I needed to unravel a few knots and put some ground under my boots. I was undecided as to where to go…time for the coin. A flip of the coin as to whether it would be moorland or coastal, a second flip to decide on a old favourite on a new site. The outcome, coastal/new.
A while ago I was reading about the Boulby Alum Quarries, I’d never visited the place, I did once try to get there via the the Loftus quarries but failed. I had read that Boulby was one of the best examples of its kind in the country, so that was that, Boulby was the place.
I walked along the Cleveland way to Rockhole, looking for a path into the quarry. All I could find was the trace of a track heading towards Rockhole Hill. I followed the track which got fainter and fainter and took me deep into the quarry. The vegetation got higher and thicker and the track eventually petered-out completely at a large pile of droppings. I’d been following a rabbit track which had led me into a deep thicket of gorse and brambles. I looked for a way forward but couldn’t seen anything that resembled a path.
I had a choice, try and push forward through the quarry or retrace my steps back up to the main footpath and start again. I decided to push on and look for another path. I thought that if I could skirt around Rockhole hill towards the cliff edge I would come across a path, a simple enough plan. The problem was that the foot of the hill and the quarry floor is covered in chest-high rosebay willowherb, bracken, gorse, brambles and boulders, there are also a number of small, steep-sided beck channels concealed beneath the vegetation. The flanks of the hill are steep but less treacherous, they are covered with deep heather and large, impenetrable patches of gorse and brambles. It took me about half and hour of constant scrambling and slipping to cover the short distance to the cliff edge.
Much to my relief, my efforts eventually led to an overgrown track that looked as though it was heading towards the main quarry and alum works. After that it was fairly plain sailing, there were still patches of gorse and brambles to get around but the ground was fairly level and the surrounding vegetation was fairly low.
Moving along the track I began to noticed low walls, the remains of a building, a stone-covered culvert and two beautiful circular stone-lined tanks. The production of Alum started here in the mid 1600s, the Rockhole quarries and structures are the oldest part of the site.
I continued to walk north into the later sections of the works and suddenly found myself standing in the quarry, an amphitheatre of alum, ruins of massive stone walls and heaps of alum shale, facing the sea and backed by the massive sandstone cliffs, a wonderful sight.
The cliffs are never static, large blocks litter the site, some bearing fossils.
Walking around the ruins, the mind starts to wander. It is easy to forget that this was a place of industry and imagine that these are the remnants of a cliff-edge citadel whose myths are still waiting to be discovered.
These cliffs are the highest point on the east coast of our island. The land above the quarry has been occupied for thousands of years, its soils contains the evidence of the district’s earliest house. Archaeologist Steve Sherlock has also found evidence of prehistoric salt production and jet working on the land behind the clifftop, evidence of early industry, albeit on a small scale. Our prehistoric ancestors performed rituals and buried their dead on these clifftops. It is also the location of the famous Saxon Princess burial.
I left the quarries and followed the path that runs between Rockhole Hill and the cliff edge. The track is becoming overgrown, an indication that this site doesn’t see many visitors. A couple of short sections of the path have eroded away, this is not a place for anyone who is nervous of walking along a cliff edge. The track leads back to the Cleveland Way via a couple of lovely tiny woods, shoehorned into the short valleys running down to the cliff tops.
If you are going to visit the quarries I would advise that you avoid following the track down into the Rockhole Quarry, my legs are covered in small cuts, pin-cushioned by brambles and gorse and it took a fair bit of effort to escape the quarry. The cliffs along this part of the coast can be unstable, the track around Rockhole Hill is difficult to find but definitely the one to take, however it is not without danger and should be approached with great caution.
A recent visit to family in Cornwall gave me the opportunity to have a look around this beautiful far corner of England.
We took a drive up to Northumberland to visit the most northerly English Stone Circle, Duddo aka The Singing Stones aka The Women.
Whilst in the area we dropped in at a couple of Prehistoric Rock Art sites. First stop was Roughting Linn where ate our lunch down besides the lovely waterfall. We then walked through the bluebell-clad ramparts of the ancient promontory fort to the large outcrop in the woods. The Fell Sandstone outcrop is covered in Prehistoric rock carvings and is the largest carved rock in Britain. The most of the carvings have been placed around the edges of the outcrop and have been compared to Irish Passage Grave Art.
This part of Northumberland is littered with Prehistoric Rock Art sites, most have wonderful views over the nearby fertile valleys. Many sites are intervisible with each other, quite a few also have nearby earthworks which have been interpreted as Iron Age in date. The carvings themselves are thought to be Neolithic/Early Bronze Age in date, the relationship between the carvings and the earthworks is not fully understood but it does indicate that these sites had a degree of continuity lasting for a considerable period of time.
We headed over to Weetwood Moor to check-out the carvings on the outcrops there before moving on to Chattonpark hill and the wonderful Ketley Crags, a Prehistoric Rock Shelter, its floor covered in deep cup and ring carvings.
On such a night the hills dissolved
And re-assembled in a shifting mist,
Numb with moonlight’s touch.
We learnt that silence was not hostile,
Took upon ourselves its deepest strength
Waiting for dawn’s layered sun.
A moon that placed
As crow’s shout cracked the sky
Fled from the triggered bird-song
Hesitant, then loud.
