Chasing the Solstice Sun

Solstice sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”).

On a gloomy day I had little expectation of seeing the Solstice sun. I decided to seek out a Prehistoric Rock Art panel near Roxby. The site is located across from a narrow ridge that runs from the moorland to the coast. The ridge was formed by Roxby and Easington Becks running in parallel towards the coast cutting deep ravines into the glacial till. At some points the ridge narrows to the width of the track with sheer drops on both sides.

There are three known Prehistoric burial mounds in this valley. One in the woodland 250m to the west of the carved stone and another pair 1km south where the Birch Hall and Scaling Becks merge to form the Roxby Beck.

Woods

I follow the muddy footpath from Ridge lane down through the woods to a small gorge where a wooden bridge crosses the beck. The sound of running water is everywhere. The low solstice sun finally makes an appearance.

Roxby Beck

At the top of the bank the woods give way to fields. The field is pegged out for pheasant shooting. I spot a wooden structure on the hillside roughly where the stone should be.

Roxby stone uphillThe stone sits on swampy ground at the foot a low hill. The landowner has erected a fence around it to prevent damage from livestock.

Roxby stone

The stone is beautiful, it contains a number of different motifs, different sized cups, some with rings, linear motifs and a couple of faint rings that seem to ‘zone’ certain areas of the stone. Many of the cups are quite eroded, you have to move around the stone to catch the light falling across revealing the fainter carvings.

Roxby stone springQuite a lot of stone has been dumped on the boggy ground. A spring breaks through at the stone and runs down through the field to the Beck.

Solstice SunThe Solstice sun breaks through beside a dump of large boulders.

When showing people rock art for the first time, they invariably come up with their own definitive interpretation of the meaning, usually a map/chart related explanation. Show them a second and third panel and they begin to develop doubts.

Roxby stone ii

Over the years I have visited many rock art sites both home and abroad. I’ve concluded that we will probably never really know the true meaning of the carvings because we can never know the mindset of the people who created them. The best explanation that I can come up with is that the carvings may be an abstract representation of an invisible reality for the people who carved them and that the meaning may change depending on the locality. On the North York Moors there seems to be an association with burial monuments and trackways but this is not always the case.

Roxby stone i

A couple of years ago I attended a workshop at MIMA  They invited people to help create a timeline for local art. My suggestion was Prehistoric Rock Art along with prehistoric pottery, sadly neither suggestions were included in the final timeline.

Blasted

 

Barningham Moor

Barningham

Light constantly changes as weather moves rapidly from the west

 A stoat tracks my progress across the moor

The ruins of an ancient settlement can be found in the bracken

An ancient cairn, four millennia of beaten bounds

The reliable instability of limestone – the stone circle slowly sinking, the gill slowly growing

Eel Hill – scrying stone

Barningham Insulator

The Old Stones

Old Stones

I recently bought a copy of a new book called The Old Stones. The Book describes itself as ‘A Field Guide to the Megalithic sites of Britain and Ireland’ and ‘the most comprehensive and democratically selected list of prehistoric sites that has ever been put in a book like this.’ The book is a collaborative work and utilises the knowledge and experience of the users of the Megalithic Portal website.

I have been visiting prehistoric sites around Britain and Europe for over 30 years but I don’t consider myself experienced enough to give a qualified opinion on the national coverage of the book so I’ll focus on the treatment of North Yorkshire and Cumbria.

The gazetteer covers the major monuments of the Yorkshire Wolds, the Ure-Swale Plateau and a couple of Pennine sites. Sadly only two North York Moors sites have made it into the book, Nab Ridge and The High and Low Bridestones. Both of these are lovely sites although it could be argued that the Low Bridestones are merely a group of fairly underwhelming low walls. There is no mention of  any of the impressive moorland standing stones or burial monuments. Even the nationally important prehistoric rock art site of Fylingdales Moor with its 200+ carved rocks and monuments, fails to get a mention.

The book then travels westwards to Cumbria and manages to capture many significant Cumbrian sites. Surprisingly the Greycroft and Elva Plain circles fail to get a mention. After Cumbria the book back-tracks east to Barningham Moor, then jumps 60 miles north to Northumberland.

