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

Lilla Howe

My friend Graham Vasey and I took a walk up to Lilla Howe, Graham was wanting to have a look at Lilla Cross and make some images as part of his ongoing Dainn series, exploring landscape and folklore.

Lilla Howe is classified as a Bowl Barrow, a large burial mound built of turf and stone. It dates from the Bronze Age and is part of a chain of barrows that run from the southern edge of the Esk valley to the Tabular Hills. This and other lines of Barrows on the moors may once have been used as boundary markers, defining the territories or estates of different groups, the mounds of the ancestors, perhaps indicating legitimacy and continuity of ownership. This use continues today as many of the more prominent moorland barrows continue to define modern boundaries.

Lilla Howe is a very ancient and important landmark, it marks the junction of four ancient parishes, Allerston, Fylingdales Moor, Goathland and Lockton. This boundary was first recorded in AD 1078 but may be much older.

The stone cross has a ‘G’ carved into its north face, this signifies Goathland, there is a ‘C’ on the southern face which is thought to represent Cholmley. The Cholmley family took ownership of the land in the sixteenth century following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the estate had previously been owned by Whitby Abbey.

It was also a junction of two significant trackways running south from the coast to the Vale of Pickering, The Old Salt or Fish Road and the Pannier Man’s Way. These tracks are now lost beneath RAF Fylingdales. Lilla Howe continues to be used as a boundary marker, it is a junction for a modern parliamentary constituency boundary.

This section of the moors is also significant as it is the point where the moorland becks and streams run to the south. The northern moors are drained by two major rivers, The Esk and the Leven. The becks and rivers of the southern moors drain into the River Derwent. Derwent Head, the source of the River Derwent is less than a mile south of Lilla Howe.

Lilla Cross sits on top of Lilla Howe, it is one of a few surviving, intact moorland crosses. The tradition is that the cross was erected as a memorial to Lilla, a lord at the court of King Edwin.

The prehistoric burial mound was re-used during the early Medieval period, two Gold discs and four silver strap-ends were found in the mound, these items were used to re-enforce the tradition that this was the burial site of Lilla, therefore dating the cross to the seventh century. Unfortunately the objects found in the mound are Scandinavian in design and date to the tenth century.

Bede’s account of Lilla

there came to the kingdom an assassin whose name was Eomer, who had been sent by Cwichelm, King of the West Saxons, hoping to deprive King Edwin of his Kingdom and his life. He came on Easter Day to the King’s hall which then stood by the River Derwent. He entered the hall on the pretence of delivering a message from his lord, and while the cunning rascal was expounding his pretended mission, he suddenly leapt up, drew the sword from beneath his cloak, and made a rush at the King. Lilla, a most devoted thegn, saw this, but not having a shield in his hand to protect the King from death, he quickly interposed his own body to receive the blow. His foe thrust the weapon with such force that he killed the thegn and wounded the King as well through his dead body.

Etymolgy – Rivers

Derwent – Derived from British derva ‘oak’ Welsh derw &c. The name means ‘river where oaks were common’.

Esk – A British-river name identical with Axe, Exe and with Usk in Wales and Isch and others on the continent. British Isca became Esca, whence OE Esce and Aesce, which gave Esk and with metathesis Exe and Axe…and probably comes from pid-ska or pit-ska the root being pi- in Greek piduo ‘to gush forth’.

Leven – A British river-name identical with Libnios c150 Ptolemy (in Ireland) and Llyfni, Llynfi in Wales. The name may be derived from the adjective for ‘smooth’ found in Welsh llyfn.

Sources

Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930

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

Lilla Cross on Lilla Howe, Fylingdales Moor. Historic England

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Bede. The Ecclesiastic History of the English Nation. 1949

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1974

Tank Road II

A recent online conversation with a friend re-sparked my curiosity about the Tank Road. It’s an area that I’ve visited many times over the years, I’ve always felt that it was an important place but I’ve never fully got to grips with it. So I decided to walk it and try to pull together a description of the area.

