Wandering in the shadow of the sacred hill

My friend Graeme Chappell and I decided to have a wander around Thompson’s Rigg. We followed the Old Wife’s Way from Horcum, dropping down along Newgate Brow into the valley below.

We crossed the fields to take a look at the standing stones at the foot of Blakey Topping. These stones have been interpreted as a possible ruined stone circle.

After spending some time at the stones we walked onto Thompson’s Rigg. The Rigg is only a mile long. Its flanks slope down into the valleys of the Grain Beck to the East and Crosscliff Beck to the west. The moor is surrounded on three sides by higher ground and gently slopes to the south, where it narrows to form a valley which eventually leads to Langdale End and Howden Hill, a hill very similar in appearance to Blakey Topping.

About a third of the way along the Rigg the trackways bends, at this point, running diagonally to the trackway, is a cross ridge boundary. The boundary is a banked structure that bisects the full width of the moor and is topped, in parts, with large stones. The official scheduling for the area states that, Although this boundary forms part of the post-medieval field boundary system in the area, it is considered to incorporate elements of an earlier construction which had origins in the prehistoric period, contemporary with the cairnfield. source

In his book Early Man in North East Yorkshire Frank Elgee wrote, A wall of upright stones crosses the Rigg between the farm and the barrows, he also includes the boundary on his map of the area

It is curious that despite the earthwork being mentioned in the official scheduling of the area and despite it defining the the northern limit of the cairnfield and barrows and its close resemblance to other moorland cross ridge boundaries, this significant structure does not appear in either Don Spratt’s 1993 or Blaise Vyner’s 1995 inventories of the cross ridge boundaries of the North York Moors.

South of the large boundary earthwork we started to encounter many cairns, most are in deep heather and difficult to define, at least one of this group appears to be a large ruined barrow.

We continued south, traipsing through the deep heather to a grassy area containing a beautiful Platform Cairn. Platform Cairns are rare on the North York Moors, they are defined as, A roughly circular monument featuring a low, more or less level platform of stones surrounded or retained by a low stone kerb. Some may feature a small central open area, thus resembling a ring cairn. Source.

There is a large stone and hollow in the middle of the cairn implying a possible ruined cist, it is evident that this cairn had been excavated in the past. Graeme reminded me that we were only seven miles from Pickering, once home to James Ruddock.

James Ruddock was a nineteenth century commercial barrow digger. Between 1849 and his death in 1859 he opened many of our moorland mounds in search of finds to sell to the gentleman collectors of his time. His main client was the antiquary Thomas Bateman, he also opened barrows for Samuel Anderson of Whitby.

Unfortunately Ruddock did not always keep precise notes regarding the locations of his diggings, many of his finds have ended up in our museums with vague labels such as, from a mound 6 miles north of Pickering.

Moving further south we encountered this lovely, fairly well-defined ring cairn.

On the south eastern flanks of the Rigg is a group of hollow ways, these are not considered to be prehistoric.

At the southern end of the Rigg is this orthostatic wall which contains many large stones, some of which appear to be buried into the ground. If the wall contained unburied stones it would be classed as a boulder wall. The walling is definitely not prehistoric but may contain stones from an earlier feature.

Not far from the walling is this three foot high standing stone, located within an area of low banks and cairns at the southern end of the Rigg.

Blakey Topping and Thompson’s Rigg are well worth a visit, There is a wealth of prehistoric remains to be seen within a relatively small area. The area is owned by the National Trust and is not managed for grouse so has a mixture of habitats, we saw plenty of birds including Skylarks, Snipes and what I think were a large flock of Fieldfares.

If you visit this lovely place, what you’ll undoubtably notice is that wherever you are on the moor, Blakey Topping is the dominant landscape feature. Graeme and I agreed that this beautiful hill probably had a deep significance to the original inhabitants of this area. A sacred hill? perhaps even a sacred landscape?

