Sacred Hill: OS Grid Reference – SE 159 626
From the bottom of Pateley Bridge, just out of town take the left turn to Bewerley and go through the village; or from Glasshouses follow the road over the River Nidd and round. Both ways take you to meet the steep and winding Nought Bank Road, which you should follow all the way to the top of the moorland hill. You can just park up by the footpath taking you east. Then cross the road and walk west on the dirt-track to Rowan Tree Crags. 100 yards along, the gentle sloping moor on your left is the Old Wife’s Ridge.
Archaeology & History
The academic history of this moorland is poor, save occasional notes about lead mining and quarrying (Jennings 1967). Speight (1894) describes the finding of large pieces of lead-worked Roman inscriptions nearby that were found in January 1735 — one of which had the letters ‘BRIG’ cut into it, thought to be a referral to the land or deity, Brigantia. Examples of prehistoric rock art occur at nearby Guisecliff Woods, due east, but there are no specific notices about the archaeology of this hillside.
When we visited the place yesterday, much of the heather had been burned (the previous year) and we found two stones which looked suspiciously as if they had stood upright in the past, and may have had played some part in the naming and myth of the Old Wife on this part of the moors. I can find no other records of any remains here.
References to the Old Wife scatter our northern lands and invariably refer to an aspect of the heathen Earth Mother of our peasant ancestors, particularly in Her aspects of winter and early spring. In Scotland and Ireland She was commonly known as the cailleach. Sadly I can find no extant lore relating to Her mythic aspects in the landscape on these hills. A field-name to the south, Nanny Black Hill, may have related to the Old Wife.
- Jennings, Bernard (ed.), A History of Nidderdale, Advertiser Press: Huddersfield 1967.
- o’ Crualaoich, Gearoid, The Book of the Cailleach, Cork University Press 2003.
- Speight, Harry, Nidderdale, Elliot Stock: London 1894.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian