From Pickering take the moor road towards Whitby (A169) for approx. 12 miles. After passing the Fylingdales Early Warning radar on the right (you can’t miss it), the road dips down to cross Eller Beck as a dog leg. After a half mile turn off left (west) towards Goathland (signposted). Follow the road under the North Yorks Moor railway bridge and after a third-of-a-mile the road turns slightly left. Park in the little layby and follow the track onto the moors. Cross the small stream and walk along the narrow track through gorgeous heather for a mile and a half. Ahead you will see Simon Howe prominent on a ridge, with a stone row leading to it.
Archaeology & History
Not included in either of the giant megalithic alignments surveys of Burl or Thom, it seems that the first archaeological reference to this site was made by Raymond Hayes (1988). He visited the site in 1947, shortly after a moorland fire had cleared away all the vegetation, allowing for a clearer view of the stones and, after his brief description of the adjacent Simon Howe tomb, he told that,
“The ridge is also the site of what is an unusual feature for the moors: a stone alignment consisting of three, formerly five upright stones that lead to a low eroded cairn c.65m to the south(west). A moor fire in 1947 revealed the fourth, fallen stone, and I was able to locate the socket of a fifth.”
From hereon, Hayes seemed to more interested in seeking out and describing a large number of flints that he found scattered on the ground around Simon Howe and its associated monoliths than the stones themselves. Very sad… The exact position of the missing fifth stone seems to be shown on Hayes’ plan as being closest to the cairn, about 10-15 yards away, but no trace of this remains. However, of the remaining monoliths, they are all clearly visible from the air on Google Earth!
The most southerly of the four stones (SE 83016 98119) stands just over 3 feet tall and the second upright, leaning at an angle, is just slightly taller, with the tallest of the three uprights at the northeastern end, being some 6 feet tall. The fourth fallen stone (SE 83031 98142) lies just beyond this in the heather and which, if resurrected, would stand some 4 feet in height. The length of the row, stone-to-stone, is just over 29 yards (26.6m). I’m not aware if this site has ever been assessed as having an astronomical function, but its angle to the northeast might suggest a lunar rising. Perhaps more pertinent would be another prehistoric cairn that can be seen less than 100 yards away past the northern end of stone row…
Take the A827 road that runs alongside Loch Tay between Killin and Kenmore, and about 6 miles from Killin watch out for the signposts for The Big Shed. Stop and walk NW up the track across the road from there, up toward Ben Lawers. Several hundred yards up, past the sheep-fold on the left-side of the track, a line of ruinous walling runs straight over the grasslands. Walk along here until it meets with the next walling that runs uphill. Look down into where the wall has collapsed. It’s under your nose!
Archaeology & History
This is a fascinating and pretty impressive example of a simple cup-marked stone. It’s the design that does it I suppose – similar in some ways to the well-known Idol Stone carving on my old playground of Ilkley Moor (that’s what this one reminded me of when I first clapped eyes on it)—but much better!
Lines of cups from above
The carving from the east
Its similarity lies in the series of parallel rows of cup-marks running very close together along the line of the low-lying rock, found at the base of some ancient walling that runs up the mountain for several hundred yards. Not only that, but the line of walling itself also has a parallel line of walling running adjacent for the same distance up the mountainside — more than half-a-mile from start to finish. This “parallel” feature of walling and cup-markings is a curious coincidence, perhaps. But certainly the linearity of the cup-marks was itself a very deliberate feature by the person who carved it, representing something ‘structural’, in whatever mythic form that may have been!
The carving in its walling
Of the rows of cups constituting this petroglyph, four of them run completely from one side of the stone to the other, rough north to south; with four other shorter rows running only halfway across the rock surface. Altogether there are perhaps seventy cups etched onto the rock. No rings or semi-circles of any form were visible in our visit here—although the skies were grey and overcast, making any decent visual analysis more difficult.
A damn good carving and well worth checking out by anyone into prehistoric rock art!
