On the Grit

Moors

Are a stage

for the performance of heaven.

The audience is incidental.

A chess-world of top-heavy Kings and Queens

Circling in stilted majesty

tremble the bog-cotton

Under the sweep of their robes.

Ted Hughes

Pretty much at the top of my post-lockdown visit list was a trip to visit Jenny Twigg and her Daughter Tibb and the Sypeland Crags in Upper Nidderdale. Following a minor navigational blunder, nothing new for me, I met up with Mr. Chappell and Mr. Vasey and we set off across Fountains Earth Moor.

Travel almost anywhere in the Pennines and their foothills, you’ll see crags and cliffs defining the upper slopes of the Pennine Dales and hilltops. These outcrops are generally composed of either sandstones or limestone. Millstone Grit is a generic term for a number of Pennine sandstones. Both the sandstones and the limestone were deposited over 300 million years ago during the Carboniferous Period.

At first, with some spread of warm shallow seas, limestone formed, the Carboniferous or Mountain Limestone that was to be built into some of the most solid and respectable piles in England, buttresses of its pride and self confidence. The work of silting up these Carboniferous seas was completed by deposits brought from the northern continent of Atlantis, then hot, mountainous and swept by monsoons. A large river with tributaries drawn from territories stretching from the north of Scotland to Norway poured out its coarse sediments across north-eastern England. So were Norwegian pebbles brought to Yorkshire and held in the Millstone Grits that were laid down as the deltas of this northern river.

Jacquetta Hawkes.

The Pennine limestones are massive and dense and form great scars where they outcrop along the scarp edges of the hills. Limestone can be weathered chemically, the weakly acidic rains and rivers of the uplands gradually dissolves the limestone to form the deep gorges and caves and the iconic limestone pavements of the Karst landscapes of the Pennine Uplands.

When Millstone Grits outcrop on the scarp edges they tend to form crags and cliffs. These sandstones are resistant to chemical weathering so are eroded by wind and ice. the weather is able to erode the weaker beds within the sandstones and sculpt the rocks into strange shapes. There are many of these sculpted outcrops along the Pennine edges and tops, almost all were formed during the last Ice Age, the most well known being Brimham Rocks which is now owned by the National Trust and has been a popular tourist attraction for many generations.

Sypeland Crags are little known and somewhat off the tourist beat and track, this was evident by the lack of ancient or modern graffitti on the rocks. The rock type here is the Lower Brimham Grit, a course grained sandstone. There are only 3 named rocks on the moor, Jenny Twigg and her Daughter Tibb and a massive boulder called Tib’s tent.

The origin of the Twigg and Tibb names is not known and there are very few literary references to the stones. I first read about them in Guy Ragland Phillips book, Brigantia – A Mysteriography. Phillips quotes a passage from William Grainges 1863 book, Nidderdale.

..is a large group of naked rocks, some of them of enormous bulk, called Sypeland Crags; they are of the course millstone grit, like those of Brimham, the grotesque grandeur of which they imitate, though on a smaller scale. Two of them a short distance from the main group are tall upright pillers and at a distance have the appearance of giantesses in broad bonnets, from which resemblance they have recieved the names of Jenny Twigg and her Daughter Tibb,

William Grainge

The folklore of the area says that Jenny Twigg and Tibb were the keepers of a drovers inn on the side of Dead Man’s Hill. They are said to have robbed and murdered three drovers and buried their decapitated bodies. When the bodies of the men were discovered Jenny and Tibb were found guilty of murder and hanged. Another tale says that they were witches who were turned to stone, a familiar tale at number of megalithic sites. The tale of the witches being turned to stone is very similar to tales in Scandinavian folklore where are number of large rock features are thought to have been giant trolls, of both sexes, who were instantly petrified when the suns rays fell upon them.

Ragland Phillips book doesn’t mention the murders and there appears to be no official records of the trial and execution of the women. He does mention the summit of Dead Man’s Hill, telling us that three headless bodies were found at a point where three tracks diverge into Wharfedale, Coverdale and Nidderdale. He goes on to say that it is also the point where three walls meet at a ‘peculiar’ structure known as Jenny’s Gate. It strikes me that the burial of three headless bodies at the point where three important tracks meet, if true, sounds more ritualistic than anything else.

Jenny Twigg has a hole running through the stone, the hole is large enough to pass your arm through. In some parts of our islands there was a tradition that any oath or vow sworn, including marriage, and shook upon through a holed stone, was ‘sealed in stone’ and never to be broken

There are a number of beautiful weather-sculpted rocks along the edge of the crags.

