Carboniferous Limestone – Alston Formation formed 337-328 million years ago
The road to Pateley Bridge was closed, the diversion sent me south along a series of narrow lanes. I followed an expensive-looking Audi coupe which was so wide that it struggled to stay on the lane without the outer wheels occasionally slipping into the ditch. The route eventually joined the Nidd Valley road, but instead of turning right towards Pateley Bridge the driver turned left, I guess he realised that perhaps the narrow lanes of the dales were not the right place for his oversized cruiser.
The Nidderdale road passes through a number of villages and hamlets, originally built to house workers from the flax mills and other works along the valley. The walls of many houses have had the black patina that forms on Millstone Grit walls cleaned away, this is a land of shiny Range Rovers and heritage paint. The Dales valleys have become a northern extension of Yorkshire’s golden triangle (Leeds-York-Harrogate). The average price of a house in the Dales is nearly forty percent higher than the average price of a house in Yorkshire.
Passing through Pateley Bridge and then up onto the moors. I’d arranged to meet Graeme at The Coldstones Cut. The Cut is a landscape sculpture and a viewing platform built to overlook the Coldstones Limestone quarry, the last working large limestone quarry in the district. I’ve passed this quarry many times and until recently was completely unaware of its existence.
The Cut was created by artist Andrew Sabin and opened in 2011. In his accompanying essay Sabin references the citadel of Mycenae, which I completely get. He also discusses the nature of the path through the site, this had baffled Graeme and I on our visit, why did the path through the work resemble a modern road? why the yellow lines and bollards?
The base of the Cut is adorned with the dressing of modern towns and the paraphernalia of contemporary streetscapes and rightly so because the pit that lies at the end of the Cut was formed to supply the road builders and landscape makers of 20th century Britain.
Despite the minor inconvenience of swarming small insects, we both enjoyed wandering around the Cut. The jumbled stones at the foot of the path and the weird bicycle sculpture seemed a bit out of place but in fairness to Andrew Sabin these were not part of his design. The crowning glory of the Cut is of course the drama of quarry and the landscape beyond.
Whilst at the Cut we could see the outline of this beautiful water tower in the distance, we had to pay it a visit.
Once home I began to reflect on how the operators of the quarry have recognised that their site has value and interest to the wider community. They have explored ways to allow people to engage with not only the quarry but also with the wider landscape and history of the district. This approach is the polar opposite to the situation that we currently have on Teesside where a publicly funded development corporation are taking a year zero approach to a vast steelworks site with the full support of their appointed heritage taskforce. This has resulted in historical and culturally important elements of the site being lost forever.
Nikolaus Pevsner describes All Saints Church, Helmsley as ‘big and self confident, in the C13 style’.
It is always a good sign when the church entrance looks like this.
Stepping into the church is a joy, there are beautiful, bright, colourful murals everywhere.
The Victorian restorers of the church not only retained elements of the earlier church, they also added to them. The beakheads and outer order of the chancel arch are modern as are many other ‘romanesque’ features both within and on the exterior of the church, Rita Wood calls them ‘Heavy handed Victorian additions’, I quite like them.
The capital on the left side of the chancel arch has three heads carved on it, one creature emitting foliage and two small human heads, one wearing a pointy cap. The capital on the right side of the arch has a tiny head carved between the angle of the volutes.
This 10th century Hogback is a bit knocked about, the motif on the top is quite a rare design to find on a Hogback, it is known as a Key Pattern.
There are two chapels within the church, the south chapel is dedicated to Columba and has an altar made of what looks like Swaledale Fossil Limestone and may have come from the quarries at Barton. The North Chapel is dedicated to Aelred and has an altar made with Frosterley Marble from Weardale.
This striking painting is in the north chapel, it’s by Gabriel Max and is called St. Veronica’s Handkerchief. When I first saw the painting, the image was of Christ with his eyes closed, when I looked again his eyes were open. I found this rather disturbing, I was raised in a strict catholic household but have been an atheist, with the odd lapse into heathendom, for the past 45yrs. Was this to be my moment of conversion? was the shepherd calling me back to the fold?…then I read the notice beside the painting … ‘was painted in the middle of the 19th century, it is a form of art with a little trick, where the eyes of christ can be seen either open or closed‘…I laughed, relieved but also feeling slightly unnerved by the experience.
On reflection, I quite like the painting, it was inspired by a miraculous handkerchief that contained a perfect image of the face of Christ. As usual with these sort of Medieval relics, there were three in existence, all claiming to be the original. I suppose most religions have to rely on some form of smoke and mirrors when it comes to dealing with the supernatural.
All Saints is a wonderful church and well worth a visit if you are in the area. The history of the district is written all over its walls often in bold bright mural form. Architecturally it has embraced and built upon its past and is currently undergoing further exterior renovations. The church is open for visitors from 9-5 daily.
Driving home I remembered that in her book, Romanesque Yorkshire, Rita Wood compared the tiny carving of a man in a pointy cap to a carving in the church at Hawnby. Hawnby wasn’t too far from Helmsley so I decided to seek it out.
The Church at Hawnby, All Saints, can be found to the west of the village on the Kepwick road. The little church sits in an overgrown churchyard down by the River Rye, the setting is beautiful. The church is picturesque but architecturally fairly unremarkable, Pevsner describes it as ‘basically Norman‘. I found the carving located just inside the church door, it is lovely. Rita Wood thinks that it probably came from the chancel arch, who knows?
The Buildings of England. Yorkshire, The North Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner. Penguin Books. 1973
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.
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,
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 drifting over the distant Vale of York.
Sypelands – Sibberlands 1609
Nidd – British river name. Root Nei – to be brilliant. Nedd/Neath – Wales, Nita – Germany, Nidar – Scandanavia
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
On a beautiful clear day, Graham and I took a wander up to the Stone Circle on Barningham Moor. We stopped at the Frankinshaw How cairn to drink in the views to the distant Cleveland Hills and Teesside. The cairn, with its cup-marked kerb stones, doesn’t appear to have any statutory protection, this is a worry as it is close to an estate road that has recently been used by heavy vehicles and not too far from a road stone quarry. There are also signs that turf has been stripped close to the cairn, presumably to top the nearby shooting butts.
We moved on to the slowly-sinking, messy Stone Circle at the head of Osmonds Gill, the viewshed here is to the north across the upper Tees valley towards the Durham plain.
Walking over to Eel Hill, we cross a low, dry valley and encounter the best fairy ring that I have ever seen.
Eel Hill, I have visited this beautiful carved stone many times and have never once been able to walk straight to it. I’m convinced that it moves around the hilltop.
We head off to explore Holgate passing these lovely shooting butts. I’m no fan of driven grouse shooting and wouldn’t care if another butt was ever built, but I do love these earth and stone built structures. With their construction and alignments, they have a prehistoric soul. These butts won’t be seeing much service this year. Later we hear a different sort of gunfire, the pom pom of artillery from the nearby military ranges.
At Holgate, we search for carved rocks amongst the boulders that litter the terraces below Holgate Howe. After four thousand years of upland Yorkshire weather and the acid rains of the industrial era, it amazes me how any of these carvings have survived, I also wonder about what has been lost.
Some of the boulders, including some with carvings on them, have been quarried by local stonemasons. The method of removing a stone, suitable for use as a gatepost or lintel, is to cut a series of linear holes across the stone, it is then left to allow nature to assist with the work. The process of freeze/thaw will eventually weaken and fracture the stone along the line, the stone can then be more easily cut. There are a number of quarried stones laying around that have not been used.
This large flat boulder has been quarried along one edge. The stone has a number of weathered cups on its surface. The cups have been joined up with a thin, sharp, incised line. Perhaps this was the work of a bored stonemason who noticed the ancient cups and spent his tea break trying to make some sense of them.
