On the Grit

Moors

Are a stage

for the performance of heaven.

The audience is incidental.

A chess-world of top-heavy Kings and Queens

Circling in stilted majesty

tremble the bog-cotton

Under the sweep of their robes.

Ted Hughes

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.

Jacquetta Hawkes.

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,

William Grainge

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 over the distant Vale of York.

Etymology

Sypelands – Sibberlands 1609

Nidd – British river name. Root Nei – to be brilliant. Nedd/Neath – Wales, Nita – Germany, Nidar – Scandanavia

Sources

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

A walk to the Source of the Ure

I wrote this account of a walk I took to the source of the River Ure in 2005. It was first posted on Julian Cope’s The Modern Antiquarian website.

The River Ure rises in the Pennines and then heads east into Wensleydale, it then flows out of Wensleydale into the Vale of York. South of York the Ure is joined by the much smaller Ouse Gill Beck and the river’s name becomes the River Ouse, I’ve never figured that one out. The river then flows south east and merges with the Trent to form the River Humber, which then flows out into the North Sea. What is significant about the Ure is its association with a number of nationally important prehistoric sites.

The Ure flows through Wensleydale, a Yorkshire Dale that has been occupied since at least the Late Upper Palaeolithic period. As the Ure flows through Yorkshire it is associated with at least 2 cursus, 7 henges, a stone row, numerous cairns, barrows, rock art sites, burned mounds and an assortment other prehistoric sites.

It is quite possible that during the Neolithic period, the River Ure was one of the ‘lines of communication’ between the Wolds culture of East Yorkshire and the Neolithic peoples of Cumbria. Evidence for this communication can be seen in the large numbers of Group VI stone axe blades found in East Yorkshire. The greatest concentration of Group VI axe blades occurs around the Humber estuary.

group vi

These axe blades all originated from the Great Langdale Axe production areas in Cumbria. Reciprocally there has been a significant amount of flint from the East Yorkshire coast found on a number of Cumbrian sites. There are also various other correlations between the prehistoric monument types and pottery found in both East Yorkshire and Cumbria but I’ll not detail them here in this brief summary.

Neolithic_stone_axe_with_handle_ehenside_tarn_british_museumLangdale Axe Image Credit

Archaeologist Jan Harding speculates that the name ‘Ure’ derives from the Celtic word Isura, meaning ‘Holy One’. The source of the Ure captured my imagination mainly because of its location and proximity to the source of another great river that features in the prehistory of the North of England, the River Eden.

The Ure and the Eden rise within two kilometers of each other on the western edge of the Pennines. At their closest point, the two rivers pass within less than four hundred metres of each other. This means that it is theoretically possible to travel from the North Sea to the Irish Sea only walking on dry land for less than four hundred paces. I’m not suggesting that this was actually the case, where the rivers are at their closest they are merely becks. All I’m saying is that it is theoretically possible that our ancestors may have used the course of these two great rivers as a guide, a navigable route, between the east and west coasts of Britain.

Ure Head 3

Field notes

“In November days,
When vapours rolling down the valleys made
A lonely scene more lonesome”

Influence of Natural Objects by William Wordsworth

I drove down to the site via Brough and Kirby Stephen and then along the Mallerstang Valley. I parked the car in a convenient lay-by and took the footpath to How Beck Bridge and then on up to Green Bridge.

With the Howgill Fells forming one side of Mallerstang and the Pennines forming the other it is easy to see why Mallerstang probably receives more than its fair share of rain. On the day I went it was raining on and off all day, the becks were full to the brim, almost every rocky ledge on the fell had been transformed into a beautiful waterfall with the ground completely saturated. In other words, a typical upland Pennine scene.  They say that the sheep around these parts have webbed feet.

Ure Head 2
I left the path at How Bridge and followed the beck upstream. Its rough walking on the fells and involves a fair bit of bog-trotting and beck jumping, the peat on the moor side had been cut at regular intervals, presumably to aid drainage, so it was possible to follow the tracks of the vehicle that performed the peat cutting for much of the journey.
There is very little wildlife to be seen on these upland fells, a few ravens and the odd small bird, I guess the ground is too waterlogged for rabbits, but it is far from a silent wilderness, there is the sound of running water everywhere. The hike to the summit is one of those frustrating walks that presents you with two false summits to breach before you reach the fell top.
The Ure finally disappears into a flat bog on the summit of Lunds Fell. I was hoping that the source of the river would be a discernible feature such as spring but this wasn’t the case, the beck just petered out into a featureless boggy plain.

Ure Head
I sat and had a cup of coffee at the modern cairn on top of the fell, to the north I could see the Pillar marking the source of the Eden . I was just about to set off walking to the pillar when a storm blew across from Wild Boar Fell and I found myself in cloud. Not being familiar with the area, and not wanting to blunder into a bog I decided that I would call it a day and return home. I would leave the Eden for another day. As I’ve said before, it’s always nice to have something to come back for.
All in all I guess the source of the Ure is definitely ‘one for the enthusiast’ but if you want to get the general feel of the place you can drive along the Mallerstang valley and stop somewhere around SD778963. At this point, you’ll be straddling the county border, east meets west, watching the Eden flowing north into Cumbria and the Ure flowing south into Yorkshire.