Some of the rocks have been undercut by the elements, one has been walled-in to form a rock shelter. Others have small pools of peat-stained water at their base and on the top surface of one large rock there are a number of large basins, the most I’ve ever seen.

Pereidolia – The Kiss

Tibbs Tent and light snow

This is a grouse moor, the butts are well kept, there is a maintained shooting house and there is grit left out for the birds, over the course of our day we only saw one grouse on the moor. We left for home watching squalls over the distant Vale of York.

Etymology

Sypelands – Sibberlands 1609

Nidd – British river name. Root Nei – to be brilliant. Nedd/Neath – Wales, Nita – Germany, Nidar – Scandanavia

Sources

Moors. Remains of Elmet – Ted Hughes 1979

A Land – Jacquetta Hawkes 1978

Brigantia, A Mysteriography – Guy Ragland Phillips 1976

Map Image reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland 

The Consise Oxford Dictionary of Place Names – Eilert Ekwall. 1974 edition

The High Bride Stones 1817-1995

Other collections of upright stones, arranged in lines, or placed without apparent order, are found in several parts. On Sleights moor there are a remarkable assemblage of this description, called the high Bride stones, forming a kind of irregular line, and perhaps originally an avenue. There were 11 upright stones in this cluster some years ago: at present there are only 6 standing, and 3 or 4 that have fallen down: none of them exceeding 7 or 8 feet high.

A History of Whitby. George Young 1817

High Bridestones

The only other stone circles known to me are the High Bride Stones, near large and small barrows, at an altitude of 900 feet on Sleights Moor. To-day six only are standing, and at least fourteen are fallen. The most conspicuous stone is 7 feet high and terribly weathered. Near it lie three others nearly as long, and another about 4 feet long, which together with the upright stone form a semi-circle. Some distance to the south stands a solitary stone about 3 feet high. Thirty yards north of the semi-circle, three upright stones from 2-3 feet high form part of another circle, the remaining stones of which to the number of at least eight have fallen over and are more or less hidden in the heather. Further north are two fallen stones and still further in the same direction is a monolith 6 feet high high and deeply rain furrowed. Thus the High Bride Stones, which from north to south extend about 150 yards, seem to have originally consisted of adjacent circles, one of large, the other of smaller stones, with outlying monoliths. Despite their deplorable state they are the most impressive standing-stones in North-east Yorkshire.

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

High Bridestones 1

At the northern end, on Sleights Moor, the High and Low Bridestones offer an interesting contrast; the latter are natural formations, curious weathered blocks of sandstone, some of which look like  huge toadstools, raised on narrow stems. The High Bridestones, on the other hand, though hardly so fine to look at, are human handiwork, a stone circle of the Bronze Age; the individual monoliths are many of them very large, and although today more than half have fallen, this remains easily the best sanctuary of its kind in this part of the country.

A Guide to the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales. Jacquetta Hawkes. 1951

Note. The natural formations referred to by Hawkes are located in the Dalby Forest. The Low Bridestones on Sleights Moor are a number of low standing stones that have been interpreted as prehistoric walling.

High Bridestones2

On a bleak, often waterlogged limestone pavement the High Bridestones have been all things to all men. Even the name is deceptive. It has nothing to do with nuptials, sex or fertility symbolism. It relates to Brigid, the goddess of the Bigantes, the Iron Age tribe that inhabited this grim, windblown region. There have been varying interpretations of the eleven stones of which six stand. They have been called the remains of two stone circles with outliers to the north and south; standing stones among natural outcrops; and a ruinous double row or avenue. They may, instead, be the wreckage of two Four-Posters.

A. At the north-west and at right-angles to the line like a terminal stone on Dartmoor there is a single stone 5ft 2ins (1.6m) high. To its south-east, 190ft (58m) away, are three stones at the corner of a rectangle 25ft by 20ft (7.6 x 6.1m) from which the north-east stone is missing. The tallest pillar, 4ft 5ins (1.3m) high is at the south-east. The setting resembles a ‘christianised’ Four-Poster.

B. A further 76ft (23.2m) south-east is a low, loose stump and 28ft (8.5m) beyond it is a very questionable Four-Poster in such a disastrous state that little can be claimed for it. The biggest stone, 7ft 6ins (2.3m) high, still stands and around it in confusion lie three slabs, 8ft 4ins, 10ft and 7ft 6ins (2.5, 3.1, 2.3m) long. If this megalithic disaster had have been a Four-Poster its rectangle would have been about 15ft by 13ft (4.6 x 4m). Like the more identifiable setting to the north-west its sides would have been roughly aligned on the cardinal points.

A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. Aubrey Burl. 1995