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.


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

Saltergate Moor Cairnfield and Stone Row

After visiting the Newtondale Spring, Graeme and I took a walk over to Saltergate Moor to have a look at the cairnfield and find a Bronze Age stone row. We took the footpath through the fields beneath Saltergate Brow to the moor edge.

Saltergate Brow  The margins of the moor are extremely wet and we had make our way across a small bog to reach the moor. Once on the moor we started to encounter a number of cairns and upright stones, many of which were propped up by smaller stones.

Upright Stone

This beautiful tree is growing out the middle of a cairn. The RAF Fylindales ‘pyramid’ is visible in the distance.

Cairn Tree

The summit of Blakey Topping and Whinny Nab from the moor

Blakey Topping and Whinny Nab

We eventually found an alignment of stones that matched the Historic England description of the stone row.

Saltergate Stone Row

There is another alignment of three stones running at 90 degrees from the southern most stone

Saltgergate stones

We walked back along the path from the moor passing a large pond that contained more frogs than I have ever seen in my life. There we so many that we were able to hear them croaking even though we were a few yards away from the pond.

As we left the moor we noticed a large Larsen trap beside the pond, there were no birds in the trap but it set me to thinking. The moor has no sheep on it but whilst we were there we found one freshly dead sheep and a couple more piled up beside a ruined stone hut on the edge of the moor. These dead animals must have been moved onto the moor for some reason. Earlier that day we saw a beautiful buzzard soaring over Newtondale, I just hope that the dead animals and the  Larsen Trap had nothing to do with this magnificent bird.

Dead sheep

A description of the Cairnfield and Stone Row can be found on the Historic England website here

The unctuous sweat of the sun

Following a large moorland fire in 2003, my friend Graeme Chappell and I took a walk across Fylingdales Moor to look for unrecorded prehistoric carved rocks. The fire had burned so intensely that, in a number of areas, much of the peat had been removed revealing the prehistoric land surface below. During our visit we found the three items in the photograph below.  A small worked flint, a fragment of medieval Scarborough ware pottery and an amber pebble. The pebble was found within a previously unrecorded prehistoric ring cairn.

Stoup Brow moor finds

The pebble is a beautiful object to hold and roll around in the hand, it is one of my favorite finds.

Baltic amber, transported by glacial action, can be found on British beaches but how the pebble found its way into a prehistoric ring cairn 260m above sea level is not known.  We know that in prehistory both amber and jet were much used, amber beads have been excavated from Upper Paleolithic sites in Germany which have been dated to 15,000 BCE. Baltic amber has been traded and distributed throughout Europe from the Neolithic period to the present day.

It is possible that the pebble was deposited on the moor by glacial action. It is also possible that someone may have deliberately placed the pebble within the monument. Given that our ancestors placed a value on amber I would like to think that the latter possibility was the more likely, a small offering placed within a funerary monument as an act of protection or remembrance.

Both jet and amber are known to have been attributed magical powers in more recent times – mainly, it is thought, because of their electrostatic properties. Rub them, and they develop a static charge. Jet and amber were used for amulets by the Romans and Vikings, and were widely employed in the Middle Ages and down to the recent past for healing, divination or for turning away evil spirits.

Alison Sheridan. British Archaeology Magazine. May 2003

I’d definitely recommend Graeme Chappell and Paul Browns wonderful book about the Prehistoric Rock Art of the North Yorkshire Moors.