Take the A924 road north of Blairgowrie, between Pitlochry and Bridge of Cally and, about 4.6 miles (7.5km) along, roughly halfway between Ballintuim and Kirkmichael, in the field by the roadside immediately west, you’ll see this conspicuous upright stone standing all alone – unless the cattle are meandering slowly around it!
Archaeology & History
This single monolith that stands today as a cattle rubbing post, may at one time in its distant past have been related to the present pair of standing stones hiding in the small remain of trees 148 yards (135.5m) to the south; although neither Aubrey Burl (1993) nor Alexander Thom (1990) ascribe the stone such an association in their relative tomes on aligned stone rows.
Balnabroich stone, looking south
Balnabroich stone, looking west
When the great standing stone lover Fred Coles (1908) came here, he was as reliable as ever in his subsequent exposition of the place – and despite getting his measurements slightly out he told us almost liltingly, like an antiquarian Uncle Monty stroking his megaliths, that
“At a point almost 176 yards due north of (the) two stones is a tallish and unshapely monolith standing but a few yards west of the main road. Its most notable feature is the extreme irregularity of its shape. If any proof were needed to show how uncritical were the people who raised such stones, how totally devoid of any regard for symmetry or neatness of contour in the monoliths they set up, surely the ground-plan of this block of rent and riven quartz-veined whinstone, fissured and uncouth in all its parts, would supply it.
“The contour here shown was measured by laying down an irregular rhomboidal figure, and from each of its sides measuring by offsets to the depths 0f the curves which are so prominent on the north, the northwest and the southeast sides. The ground-plan this obtained shows that, taken between their prominent angles, the four sides measure almost exactly 3 feet each, and the main long axis of the stone which lies due east and west and measures 4 feet 6 inches. The monolith stands 5 feet 8 inches above the ground and…appear to have been unconnected with circles, so far at least as it was possible to glean any information.”
Take the A836 road between Bettyhill and Tongue and, roughly halfway between the two villages, a few hundred yards west of the turning to Borgie, park up at the roadside. Cross the road and through the gate, follow the waters of Allt Loch Tuirslighe for 100 yards and then walk uphill onto the moors. You’re damn close!
Archaeology & History
This megalithic stone row was uncovered in the late 1970s – which is no surprise to be honest. It is a very low parallel row of small upright stones, which Freer & Myatt (1982) initially found to consist of two rows of standing stones, twelve in all. When we visited the site a few days ago, I could find only ten of them that could appreciably be termed authentic – and that was stretching it a bit!
Several of the low stones
Close-up of the small stones
Of the two stone rows presently visible, the easterly one is easier to see and consists of seven small stones, running almost in a dead straight line NNE. A few yards west we find the second stone row, in which I could only discern three tangible contenders, also running NNE, but slightly fanning outwards and away further north. When standing in the middle of the two rows, they align to a small natural rocky outcrop on the near-horizon 100 yards away, upon which Paul Hornby recently discovered 3 or 4 faint cup-markings. If we turn 180 degrees and look in the opposite direction, the alignment of stones points to the highest peak in the far distance.
Myatt’s 1988 survey
Gourlay’s 1996 survey
All of the stones are small and difficult to see upon initial exploration. The highest of them stands no more than 1½ feet tall, with their average less than 1 foot. One of the stones in the eastern row is covered completely by vegetation. However, in earlier assessments of this site, quite a few other stones were visible. Its brief history and appearance was described in Leslie Myatt’s (1988) survey of such monuments in this remote region, where he told:
“This very ruinous setting of stone rows was fist recorded by the Archaeology Division of the Ordnance Survey… Peat cutting has taken place in the area and undoubtedly a number of stones have been removed from the site.