I’ve always known it as the Tank Road or Old Tank Road, presumably it got this name from when it was used as a Tank training ground during WWII. The road itself is only 3.5km long, it runs between the main north-south roads to Castleton and Danby. From east to west, the road starts on the main north-south road to Danby and then crosses Gerrick Moor, Tomgate Moor and Middle heads where it meets the Castleton Road at White Cross on Three Howes Ridge.

On walking the road it becomes apparent that it was a busy route in the past, there is evidence of a number of sunken trackways, following the line of the road and joining the road from other routes, this becomes more obvious when you look at the LIDAR images of the area.

Regarding the origins of the road itself. There have been two excellent books written on the trackways of the North York Moors, Old Roads and Pannierways in North East Yorkshire by Raymond H. Hayes and Trods of the North York Moors by Christopher P. Evans. Hayes regards the route as possibly part of the Pannierman’s Causeway from Castleton to Staithes. Evans thinks it is part of a trod from Liverton Moor to Commondale. I suspect this route may have its origins in Prehistory.

Walking from east to west.

The road starts at the bend of the road that runs from the A171 to Danby where there is a small parking area. I definitely would not recommend trying to drive along the road. The road crosses a number water courses, the boggy areas have been filled with building rubble, it’s not unusual to find parts of cars on the side of the road.

The most prominent monument at the start of the road is a large Barrow, one of a group known as Robin Hood’s Butts. Danby Beacon can be seen in the distance in the image above .

The next group of monuments lie just south of the road comprising of a barrow and an embanked circular feature known as an Enclosed Urnfield. The enclosure and barrow date to the Bronze Age. The enclosure was a place where the cremated remains of the dead were placed, often in small pottery vessels. This type of monument is quite rare, they are generally only found in Northern England and Southern Scotland. Only 50 examples are known, 3 of which are within a few minutes walk of the Tank Road.

Photographing many of these prehistoric monuments is quite difficult, most of them are fairly low-lying features, covered in heather on a heather moor. The vegetation is quite low at the moment so this is probably the best time of the year to visit and once you get you eye in they are not to difficult to spot. I’ve included a few Open Access LIDAR images as they give a better idea of the form of the monuments.

To the north of the road is a large standing stone. The stone is unusual as it is ‘L’ shaped and its surface has fossil ripple marks on its surface. There are no obvious outcrops of stone on this part of the moor, but there is an outcrop with similar ripple marks on the western flanks of Siss Cross Hill just under 2km away. Perhaps this was the source of the stone.

In the top image, behind the standing stone, you can see the large burial mound of Herd Howe in the middle distance and beyond that Freebrough Hill. Just below Herd Howe is an enclosure that dates to the Iron Age. I have previously written an account of the enclosure, Herd Howe and the nearby Cross Dyke.

On my last two walks along the road I have seen quite a number of geese. I presume they are overwintering here. On my last visit this pair flew towards me honking, circled me and then headed back to Dimmingdale.

Leaving the road I followed a track south to have a look at Siss Cross. The cross is a crude unworked upright stone, it may be a replacement for the original cross. Running down the hill from the cross are a number of sunken trackways, perhaps the cross was a route-marker. Back in the 19th Century local Antiquarian J.C Atkinson discovered what he described as a flint tool making site just south of Siss Cross. He collected enough flint tools and debitage to fill ‘half a fair sized fishing basket’. The flint tools are thought to have been made by Mesolithic hunter gatherers. The site would have been a good place for a hunting camp, it is well drained and has a large viewshed, even on a muggy day I was able to look along the Esk Valley and make out the distinctive profile of the RAF site on Fylingdales Moor over 21km away.

I headed back to the Tank Road via the Trig point on the top of Siss Cross Hill. There is another Enclosed Urnfield with associated Barrows here. Unlike the previous enclosure this one is oval in shape and quite large 38x20m. Interestingly, the enclosure and the two associated barrows are aligned on the western-most Barrow of the Robin Hood’s Butts group. This alignment is also roughly the direction of the Midsummer sunrise and Midwinter sunset. The enclosure is also intervisible with the third Enclosed Urnfield on Moorsholm Rigg.

