistaken and cruel rites. Possibly, however, this now wholly heath-clad moor might have been, in their time, partially enlivened by waving groves; especially about this hill, and the rising brow of Cross Cliff.

Descriptions Geological, Topographical and Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire. by Robert Knox. 1855

Map © National Library of Australia

Into the Tabular Hills

The Old Wifes Way – Newgate Brow – Newgate Moor – Grime Moor – Bridestones Griff – Needle Point – Dove Dale – Staindale – Adderstone Rigg

the old wifes way1

The Old Wife’s Way has always been a bit odd, today is no exception. The plane owner gives us a wave. We later see him flying over the fields.

1

We follow the Prehistoric Dyke along Newgate Brow. I will never tire of this view.

11

We leave the track and cut out onto Grime Moor, a slow worm scuttles through the shimmering red grass. An undisturbed barrow occupies the high ground

11

After crossing a large enclosure, we choose to follow the less trodden path around the High Bridestones.

11

The Low Bridestones on the opposite side of the valley. The steep-sided valleys of the Tabular Hills are called Griffs. They are the product of ancient climate change. The melting of the permanent ice during the last Ice Age caused lakes to build up behind ice dams, when the dams finally burst, huge torrents of water and debris formed the valleys that we see today.1

One folktale concerning the origin of how the Bridestones got their name concerns a pair of newlyweds who died after spending the night in one of the shallow caves that exist beneath a number of the stones.

There is some debate on precisely how the Bridestones were formed. What we do know is that the the outcrops are composed of Calcareous Gritstone and Passage Beds and have been subjected to processes of erosion.

1

We walk along Needle Point and drop into the beautiful meadows of Dove Dale and Stain Dale.

11

We follow the road out of the dale to Adderstone Rigg to take a look at the Adder Stone. Within half a kilometer of this massive stone there are two large Prehistoric Barrow Cemeteries, indicating that this was a significant location for the people who lived here during prehistory.

11

We get lost looking for a track to return to the valley bottom, we notice a small sign that simply says Rachel Whiteread, intrigued we follow the path to a forest clearing…Nissen Hut..I had no idea this was here, just stunning, the highlight of my day.

 Nissen Hut

Saltergate Moor Cairnfield and Stone Row

After visiting the Newtondale Spring, Graeme and I took a walk over to Saltergate Moor to have a look at the cairnfield and find a Bronze Age stone row. We took the footpath through the fields beneath Saltergate Brow to the moor edge.

Saltergate Brow  The margins of the moor are extremely wet and we had make our way across a small bog to reach the moor. Once on the moor we started to encounter a number of cairns and upright stones, many of which were propped up by smaller stones.

Upright Stone

This beautiful tree is growing out the middle of a cairn. The RAF Fylindales ‘pyramid’ is visible in the distance.

Cairn Tree

The summit of Blakey Topping and Whinny Nab from the moor

Blakey Topping and Whinny Nab

We eventually found an alignment of stones that matched the Historic England description of the stone row.

Saltergate Stone Row

There is another alignment of three stones running at 90 degrees from the southern most stone

Saltgergate stones

We walked back along the path from the moor passing a large pond that contained more frogs than I have ever seen in my life. There we so many that we were able to hear them croaking even though we were a few yards away from the pond.

As we left the moor we noticed a large Larsen trap beside the pond, there were no birds in the trap but it set me to thinking. The moor has no sheep on it but whilst we were there we found one freshly dead sheep and a couple more piled up beside a ruined stone hut on the edge of the moor. These dead animals must have been moved onto the moor for some reason. Earlier that day we saw a beautiful buzzard soaring over Newtondale, I just hope that the dead animals and the  Larsen Trap had nothing to do with this magnificent bird.

Dead sheep

A description of the Cairnfield and Stone Row can be found on the Historic England website here