“(The illustration) shows the result of a survey carried out by the author showing a total of only 16 stones not more than 20cm above the surface. Because of the small number of stones remaining, it has not been possible to superimpose a geometric construction on the site. The ground slopes upwards to the north-northeast, at which end of the setting is a low peat-covered mound about 10m in diameter. It has no distinctive features, although it does not appear to be natural…”
The site is described in Alexander Thom’s (1990) major survey, but sadly he didn’t turn his direct attention here, so we still have no accurate geometric or astronomical assessment. A few years later Aubrey Burl (1993) gave us details of the larger initial size of the complex and told us that at
“Borgie, near Torrisdale Bay on the north coast of Sutherland, perhaps an early site, has three or four lines with the suspicion of a fifth. The rows narrow from their base 20ft (6.1m) across to 18ft 8in (5.7m) over a distance of 59ft (18m), a contraction as they worm uphill towards a peat-covered mound of hardly a quarter of an inch in a foot (0.6: 31cm).”
The small peat-covered mound which the stone rows lead up to was suggested by Robert Gourlay (1996) as “perhaps a small cairn.”
Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
Freer, R. & Myatt, L.J., “The Multiple Stone Rows of Caithness and Sutherland,” in Caithness Field Club Bulletin, 3:3, April 1982.
Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
Myatt, Leslie, “The Stone Rows of Northern Scotland,” in Ruggles 1988.
Ruggles, Clive, Records in Stone: Papers in Memory of Alexander Thom, Cambridge University Press 1988.
Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – 2 volumes, BAR: Oxford 1990.
This short and dead straight cursus monument was first described in John Hedges’ (1981) survey, and later mentioned in Harding & Lee’s (1987) corpus on British henges as being in conjunction with a series of circular prehistoric monuments (three circular enclosures existed beyond its southeast and one to its northeast edges, one of which is visible in the aerial image, right).
Most of the monument has been completely destroyed by roads and housing, but when complete was said to be 317 yards (290m) long, running from the southeast to the northwest. The flattened southeastern edge measures nearly 63 yards (57.3m) across, and its northernmost width was close to 65 yards (60m) wide.
In Patrick Taylor’s (2015) assessment of this (and other monuments) he thought that the cursus may have served an astronomical function. He may be right. It’s alignment, he told,
“has a very clear orientation 38.5º north of grid west. This represents an amplitude from true west of 40.9º. Allowing for a latitude of 51.97º and altitude of 0.95º, adjusted downwards for refraction to 0.50º, we get from (Alexander) Thom’s table a declination for a body setting to the northwest of 24.15.º This is only 0.23º, just less than half the width of the sun’s disc, more than the sun’s maximum declination in Neolithic times of 23.92º. The alignment thus points rather accurately towards the upper limb or last setting point of the sun.”
Faint remnants of a second cursus monument have been discovered 400 yards to the east.
Harding, A.F. & Lee, G.E.,, Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
Hedges, John D. & Buckley, David, Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, ECC 1981.
Last, Jonathan, “Out of Line: Cursuses and Monument Typology in Eastern England,” in Barclay & Harding’s Pathways & Ceremonies, Oxbow: Oxford 1999.
This long-lost standing stone gave its name to the small hill between the geological giants of Little Almscliffe and Almscliffe Crags, ‘Staniston Hill.’ Described as early as the 13th century in the Cartulary of Fountains Abbey as ‘Standandestan’, its precise whereabouts is unknown—but it’s damn close to the grid-reference cited here. As the early OS-map shows, a small rounded hill occurs a short distance northwest of the small copse of trees now growing. The monolith may have been felled by some grumpy christian, or it could be standing in some nearby walling. Local antiquarians, dowsers or archaeologists may or may not find a search for it worthwhile…
Its position between the two Almscliffe Crags makes it very close to marking the midway point of a natural solstice marker: the Winter sunrise from Little Almscliffe and summer sunset from the greater Almscliffe.
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 5, Cambridge University Press 1961.
