Danby – Village of the Danes
Rigg – Ridge (OScand hryggr)
Little Fryup Dale – Crossley Side – Old Wife’s Stones – Enclosure 738 (Ring Cairn) – Rake Way – Double Dykes – Bakers Nab – Hanging Stone
If you have an interest in history Danby Rigg is a great place to visit. It was a busy place in the past, the northern end of the Rigg is covered in prehistoric cairns, low walls, embanked pits, hut circles and dykes. There are also Medieval features including the Viking-Age Double Dykes, iron bloomeries and trackways. Many of these features are quite subtle, especially where the heather is long, but once you get your eye in you begin to spot them everywhere, trying to make sense of them is a different matter.
The Rigg is also rich in folklore with the Old Wife’s Stones and a Corpse Road which leads from Fryup Dale across the Fairy Cross Plain to St Hilda’s Church in Danby Dale. The dales around the Rigg are littered with tales of Hobs, Spitits and Witches.
Many years ago, when I first started visiting the Rigg, I was overwhelmed by the amount of prehistoric remains that could be seen. Over the years I have learned to focus my visits on one or two features and try and work out their relationships to the landscape.
On this visit I decided to take a look at a natural feature called The Hanging Stone. On my way to the stone I thought I’d have a quick look at the Old Wife’s Stones and a large circular monument close to the Double Dykes. It was a blistering hot day with barely a breeze, following the Old Wife’s Stones road up the side of the Rigg, I realised that midday was probably not the best time to be doing this.
On old OS maps the Old Wife’s Stones are shown as a pair of stones, today only one remains. It sits close to the Old Wife’s Stones Road at the base of the steep scarp and overlooks Little Fryup Dale, the Fairy Cross Plain and Round Hill. On the image above the road running off to the top left follows the route of the Church Road also known as The Old Hell Road, a late Medieval Corpse Road that runs over the Rigg from Fryup Dale to St. Hilda’s Church in Danby Dale.
Just to the north of the Double Dykes is a large circular monument. The ring has a diameter of approximately 20 metres, it comprised of a low stone-built ring with a possible northern entrance.
This site was interpreted in the past as a settlement site. It was originally excavated by Atkinson in 1863. It was excavated again in 1956 by W.H. Lamplough and W.P. Baker and then re-examined by A.F Harding and J. Ostoja-Zagorski in 1984. Harding’s conclusion was that it was an Early Bronze Age, Ring Cairn, one of a number of similar monuments that run across the Rigg.
Walking on to the Double Dykes, a number of fairly low upright stones can be seen along the earthwork.
The Hanging Stone sits on the scarp edge of the Rigg overlooking Danby Dale. The rock itself is part of the Dogger Formation, a group of sandstones formed in shallow seas 170-174 million years ago. The stone is covered in graffiti, there are also a number of cup marks, one of which shows signs of being pecked. Given the amount of modern graffiti on the stone it is impossible to say whether the cup marks are prehistoric or modern.
Prehistoric and Early Medieval Activity on Danby Rigg, North Yorkshire. A.F. Harding with J Ostoja-Zagorski. Royal Archaeological Institute 151, 1994.
The Place Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire. A.H. Smith 1928
Maps reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Slack – a shallow valley
Swang – a boggy or marshy area
Beck – a small stream
Rigg – a ridge
Bield – a sheep shelter
Easington High Moor, Roxby High Moor and Black Dike Moor form one of my favourite places on the North York Moors. They are an expanse of heather moorland, wetland and grassy moorland. It is difficult to say where one moor finishes and another starts, the boundaries are loosely defined by the Slacks and Riggs.
I follow the old peat road that runs beside the ancient barrow of Sail Howe. Beside the track are a couple of large, unnamed, boundary stones.
Wooden shooting stands march along the edge of the slack. Heather has been machine- cut in a number areas of the moor such as the one above defining the boundary of an area of burning. A days grouse shooting on the moor in August and September will set you back £23,250. This includes a mid morning snack and lunch f or a party of 8 guns. source
I pass one of the two Good Goose Thorne boundary stones that can be found on the moor. The beautifully mason-lettered stone stands beside it’s ancient predecessor. The path leads me across a section of Black Dike Moor marked as Horse Flesh on the old OS maps. I then drop down to the stepping stones across Black Dike Slack and walk up onto Temple Beeld Hill.
Temple Beeld Hill, is barely a hill. On the higher ground is Temple Beeld itself. The North York Moors has many wonderful sites, what ever its origins, this one is definitely worth a visit.
