Returning to Danby Rigg

Revisited 15/08/2020

Ainthorpe – Old Wife’s Stones Road – Ring Cairn with Standing Stone – Cairnfield – Round Barrow – Church Way (The Old Hell Road) – Enclosure 738 (Ring Cairn) –  Double Dykes

I returned to the Rigg a couple of days later with my friend Graham. The Rigg was shrouded in low cloud with visibility down to 20-30 metres. The lack of visibility gave the Rigg an otherworldly atmosphere, upright stones  looming in and out of the murk, the scarp edges of the Rigg dropping-off into an apparent void, the sound of sheep and the voices of a walking party echoing across the moor, amplified by the dense fog.

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Graham had not visited the Rigg before and I was keen to show him some of its archaeological features. What soon became apparent was that it is almost impossible to give a full account of such a complex site when you cannot reference the landscape that it sits in. The loss of the viewsheds from the monuments and trackways on the Rigg made it extremely difficult to explain their relationships with each other and with the greater landscape that they sit in. We settled for having a look at a few hoary old stones and enjoying the damp otherworldliness of the moor.

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One thing we did notice on the moor and have seen elsewhere this year, was the poor condition of much of the heather. The heather should be in full bloom at the moment carpeting the moorlands in purple. This year, much of the heather is not only without blossom but is also brown and withered. Apparently this is due to an infestation of Heather Beetles across the moors. More information can be found here  

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Boundaries, Pits & Zeppelins

I’ve been interested in the notion of boundaries recently so decided to combine this with a wander over Easington High Moor following the route of an eighteenth century perambulation that I found posted online a few years ago.

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Manorial perambulations are an ancient practice, the boundaries of the district are walked to confirm ownership and ensure that no territorial infringements have taken place. What is interesting about this route is that it continues to be used as a formal boundary to define at least 13 different regional, county, unitary authority, parliamentary, and parish territories.

The route starts on the little-walked western section of the moor beside the Danby Road at a stone called Harlow Bush, the perambulation states that it is also called Harlot-Busk,  Harlot-Thorn, otherwise Harlow-Thorn, otherwise High- Thorn.

The early OS map shows Harlow Bush and High Thorn as two separate stones. I was unable to find the latter stone but there has been much road widening since the map was drawn so the stone has either been removed or is lost in a mass of gorse and brambles at the junction between the Danby and Moors road. it doesn’t take the moor long to swallow-up the fallen.

A number of the stones have dates carved into them, mainly from the early 1800s and post-date the enclosure of the moor in 1817. The names of the perambulation sites imply that prominent stones and trees were used as boundary markers, this was formalised during the 19th century by the erection of many of the boundary stones that we see across the northern moors today. Some of them, especially the earth-fast stones, probably pre-date this period.

Others stand beside older stones and bear their names.

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I cross a marshy section and come across a long section of cast iron pipe. The 40″ diameter pipe is a remnant from an attempt to build a railway across the moor. The railway, known locally as Paddy Waddell’s Railway, was supposed to be built to carry iron ore from the mines at Skelton and Brotton to the ironworks of Grosmont. The project was halted due to lack of funds and a recession in the iron trade

The Great Dinnod stone has fallen, beside it is a concrete post marked GT on one face and DT on the other. Further along the low ridge is the Little Dinnod, still standing.

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Beneath the Great Dinnod ridge is a beautiful low grassy valley, it’s a marked contrast to the heather moorland that surrounds it. The valley terminates at the Mellowdale Slack. As I walk along the slack, dozens of tiny birds fly out around me and land in the trees. It’s a magical place. I stop and sit in the shade of a beautiful Rowan listening to the chirruping birds and watch dragonflies busying themselves along the valley.

Refreshed, I climb up onto Middle Rigg to have a look at a form of Prehistoric boundary marker, a Segmented Pit Alignment or SEPA. Double pit alignments have been found in other parts of our islands but this particular class of monument is unique to the North York Moors. This definition is taken from the excellent official blog for the North York Moors National Park

A SEPA earthwork however is made up of two or three pairs of pits inside two parallel enclosing banks largely made from the spoil from the pits, these are generally in what appear to be conjoined segments. The segmentation suggests development over time rather than a linear structure created in one go as a land boundary.