We finish the day at this lovely earth-fast boulder which was thankfully spared from the attention of the stonecutter.
Stanhope DU [Stanhopa 1183 BoB, -hop 1228 Ep]. ‘Stony HOH or ridge and HOP or valley.’
Graham and I drove up into the Wear Valley to Stanhope to have a look at the wonderful fossilised tree in the churchyard of St. Thomas’s church.
The 320 million year old fossil was found by quarrymen at a sandstone quarry at Edmundbyers Cross in 1915. It was originally taken to Newcastle and was brought to Stanhope in the 1960s and placed in the churchyard.
This is a superb relic of one of the trees that grew in the Carboniferous forest. It is a species known as Sigillaria, an early ancestor of modern club mosses. Today clubmosses are small mountain plants, only a few centimetres high, but in the tropical swamps of the Carboniferous Period they grew into 30-metre high giants!
Another fossil tree recovered from the sandstone quarry can be seen in the Hancock Great Northern Museum in Newcastle.
While here we thought we’d take a look inside the church. This was a very different building to the previous church we had visited at Escomb. St. Thomas’s is a very well endowed church and reflects the fortunes that have been made from farming and mineral extraction in the district.
The first thing you notice when you enter the church is the Victorian baptismal font. Beautifully carved in Frosterley marble with an extremely ornate cover complete with an over-engineered lifting mechanism.
Frosterley Marble has been used on the chancel floor.
Frosterley marble isn’t a true marble. Marble is a metamorphic rock, i.e. a rock that has been altered from its original state by temperature and pressure. Frosterley marble is merely a highly fossiliferous limestone, that when cut and polished forms a highly decorative stone.
Fossil – Laing Art Gallery Newcastle
This sculpture is a carved block of Frosterley Limestone inset with cast bronze interpretations of the fossils found within it. The fossil installation is displayed on an oak plinth among the Frosterley floor tiles and oak doors and display cabinets in the Marble Hall of the Laing Art Gallery. The sculpture is finished on one side to reflect the smoothness of the floor tiles and the central section shows and explains the unusual shapes seen in the tiles with carved and truncated fossils. The third section is a representation of a carboniferous sea floor with ‘living’ dibunophyllum bipartitum cast in bronze. The Department of Coelenterates at the Natural History Museum in London offered invaluable advice in establishing the most accurate representation of ‘dibunophyllum’.
This ancient stone coffin in the grounds of the church was carved from a single block of Frosterley marble.
The only true marble in the district is to be found in Upper Teesdale. A limestone which was subjected to heat and pressure from contact with the igneous rock that forms the Whin Sill. The resultant rock is known as Sugar Limestone. It is quite crumbly in nature and therefore pretty much useless as a decorative stone.
It was nice to see this Roman altar displayed inside the church. A translation of the inscription is provided, it reads..
To Silvanus, the invincible, sacred
Caius Tetius Venturius Mecia
Prefect of the Sebosian Cavalry
On account of a boar of enormous
size taken which
many of his predecessors
were not able to destroy, erected (this
altar) willigly in discharge of a vow
The town of Stanhope is surrounded by quarries and the valley has a long history of lead mining and smelting. Spoil heaps from the quarries encroach onto the margins of the town but I can find very little evidence in the church of the people who worked in the quarries and mines of Weardale. We left Stanhope and drove up the dale to visit the Rookhope Arch. The arch is all that remains of a two mile long horizontal chimney or flue. The flue carried the toxic gases and fumes from the lead smelt mill to the moortop. Mill workers were periodically sent into the flue to dig out the deposits. The average life span of a lead miner in 1860 was 45 years. Perhaps this ruin is a more fitting memorial to their lives than some mossy obelisk in a churchyard
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. 4th Edition. Eilert Ekwall. 1974