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…
..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
From Descriptions Geological, Topographical & Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire by Robert Knox. 1855
A new project – Prehistoric Postcards
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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
The Magic Egg
The remaining Druid story in Pliny relates to a magic egg, the anguinum: reputedly made by the spittle and secretions of angry snakes, esteemed by the Druids and believed to ‘ensure success in law-courts and a favourable reception by princes’. Now Pliny had been shown an anguinum: ‘it was round and about as large as a smallish apple; the shell was cartilaginous and pocked very like the arms of a polypus’. A sea-urchin, denuded of its spines and fresh or fossil, has been suggested, but unconvincingly, since this would surely have been recognised for what it was by Pliny, and does not really accord with the description. A preferable alternative would be the ball of agglomerated empty egg-cases of a Whelk (Buccinum), which has a parchment-like texture and nodulated surface, for since Buccinum is a genus confined to Atlantic and northern waters, its egg-cases, common enough objects on a North Gaulish or British beach, might be quite unfamiliar to a Mediterranean naturalist, and so capable of being endowed for him with magic powers.
Thames & Hudson 1975