Some moorland stones

I took a trip over to Glaisdale to visit one on my favourite North York Moors standing stones. This rarely visited, tall, beautiful stone is one of a pair of upright stones located on Glaisdale Swang

Swang – a boggy stretch of land.

When I arrive at the stone I’m confronted by an anxious pheasant hen who starts running in circles around me, a tactic designed to distract me while her brood of chicks scatter for the shelter of the nearby heather.

I can see another stone on the moor edge in the distance, I know that this will probably be a guide stone but probably isn’t good enough, I head for the higher ground. The ground is marshy, so I zig zag my way up the narrowing valley following the lush green carpet of bilberry, which tends to grow on the better drained ground. Curlews and lapwings rise in alarm and noisily track my progress as I move from one birds territory to another. Towards the top of the swang, a large hare breaks cover.

As I move onto the high moor, guide stones mark the track. Many of these stones date to the 18th century, others may possibly be far older. On October 2nd, 1711, the Justices sitting at Northallerton ordered that guide posts should be erected throughout the North Riding.

A solitary pine tree on the moor top, its branches indicate the direction of the prevailing winds.

Walking across across the high moor towards Glaisdale I encounter a couple of low standing stones, one of which is close to a low mound. These stones are not on the track and are too small to be guide stones. Another group of large stones look as through they were once standing but it is difficult to say much more about them.

This guide stone was carved and erected by Thomas Harwood about 1735. Harwood erected four other similar stones on Glaisdale Rigg. The stone appears to be housed in an old cross base. It is possible to make out the inscriptions on the north and east faces, they read Gisbrogh Road and Whitby Road. The other two faces are illegible, Stanhope White writes that the south face reads Glaisdale Road TH.

Walking over to the edge of Glaisdale I find this beautiful orthostatic wall, a real joy. About a century ago, many of the original field walls, across the moor and dales, were rebuilt by professional wallers, this wall may be a survivor of an earlier age.

In his book, Some Reminiscences & Folk Lore of Danby Parish & District, Joseph Ford writes of Stone-Rearing Days. These were occasions when a farmers neighbours gathered together to build walls around newly-enclosed fields. Ford thinks that this tradition may stretch as far back in time to the original settlers of the moorland dales.

D. A. Spratt YAJ 60 1988

Etymology

Glaisdale – YN [Glasedale 12 Guisb. Glasedal 1223, Glasdale 1228 FF] ‘The valley of R Glas’

OW gleis, Welsh glais ‘stream’

Glas is a British river-name derived from the Welsh glas ‘blue, green, grey’

Sources

Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore & Customs. R Blakeborough. W Rapp & Sons Ltd. 1911

The North York Moors. An Introduction by Stanhope White. The Dalesman Publishing Co. 1979

Some Reminiscences & Folk Lore of Danby Parish & District. Joseph Ford. M.T.D. Rigg Publications. 1990

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Placenames. E Ekwall. 1974

Orthostatic Field Walls on the North York Moors. D.A. Spratt. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal No. 60 1988

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

Nine Stones

9 stones xvi

The Hambleton Street is an ancient ridgeway that runs along the western edge of the North York Moors escarpment. A document in the Rievaulx Chartulary refers to the road as a ‘Regalis Via’ or ‘King’s Way’. According to KJ Bonser “it is the best preserved stretch of drove road in Yorkshire, – part of a track of great antiquity, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Romano- British, from the Channel to Scotland.”

9 stones xv

The street passes along the eastern edge of Thimbleby Moor before climbing along the edge of Black Hambleton. The hill dominates the views to the east, to the west the moor looks out over the Vale of Mowbray towards the distant Pennines.

9 Stones iUntil recently a large section of the moor was covered with forestry. The trees have been harvested leaving this area of the moor covered in tree stumps and debris.

9 StonesIn the late 1970s Spratt and Brown undertook an aerial survey of the moor and reported  “an extensive system of small irregular fields with tumbled stone walls covering large parts of the northern slope of the recently burnt off heather moor.  The are also a few round cairns. To the south, on the crest of the moor, there are four standing stones and some fallen megaliths (The Nine Stones), perhaps the remains of a double alignment leading to the site.”

The Nine Stones site is bisected by a stone wall, open moorland on one side, the remains of modern forestry on the other. Old maps show the majority of the Nine Stones located on the forestry side of the wall.