Frank Elgee’s account and sketch plan of Temple Beeld
.. the most remarkable stones known to me occur on Temple Beald Hill on Black Dyke Moor, north of the village of Lealholm. Here, on a slight elevation between two boggy valleys, a quincunx arrangement of ancient menhirs has been converted into a cross- shaped beald or sheep shelter, shown on the annexed diagram. Originally, the site appears to have been occupied by five stones which are from four to five feet high ; those at C, D and in the centre, being thin and flat, and roughly shaped, whilst the two remaining stones at A and B are more regular and rectangular in form. High stone walls at a later period have been built between the ancient stones ; the wall from A to B is straight, and about thirty-five yards long ; and the wall from C to D decidedly curved and about twenty-two yards in length. This arrangement of the walls gives ample shelter to the moor sheep, and at one time the centre was partly roofed in — the timbers of an old thatch still lie in an irregular manner across the central angles. That the five stones are of pre-historic origin is highly probable, seeing that the central one has distinct cup-like markings at the top of the only side visible. The name Temple, too, is suggestive of some ancient circle of stones, for whatever purpose constructed. It may also be remarked that the four stones are not built into the ends of the walls, but stand off a few inches in distinct hollows in the ground. Temple Beald is the simplest type of stone circle upon the moors, where they are far from common.
Isn’t Quincunx a wonderful word?
In his 1987 book, Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North York Moors, Stanhope White describes how he surveyed Temple Beeld and sent the results to the Royal Observatory to ascertain whether the site had any astronomical alignments, none were found.
I’m sceptical regarding the Prehistoric origins of Temple Beeld as a monument. Three of the large standing may have been erected in prehistory but I suspect they may have been re-used and possibly relocated to create the sheep shelter around a central earth-fast stone. The cup-like marks that Elgee mentions appear to be the result of natural weathering. That said, I hope that one day someone proves me wrong because I love this place.
‘Noble ruins stand only where virgin stone is plentiful’
On my return I call in on the Nan Stone located on the edge of Hardale Slack above the Roxby Peat Holes. The stone has its name carved into it, faded but still legible. As with the Good Goose Thorn, the stone stands beside an earth fast boulder. The older stone has a cross carved into it. I have seen this on other moorland stones, I have also seen these crosses explained as the ‘christianisation’ of an ancient pagan stone. I suspect that the explanation is far simpler and involves the marking of the stone to identify it as a boundary stone. I am planning to write a blog post soon exploring these boundary stones and their meaning.
These three moors are a place that I am constantly revisiting, over the years I have learned much about the North York Moors by walking their tracks and revisiting their sites. A first glance these Moors may appear to be a featureless places, set foot on them and you’ll soon learn that this is not the case.
The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire – Frank Elgee. 1912
Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North York Moors – Stanhope White. 1987
The Old Wifes Way – Newgate Brow – Newgate Moor – Grime Moor – Bridestones Griff – Needle Point – Dove Dale – Staindale – Adderstone Rigg
The Old Wife’s Way has always been a bit odd, today is no exception. The plane owner gives us a wave. We later see him flying over the fields.
We follow the Prehistoric Dyke along Newgate Brow. I will never tire of this view.
We leave the track and cut out onto Grime Moor, a slow worm scuttles through the shimmering red grass. An undisturbed barrow occupies the high ground
After crossing a large enclosure, we choose to follow the less trodden path around the High Bridestones.
The Low Bridestones on the opposite side of the valley. The steep-sided valleys of the Tabular Hills are called Griffs. They are the product of ancient climate change. The melting of the permanent ice during the last Ice Age caused lakes to build up behind ice dams, when the dams finally burst, huge torrents of water and debris formed the valleys that we see today.
One folktale concerning the origin of how the Bridestones got their name concerns a pair of newlyweds who died after spending the night in one of the shallow caves that exist beneath a number of the stones.
There is some debate on precisely how the Bridestones were formed. What we do know is that the the outcrops are composed of Calcareous Gritstone and Passage Beds and have been subjected to processes of erosion.
We walk along Needle Point and drop into the beautiful meadows of Dove Dale and Stain Dale.
We follow the road out of the dale to Adderstone Rigg to take a look at the Adder Stone. Within .5km of this massive stone there are two large Prehistoric Barrow Cemeteries, indicating that this was a significant location for the people who lived here during prehistory.
We get lost looking for a track to return to the valley bottom, we notice a small sign that simply says Rachel Whiteread, intrigued we follow the path to a forest clearing…Nissen Hut..I had no idea this was here, just stunning, the highlight of my day.
Out of lockdown I took a short trip up onto the moors. The skies were grey and threatened a downpour but it had to be done. I chose Haredale, it’s close to home and one of those places that many people pass but few visit.
Haredale is a short valley running across the western edge of Moorsholm Moor from the top of Smeathorn Road down to the A171 Moors road. A small beck runs through the valley and crosses beneath the Moors road to become the Oven Close Beck which after a short run becomes the Swindale Beck then the Hagg Beck, which joins with the Liverton Beck to become the Kilton Beck and eventually finds the sea at Skinningrove.