Resources

Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930

Orthostatic Field Walls on the North York Moors. D A Spratt. YAJ Vol. 60. 1988

Linear Earthworks of the Tabular Hills, Northeast Yorkshire. D A Spratt. 1989

Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire edited by D A Spratt. 1993

CBA Research Report 101: Moorland Monuments’ in The Brides Of Place: Cross-Ridge Boundaries Reviewed, B Vyner. 1995

OS Map – The National Library of Scotland

Postscript

To illustrate Graeme’s comments

Hand Stone

Heading north from Hutton-le-Hole to Castleton. I stopped to enjoy the last rays of the sun as it dropped below the distant Pennines.

West Face – Road to Kirby Moor side RR

South Face – RW

East Face – Road to Pickrin or Malton

North Face – Road to Gisbrough

Size matters…Yorkshire Megaliths & Cumbria’s Prehistoric Monuments

I recently saw this wonderful illustration of Yorkshire Megaliths. I contacted the author, Adam Morgan Ibbotson, and he kindly sent me a copy.

I was rather chuffed, Adam wrote one of my favourite books of 2021, Cumbria’s Prehistoric Monuments. It’s a lovely book, comprehensive, very readable with beautiful photographs, maps and illustrations. If prehistory and big old stones are your thing, you’ll love this. You can buy it here

Near Moor

Wandering Red Way onto Near Moor

Near Moor is a moor on the western margins of the Cleveland Hills. The moor is at its highest in the north-east where it meets the wooded escarpment edge of the Cleveland hills, it then slopes gently southwards towards Crabdale. Near moor is bounded by Far Moor To the East, Pamperdale Moor to the South and the valley of Scarth Nick and Scarth Wood Moor to the west.

The moor is managed for grouse shooting. The vegetation of the moor is predominantly heather with patches of moorland grasses and sedges.

The rocks here are mainly Jurassic Sandstones, formed 170 million years ago in shallow estuaries and deltas. To the north, below the escarpment edge, there are many old jet workings. Blocks of ‘White Flint’ can be found on the moor-top.

Both Near Moor and the adjacent Scarth Wood Moor were used by our ancient ancestors, there are the remains of ancient walls, enclosures, trackways and cairns dotted across both moors.

There are a number of cup-marked rocks on the moor, all are very weathered and barely recognisable.

There are the remains of quarries on the margins of the moor, local stone masons also used the prehistoric walls as a source of stone.

Osmotherley – St. Peter’s Church

The Romanesque arch, weather-beaten but recognisable.

The ghost of a Beakhead

The Norman font, uncomplicated with a cable pattern below the rim.

A protection mark? A saltire scratched into the underside of the arch resembles similar motifs carved into the witch posts of the moorland villages.

An Anglo-Saxon crosshead.

Regarding the grooves on the porch wall behind the cross head. These grooves are found on many of the walls of old churches throughout Europe. Tradition has it that they were caused by medieval archers sharpening their arrow heads prior to Sunday archery practice. In some parts of the country these stones are referred to as ‘Arrow Stones’. This seems like a highly unlikely explanation, the nature of the grooves would probably only serve to blunt a blade rather than sharpen it

Another possible, and more likely explanation for the grooves, is that they were caused by people collecting grit and dust from the church for use in folk medicines and ritual preparations. Any part of the fabric of a consecrated building, including water from the roof, was thought to have curative powers for both people and their livestock. The practice of collecting materials from a church, to use as a cure for all manner of ills, has been documented across Europe.

There is an old house on Marske High Street that has similar grooves on its external walls. I was told that it was once a schoolhouse and the grooves were caused by pupils sharpening their slate pencils on the building walls. An alternative explanation is that perhaps these stones were recycled from a previous building such as St. Germain’s Church or the medieval manor house that once existed on the outskirts of the town.

This cross shaft is thought to be Anglo-Danish. There is also the remains of an Anglo-Danish Hogback grave cover in the porch but it is is very eroded and barely recognisable.