The book promotes itself as a field guide, this is only part true, in eastern Cumbria it would be a handy book to keep in your car but in the case of the North York Moors and the Northern Pennines it would be of little use. It is also quite a heavy book to be toting around in your rucksack. My final gripe, the regional guides section at the end of the book fails to list any guides covering Northern England, Wales, most of Scotland and all of the island of Ireland. That said, it does list many useful many online resources.

Putting together a book of this size and scope was always going to be a massive task. There are over 1000 sites listed in the book and it is admirable that such an endeavour has even been attempted. Despite my criticisms, I am enjoying reading the book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Prehistoric sites of our islands. It is well laid out, easy to read and has full colour photographs and maps. There a forward by Mike Parker Pearson, an lovely piece discussing Prehistoric Landscapes by Vicci Cummins. There are a number of excellent articles scattered throughout the book on topics ranging from the Top 10 Urban Prehistory Sites to Archaeoacoustics.

This book serves to remind us of the sheer range and quantity of prehistoric monuments that exist in our islands. It is a fitting tribute to the hard work and devotion to recording these sites by Andy Burnham and the members of the Megalithic Portal website.

Buy it here

The Rock Art of the Kerb – Postscript

I bought my copy of Ronald Morris’s The Prehistoric Rock Art of Galloway & the Isle of Man in the 1990s from a second hand bookseller in Dundee. The flyleaf of the book has the name Kennedy McConnell and the date October 1982 inscribed on it.

On researching the previous owner I found this WW2 People’s War 

It makes me wonder if his war time work with Alan Turing’s team of cryptographers had left him with any insights into interpreting the meaning of Prehistoric Rock Art.

The Rock Art of the Kerb

In his 1979 book, The Prehistoric Rock Art of Galloway & The Isle of Man, Ronald Morris listed one hundred and four theories which have been put forward in all seriousness by Archaeologists and others to explain British Prehistoric Rock Art. Could any of these theories be applied to the mysterious markings that are found on roadside kerbstones?Kerbstone viiBurials, Standing stones, Alignment markers, Astronomy, Re-use in burial, Early prospectors, Early prospecting aids, Belief in after-life, Religious, Magical.Kerbstone iUniform religious & magical significance, Sex, Breasts, Mother goddess, Mother goddess worship, Eyes, Phallic symbols, Fertility symbols – Sperm entering the egg, Fertility rites, Marks of sexual prowess.Kerbstone iiCircumcision ceremony, Sex symbols, Sun symbol, Sun God, Baal, Water divining, Mixing vessels, Quantity measures, Freemasons earliest marks.Kerbstone iiiSacred food & wine holders, Fertility Rites (Indian), Copies of worm casts, Copies of tree rings, Copies of ripples from a stone thrown into a pool of water, Druids, Used by Druids, Blood sacrifice, Code, Water time-signals.Kerbstone viiiClocks, Pictographs or Hieroglyphs, Early writing, Messages from outer space, Megalithic inch, All measured in or founded on megalithic inches, right angled triangles, Equilateral triangles, code, spirals are two-centre half-circles of ellipses.Kerbstone ivDifferent races made them, Bonfire ritual site markers, Search for food, Seed production, Early pilgrimage marks, Dye transfer moulds, Metal moulds, Maps of the countryside, Building plans, Star maps.Kerbstone vEmblems, Tattooists patterns, Decorations, Doodles, An elderly man’s screen, Boundary markers, Route markers, Tribal convention commemorators, Mithras worship, Shields.Kerbstone viGaming tables, Marbles, Annular brooches, Animistic carvings, Primative lamp bases,  Water worship, Cattle worship, Marks of piety, Re-use of long dead superstition, Monuments to the dead.Kerbstone ixNatural, Hidden treasure, Plans for megalithic structures, Plans for laying out mazes, Field ploughing plans, Oath marks, Victory marks, Adders lairs, Knife sharpening marks.Kerbstone xAn early form of music notation, Tuning device, Early astronomers night memoranda, Birth-growth-life & death symbol,  A locked-up force, The stone circle builders carved them, Healing magic, Casts for making bronze, Sea goddess worship, Mirror, Womb symbol, Wells, Child carvings.

Yoredale

 

Following the sacred Ure up through Wensleydale, I have a yearning to visit a henge.

DSC_9505

I arrive at Thornton Rust and walk out into the empty upland pastures, everywhere is sodden.

Carperby

Across the valley, Carperby Moor. Flint tools have been found here, the most northerly evidence of Palaeolithic hunter gathers in our islands. Beneath the great Yoredale scar is Ox Close with its ring cairns and stone circle.

Gill Beck

Gill Beck, the beck is full, the stepping stones are nowhere to be seen. I walk across the swollen beck, my cheap boots offer no resistance to the icy water.

Addlebrough

The Henge sits on a low ridge, the peak of Addlebrough, with its cup and ring marked cairn, is visible to the west.

Height of Hazely

To the east, Height of Hazely and the prehistoric settlement of Burton Moor.

zoom earth

Cold and wet I happily retrace my steps back to the village and then home.

Limestone A small momento collected from a molehill at the entrance to the henge.

 

 

The Devil’s Arrows

The Devil’s Arrows are a row of three prehistoric standing stones located in a field on the outskirts of Boroughbridge.

Devils arrows

The stones exist in a wider, complex, prehistoric landscape, a recent archaeological survey of the surrounding area uncovered a number of features including a double timber post row and an associated ditch, extensive flint scatters and grooved ware pottery.

The tallest stones is 22.5 feet high making it the second tallest prehistoric standing stone in the UK after the Rudston Monolith at 26 feet. Graeme Chappell recently informed me that the Rudston Monolith, 44 miles away, is aligned precisely due East of the Arrows.

The antiquarian John Leland visited the town sometime between 1535 and 1540  and described the row as four upright stones with no mention of a fallen fifth stone

..little without this Towne on the west part of Watiling-Streate stadith 4 great maine stones wrought above in conum by Mannes hand.
They be set in 3 several Feldes at this Tyme.
The first is a 20 foote by estimation in higeth and an 18 foote in cumpace. The stone towards the ground is sumwhat square, and so up to the midle, and then wrought with certen rude boltells in conum. But the very toppe thereof is broken of a 3 or 4 footes. Other 2 of like shap stand in another feld a good But shot of: and the one of them is bigger then the other; and they stand within a 6 or 8 fote one of the other.
The fourth standith in a several feld a good stone cast from the other, and is bigger and higher than any of the other 3. I esteme it to the waite of a 5 Waine Lodes or more.
Inscription could I none find yn these stones; and if there were it might be woren out; for they be sore woren and scalid with wether.
I take to be a trophaea a Romanis posita in the side of Watheling Streat,as yn a place most occupied in Yorneying ad so most yn sighte.

A German traveler, Lupold Von Wedel visited the stones in 1584 and recorded seeing five stones, four upright and one lying on the ground. Thirty years later another antiquarian, William Camden visited the stones but only three were left upright, and again, no mention of a fifth stone..

Neere unto this bridge Westward wee saw in three divers little fields foure huge stones of pyramidall forme, but very rudely wrought, set as it were in a streight and direct line. The two Pyramides in the middest, whereof the one was lately pulled downe by some that hoped, though in vaine, to finde treasure, did almost touch one another. The uttermore stand not far off, yet almost in equall distance from these on both sides.

Aubrey

John Aubrey’s notes in his Monumenta Britannica complied between 1665 and 1693. Aubrey thought that the stones may have been part of a great stone circle. No evidence has ever been found to support his theory.

devils_arrows stukeley

Illustration from Itinerarium Curiosum II by William Stukeley. 1776


The Arrows copy

Illustration from The Strangers Guide: Being a concise history & description of Boroughbridge by Boroughbridge. 1846

The fourth stone, toppled by treasure hunters, is thought to have been broken-up and used as the foundation for the bridge over the nearby River Tutt in 1621. There is an account of the top of the stone being taken and placed into the garden of Aldborough Manor.

If its lower portion was embedded in the bridge it may still be there. A local belief that the upper segment was set up in the grounds of Aldborough Manor (Lukis 1877, 134), has been kindly confirmed by the present owner, Sir Henry Lawson-Tancred (pers. comm.).

The Devil’s Arrows: The Archaeology of a Stone Row by Aubrey Burl. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol 63. 1991

Graeme and I have recently been discussing the fate of the fourth stone and decided to take a look to see if we could locate any traces of the missing stone.

Devils Arrows

We started at the stones themselves. There is currently a crop of beets in the field so we followed the well worn path around field margin. Whilst we were looking at the possible cupmarks on the northern stone we got chatting to a woman who told us that, whilst walking her dogs in the area, she had once experienced an energy at the stones that was so powerful it had made her feel ill.

I have enhanced this image a little to highlight the cupmarks on the stone.

We also noticed that there were lots of ladybirds on the stones, it turns out that these are Harlequin Ladybirds, an invasive species that are said to be responsible for the decline of our native species.

Devils Arrows grooves

I’ve recently read that the grooves on the tops of the stone were caused by The Devil trying to hang his grandmother from the stone.  The tale does not say why he was trying to hang her or whether he was successful. I was just surprised to learn that the prince of darkness had a grandmother

The road beside the field is currently being improved to provide access to a new housing development. It is always a little disturbing to see a development encroaching upon an ancient site.

We took a walk down to the bridge over the River Tutt to see if we could spot any remains of the stone.

Tutt Bridge

The Arrows are made of Millstone Grit and are thought to have been brought to the site from Plumpton Rocks, a distance of over 8 miles. The local building stone is a fairly uniform. fine grained sandstone so the coarser grained gritstone, with it’s large quartz grains is quite easy to identify. We didn’t find any evidence of gritstone in the bridge but Graeme did spot three large dressed gritstone blocks in the kerbing leading from the bridge.

Tutt Bridge kerbs

We decided to head over to nearby Aldborough to see if we could track down the top fragment of the fourth stone.

Aldborough.jpg

Aldborough is a small village on the outskirts of Boroughbridge. It is the site of a walled Roman town called Isurium Brigantum. We enquired at the Manor House regarding the whereabouts of the stone, the owner told us that they have looked for evidence of the stone in the manor grounds but not found any trace of it.

In the centre of the village is a large column called the Battle Cross. A nearby plaque states that the cross commemorates the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. The plaque also mentions Thomas Earl of Lancaster who was in collusion with the Scots. A Yorkshireman rarely passes up the opportunity to have a pop at his Lancastrian neighbours.

The local church is reputed to be  built on the site of a Roman Temple, there is a carving inside the church which is thought to portray Mercury.

The devil's arrows

Having arrived at a dead end in our search for the fourth stone, we decided to visit the site where, according to legend, the devil stood when he threw the Arrows, How Hill.

How Hill

How Hill is just over 7 miles west of the Arrows. The first written record of the hill is from 1346 and refers to it as the site of a medieval chapel dedicated to Saint Michael, possibly a place of pilgrimage. The site became a ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The tower was rebuilt in 1719 and further domestic buildings were added to it during the 19th century. It is likely that the tower was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh

What surprised both Graeme and I were the views from the hill, although relatively low lying it has a fantastic viewshed, the Pennines in the West, the North York Moors in the east and as far south as Drax power station.

The tower is currently boarded-up, it’s a substantial building, quite singular in design. It has a slight air of malice about it, I’m not sure I’d like to visit it in the dark, as Graeme once did. On checking the BGS website I discovered that the bedrocks around the hill are Plumpton Gritstone, the same stone as the Arrows, perhaps the folklore is right and the Arrows did originate from here.

smith's arrows

The Devil’s Arrows should be viewed as one of a number of prehistoric monuments that align roughly north-south through North Yorkshire. I recently found this lovely pdf booklet which details this alignment. Booklet

I’m not sure if anyone has ever tried to tie-in the Arrows with the Prehistoric  monuments that extend eastwards towards the Yorkshire coast, both Graeme and I believe that it is not unreasonable to think that there may be a connection.