I walked back onto the road from Siss Hill and followed it down into Ewe Crag Slack. The slack is a former glacial drainage channel and is generally quite boggy. The keepers and the farmer struggle to keep the road passable down here, the place is a jumble of boulders, concrete posts and deep muddy ruts.

Ewe Crag Slack is a significant location in the study of prehistory on the moors as it was one of a number of places where Paleoenvironmental pollen cores were taken from the peat and the sediments below it. The data from Ewe Crag helped provide evidence that the people who lived here during the Mesolithic period may have been actively managing the land. The pollen cores showed evidence of forest destruction and subsequent soil erosion, this combined with charcoal deposits suggests that people may have been creating forest clearings much earlier that was previously thought.

I noticed this boulder by the side of the road. The boulder has been broken but you can see that it’s original form was rounded. The rock type looks like a fine grained igneous rock, basalt or andesite. I presume it is a glacial erratic. It’s curious because less than a kilometre away, at Dimmingdale, is a barrow that was excavated in the 19th Century by J.C. Atkinson, the same antiquarian who found the Siss Cross Flints. Atkinson wrote that the barrow contained ‘blocks of basalt from the Cleveland Dyke’. It is possible that the stones came from the Cleveland Dyke, the nearest potential outcrop that I’m aware of is at Scale Cross 4.2km away, where it was quarried in the modern era. I wonder if the barrow stones may have originated closer to home as glacial erratics washed-down to Dimmingdale when the ice began to melt. One for further research.

Walking the final section of the road to White Cross my camera battery died. The final 2 images were taken when wandering the road in 2017, they are a Danby-Moorsholm guidestone & White Cross.

Resources

Lidar Maps – Open Data Maps

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

Trods of the North York Moors by Christopher P. Evans. 2008

Early Man in North-East Yorkshire by Frank Elgee. 1930

Excavated Bronze Age Burial Mounds of North East Yorkshire by M.J.B Smith. 1994

Along The Esk. A Guide to the Mining Geology of the Esk Valley by Denis Goldring. 2006

A contribution to the late quaternary ecological history of Cleveland, North-East Yorkshire by R.L. Jones

Historic England

Easington High Moor

Slack –  a shallow valley

Swang – a boggy or marshy area

Beck – a small stream

Rigg – a ridge

Bield – a sheep shelter

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Easington High Moor, Roxby High Moor and Black Dike Moor form one of my favourite places on the North York Moors. They are an expanse of heather moorland, wetland and grassy moorland. It is difficult to say where one moor finishes and another starts, the boundaries are loosely defined by the Slacks and Riggs.

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I follow the old peat road that runs beside the ancient barrow of Sail Howe. Beside the track are a couple of  large, unnamed, boundary stones.

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Wooden shooting stands march along the edge of the slack. Heather has been machine- cut in a number areas of the moor such as the one above defining the boundary of an area of burning.  A days grouse shooting on the moor in August and September will set you back £23,250. This includes a mid morning snack and lunch f or a party of 8 guns. source

1I pass one of the two Good Goose Thorne boundary stones that can be found on the moor. The beautifully mason-lettered stone stands beside it’s ancient predecessor.  The path leads me across a section of Black Dike Moor marked as Horse Flesh on the old OS maps. I then drop down to the stepping stones across Black Dike Slack and walk up onto Temple Beeld Hill.

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Temple Beeld Hill, is barely a hill. On the higher ground is Temple Beeld itself. The North York Moors has many wonderful sites, what ever its origins, this one is definitely worth a visit.

Frank Elgee’s account and sketch plan of Temple Beeld

.. the most remarkable stones known to me occur on Temple Beald Hill on Black Dyke Moor, north of the village of Lealholm. Here, on a slight elevation between two boggy valleys, a quincunx arrangement of ancient menhirs has been converted into a cross- shaped beald or sheep shelter, shown on the annexed diagram. Originally, the site appears to have been occupied by five stones which are from four to five feet high ; those at C, D and in the centre, being thin and flat, and roughly shaped, whilst the two remaining stones at A and B are more regular and rectangular in form. High stone walls at a later period have been built between the ancient stones ; the wall from A to B is straight, and about thirty-five yards long ; and the wall from C to D decidedly curved and about twenty-two yards in length. This arrangement of the walls gives ample shelter to the moor sheep, and at one time the centre was partly roofed in — the timbers of an old thatch still lie in an irregular manner across the central angles. That the five stones are of pre-historic origin is highly probable, seeing that the central one has distinct cup-like markings at the top of the only side visible. The name Temple, too, is suggestive of some ancient circle of stones, for whatever purpose constructed. It may also be remarked that the four stones are not built into the ends of the walls, but stand off a few inches in distinct hollows in the ground. Temple Beald is the simplest type of stone circle upon the moors, where they are far from common.

Elgee

Isn’t Quincunx a wonderful word?

In his 1987 book, Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North York Moors, Stanhope White describes how he surveyed Temple Beeld and sent the results to the Royal Observatory to ascertain whether the site had any astronomical alignments, none were found.

I’m sceptical regarding the Prehistoric origins of Temple Beeld as a monument. Three of the large standing may have been erected in prehistory but I suspect they may have been re-used and possibly relocated to create the sheep shelter around a central earth-fast stone. The cup-like marks that Elgee mentions appear to be the result of natural weathering. That said, I hope that one day someone proves me wrong because I love this place.

‘Noble ruins stand only where virgin stone is plentiful’

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On my return I call in on the Nan Stone located on the edge of Hardale Slack above the Roxby Peat Holes.  The stone has its name carved into it, faded but still legible. As with the Good Goose Thorn, the stone stands beside an earth fast boulder. The older stone has a cross carved into it. I have seen this on other moorland stones, I have also seen these crosses explained as the ‘christianisation’ of an ancient pagan stone. I suspect that the explanation is far simpler and involves the marking of the stone to identify it as a boundary stone. I am planning to write a blog post soon exploring these boundary stones and their meaning.

These three moors are a place that I am constantly revisiting, over the years I have learned much about the North York Moors by walking their tracks and revisiting their sites. A first glance these Moors may appear to be a featureless places, set foot on them and you’ll soon learn that this is not the case.

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Sources

The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire – Frank Elgee. 1912

Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North York Moors – Stanhope White. 1987

Chasing the Solstice Sun

On an overcast Solstice day, I go looking for one of Frank Elgees prehistoric settlement sites in the Commondale Beck valley

Limekilns are few and far between on the northern moorsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tall solitary pines are also a rarity.

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Sunlight briefly breaks through, a moment of joy

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The sound of the train fills the valley

The settlement site sits on a terrace overlooking the Commondale Beck. Elgee found other sites on located on the same terrace on both sides of the river.

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An old hollow way leads to one of the many rocky outcrops on the valley side, a quarry for field walls and butts.

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Clouds are moving rapidly westwards across the moors, I catch a glimpse of the sun.

An alignment of grouse butts runs across the moor, tops covered with fresh turfs.

The moor is sodden, there is a possible alignment of standing stones on the moor top

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I return to the road, blue skies can be seen through a break in the clouds above the Kildale Gap, I head west.

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On the edge of the escarpment I encounter the sun, I drink tea and bask in its warmth.

Ramsdale, The Grey Horse Stone & The Old Wife’s Neck

..Knox was perhaps the first to recognise the stone triangle. He records one from Ramsdale Hill Top, Two miles west-south-west of Robin Hood’s Bay made of stones 4-6 feet high..another near Stoup Brow forms an acute triangle, the tallest stone known as the Grey Horse Stone being not more than 5 feet high.

