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

Rey Cross ii

OE stan ‘stone, stones’ is a very common pl. el. It is used alone as a pl. n. in STAINES, STEANE, STONE, where a Roman milestone or some prominant stone of another kindmay be referred to.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1959

I recently took a trip over the Pennines to Cumbria. On the way home I stopped on Stainmore to have a look at Rey’s Cross. The Cross is located in a lay-by beside the A66. The A66 crosses the Pennines through the Stainmore Gap, a Pennine pass that was created by the flow of ice sheets during past glacial periods.

Historically, This part of Stainmore has always been important. The moor is rich in late Prehistoric remains. It was also the site of a large Roman marching camp, within the ruins of the camp is a wrecked prehistoric stone circle. Legend has it that the stone cross was raised as a memorial to Eric Bloodaxe, the last king of York, who was slain on the moor in 954.

Eric_Bloodaxe_coin_b

The cross, situated near the highest point of Stainmore, is close to an ancient county boundary, is a weathered shaft set into a substantial stone base and is thought to date to the early anglo saxon period. The name`Rey’ is thought to have been derived from the Old Norse element `hreyrr’ which can be taken to mean a heap of stones forming a boundary.

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One of the earliest references to the stone is from The Chronicle of Lanercost where it is call ” Rer Cros in Staynmor ” The chronicler states that it was set up as a boundary marker. The boundary was between the Westmoringas and the Northumbrians, the Glasgow diocesan border, before that it marked the border between the Cumbrians and the Northumbrians.

map

The antiquarian William Camden tells us ” This stone was set up as a boundary between England and Scotland, when William (the Conqueror) first gave Cumberland to the Scots.”  Camden was incorrect, at the time of the Norman conquest much of Cumberland was already under Scot’s rule. The historic county of Cumberland was not established until 1177, however the stone could still have marked the boundary of the territory.

The A99 was widened in the early 1990’s so in 1990 the stone was moved from the south side of the road to its present site on the north side. An archaeological survey and excavation was undertaken as part of a wider archaeological project, sadly no burial was found beneath or around the stone.

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What fascinates me about this stone is that it marks a place that has been significant to the people of our islands for thousands of years. The people of the Neolithic period used this as route way between the east and west coasts. Later, the people bronze age erected a stone circle close to the site. Later still, the Romans heavily fortified road to guard the legions marching between Catterick and Penrith and it has remained the primary northern trans-pennine link ever since.  A hundred or so metres west of the stone is the modern east/west boundary between Cumbria and Durham and the route was also once the medieval border between Scotland and England. East meets west, north meets south all within sight of the weather-beaten old stone.

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

Sleights Moor

 

A friend and I took a walk around Sleights moor starting at the High Bride Stones, a group of Prehistoric Standing Stones that have been interpreted as the possible ruins of two Four-Poster Stone Circles or the remains of a number of Stone Rows.

HBS c1s

We followed the lines of stones to the edge of the moor and the descent into the Murk Esk valley.

Larsen sA Ladder trap, one of two in this small area, both thankfully empty.

Low Bridestones 7sDescending the bank to the Low Bride Stones on Sheephowe Rigg.

Like the High Bride Stones on the moor above, this is a very ruinous site. Archaeological surveys have revealed over 100 stones including a mutilated cairn.  The current best guess is that many of the stones once formed part of a prehistoric enclosure.

We moved north along the top of Lowther Crag to the disused Bolton Crag quarry, one source of the beautiful Middle Jurassic moorland sandstone. Across the Esk valley we can see the quarries at Aislaby. Stone from these quarries was used to build the 11th century Abbey at Whitby, the foundations of the old Waterloo and London Bridges and the piers at Whitby.

White Flint sWalking up onto the moor top we found small, loose boulders made of ‘white flint’. This stone was prized by the steel industry, its high silica content, up to 98%, meant that it was ideal for making refractory bricks and moulding sand.

Flat Howe s

We moved across the highest part of the moor to Black Brow and its two Bronze Age kerbed burial mounds, the Flat Howes. This is the highest section of the moor, there are uninterrupted views along the Esk Valley to the Kildale Gap, across the moors towards Fylingdales and down to the coast into Whitby, a fitting place to spend eternity.

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

Cloughton Moor

Cloughton Knox

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

Urban Megaliths – Middle Beck Stone Circle

Lat: 54°.3  NZ 522 184

A modern circle (2000CE) located on the east bank of the Middle Beck on the Town Farm Estate, Middlesbrough.

The circle contains examples of the three major rock types. There appears to be no obvious grading of the stones according to size. There is evidence of the re-use of stones, particularly three Shap granite boulders. There is some evidence of burning within the circle. A number of the stones have been decorated.

A potential alignment to the Winter Solstice sunrise over Godfaltar Hill.

Burl classification (1)

Thanks to Barry Jobson

Nine Stones

9 stones xvi

The Hambleton Street is an ancient ridgeway that runs along the western edge of the North York Moors escarpment. A document in the Rievaulx Chartulary refers to the road as a ‘Regalis Via’ or ‘King’s Way’. According to KJ Bonser “it is the best preserved stretch of drove road in Yorkshire, – part of a track of great antiquity, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Romano- British, from the Channel to Scotland.”

9 stones xv

The street passes along the eastern edge of Thimbleby Moor before climbing along the edge of Black Hambleton. The hill dominates the views to the east, to the west the moor looks out over the Vale of Mowbray towards the distant Pennines.

9 Stones iUntil recently a large section of the moor was covered with forestry. The trees have been harvested leaving this area of the moor covered in tree stumps and debris.

9 StonesIn the late 1970s Spratt and Brown undertook an aerial survey of the moor and reported  “an extensive system of small irregular fields with tumbled stone walls covering large parts of the northern slope of the recently burnt off heather moor.  The are also a few round cairns. To the south, on the crest of the moor, there are four standing stones and some fallen megaliths (The Nine Stones), perhaps the remains of a double alignment leading to the site.”

The Nine Stones site is bisected by a stone wall, open moorland on one side, the remains of modern forestry on the other. Old maps show the majority of the Nine Stones located on the forestry side of the wall.

Map

There are a number large stones lying prone in the tangled chaos of the forestry clearance. The weathering patterns on a few of these stones indicates that they may have once stood upright.

The moor has a number of areas that are littered with stones. It is almost impossible not to see alignments amongst these stones, most are coincidental, others may be deliberate. The alignment below terminates at a small standing stone and appears to refer to the distant barrow topped peak on Cringle Moor. This is also a very rough alignment on the summer solstice sunrise.

9 stones iiA low embankment runs across the moor from a small standing stone towards Black Hambleton. This is probably one of Spratt & Browns field walls.

9 stones xivAnother alignment of small upright stones points to where Hambleton Street traverses the shoulder of Black Hambleton. The stones are also roughly aligned to the winter solstice sunrise.

9 stones x

In common with a number of the moorland prehistoric sites the exact nature of Nine Stones is unknown, a number of people have tried to interpret the site but without  further study and excavation we will never know its true nature. The alignments I have mentioned are all my own opinion and are extremely imprecise and unproven.

Sources

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

The Yorkshire Archaeological Register 1976. The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 49. 1977

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland