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

Three stones

Blakey Ridge – The Honey Poke – Flat Howe – Esklets – Sweet Banks – South Flat Howe – Bimshaw – Blakey Gill Head

It was a fine day on the coast so I thought I’d take a walk onto the moors. As I climbed onto Castleton Rigg the wind picked-up and the skies started to darken. I decided to wander over to the head of Westerdale via Flat Howe and the remains of the Blakey colliery bell pits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The moorland path starts at one of the most accessible of the moorland prehistoric standing stones, Margery Bradley. The view is to the south into Rosedale.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe path is marked by small walker’s cairns and the occasional estate boundary stone. This one, marking the boundary of the Feversham Estate, has been broken for many years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Moorland sands wash out from the peat and collect on the trackway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Towards the head of the valley the remains of ancient trees are visible where the peat has eroded away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sediment profiles taken at nearby Esklets also provides a vegetation record from the late Mesolithic, showing a heavily wooded landscape dominated by alder and hazel, perhaps indicating low stature woodland, rather than oak forest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Netting made from natural fibres has been laid on the worst of the eroded areas, presumably to give the moorland grasses a foothold and try to limit the erosion of the peat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The weather suddenly changes as a storm blows-in from the west. As the storm increases I decide to head back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The storm has passed, I arrive back on Blakey Ridge close to the old road mender’s boundary stone.

Source  North East Yorkshire Mesolithic Project Phase 2 Report by Mags Waughman

Seamer

 

Seamer

Don Spratt reported that the skeleton of a red deer was found during the drainage operations in peat near the north shore of the prehistoric lake at Seamer Grange Farm. Pollen analysis of the layer indicated a date of approximately 8000 BCE. He also reported that a flint scraper and a piece of deer antler were ploughed up at the end of a small boulder clay peninsular which projects into the prehistoric lake from its southern shore.

Sources: Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 1976 & 1977

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.

Old Castle Hill

 I discovered one (a stone Row) in a small valley, Haredale, on the north Cleveland moors half-way between Commondale and Freeborough Hill. Here, on a huge natural mound known as Old Castle Hill which projects from the western side of the valley at an elevation of 800 feet, are five small upright stones in a line about 150 yards long. The row, which is not absolutely straight, runs west-north-west by east-south-east, the most westerly stone standing about fifty feet from the others which are close together. One the north slope of the mound are some pits which may be hut sites.

Frank Elgee

Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Pub. 1930

Elgee

About 10 years ago I went looking for Elgee’s stone row which I managed to find using a combination of his description and the above photo, sadly all that remained were two fallen stones.  I was in the area yesterday so decided to visit the site and check that the two remaining stones were still there. My memory was a little fuzzy regarding the location of the stones so I decided to start at the head of the valley and gradually work my way along the western edge. It wasn’t long before I came across two small upright stones sticking up through the heather.

Old Castle Hill wrong stones

I was pretty sure that these weren’t Elgee’s stones but it had been a while since I’d last seen them. This was my third moor of the day, the sun was beginning to sink and I was starting to think that a large mug of coffee would be a better option than tramping through knee high heather looking for a pair of small fallen stones. While I was trying to make my mind up as to what to do, I came across a small erosion scar in a drainage ditch, looking down I spotted a beautiful flint tool sitting on the sandy soil, deep joy.

Old Castle Hill Flint

Re-enthused by my tiny discovery I decided to carry on searching for the row. I remembered that the stones were on top of a mound that protruded into the valley but the low sun, long shadows and multiple shades of autumnal moorland golds &  browns made it rather difficult to pick-out the landscape features. As I scanned the valley for signs of the row my eye was drawn to a tree a little further north, the tree was situated midway up the valley side, bathed in the low afternoon sunlight it appeared  almost luminescent.

Old Castle Hill Tree

As I walked towards the beautiful tree I noticed a short promontory of land jutting out into the valley and could make out a small stone-sized gap in a burned patch of the heather. I walked down to investigate and there were Elgee’s stones, still in situ.

Old Castle Hill stones

Stone rows are intriguing, they often serve no obvious purpose and are quite rare on the North York Moors. When I first visited the stones I was hoping that the row was aligned to the top of Freeborough Hill, itself an area of ritual focus to our ancestors, but sadly the row was not aligned to the hilltop.

Some years ago I read a book by Ray Seaton called  The Reason for the Stone Circles of Cumbria. The book details Seaton’s investigations into finding an answer the question of why there are so many stone circles in Cumbria. Seaton surveyed the circles using conventional surveying techniques, he was also an enthusiastic dowser and produced a dowsing survey for each stone ring. I don’t have any strong opinions on dowsing, each to their own, dowsers have been used for centuries to find underground water sources and had they not been successful the practice would have died out long ago but when I hear talk of ‘energy or ley lines’ I tend to switch off.

The reason I mention Seatons’s book is that, along with the book, he produced an acetate detailing all of the major compass bearings for significant astronomical events in year 2000 BC. This is a very handy tool, when used with a map and compass it gives a field researcher a rough idea of the potential astronomical significance of an alignment. Nowadays, there is sophisticated software available to give you precise astronomical data for any given time but my opinion is that our ancestors were using their eyes and a couple of sticks to mark alignments so if an alignment is out by a couple of degrees, does it really matter?

Seaton

So what has all this to do with Elgee’s stone row? Well, given that the row that Elgee described was not an absolute straight line and given that there are only two stones left, both of which have fallen, the compass bearing of the alignment is approximately 120 degrees-300 degrees, Seaton’s acetate showed that this would align the two remaining stones to the setting Summer Solstice sun during the Bronze age. Perhaps I should return here for the solstice.

These stones are very small and would probably disappoint the casual visitor but If you are interested in prehistory or standing stones and want to visit one of the best Prehistoric stone rows in Britain you should call in at the Devils Arrows on the edge of Boroughbridge where you will find three huge wonderful stones, each standing over 18ft high in a field leading down to the river Ure.

devils arrows

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