Before our eyes, a second birth,
A new-created universe,
Green and blue and gold.
Fluted stones whose shape had shifted
With emitted heat
From bearded barley heads,
Buried to the hips,
Reclaimed their circle and identity,
Guarding and inviting
As the sun’s diurnal course
Played a slow game
With shadow shapes
Time and time and time again.
Solstice: Duddo by Stan Beckensall from Northumberland Power of Place. 2001
Map and Lidar images by permission of the National Library of Scotland
‘Evidence for prehistoric salt production in Britain has been confined to the Bronze and Iron Ages. This article presents new evidence for Early Neolithic (3800–3700 BC) salt-working at Street House, Loftus, in north-east England.’
Read the article here Antiquity
Thanks to Jon Purday for pointing me to the article. Jon’s comment, ‘Extending the locality’s chemical processing even further back to a Neolithic salt works at Loftus.’
The Prehistoric Round Barrow on the margins of the woods at the top of Patterson’s Bank is currently being destroyed by cyclists. The Barrow is one of few that survive in this area. It is a Scheduled Monument and is legally protected. It is also a burial monument and contains the remains of our Prehistoric ancestors. Action is urgently required to prevent the destruction of this beautiful monument.
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.
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
We needed a walk but didn’t want to travel far from home…Thunderbush Moor along the Whiteley Beck valley and then up to North Ings and the wonderful Bride Stones.
The trees planted in the valley are growing well. In a few years this will be a lovely broad leaf woodland
Someone has decorated a tree in memory of a lost friend. Amongst other things they have left a beautiful photograph, a joyful scene.
A painting has been added to the memorial to the two pals who lost their lives during the First World War
The heather is low on the edges of the prehistoric cairnfield, a trio of burial cairns poke through the peat beside the path.
We follow the Bride Stones from the valley head onto Skelderskew Moor .
I wrote a post on the history of this short valley here https://teessidepsychogeography.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/stones-shakespeare-and-men-of-the-moors/
Graham Vasey & I travelled across the fertile rolling ridges of the Howardian Hills to meet up with Graeme Chappell at the Dalby Turf Maze, the smallest turf maze in Europe. A passing cyclist smiled and shouted “crop circle” at us.
We left the maze and drove north to have a look around an earthwork enclosure on the edge of Ampleforth Moor known as Studfold Ring.Very little is known about the earthwork, this is from Historic England’s PastScape database
Small earthwork enclosure consisting of an inner ditch and outer bank with a single east-facing entrance. Possibly a hengiform monument or Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age stock enclosure. The freshness of the earthworks indicate it has been restored in the Medieval period, probably as a horse coraal as suggested by the name Studfold. Scheduled.
The earthwork is set in a landscape that shows evidence of occupation from at least the late Neolithic period. The map above is an extract from the 1889 OS map showing the location of the earthworks, a number of late Neolithic / Early Bronze Age barrow groups and the large linear earthwork known as Double Dykes. The two mile long linear earthwork can be traced running over two ridges and could be classed a large cross ridge dyke enclosing an area of prehistoric activity.
A footpath runs beside the earthwork, we crossed the field and entered the large grassy enclosure. There are no traces of the barrows that were recorded in the area.The bank and internal ditch remain intact on all four sides and the bank is lined with trees on three sidesSmall erosion patches on the banks show that they are constructed of earth and stones.This is a strange place and it is quite difficult to know what to make of it. It has been a few years since I was last here, it seems smaller that I remember it. Graeme, who had not seen the site before, remarked that it was larger than he thought it would be.
In the late 1970s Tinkler and Spratt excavated an Iron Age enclosure on Great Ayton Moor. This enclosure was a similar size to Studfold and also had a bank with an internal ditch. In their discussion they cited Studfold as a similar earthwork. I guess no one will know the true nature of this lovely site until a formal excavation is undertaken.
A History of Helmsley Rievaulx and District by the Helmsley and Area Group of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. 1968
An Iron Age Enclosure on Great Ayton Moor by B N Tinkler & D A Spratt The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol.50 1978
Map and Aerial View Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Gunnerkeld – Sportsman’s Spring
This beautiful concentric stone circle is situated a mile and a half north of Shap in Cumbria, an area rich in prehistoric monuments.
It is thought that the outer circle was erected during the Neolithic period. The circle is the same diameter as the famous stone circle at Castlerigg. Another similarity is the two large portal stones, a feature that can also be found at the Castlerigg circle. This leads to speculation that perhaps the two circles were erected by the same prehistoric architect.
The inner circle and a central cist were added during the Bronze Age, perhaps changing the use of the site from a place of ceremony and ritual to a sepulchral function, a place of the dead.
Another remarkable aspect of this lovely stone ring is it’s proximity to the M6 southbound carriageway, which is just a stones throw away. The soundtrack here is one of speeding traffic.
Access to the site is via Gunnerwell Farm, this is private land, if you visit be sure to ask at the farmhouse, the farmer is very friendly. Also you need to cross a stream to access the field where the stones are located, wellies are advisable.
The Stone Circles of Cumbria – John Waterhouse 1985
Prehistoric Monuments of the Lake District – Tom Clare 2007
A Guide to the Stone Circles of Cumbria – Robert W.E. Farrah 2008