For many years I’ve have a deep fascination with sites prefixed with the name ‘Old Wife’. With plenty of time on my hands, I decided to have a go at something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, create a map.
The map covers the three main linguistic elements of my researches. For clarification, the word Wife means woman, it has only been used to signify a woman’s marital status relatively recently, therefore the Old Wife means, Old Woman. The second main element is Cailleach, a Scots and Irish Gaellic word which is still in use today and means, Old Woman/Hag/Witch. The Final element is the word Carling, which is the the Scots equivalent of Cailleach. For completeness, I have also included a few sites with a Witch element in their names as these are relatively rare and may be relevant.
The sites that I’ve select are all physical places and are named on maps. The word Carling has been a little problematic as the element Carl means a free peasant in Old English and Old Scandinavian e.g. the etymology of the word Carlton would be a settlement of free peasants. Whereas the etymology of Carling Howe, which was originally called Kerlinghou, means the hill of the old woman or hag. I have tried my best to filter- out these name elements and have hopefully only added relevant sites on the map.
Key – Blue = Cailleach, Green = Carling, Red = Old Wife, Orange = Witch
When looking at the distribution map, I cannot think of any other mythological or folkloric figure who is so well represented in our landscape and yet, as my friend Graeme points out, remains so anonymous . I suppose, given a millennia and a half of an interlinked church and state, which in the past has actively suppressed to any whiff of witchcraft or the supernatural, especially when practiced by women, the fact that her name has survived and remains embedded in our landscape is quite remarkable. The distribution of sites may also say something regarding certain commonalities between the cultures of the early inhabitants of the northern and western parts our islands.
The Hag/Crone/Old Wife/Witch
Cailleach – Gaellic, Carlin/Gyre, Carling – Scots, Kerling – Icelandic, Kelling – Faroese, Kjerring – Norwegian, Karring – Swedish, Kaelling – Danish
The map is a work in progress, I will continue to work on it and hopefully add the interactive version to this site.
Thanks to Graeme Chappell for his encouragement, comments and providing me with a few sites that I’d not come across.
What is your name?
You know me as The Old Wife, I have many names in many lands, my true name is lost to you. In your world I am Carling, Gyre, Calliach, Cailich, Calli, Kerling, Kelling, Kjerring, Karring, Kaelling. I am also Black Annis, Cally Berry, Bell, Witch, Gentle Annie, Bronach, Mala Lia, Glaistig, Muilgheartach, Boi, Hag, Crone, Bone Mother, Veiled One, Thunderer, Frau Holle, Mardoll, Morrigan, Daughter of Frenzy.
Where do you come from?
I was always here. I am before time and place, I am below and above.
What is your purpose?
I command the weather and summon winter, I rule the dark months. I made your mountains, crags, forests and moors. Your rivers run because of me. The coastlines, islands, headlands, and cliffs are my work. I close your harvest and protect your animals. Gods, giants, kings and mortals have shared my bed, my offspring people the world. I am the bringer of death and the mother of all.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Walking on to the Double Dykes, a number of fairly low upright stones can be seen along the earthwork.
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.
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
The Old Wifes Way – Newgate Brow – Newgate Moor – Grime Moor – Bridestones Griff – Needle Point – Dove Dale – Staindale – Adderstone Rigg
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.
We follow the Prehistoric Dyke along Newgate Brow. I will never tire of this view.
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
After crossing a large enclosure, we choose to follow the less trodden path around the High Bridestones.
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.
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.
We walk along Needle Point and drop into the beautiful meadows of Dove Dale and Stain Dale.
We follow the road out of the dale to Adderstone Rigg to take a look at the Adder Stone. Within .half a kilometer 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.
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.
A lovely painting of the Old Wife’s Neck standing stones by my multi-talented friend Tony Galuidi.
Check out more of his work here