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

Rey Cross ii

OE stan ‘stone, stones’ is a very common pl. el. It is used alone as a pl. n. in STAINES, STEANE, STONE, where a Roman milestone or some prominant stone of another kindmay be referred to.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1959

I recently took a trip over the Pennines to Cumbria. On the way home I stopped on Stainmore to have a look at Rey’s Cross. The Cross is located in a lay-by beside the A66. The A66 crosses the Pennines through the Stainmore Gap, a Pennine pass that was created by the flow of ice sheets during past glacial periods.

Historically, This part of Stainmore has always been important. The moor is rich in late Prehistoric remains. It was also the site of a large Roman marching camp, within the ruins of the camp is a wrecked prehistoric stone circle. Legend has it that the stone cross was raised as a memorial to Eric Bloodaxe, the last king of York, who was slain on the moor in 954.

Eric_Bloodaxe_coin_b

The cross, situated near the highest point of Stainmore, is close to an ancient county boundary, is a weathered shaft set into a substantial stone base and is thought to date to the early anglo saxon period. The name`Rey’ is thought to have been derived from the Old Norse element `hreyrr’ which can be taken to mean a heap of stones forming a boundary.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the earliest references to the stone is from The Chronicle of Lanercost where it is call ” Rer Cros in Staynmor ” The chronicler states that it was set up as a boundary marker. The boundary was between the Westmoringas and the Northumbrians, the Glasgow diocesan border, before that it marked the border between the Cumbrians and the Northumbrians.

map

The antiquarian William Camden tells us ” This stone was set up as a boundary between England and Scotland, when William (the Conqueror) first gave Cumberland to the Scots.”  Camden was incorrect, at the time of the Norman conquest much of Cumberland was already under Scot’s rule. The historic county of Cumberland was not established until 1177, however the stone could still have marked the boundary of the territory.

The A99 was widened in the early 1990’s so in 1990 the stone was moved from the south side of the road to its present site on the north side. An archaeological survey and excavation was undertaken as part of a wider archaeological project, sadly no burial was found beneath or around the stone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What fascinates me about this stone is that it marks a place that has been significant to the people of our islands for thousands of years. The people of the Neolithic period used this as route way between the east and west coasts. Later, the people bronze age erected a stone circle close to the site. Later still, the Romans heavily fortified road to guard the legions marching between Catterick and Penrith and it has remained the primary northern trans-pennine link ever since.  A hundred or so metres west of the stone is the modern east/west boundary between Cumbria and Durham and the route was also once the medieval border between Scotland and England. East meets west, north meets south all within sight of the weather-beaten old stone.

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