From Colne or Laneshaw Bridge, head up the Skipton Old Road which heads up towards Bleara Moor (with its prehistoric cairns). Way before that though, about 100 yards before you reach the Black Lane Ends pub, turn left up the track to Jerusalem Farm. Go past it, through the gates and keep on the track until, another coupla hundred further uphill, you’ll see it on the skyline ahead of you…
Archaeology & History
There appears to be no previous reference to this standing stone, found high upon the lonely ridge beside the old track that runs between Laneshaw Bridge and Kelbrooke and Earby. Well eroded on all sides, it isn’t shown on the early or recent maps and has evaded the archaeological registers of the area (but this is Lancashire, where archaeology has been damn lazy on the county’s prehistoric relics until very recently). It may have been laid down for an age, only recently resurrected—we simply do not know. Standing nearly five-feet tall, on its top western face is what looks like a very faded cup-marking, but this may be a fortuitous Rorscharch. There are no marks or holes in the stone to indicate it has ever been used as a gatepost.
I was guided here by the northern antiquarian and stonemason Chris Swales a few weeks ago and was quite taken aback by its position in the landscape—which is outstanding! Apart from being blocked to the west by the rise of the Great Edge, the views to the north through east and south and superb. On the far eastern skyline rises the legendary Hitching Stone, between which is the seemingly cairn-less Knarrs Hill.
Further north along the track we reach the old Dissenter’s Well and its moving companion, the Tom Cross (which has marked different parts of the Lancashire and Yorkshire boundary). Other than this, we know nothing more. An intriguing spot and well worth visiting!
There are many routes to get here, but this is the one I usually take. From Cow & Calf Rocks, walk up the steep hillside onto the first moorland plain, taking the path right, diagonally, across to the NW as if you’re heading to the Map Stone. From here, looking down at the stream valley below, follow the valley edge up, past the settlement, and then veer down to Backstone Beck and up on the other side till you meet with a footpath and also up in the heather ahead of you, notice the jumbled walling less than 100 yards away. That’s where you need to be!
Archaeology & History
A singular short sentence in Robert Collyer and J.H. Turner’s Ilkley, Ancient and Modern (1885) started it all off, where they told:
“There was still a rude circle of rocks on the reach beyond White Wells fifty years ago, tumbled into such confusion that you had to look once, and again, before you saw what lay under your eyes.”
…..And thankfully this is still what we see today – and in just the area they mentioned.
I’m intrigued to find there’s so much said about this site on the Net and feel I should put my recent feelings about the place to print at last (and after being badgered to gerrit done by James Elkington!). The information about its make-up and the mess it’s in, hasn’t changed since we rediscovered the place on June 3, 1989. Here, amidst the tall grasses and reeds of Juncus effusus and J. conglomeratus, our jumble of megaliths hides within a breakdown of fallen walls, that are thought to have been part of some sheep-fold or a similar animal enclosure (mebbe for the annual sheep-shagging contests that are held, quietly, on these moors each year!).
The name ‘backstone’ itself come from the adjacent beck (slowly depleting as the years pulse by) and is mentioned in the 18th century parish registers. A.H. Smith (1961) informs us that it was the “stream where bakestones were got”, and this was probably a tradition going way way back. The baking stones from the beck may even have been used by the people living in the prehistoric settlements close to the circle.
In what looks today like a messy double-ring of stones, it’s likely there was originally just a single ring which has, subsequently, been knocked down and re-used for some form of sheep-fondling sessions—be it agricultural or otherwise! But for the record at least: we have small inner ‘ring’ of four upright stones, re-worked in more recent centuries, between two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half feet tall. Another stone is recumbent. The outer ring is more conspicuous. It consists of at least eight standing stones–seven of which are upright–between three and five feet tall, some of which have been re-worked in more recent times. There are several other stones either recumbent or partly covered by vegetation. The tallest of the stones is 4’11” tall. The outer circle has had at least one of the stones uprooted and used at the base of the dry-stone walling intruding the southwest side of the circle. What appears to be at least two original standing stones are embedded into earthworks on the other side of this wall, one of which was located through dowsing!
