Chasing the Solstice Sun

Solstice sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”).

On a gloomy day I had little expectation of seeing the Solstice sun. I decided to seek out a Prehistoric Rock Art panel near Roxby. The site is located across from a narrow ridge that runs from the moorland to the coast. The ridge was formed by Roxby and Easington Becks running in parallel towards the coast cutting deep ravines into the glacial till. At some points the ridge narrows to the width of the track with near-sheer drops on both sides.

There are three known Prehistoric burial mounds in this valley. One in the woodland 250m to the west of the carved stone and another pair 1km south where the Birch Hall and Scaling Becks merge to form the Roxby Beck.

Woods

I follow the muddy footpath from Ridge lane down through the woods to a small gorge where a wooden bridge crosses the beck. The sound of running water is everywhere. The low solstice sun finally makes an appearance.

Roxby Beck

At the top of the bank the woods give way to fields. The field is pegged out for pheasant shooting. I spot a wooden structure on the hillside roughly where the stone should be.

Roxby stone uphillThe stone sits on swampy ground at the foot a low hill. The landowner has erected a fence around it to prevent damage from livestock.

Roxby stone

The stone is beautiful, it contains a number of different motifs, different sized cups, some with rings, linear motifs and a couple of faint rings that seem to ‘zone’ certain areas of the stone. Many of the cups are quite eroded, you have to move around the stone to catch the light falling across the surface, revealing the fainter carvings.

Roxby stone springQuite a lot of stone has been dumped on the boggy ground. A spring breaks through at the stone and runs down through the field to the Beck.

Solstice SunThe Solstice sun breaks through beside a dump of large boulders.

When showing people rock art for the first time, they invariably come up with their own definitive interpretation of the meaning, usually a map/chart related explanation. Show them a second and third panel and they begin to develop doubts.

Roxby stone ii

Over the years I have visited many rock art sites both home and abroad. I’ve concluded that we will probably never really know the true meaning of the carvings because we can never know the mindset of the people who created them. The best explanation that I can come up with is that the carvings may be an abstract representation of an invisible reality for the people who carved them and that the meaning may change depending on the locality. On the North York Moors there seems to be an association with burial monuments and trackways but this is not always the case.

Roxby stone i

A couple of years ago I attended a workshop at MIMA  They invited people to help create a timeline for local art. My suggestion was Prehistoric Rock Art along with prehistoric pottery, sadly neither suggestions were included in the final timeline.

Blasted

 

Gerrick Moor

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.

Herd Howe Lidar

 

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.

Herd Howe

The mound was partially excavated by Atkinson in 1863. At the core was a pit which had then been covered with a stone cairn, the cairn was finally covered with a stone and earth mound.Herd Howe finds

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.


Herd Howe g earth
On a gently sloping area just below the mound is a banked enclosure. This enclosure has been interpreted as a late prehistoric enclosed settlement similar to the settlement at Box Hall.

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.

Herd Howe Bilberries

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.

Gerrick Dykei

The heather has just come into bloom on the south facing bank.

Gerrick Dyke

Looking down to the northern end of the dyke into Gerrick Haw towards Dimmingdale with Moorsholm Moor and the Black Howes in the distance.

Sources

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

 

Willy Howe

willy Howe

Willy Howe is a large, tree-covered,  Neolithic round barrow in East Yorkshire. Local folklore tells the tale of a farmer returning home late one night  and hearing music coming from the Howe. On investigation he found a door which neither he or anyone else had seen before.  He opened the door and looked inside, he saw a table groaning with food and a group of hobs making merry.  The hobs spotted him and invited him in and offered him a drink. He took the drink and then rudely dashed off with the cup the drink was served in. The hobs gave chase but as soon as he crossed the first stream, the Gypsey Race, they gave up and returned to their feast.  On arriving home he saw that the cup was a fabulous gold vessel. He presented the cup to King Henry I who later passed it on to his brother-in-law King David of Scotland

Lilla Cross

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALilla 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.

Lilla Cross iThe 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.

Swarth Howe

Swart, adj. Black Looking

Houe, n. A hill of considerable size. A tumulus.

Swarth Howe iii

 

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

Prehistoric Rock Carvings – Patterson’s Bank

C&R stone Upleatham I C&R stone UpleathamC&R stone Upleatham II

I photographed these cup-marked stones about 10 years ago. The stones are associated with a Bronze Age burial mound and are no longer visible as they have been buried by Tees Archaeology to protect them from damage/weathering.

The top photo shows a cup marked slab that is thought may have acted as a cover for a cist (stone-lined box). The second and third photos are of a stone that may have been one of a number of kerb stones positioned around the base of the mound.

The mound itself has a large central depression, thought to be as the result of an episode of 19th century barrow digging. In 1817 the Reverend George Young reported the excavation of a tumulus at Upleatham in his History of Whitby. He later donated a small ceramic pot, found during the excavation, to the Whitby Museum.

Urn Upleatham