In each case the SEPAs appear to be aligned with nearby Bronze Age barrows (burial mounds), which suggest the SEPA are Bronze Age too and could have had a related ritual purpose. The alignment of all the SEPAs is north-west to south-east. This alignment seems to have taken precedence to any alignment with the barrows. The parallel banks were oddly low, which means the earthworks were not prominent in the landscape when they were constructed, unlike the barrows.

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Most of the pits are filled with grasses and sedges, the low enclosing banks are visible where the heather has been burned-off.

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One of the pits has an excavation trench running across the pit and bank. This may have been left from Canon Atkinson’s 1848 excavation where he interpreted the pits as the remains of an ancient British pit village.

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There is another line of pits close to the SEPA, this has a much more recent history and has nothing to do with boundaries. The LIDAR image above shows the pit alignments and barrows of Middle Rigg. It also shows a curving line of four pits, these are bomb craters caused by the dropping of bombs during a Zeppelin raid on the North Eastern coast in May 1916. A full account of the raid can be read here

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I walk over the rigg to the Long Stone. This beautiful monolith with it’s strange disc is probably one of the tallest stones of the Northern Moors and is one of my favourites. Is it prehistoric? I don’t know but would like to think so. It is also a fitting end point for my wander across this section of this lovely moor.

Sources

Maps and Lidar image reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The Official Blog of the North York Moors National Park

Zeppelin Raids Gothas and ‘Giants’, Britain’s first blitz by Ian Castle

The Sheep Fold by Bryan Hoggarth

Nature in Her Freaks – Blakey Topping

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Blakey Topping (Black-houe Top.)

Of all the hills in our district, this seems to have attracted most of the attention of the Druids; who it is said were great admirers of nature in her freaks. This singular isolated hill resembles a huge tumulus or barrow of an arch-Druid, or half a Druid’s mundane egg, standing on the plane or base of its longer axis (although this is a natural hillock, detached from the main range of the Coralline-oolite, or outlier hills); and therefore from its shape, was no doubt held the more sacred by the Druids. But besides its shape, the many Druid-stones erected on the moor, both at its foot, and at a little distance off, indicate that this was a sacred mount…

knox map ..Nor will it appear at all surprising that this semi-mundane, or semi-egg-shaped hill, and the excessively dreary and secluded moor on which it stands should have been seized on, and  consecrated by the Druids for the performance of their mysterious, mistaken and cruel rites. Possibly, however, this now wholly heath-clad moor might have been, in their time, partially enlivened by waving groves; especially about this hill, and the rising brow of Cross Cliff.

Descriptions Geological, Topographical and Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire. by Robert Knox. 1855

Map © National Library of Australia

Into the Tabular Hills

The Old Wifes Way – Newgate Brow – Newgate Moor – Grime Moor – Bridestones Griff – Needle Point – Dove Dale – Staindale – Adderstone Rigg

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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.

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We follow the Prehistoric Dyke along Newgate Brow. I will never tire of this view.

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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

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After crossing a large enclosure, we choose to follow the less trodden path around the High Bridestones.

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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.1

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.

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We walk along Needle Point and drop into the beautiful meadows of Dove Dale and Stain Dale.

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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.

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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.

 Nissen Hut

Summer Solstice – The Howardian Hills

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the maze and drove north to have a look around an earthwork enclosure on the edge of Ampleforth Moor known as Studfold Ring.studfoldVery 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. 

studfold mapThe 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bank and internal ditch remain intact on all four sides and the bank is lined with trees on three sidesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall erosion patches on the banks show that they are constructed of earth and stones.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis 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.

Sources

Heritage Gateway

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

 

Haredale

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.

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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.

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Today there are only two stones left, both of which are laying flat in the heather.

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There are also a pair of small upright standing stones at the top of the valley.

tracksThe 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.

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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.

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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.

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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..

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..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.

Postscript

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.

on blackamoor by Martyn Hudson

My friend Martyn Hudson has published a very special book called, on blackamoor. Martyn has an intimate knowledge of the moors, but more that that he has a deep love of the place, something which is very evident in his writing, as he takes us on a very personal journey through its unique landscape and history.

If you have any interest at all in the North York Moors or the history and folklore of a landscape, I would encourage you to read this beautiful book. Copies can be purchased here

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martyns book back

Watch Martyn talking about the Moors for the recent Discover Middlesbrough History Month here

 

Gunnerkeld Stone Circle

Gunnerkeld – Sportsman’s Spring

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sources

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