The best section of the ring can be seen on its eastern side, where an arc of upright stones between three and four feet high are still clearly in evidence, just inside a raised embankment like that found surrounding the Twelve Apostles stone circle less than a mile away.
A short while after finding the site, we contacted the Ilkley Head of Archaeology Studies, Gavin Edwards, about the circle and he subsequently included the site on one of the tourist-guides to the moors.
Alignments through this circle seem apparent in situ; and although such alignments are intriguing (to me anyhow), it’s the geometric relationship Backstone has with other circles on these moors that is rather notable. It’s position in the landscape plays an essential part in an isosceles triangle formation, 1180 yards [1.08km] from the Twelve Apostles stone circle which, as the centre point, is another 1180 yards from the Roms Law Circle. Odd….
Immediately visible from our ruinous circle across the small valley to the slopes of Green Crag, the Ilkley Archaeology Group spent more than fifteen years excavating the remains of what was initially thought of as a Bronze Age village, but their work here has proved startling, pushing the date of human occupation here into the mesolithic period! Local archaeologist Gavin Edwards opined that the Backstone circle would have been the religious site for the people who lived here. I have to concur. There are also more neolithic and Bronze Age walling, indicative of extended settlements and enclosures, less than 200 yards north of the Backstone Circle, structurally consistent with the remains across the valley at the excavated Green Crag Slack settlement.
Ten yards east of the circle is a small well which only runs following exceptional rainfall. This was probably of some ritual importance to the people who practiced rites here. Geological fault lines run not far away on three sides of the ring and an underground stream is present, quite close to the surface (as indicated by the presence of Juncus conglomeratus and J.effisus), encouraging the preponderance of regular electromagnetic variations: these in particular are likely to have some causative influence on the paranormal events described below….
Since rediscovering this site, a number of bizarre psychophysical anomalies have been experienced and described by more and more people — some of whom were previously very sceptical of such things. Both day and night, no doubt when Moon and water speak their subtle electromagnetic accord, a gathering corpus of all-too-familiar events keep speaking of a most disturbing resident spirit…
We begin on Wednesday, July 12, 1989, sometime around midnight, when an acquaintance and I were spending a few days here to record any possible electromagnetic anomalies at this disturbed ring of stones. We weren’t to be disappointed, as something very untoward raised its peculiar head.
As I sat barely ten yards beyond the tumbled group of stones there suddenly appeared, from nowhere, a host of figures—a dozen at most—walking ever so slowly around the old site. I could discern no physical features other than their height and humanoid shape. It was just too dark to see any details about them—they were, effectively, silhouettes. My acquaintance was terrified—although it was perhaps a minute or so before he even glanced at what I was pointing and exclaiming at, somewhat manically, stuttering and shaking my head in an attempt to make the things disappear back to my unconscious where they surely originated. Didn’t work though!
These were no psychic projections. I literally shook my head, closed my eyes and knocked my head against the walling; looked away, shook my head again, shouting at myself and looked back at the figures in front of us. It still didn’t do a damn thing! By now my friend was staring, aghast and scared shitless if the expression on his face was anything to go by.
“Wot a’ y’ seeing? Wot can y’ see?” I asked.
He murmured and mumbled something about some people he could see, walking round and round the old remains.
He was seeing exactly the same as what I could see. As the minutes passed by, this group of people, who were winding in and out of each and every stone and walking through the intrusive walling as it was not there, slowly but surely, ever so gradually, increased in speed. This was very slow and patient and went on for at least fifteen minutes — by which times they were barely visible as individual figures anymore. All we could see by now was a visual blur and a remarkable vortex that was created in the wake of their ‘dance’.