Osmotherley

Asmundrelac 1086 Domesday Book

‘Asmund’s clearing’…A hybrid formation with a Norse inflexion of the of the first element suggests very intimate association of the Norse and Anglian speech.

The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire by A.H. Smith 1928

Lilla Howe

My friend Graham Vasey and I took a walk up to Lilla Howe, Graham was wanting to have a look at Lilla Cross and make some images as part of his ongoing Dainn series, exploring landscape and folklore.

Lilla Howe is classified as a Bowl Barrow, a large burial mound built of turf and stone. It dates from the Bronze Age and is part of a chain of barrows that run from the southern edge of the Esk valley to the Tabular Hills. This and other lines of Barrows on the moors may once have been used as boundary markers, defining the territories or estates of different groups, the mounds of the ancestors, perhaps indicating legitimacy and continuity of ownership. This use continues today as many of the more prominent moorland barrows continue to define modern boundaries.

Lilla Howe is a very ancient and important landmark, it marks the junction of four ancient parishes, Allerston, Fylingdales Moor, Goathland and Lockton. This boundary was first recorded in AD 1078 but may be much older.

The stone cross has a ‘G’ carved into its north face, this signifies Goathland, there is a ‘C’ on the southern face which is thought to represent Cholmley. The Cholmley family took ownership of the land in the sixteenth century following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the estate had previously been owned by Whitby Abbey.

It was also a junction of two significant trackways running south from the coast to the Vale of Pickering, The Old Salt or Fish Road and the Pannier Man’s Way. These tracks are now lost beneath RAF Fylingdales. Lilla Howe continues to be used as a boundary marker, it is a junction for a modern parliamentary constituency boundary.

This section of the moors is also significant as it is the point where the moorland becks and streams run to the south. The northern moors are drained by two major rivers, The Esk and the Leven. The becks and rivers of the southern moors drain into the River Derwent. Derwent Head, the source of the River Derwent is less than a mile south of Lilla Howe.

Lilla Cross sits on top of Lilla Howe, it is one of a few surviving, intact moorland crosses. The tradition is that the cross was erected as a memorial to Lilla, a lord at the court of King Edwin.

The prehistoric burial mound was re-used during the early Medieval period, two Gold discs and four silver strap-ends were found in the mound, these items were used to re-enforce the tradition that this was the burial site of Lilla, therefore dating the cross to the seventh century. Unfortunately the objects found in the mound are Scandinavian in design and date to the tenth century.

Bede’s account of Lilla

…there came to the kingdom an assassin whose name was Eomer, who had been sent by Cwichelm, King of the West Saxons, hoping to deprive King Edwin of his Kingdom and his life. He came on Easter Day to the King’s hall which then stood by the River Derwent. He entered the hall on the pretence of delivering a message from his lord, and while the cunning rascal was expounding his pretended mission, he suddenly leapt up, drew the sword from beneath his cloak, and made a rush at the King. Lilla, a most devoted thegn, saw this, but not having a shield in his hand to protect the King from death, he quickly interposed his own body to receive the blow. His foe thrust the weapon with such force that he killed the thegn and wounded the King as well through his dead body.

Etymolgy – Rivers

Derwent – Derived from British derva ‘oak’ Welsh derw &c. The name means ‘river where oaks were common’.

Esk – A British-river name identical with Axe, Exe and with Usk in Wales and Isch and others on the continent. British Isca became Esca, whence OE Esce and Aesce, which gave Esk and with metathesis Exe and Axe…and probably comes from pid-ska or pit-ska the root being pi- in Greek piduo ‘to gush forth’.

Leven – A British river-name identical with Libnios c150 Ptolemy (in Ireland) and Llyfni, Llynfi in Wales. The name may be derived from the adjective for ‘smooth’ found in Welsh llyfn.

Sources

Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930

Old Roads & Pannierways in North East Yorkshire. Raymond H Hayes. 1988

Lilla Cross on Lilla Howe, Fylingdales Moor. Historic England

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Bede. The Ecclesiastic History of the English Nation. 1949

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1974