Stone Circle: OS Grid Reference – SE 13335 43532
Get to the famous Dick Hudson’s pub on the south-side of Ilkley Moor and go east for about 700 yards till you get to Weecher reservoir (posh doods go yachting there). From here cross the road and walk on for 150 yards till you reach the stile which takes you onto the moors. Walk! Follow the footpath and you’ll go over another wall before eventually hitting the beautiful fresh waters of Horncliffe Well (this has never dried up – even in the summers of ’76 and ’95). Sit here for a while before heading for the circle which is on the east-side of the moorland fence just a coupla hundred yards up onto the moor (you’ll cross a coupla streams before reaching the site). You’ll know you’re close when, to your left by the fence, you’ll see a boundary stone with the name ‘Thos. Pulleyn’ engraved on it.
Archaeology & History
Horncliffe is a bittova strange site, inasmuch as we don’t honestly know precisely what it is, nor its age. It used to be categorized as a ‘stone circle’, but this was abandoned many moons ago. The inner circle of this ellipse-shaped monument was thought to have perhaps contained a burial, but Victorian excavations here found no such evidence; no burials have ever been found, though fires were evidently burned in the small central ring.
Nowadays I’m of the opinion that this was more for living-in, than any ritual site. It ‘smells’ like that anyway (modern OS-maps now term it as an ‘enclosure’); and this may be borne out by the ancient name of the trackway travelling north from here called ‘Castle Gate’, meaning ‘entrance or path by the fortification.’ Faint ‘cup-markings’ reported by Harry Speight (1898) on the outer edge of the ring are very likely Nature’s handiwork.
Horncliffe is a double-ringed ellipse structure, surrounded on its northern side by a natural embankment of earth. It was first mentioned in J.N.M. Colls’ (1846) survey, but more was said of it by James Wardell in 1869, who told that,
“there is a circle of stones of various sizes, from three-feet to five-feet in height; they are chiefly set upon their edges and are of sandstone grit. This circle is forty-three feet in diameter and within it there is a smaller circle, composed of stones of the same composition…and set in the same manner.”
A few years later, the Yorkshire literary giant Harry Speight (1898) penned his first words about this curious circle, saying:
“The best example of a stone circle in the vicinity of Bingley lies on the moor close to the parish boundary, on land belonging to Mr Fawkes, of Farnley Hall. It is a complete circle, consisting of about twenty stones, placed close together (a very unusual arrangement), from two to four feet high, the circumference being about 35 yards. An excavation was made in the middle of it some years ago, when bits of flint were found, but no trace of burial. It is built on a slight slope of the moor, facing the south, and is now much concealed by heather. It is, doubtless, the oldest known evidence of man’s handiwork remaining in the neighbourhood of Bingley, and there is small doubt that it was originally intended to fence a burial, such “Druids’ Circles” being primarily meant to enclose places of sepulchre in the same way that walled enclosures came to be adopted round our churchyards. A large flat stone on the top side, about three yards distant, is marked with cups and channels, and probably was in the centre of the circle originally.”
When Arthur Raistrick (1929) visited the circle, his measurements differed somewhat from those of Mr Wardell, telling the site to have diameters of 25 feet (east-west) and 32 feet (north-south), with 46 stones in the outer ring and 17 in the inner circle.
This is one of many sites on these moors that I slept at over the years when I was a kid. It used to be a really peaceful spot that was rarely troubled by other visitors (not sure if it’s still the same though).
Although we have nothing specific to the circle, around the nearby Horncliffe Well a coupla hundred yards away we had accounts told us by the old warden whose job it was to look after this moorland, that will-o-the-wisps had been seen here. There is a seeming alignment to the equinoxes from here to Reva Hill – though this is more fortuitous than deliberate. A dowsing survey found aquastats in and around the circle, but no plan of these were ever made.
- Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
- Colls, J.N.M., ‘Letter upon some Early Remains Discovered in Yorkshire,’ in Archaeologia 31, 1846.
- Raistrick, Arthur, ‘The Bronze Age in West Yorkshire,’ in YAJ 1929.
- Speight, Harry, Chronicles and Stories of Old Bingley, Elliot Stock: London 1898.
- Wardell, James, Historical Notices on Ilkley, Rombald’s Moor, Baildon Common, etc., Leeds 1869.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian