Tumulus: OS Grid Reference – NZ 85483 04866
Also Known as:
- Flat Howe (north)
Along the A169 road that runs may miles from Whitby to Pickering, as you go through the small town of Sleights, the road gets steep for a mile or so, until you reach the moorland tops, where the road runs dead straight. After 1.2 miles (1.93km) along the straight road, a small minor road is to your right. Go along here for literally half-a-mile (0.8km) where you’ll see a small dirt-track on your right, with a locked gate. There’s place to park here. You’ll see the large rounded mound of Flat Howe-2 about 200 yards NE. Head there, then another 250 yards north. You’ve arrived!
Archaeology & History
Of the two ‘Flat Howe’ burial mounds on Sleights Moor, this is the northern one of the two, being 250 yards (230m) away from its southern companion (at NZ 85510 04614). It’s quite a big fella too – and so you’d expect there to be quite a bit of information about it. But there isn’t! No recorded excavation has taken place here, despite the top of the monument being cut into. But this might have occurred when the Ordnance Survey lads built one of their triangulation pillars into the side of it. Thankfully it’s not done too much damage.
I was quite surprised to find that even Frank Elgee (1912; 1930) had little to say about either of the two Flat Howes, simply mentioning them in passing in relation to the numerous other prehistoric tombs on these moors. Despite this, the archaeologist L.V. Grinsell (1936) thought this site to be one of “the finest peristalith barrows I have ever seen.” And this one in particular is still very impressive.
First shown on the 1853 OS-map, this large heather-covered mound of earth and stone is some six feet high and measures roughly 22 yards (20m) east-west by 19 yards (17.5m) north-south. The tomb was originally constructed within a circle of reasonably large boulders, some of which were upright. These can still be seen, mainly along the western and southern sides of the monument, although many have been dislodged over time and fallen at various angles, as you can see in the photo. Whether or not these stones were erected first and then the mound built inside the ring, we do not know. It’s the highest point in the landscape on Sleights Moor, with damn good views in all directions: an element that is common to many large prehistoric tombs, for obvious reasons. Other tombs of similar size and probably similar periods in prehistory can be seen close by and on the skyline. Whether this was a deliberate visual ingredient by our tribal ancestors is difficult to say, as the moors here were covered in scattered woodlands in prehistoric times. Only detailed archaeo-botanical surveys would be able to tell us one way or the other.
Although we have nothing specific relating to this tomb, an olde creation myth told us that the local giants, Wade and his wife Bel, left their young son (whose name seems to have been forgotten) somewhere on Sleights Moor (which aint a big place). It is worth narrating simply because it may have related to this tomb or its companion close by. Giant legends have long been associated with the creation of many prehistoric tombs in this country and abroad. The story was first written down by George Young (1817) in his magnum opus on Whitby and the tale was subsequently re-told by many others – Mrs Gutch (1901) for one:
“Young Wade, even when an infant, could throw a rock several tons weight to a vast distance; for one day when his mother was milking her cow near Swarthoue, the child, whom she had left on Sleights moor, became impatient for the breast, and seizing a stone of vast size, heaved it across the valley in wrath, and hit his mother with such violence, that though she was not materially hurt, her body made an impression on the stone which remained indelible, till the stone itself was broken up, a few years ago, to mend the highways!”
This rock was Bel’s Rock, whose exact location seems to have been lost.
- Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
- Elgee, Frank, The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1912.
- Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
- Gutch, Mrs, County Folk Lore – volume 2: Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
- Jeffrey, P. Shaw, Whitby Lore and Legend, Home: Whitby 1923.
- Roberts, Anthony, Sowers of Thunder, Rider: London 1978.
- Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
- Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clarke & Medd: Whitby 1817.
Acknowledgements: A huge thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this great tomb and its companion; and to James Elkington for use of the photograph.
Links: The Megalithic Portal on Flat Howe
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian