Death and Remembrance

We needed a walk but didn’t want to travel far from home…Thunderbush Moor along the Whiteley Beck valley and then up to North Ings and the wonderful Bride Stones.

The trees planted in the valley are growing well. In a few years this will be a lovely broad leaf woodland

Someone has decorated a tree in memory of a lost friend. Amongst other things they have left a beautiful photograph, a joyful scene.

A painting has been added to the memorial to the two pals who lost their lives during the First World War

The heather is low on the edges of the prehistoric cairnfield, a trio of burial cairns poke through the peat beside the path.

We follow the Bride Stones from the valley head onto Skelderskew Moor .

I wrote a post on the history of this short valley here https://teessidepsychogeography.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/stones-shakespeare-and-men-of-the-moors/

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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Wandering over Danby Rigg

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.

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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.

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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.

ring

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.

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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.

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Walking on to the Double Dykes, a number of fairly low upright stones can be seen along the earthwork.

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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.

Sources

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

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

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.

Moorsholm moor

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.

Aubrey Burl

Last week I learned that Harry Aubrey Woodruff Burl had passed away at the age of 93.

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Sometime in the mid 1980’s I discovered a book in a second hand bookshop called The Stone Circles of the British Isles by Aubrey Burl. I bought it, read it and re-read it, it changed my world.

burl stone circles

Prior to finding Burl’s book, I had an interest in all things ancient and had visited quite a few prehistoric sites, my views were shaped by the writings of Janet & Colin Bord, John Michell and other writers of the alternative archaeology community. Burl’s book propelled me into the world of Prehistoric Archaeology and set me on a path that I am still happily travelling.

Burl’s field guide, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, is a must for anyone interested in the subject. My dog-eared copy has travelled the length and breadth of Britain with me. It has led me over fields, across bogs and empty moors, walking in his steps, seeking out the megalithic remains of our islands.

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Burl was my entry into the world of prehistory, once discovered my bookshelves soon started to fill not only with his works but books by Daniels, Hawkes, Bradley, Waterhouse, Thom, Barnatt and Piggott to name a few.

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Burl also taught me to look back to the work of the early antiquarians such as Aubrey, Stukeley, Camden, Ferguson and Borlase. I also sought out the work of more recent researchers, people who marked the transition from Antiquarianism into modern Archaeology such as Fred Cole, Sir James Simpson, Canon Greenwell, Collingwood Bruce and Frank Elgee.

Easter_Aquhorthies_stone_circle,_Fred._Coles_1900

When travelling to a previously unvisited area, I always consult Burl and mark my maps accordingly. I’ve explored Brittany using his Megalithic Brittany book as my guide, On my first trip to Avebury I used his itinerary to discover the stones. He has never let me down. Aubrey Burl was my teacher and my guide and I am sad that he is no longer with us.

It has been hard pleasure to see so many fine circles in Western Europe. They are one family, now dispersed, a megalithic confusion of parents, children, nieces and nephews, in-laws, second cousins, even some dubious offspring at the furthest edge of acceptability…They fascinate and perplex. Enjoy them.

A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Britanny. A Burl 1995

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

Chasing the Solstice Sun

On an overcast Solstice day, I go looking for one of Frank Elgees prehistoric settlement sites in the Commondale Beck valley

Limekilns are few and far between on the northern moorsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tall solitary pines are also a rarity.

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Sunlight briefly breaks through, a moment of joy

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The sound of the train fills the valley

The settlement site sits on a terrace overlooking the Commondale Beck. Elgee found other sites on located on the same terrace on both sides of the river.

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An old hollow way leads to one of the many rocky outcrops on the valley side, a quarry for field walls and butts.

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Clouds are moving rapidly westwards across the moors, I catch a glimpse of the sun.

An alignment of grouse butts runs across the moor, tops covered with fresh turfs.

The moor is sodden, there is a possible alignment of standing stones on the moor top

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I return to the road, blue skies can be seen through a break in the clouds above the Kildale Gap, I head west.

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On the edge of the escarpment I encounter the sun, I drink tea and bask in its warmth.

Two Whitby Stones

?Whitby circa 1827 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

The Battering Stone

A large mass of blue whinstone by the road side near the east end of Whitby abbey, which the boys were won’t to batter or pelt with stones on Holy Thursday, after the usual perambulation of the parochial boundaries, the fortunate breakers, it was said, being entitled to a guinea from the parish. The custom seems almost forgotten with the cessation of the perambulation, and the stone reposes from year to year in its wonted solidity, though bearing the marks on its surface, of the juvenile assaults of former days.

The Needle

Holy stones are those artificial formations connected with the oracular ceremonies of past ages; and it is recorded that one of these uprights, called the needle stood in the vicinity of the west pier at Whitby, through the eye of which rickety children were drawn in order to strengthen them; a custom practiced in some parts to this day. Lovers also pledged themselves by joining hands through the hole, especially in the case of young mariners bound on their voyage.

Sources

A Glossary of Yorkshire word and phrases: Collected in Whitby and the neighbourhood. 1885

A Glossary of words used in Swaledale, Yorkshire 1873

Image –  ?Whitby JMW Turner c,1827 Tate Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)