Early Man in NE Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930

Wandering in land of the divine Hag

It all started a few years ago when I was studying a map drawn by Robert Knox. Knox’s map was published in 1849 and titled; A map of the country round Scarborough, in the North & East Ridings of Yorkshire : from actual trigonometrical survey with topographical geological and antiquarian descriptions / by Robert Knox, of Scarborough formerly marine surveyor to the East India Company, on the Bengal establishment. 

1849 Knox Map

What caught my eye was a stone at a junction of a number of tracks on Sneaton Low Moor called Old Wife’s Stone. This stone doesn’t feature on any subsequent maps and I couldn’t find reference to it in the modern literature. A few years ago I went looking for the stone and found nothing. My thoughts turned to it recently when it was announced that Sirius Minerals had been given permission to sink a mine at Sneaton. I knew that the road where the stone had been located would be used as an access road to the mine site and therefore, over time, could potentially be widened to take the heavy vehicles accessing the site. I decided to have another look for the stone before any improvement work took place.

As on my previous visits, the only stones I could find were a couple of upright stones that had probably once served as gateposts and a stone carved with a ‘C’ and an ‘X’ marking the boundary of the Cholmley estate, this boundary was also the Medieval boundary of the Whitby Abbey lands. Having found nothing, I decided to head out onto the moor and follow the track south along Shooting House Rigg.

Even in summer the moor here is boggy and is not particularly popular with walkers. Picking my way through the stands of low, gnarly pines I was visited by at least a dozen large, curious, iridescent dragonflies, none would stay still enough to be photographed. Standing in this low wood in a bog surrounded by these beautiful insects with the sea-fret blowing across the moor was a magical other-worldly experience.

One returning to the path, I noticed dozens of chirruping Stonechats perched upon the stone wall, as I approached they would fly on a few yards ahead of me, announcing my presence on the moor.

Boardwalk

A boardwalk has recently been built to help walkers cross a particularly boggy section, the bleached timber contrasted against the red grass gives the structure a sculptural feel, it also makes a very satisfying sound as you walk across it.

Decoy

The moor on this northern section was used as a bombing decoy site during WWII, these sites were known as QL Sites. The site  was comprised of rows of lights to give the impression of buildings and factories when seen from the air by enemy bombers . Amongst the QL sites were also Starfish Decoy Sites which simulated bomb damage by setting fires and producing smoke.  The remains of these sites can be seen on the ground as a series of low trenches, they are best appreciated on aerial photographs such as the one above.

Heading south I came to an empty stone socket, this is all that remains of John Cross, a Medieval moorland cross. The last time I was here there was a stone marked with the Cholmley ‘C’ stuffed clumsily into the base. This stone is now laying nearby. I also noticed another stone with a worked section that would fit into the socket and wondered if this could be the remains of the original cross. A few mason-cut stones poked through the turf indicating the location of the pedestal marked on the first OS map of the area, published in 1853.

1853 OS Map

I followed the path down to one of my favourite places on the North York Moors, The Cross Ridge Earthworks and the standing stones known as The Old Wife’s Neck.

1895 OS Map

In Archaeological terms the earthwork is classed as a Prehistoric Cross Ridge Boundary comprising an impressive series of three parallel banks and ditches running across a spur of land for almost a kilometer. To the west of the dykes is a large cairnfield, old maps also show cairnfields to the north and south of the dykes, much of which was probably destroyed by the multiple trackways across the moor coupled with clearances by the War Department  during WWII when the moor was used as a military training ground.

Update. Recent work by Archaeologist, Blaise Vyner, and his team, has suggested that there may have been far fewer cairns in this area and that the original OS surveyors may have been mistaken.

The site has a personal significance to me, it contains a pair of standing stones one of which is the Old Wife’s Neck. I consider this anthropomorphic megalith represents the Divine Hag of the North York Moors, The Old Wife, who is also known in the north of our islands as Carlin and Cailleach, a primal, supernatural being. I have written about the Old Wife/Cailleach elsewhere so I’ll not bore you with any more of my ranting here.

After spending a little time with The Old Wife I walked down to the wide deep valley of Biller Howe Dale Slack. The slack is a remnant from the last Ice Age, when it was formed by water overflowing from an ice dammed lake in the upper Iburndale valley.

Frank Elgee reported that hundreds of flint arrowheads were found in Biller Howe Dale and uses this as evidence for prehistoric warfare. I have followed up on Elgee’s source (The Gentleman’s Magazine 1857 ii 445-7) and there is no mention of the flint finds, the reference is actually to an article on the great Yorkshire antiquities forger Flint Jack.  During my visit I did find evidence of warfare in one of the erosion scars. Unfortunately it was modern warfare, remnants from when this part of the moor was used as a training ground during the preparations for the D-Day landings in 1944.

A handful of bullets

Sources

Maps maps.nls.uk

Aerial Photography zoom.earth

Cross-Ridge Boundaries on Fylingdales Moor: John Cross Rigg & Latter Gate Hills. Blaise Vyner. Prehistoric Yorkshire 58, 2021.

Postscript

On further researching the Old Wife’s Stone I found this passage in Robert Knox’s book Descriptions, geological, topographical and antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire, between the rivers Humber and Tees.

Hannah Hagget

Crown End

This morning I headed over to Westerdale Moor. I’ve been visiting this moor for many years and have always had the place to myself. As I walked up to the moor from Hob Hole I noticed a group of estate workers over on Little Hograh Moor, I made a small bet with myself that I’d be getting a visit from a gamekeeper within half an hour of setting foot on the moor.

The heather is in full bloom and the moors look stunning, after a few short minutes my boots were covered in a fine dusting of heather pollen. Later I encountered thousands of tiny bees congregating on a sandy bank at the side of the path, I presume these were Miner bees making the most of the pollen harvest.

My first landmark on the moor was the standing stone which can be seen from the footpath on the west end of the moor, this stone is below the crest of the ridge and is about 1.2m  tall

Due north of the stone and about 100m over the ridge of the moor is an alignment of standing stones and boulders that runs for about 70m towards the Baysdale Beck, also known as the Hob Hole Beck. This alignment has  been interpreted as a Bronze Age boundary and features in Blaise Vyner’s inventory of Cross Ridge Boundaries.

Returning to the path I noticed an object embedded in the dry mud at the side of the track. It was a Swiss Army knife, it had obviously been there for a while and had a name dymo-taped onto it, Roger Pybus. I pocketed the knife and a minute or two later noticed a large 4×4 pickup heading across the moor towards me, less than half and hour, I had won my bet.

Roger Pybus

I walked up to the pickup and had a chat with the keeper. He was friendly enough and told me that he was checking to ensure that I wasn’t going to have a barbecue or fly a drone over the moor. He told me about the sculpture that his boss had erected on the far horizon. I told him that I was more interested in standing stones and asked him if Roger Pybus was one of the blokes he worked with, he said he was so I gave him the knife to return to its’ owner.

Seated Man

On the skyline, Seated Man, a sculpture by Sean Henry commissioned by the estate owner David Ross and erected on Castleton Rigg. To the right of the sculpture are a group of visitors.

Cairn

The keeper, satisfied that I wasn’t a hungry drone pilot, went on his way and I continued  eastward across the moor. This side of the moor is dotted with low cairns and banks.

My next destination was the large embanked enclosure on eastern end of the moor. The enclosure is located on fairly level ground just before it dips down into the valley to where the River Esk meets the Baysdale Beck.

The Enclosure is about 40m square with fairly well defined walls. The walls are made of stones with the occasional large upright stone on the inner face. The walls stand at about 1.5m high and 2-3m wide. There is a 3m entrance on the east side. The general consensus is that the structure is Iron Age in date, but this is not certain.