This spinning vortex of silhouettes seemed to get faster and faster until appearing to reach a sort of critical speed/energy state — and as this “critical state” occurred, what was by now a rapid spinning, energetic blur simply vanished right before our eyes! It was as if someone, somewhere, had flicked a switch and they disappeared. Yet, at the very same moment the blurred vortex vanished, several dead straight lines of orange-red appeared in their place. These were as baffling as the dance we had just watched: very thin, wavering lines of what I can only describe as subtle light, bounced off several of the standing stones. These lines—perhaps four of them—did not originate from the circle but appeared to come from further afield. One in particular seemed to come from the direction of the great boulder known as the Idol Rock, 700 yards [650m] east and continued past our field of vision in the direction of the Swastika Stone.
To be honest these “lines of energy” perturbed me more than the spinning figures which had just disappeared. Not only were these lines two-dimensional [a real screw-up that one!], I was at a loss to explain what these lines really were. The first thought was, of course, leys – but my idea of leys did not, and still does not accord with what I was seeing. Eventually the lines faded back to wherever they came, leaving both of us wondering what the hell we had just experienced.
Several minutes after talking over what had just happened, I stood up and walked into the circle. At this point, please remember it was July 12 and the night was so warm that neither of us had taken sleeping bags or a tent onto the high moors with us. As I got to the circle and took my first step inside, a tremendous shiver hit right through my body, almost like I was walking into a freezer. But I moved another step forward, unperturbed if truth be had by the probable chill wind that made me shiver. As I did so, the chill became more manifest and intense. As I took my third step forward the cold became biting and I collapsed onto my knees. [This is not like me, honest. Give me camping in the Scottish mountains in mid-February with average temperatures of -6 degrees and that’s my idea of a good night out!]
Shivering like hell, I stumbled upright and back onto my feet and virtually ran out of the circle. That, more than anything else that night, truly perturbed me.
The following morning another volunteer joined us. We told him about the events of the previous night and he thought whatever he thought; but he’d brought two thermometers with him and set them on two of the rocks: one of them about 25 yards outside the circle, the other on a stone in the circle. The two of them had the same reading: 73° F. We left them without checking for a good hour or so and then began to take readings. What transpired was bizarre to say the least: the one outside the circle was 62° F, the one in the circle was 72° F. A further reading fifteen minutes later, close to sunset, showed the temperature variations had come a little closer: the inner reading was 70° F, and outer reading still 62° F. Readings were then taken every fifteen minutes and the respective readings closed in on each other until both were the same, exactly when the sun was touching the horizon to set, at 9.05pm. But this was not the end of the anomaly. While the temperature outside the circle dropped naturally with nightfall, finally resting at 57-58° F, the inner circle reading continued falling at nearly twice the background rate! Our final reading after 11pm showed a deviation of nearly 7 degrees between the respective thermometers!
If these elements seem in anyway somewhat unbelievable, what occurred next bends the parameters of reality still further!
No further anomalous Fortean events happened at the circle that night—for us at least. However, a friend in Leeds—the internationally renowned ritual magician and author, Phil Hine—was at home with some friends, chatting.
“On the night in question,” he came to write sometime later, “I was talking to another magickian. He returned from the toilet and informed me that there was an “entity” lurking in the stairwell… This was unusual, but not sufficiently unusual to cause undue concern, and so, picking up my thunderbolt, I went out to see what was what. In the stairwell we both agreed on seeing a black amorphous shape. Since my friend had first noticed this, I asked him if he would be prepared to “open his mind” to it, so that I could question it, using him as an interface [which was one of his particular talents] and a fairly accepted procedure for questioning strange entities. “The entity declared,” I have come from the ancient hills.” It also stated that it had been “awakened” only recently due to activity around a sacred site. It said that it had come to give me “power” with which I could do something, but was reticent about the exact nature of this. When I asked what it would do if I rejected this, it said that it would return “screaming to the hills.” When I asked it to identify itself it gave the name Azathoth—which could well have sprung from the mind of my friend, although he had no particular knowledge of the Cthulu mythos entities.”