Map

There are a number large stones lying prone in the tangled chaos of the forestry clearance. The weathering patterns on a few of these stones indicates that they may have once stood upright.

The moor has a number of areas that are littered with stones. It is almost impossible not to see alignments amongst these stones, most are coincidental, others may be deliberate. The alignment below terminates at a small standing stone and appears to refer to the distant barrow topped peak on Cringle Moor. This is also a very rough alignment on the summer solstice sunrise.

9 stones iiA low embankment runs across the moor from a small standing stone towards Black Hambleton. This is probably one of Spratt & Browns field walls.

9 stones xivAnother alignment of small upright stones points to where Hambleton Street traverses the shoulder of Black Hambleton. The stones are also roughly aligned to the winter solstice sunrise.

9 stones x

In common with a number of the moorland prehistoric sites the exact nature of Nine Stones is unknown, a number of people have tried to interpret the site but without  further study and excavation we will never know its true nature. The alignments I have mentioned are all my own opinion and are extremely imprecise and unproven.

Sources

Old Roads and Pannierways in North East Yorkshire. Raymond H. Hayes. 1988

The Yorkshire Archaeological Register 1976. The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 49. 1977

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The Hanging Stone

hanging stone

The Hanging Stone is a large rocky outcrop of the Staithes Sandstone Group. The outcrop lies at the northern end of Ryston Bank. The steep sided outcrop has the appearance of a huge natural altar, the flat-topped platform has extensive uninteruppted views over the Tees Valley, Guisborough and the coast to the North and East. The recent clearance of the modern forestry plantation also allows views to Roseberry Topping and the Cleveland Hills. The remains of Hanging Stone wood sml

I have not been able to establish the origin of the name Hanging Stone but the are many sites across Britain that bear the same name, including many on the North York Moors, some refer to similar outcrops and others to single standing stones, the most famous being Stonehenge. I think the most obvious explanation of the name is that these outcrops, often famed for being local viewpoints, simply ‘hang’ over the landscape. Eilert Ekwall, a renown researcher of the origins of place names investigated the origins of the village of Hanging Chedder in Lancashire, he discovered previous references to the name as Hingande and Hengande, simply meaning ‘steep’. hanging stonei

What particularly interests me is the possible significance this outcrop may have had to our prehistoric ancestors. There is a trackway which runs below the outcrop, the trackway runs from Hutton Lowcross to Great Ayton Moor and Roseberry Topping, both areas of activity during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age periods. Along and aligned to this track are the remains of four Bronze Age burial mounds. This may indicate that the track marked a significant boundary during the Bronze age and the monuments were placed on this highly visible ridge as a territorial marker.

Placing burial mounds along the top of a prominent ridge would announce the presence of the ancestors of the people who lived there, legitimising ownership of the territory. The alignment of burial mounds is a common occurrence on the North York Moors, Frank Elgee surveyed and mapped many groups on the NYM for his book Early Man In North East Yorkshire, published in 1930. In the 1980’s  Don Spratt published a study on North Yorkshire moorland barrow alignments and concluded that they could possibly mark Bronze Age territorial boundaries. Hanging Stone map

Archaeologist Richard Bradley, amongst others, has discussed the origins of prehistoric monuments and their connection with natural features such as rock outcrops. Perhaps the Hanging Stone was a place of significance to the hunter gatherers of the Mesolithic period and this significance has been carried across the millennia to be finally encoded in the ritual landscape of our Bronze Age ancestors. Evidence of Mesolithic hunter gatherer groups using prominent view points as temporary camps has been found at nearby sites such as Highcliff Nab, Eston Nab and Beacon Moor, all of which are intervisible from the Hanging Stone. All of these sites are also associated with later prehistoric activity and monuments.  As Bradley states, ‘Landscapes can be monuments and monuments can be landscapes.’ hanging stoneii

Whatever the origins of the Hanging Stone, it is only a short walk from Hutton Lowcross and it’s a great place to sit and take in the landscape.

References

The Place Names of Lancashire. Eilert Ekwall 1922

Early Man in North Yorkshire. Frank Elgee 1930

Prehistoric Boundaries on the North Yorkshire Moors. Don Spratt 1981

The Significance of Monuments. Richard Bradley 1998