Returning to Danby Rigg

Revisited 15/08/2020

Ainthorpe – Old Wife’s Stones Road – Ring Cairn with Standing Stone – Cairnfield – Round Barrow – Church Way (The Old Hell Road) – Enclosure 738 (Ring Cairn) –  Double Dykes

I returned to the Rigg a couple of days later with my friend Graham. The Rigg was shrouded in low cloud with visibility down to 20-30 metres. The lack of visibility gave the Rigg an otherworldly atmosphere, upright stones  looming in and out of the murk, the scarp edges of the Rigg dropping-off into an apparent void, the sound of sheep and the voices of a walking party echoing across the moor, amplified by the dense fog.

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Graham had not visited the Rigg before and I was keen to show him some of its archaeological features. What soon became apparent was that it is almost impossible to give a full account of such a complex site when you cannot reference the landscape that it sits in. The loss of the viewsheds from the monuments and trackways on the Rigg made it extremely difficult to explain their relationships with each other and with the greater landscape that they sit in. We settled for having a look at a few hoary old stones and enjoying the damp otherworldliness of the moor.

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One thing we did notice on the moor and have seen elsewhere this year, was the poor condition of much of the heather. The heather should be in full bloom at the moment carpeting the moorlands in purple. This year, much of the heather is not only without blossom but is also brown and withered. Apparently this is due to an infestation of Heather Beetles across the moors. More information can be found here  

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Wandering over Danby Rigg

Danby – Village of the Danes

Rigg – Ridge (OScand hryggr)

Little Fryup Dale – Crossley Side  – Old Wife’s Stones –  Enclosure 738 (Ring Cairn) – Rake Way – Double Dykes – Bakers Nab – Hanging Stone

If you have an interest in history Danby Rigg is a great place to visit. It was a busy place in the past,  the northern end of the Rigg is covered in prehistoric cairns, low walls, embanked pits, hut circles and dykes. There are also Medieval features including the Viking-Age Double Dykes, iron bloomeries and trackways. Many of these features are quite subtle, especially where the heather is long, but once you get your eye in you begin to spot them everywhere, trying to make sense of them is a different matter.

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The Rigg is also rich in folklore with the Old Wife’s Stones and a Corpse Road which leads from Fryup Dale across the Fairy Cross Plain to St Hilda’s Church in Danby Dale. The dales around the Rigg are littered with tales of Hobs, Spitits and Witches.

Many years ago, when I first started visiting the Rigg, I was overwhelmed by the amount of prehistoric remains that could be seen. Over the years I have learned to focus my visits on one or two features and try and work out their relationships to the landscape.

On this visit I decided to take a look at a natural feature called The Hanging Stone. On my way to the stone I thought I’d have a quick look at the Old Wife’s Stones and a large circular monument close to the Double Dykes. It was a blistering hot day with barely a breeze, following the Old Wife’s Stones road up the side of the Rigg, I realised that midday was probably not the best time to be doing this.

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On old OS maps the Old Wife’s Stones are shown as a pair of stones, today only one remains. It sits close to the Old Wife’s Stones Road at the base of the steep scarp and overlooks Little Fryup Dale, the Fairy Cross Plain and Round Hill. On the image above the road running off to the top left follows the route of the Church Road also known as The Old Hell Road, a late Medieval Corpse Road that runs over the Rigg from Fryup Dale to St. Hilda’s Church in Danby Dale.

ring

Just to the north of the Double Dykes is a large circular monument. The ring has a diameter of approximately 20 metres, it comprised of a low stone-built ring with a possible northern entrance.

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This site was interpreted in the past as a settlement site. It was originally excavated by Atkinson in 1863. It was excavated again in 1956 by W.H. Lamplough and W.P. Baker and then re-examined by A.F Harding and J. Ostoja-Zagorski in 1984.  Harding’s conclusion was that it was an Early Bronze Age, Ring Cairn, one of a number of similar monuments that run across the Rigg.

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Walking on to the Double Dykes, a number of fairly low upright stones can be seen along the earthwork.

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The Hanging Stone sits on the scarp edge of the Rigg overlooking Danby Dale. The rock itself is part of the Dogger Formation, a group of sandstones formed in shallow seas 170-174 million years ago. The stone is covered in graffiti, there are also a number of cup marks, one of which shows signs of being pecked. Given the amount of modern graffiti on the stone it is impossible to say whether the cup marks are prehistoric or modern.

Sources

Prehistoric and Early Medieval Activity on Danby Rigg, North Yorkshire. A.F. Harding with J Ostoja-Zagorski. Royal Archaeological Institute 151, 1994.

The Place Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire. A.H. Smith 1928

Maps reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The Old Hell Way

 

When I dee, for dee I s’all, mind ye carry me to my grave by t’church-road

Street Lane – Water (Great Fryup Beck) -Long Causeway Road – Nun’s Green Lane – High Gill – Fairy Cross Plain – Water (Little Fryup Beck) – Stonebeck Gate Lane – Slate Hill – Church Way – Danby Rigg  – Tofts Lane – Crossroad – St. Hilda’s Church

TOHW path

Choose the wrong path, risk waking The Old Wife.

TOHW path round hill

Round Hill & The Fairy Cross Plain

TOHW path i

Stoups guard the route

TOHW path vii

 The descent into Danby Dale & St Hilda’s Church

Maiden Castle

I’ve visit Maiden Castle a number of times, every time I visit I come away a little more confused.

OS Map 1857

The site is cut into the side of High Harker Hill, above an old Corpse Road, if you weren’t aware of its location you would be unlikely to stumble across it.

Maiden Castle Lidar

There are two long barrows/cairns associated with the enclosure, one is located on high ground to the west of the site, the other is at the eastern end of a massive stone avenue. The barrows are thought to be late Neolithic/Bronze age in date

Two linear mounds of stone up to 1.5m high form a unique feature, an avenue which runs for over 100m from a large ruined barrow to the entrance of the enclosure.

The enclosure ditch is up to 4m deep in places with the bank rising between 4-5m above the ditch. The counterscarp on the south side of the enclosure rises above the rampart top. This means that it is possible to overlook the enclosure from the outside implying that the enclosure was not built for defence.

MC From Hillside s

Inside the enclosure there are two circular settings that are thought to be hut circles. A recent geophysical survey has revealed other possible hut circles within the enclosure. There is also small cist visible within the centre of the structure.

Cist s

Due to its uniqueness and the lack of any dateable material, Archaeologists are unable to suggest a definitive time period for the monument. A date range from the Bronze Age to Romano-British period has been suggested.

This monument should not be seen an an isolated site.  The location of the monument in the wider landscape may give some clues to its purpose.

  • Situated within a landscape that has rich evidence of occupation since the Neolithic period. On the moor above the monument there is a stone circle, ring cairns, cairnfields and linear dykes.
  • Good access to a number of trans-Pennine routes linking the Vale of York with northern & eastern Cumbria
  • Situated within the Pennine ore fields surrounded by deposits of lead, zinc, silver and copper. A pig of lead inscribed with the name of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138) was discovered at the Hurst mine at Marrick. Lead was a valuable and abundant metal in the Roman empire.
  • The road beneath the monument turns south into Wensleydale and leads directly to the Roman fort at Bainbridge (Virosidum) and the junction of up to five Roman roads.
  • Other resources – coal and large quantities of chert. Chert was important resource for making tools in prehistory.  Across the river at Fremington Edge there are sufficient quantities of chert for it to be exploited commercially up until the mid 20th century for use in the Staffordshire pottery industries.

Sources

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

LIDAR survey via data.gov.uk
Reassessment of two late prehistoric sites: Maiden Castle and Greenber Edge in Archaeology and Historic Landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Papers No.2. Mark Bowden and Keith Blood. 2004

Why did the Romans build a fort at Bainbridge?  Swaledale & Arkengarthdale Archaeological Group. 2009

A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1914.

 

 

 

Maiden Castle and West Hagg Swaledale North Yorkshire geophysical surveys. Archaeological Surveys Durham University 2011