I spent much of yesterday afternoon hunting for a place from which to watch this morning’s winter solstice sunrise. My map is covered with pencil lines running through local landmarks, Freebrough Hill, Stony Ruck, Roseberry Topping, Godfalter Hill, all bisected at 130 degrees to align with the rising sun.

Last night I started to think about all of the times that I’ve been working away during the solstices, wishing I was at home. I thought about what the solstice means to me and how it relates to the situation we currently find ourselves in. I decided to put away my maps and focus on what is important, home.

Just before dawn, I took a walk and watched the town waking up. Dog walkers and early strollers started to appear, the bloke who is constantly engaged in an argument with himself was pacing the upper prom. On the lower prom swimmers were shouting for joy as they plunged into the cold sea. An ambulance parked outside of the nursing home brought home the current reality. I bumped into a friend on his way to start his long day, getting the hours in because he doesn’t know when the next lockdown will come.

The Solstice is often referred to as midwinter, the reality is that there are still long, lean months ahead of us. The wheel has turned, the sun reborn.

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.


Sunlight briefly breaks through, a moment of joy


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.


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


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


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


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

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 cutting deep ravines into the glacial till as they make their way down to meet the sea at Staithes . At some points the ridge narrows to the width of the road, sloping steeply on both sides.

There are three known Prehistoric burial mounds in this valley. One in 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.


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.

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 the surface, revealing the fainter carvings.

Roxby stone springQuite a lot of stone has been dumped on the boggy ground. A spring breaks through the ground beside at the stone and runs down through the field towards 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 routes through the landscape 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, neither suggestions were included in the final timeline.