I’ve been interested in this tiny dale for years as it’s on the margins of an area of quite intense prehistoric activity. Half a mile to the east of the valley there are burial mounds, enclosures and prehistoric rock art. At the head of the valley is a probable prehistoric trackway that follows a line of Bronze Age barrows across Stanghow Moor to Aysdale Gate.
On the valley side is a glacial mound called Old Castle Hill. A row of at least 3 standing stones were erected on the low hill that juts out onto the dale and probably dates to the Bronze Age.
Today there are only two stones left, both of which are laying flat in the heather.
There are also a pair of small upright standing stones at the top of the valley.
The head of the valley is deeply scarred with long linear ditches, these were caused before the modern road was constructed. The ditches are multiple trackways formed by people and horses using a track until it became too deep or difficult to navigate, and then starting a new trackway parallel to the original. Over a period of a few hundred years, multiple trackways are formed. These features can be seen all over the moors.
On arriving on the moor I walked down on the keepers track along the western edge of the valley towards the stone row. When I was last on the moors they were still in their winter coat of browns, there are now vivid green patches of bilberry spread across the valley, in a month or two the heather will begin to bloom and the bilberries will be ripe and sweet.
On the opposite side of the valley is a large erosion scar, when ever I’m around here I take a look to see what is washing out of the peat. I scrambled down to the valley floor. In my joy at being out on the moors again I neglected to pay attention to where I was walking, what I thought was a small island in the middle of the beck was in fact a deep bog. My first leg went in to the top of my thigh, my second leg, just over the knee. A moment of panic, I’m stuck in a bog at the bottom of a valley with no one around, time to be calm, I lay across the surface and slowly levered my legs out of the mire.
I sat on the bank for a few minutes checking that I’d not dropped anything into the bog, car keys, camera all present. I was sodden and mud-caked but happy, laughing at myself for making such a basic error.
I had a mooch around the scar, at its head is a chalybeate (iron-rich) spring, the red waters of the spring contrast with the grey stoney clay, eroding-out from beneath the peat..
..then the heavens opens, soaked from the feet up and now being drenched from the head down, I decided to give up and head back to the car.
This may all sound a bit grim but it isn’t. It’s days like these that make me feel truly alive and thankful to have such wonderful places to escape from the present awfulness of the world.
On checking the North York Moors Historic Environment Record, the Stone Row and Standing Stones are listed as prehistoric but unlike nearby prehistoric monuments, show no statutory protection, which is a shame as they could so easily be lost.
An ancient charm to counter witchcraft as told by Joseph Ford of Castleton. The charm was undertaken at the Old Bleach Mill in the Esk Valley. The owner believed that a witch had cast a spell upon his cattle.
The heart must be taken out of one of the cursed beasts and brought into the house. It was then pierced with nine new pins and the same number of new nails and new needles. These were all embedded in the heart which was then to be over a slow fire made of elder, rowan or ash wood. Great care had to be taken to ensure that the doors were all securely bolted and barred and the windows covered up with thick bed quilts to ensure that no light could be seen from the outside. Extra care had to be taken that no one witnessed the mysterious proceedings.
The heart, hanging from a hook over the fire would then be left to slowly shrivel and contract until the dead hour of night drew near. The lighting and tending of the fire had to be gauged so that the burnt and blackened heart would be shrivelled up and ready to burst into flames and fall to ashes just as the clock struck the midnight hour. At this crucial moment the leader of the weird proceedings had to begin the the final act by reading aloud two verses of a particular psalm from the scriptures. That was the deed done, if undertaken correctly, the curse would be lifted and the cattle would return to health.
Ford also tells us that if you are passing the house of a reputed witch, To shield yourself from her evil spells you should hold your thumb in the palm of your right hand.
Source – Some Reminiscences and Folk Lore of Danby Parish & District. 1953
Map Image – Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
The Cammon Stone from the Celtic ‘cam’ meaning bank stone. On its leaning side is a Hebrew inscription HALLELUJAH which was one the source of much controversy as it was thought to be Phoenician but can be compared to the Hebrew lettering on the Bransdale Mill inscription. It is most likely the work of Rev. W. Strickland a 19th century vicar of Ingleby.
Source – Old Roads & Pannierways in North Yorkshire. Raymond H. Hayes. NYMNP 1988
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.
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.
The 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.
Moorland sands wash out from the peat and collect on the trackway.
Towards the head of the valley the remains of ancient trees are visible where the peat has eroded away.
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.
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.
The weather suddenly changes as a storm blows-in from the west. As the storm increases I decide to head back.
The storm has passed, I arrive back on Blakey Ridge close to the old road mender’s boundary stone.