I spent a little time walking around the enclosure and admiring the views along the Esk Valley to Castleton and then headed back to the road and Hob Hole via the Esk Valley Walk footpath.

Regarding the relationship between Hob Hole and the prehistoric remains, Stanhope White makes this observation

..the belief in a race of little men who lived under the earth may stem from the first interaction of the Celts with the indigenous Bronze Age people. When from time to time, a howe was opened for some purpose, possibly to win stone, if the so-called incense cups were found, they were regarded as proof of the presence of little men.

The North York Moors. An Introduction. Stanhope White. 1979

Urn Upleatham

Elgee Map

Frank Elgee’s map of Crown End.

maps

A lidar image and aerial view of the Crown End enclosure

Scarth Wood Moor

I took a trip, with my friends Emily and Martyn, to Scarth Wood Moor today to look for the Seven Stones. Unfortunately we all assumed that someone else would bring a map, which none of us did.

I tried and failed to convince Martyn that it is possible to navigate a moor using Rowan trees. Emily demonstrated her pareidolic skills, collected some bones and told us tales of hunting Warthogs.

The Seven Stones were discovered by Frank Elgee in the 1930s,  The stones are the most visible part of a number of orthostat walls. The moor has been a busy place in the past, there are recent stone quarries, small enclosures and burial mounds. Flints have been found on the moor that are characteristic of the late Mesolithic. All of this within sight of a popular tourist spot for Teesside day trippers known locally as Sheepwash.

Easington Moor – Middle Rigg

Danby Beacon

Easington Moor (Danby Low Moor) can be a pretty damp place at the best of times, after recent rains the moor is well sodden. Crossing the moor is difficult, large tracts of sedge, cottongrass and sphagnum are best avoided. Away from the keepers tracks, walking a straight line between any two points on the moor without stepping into a bog is almost impossible

This area of the moor is rich in prehistoric monuments, I wanted to see if I could find a triangular stone setting described by Frank Elgee in his 1930 book, Early Man in NE Yorkshire.

Elgee’s description.. It lies immediately east of the large barrow..The stones form a right-angled triangle, one side of which is about 30 yards long, the other two about 24 yards. The stones are 5-7 feet long with broad bases.  

I was only able to locate one of Elgee’s stones, the photo above shows the stone with the barrow in the background. The barrow is unusual as it has been constructed on a low platform.

A series of embanked, segmented pits are roughly aligned on the barrow. The description below is taken from English Heritage’s Record of Scheduled Monument

The pit alignment on Middle Rigg runs approximately parallel to the line of three barrows, about 120m to the north east. It is in two main sections, slightly offset from each other, with the 23m gap between the two sections lying opposite the central barrow. Each section of the pit alignment is further subdivided into segments, with each segment typically having between two and four pairs of pits flanked to the NNE and SSW by a pair of banks. Each segment is divided from the next by a slight change in direction, or a small break in the flanking banks. The two lines of paired pits are typically centred 10m apart and are up to 3m in diameter with the banks 12m to 18m apart and up to 1m high. The western section of the pit alignment is 138m long and includes 34 pits arranged in four shorter segments. The eastern section is 115m long and has 30 pits divided between five segments. The pits are associated with three large barrows on the same NNE-SSW alignment.

Archaeologist Blaise Vyner describes the pit alignment as sealing a spur of land occupied by the Three Howes and therefore one of  a group of monuments found on the the Moors called Cross Ridge Boundary Monuments.

Just north of the pits and barrows is a large standing stone known as the Long Stone. The stone about 2 meters tall. I’ve never been sure whether this stone is prehistoric or not. It’s sides have been squared and it has a semi-circular carved area on its south face. The sheer size of the stone and the un-squared deeply weathered top indicate that it is quite ancient and not a typical estate boundary stone, as to its origins, who knows?

Sources

The brides of place: cross ridge boundaries reviewed. Blaise Vyner 1995

Early Man in N.E. Yorkshire. Frank Elgee 1930

Pastscape