“At the time I found it difficult to credit that such a powerful entity would be hanging politely about in the stairwell waiting to be noticed. Being unable to obtain a direct answer to my questions, I told it to go forth, which it apparently did. I later had to perform an intense banishing ritual on my friend who was suffering from symptoms such as feeling cold, a tight pressure on the chest, personality displacement, and motor spasms… Unbeknownst to me at the time, two friends of mine who were members of the West Yorkshire Earth Mysteries Group had experienced a strange encounter at the then newly-uncovered Backstone Circle on Ilkley Moor… It seems strange, on reflection, that the appearance of the entity claiming to originate from a newly disturbed site seems to relate to their experience.” [Hine 1994, 1997]
Other bizarre experiences at the circle itself have been reported by growing numbers of people—a lot of them quite unpleasant. One lady, Katy from Calderdale, whose interest in megaliths rarely stretched into the obscurities of their folklore or weird tales, will “probably never go there again. It terrified me. I don’t know why, there was nothing to be scared of, but the place just felt awful.”
There have been at least a dozen people who have related the same words to me—and I can empathise. On February 14, 1990, Mick N. and I went to the site for the night with intent to do a bit of sympathetic ritual magick. The night was cold and a slight fall of snow glittered across the moors as far as we could see, invoking quite healthy feelings about the forthcoming rite. But as we turned off the path and approached the stones, it was as if we had walked through an invisible gate or door just yards before the circle itself, screaming quite powerfully with gnarled teeth that we were not wanted there that night! It was overwhelming! We both acted accordingly and spent the night elsewhere, cold and querying over its genius loci. The potency of Azathoth seemed inherent in its silent voice.
This particular feeling, almost of malevolance, has been described by many people at Backstone. It occurs both day and night and is akin to what Prof Thomas Lethbridge (1961) described as ‘ghouls’: place-memories so to speak, or spirits of place. Most of the time there is no such feeling, of course. But when conditions are right, these potent subjective consumations can be quite overwhelming at some spots. They are reported worldwide in the aboriginal traditions of all races and are felt, obviously, even today by explorers, mountaineers and visitors to ancient haunted places like the Backstone Circle.
Strange lights have also been seen over and around here by a number of witnesses. On one occasion a ritual invocation of its spirit-nature brought forth a number of glowing red spheres of light. These were about the size of footballs, appearing for a minute or two, floating in front and around us, then vanishing—only to reappear yards away around the edges of the damaged ring of stones. These were very obviously living things and were examining us with equal bewilderment. Other light-phenomena that people have seen here and on this moor appear to relate to the phases of the Moon.
Although the site is quite ruinous, it is a worthwhile place to visit – just respect, and beware the Old Hag who sometimes comes forth from time to time….
…to be continued…
Bennett, Paul., “The Backstone Circle,” Earth 15, 1990.
Bennett, Paul, “Archaeological and Geometrical Applications of the Lost Stone Circle of Ilkley Moor,” Earth 15, 1990.
Bennett, Paul, Circles, Standing Stones and Legendary Rocks of West Yorkshire, Heart of Albion Press: Wymeswold 1994.
Bennett, Paul, “The Strange Case of Backstone Circle,” Right Times 1, 1998.
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Along the A822 road past Crieff and then Gilmerton, shortly past here is a small road to Monzie and the Glenturret Distillery or Famous Grouse Experience. Go on this road and after a just a coupla hundred yards you’ll see the large old gatehouse for Monzie Castle on the left. Ask at the gatehouse and they’ll point you to the stone—in the field about 300 yards past the Monzie stone circle, 200 yards past the gatehouse itself. You can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
This is a fascinating stone for a variety of reasons—not least of which it enabled us to identify an otherwise curious geological anomaly as an unerected standing stone some 16 miles SSW…but that’s a story for later! The stone here leans at an angle in the field, as shown in the photo, but it still rises 5 feet tall and is a thick chunky fella, with one face very flat and smoothed indeed from top to bottom. This side of the stone was obviously cut and dressed this way when first erected. As Paul Hornby then noted, its western face is also quite flat and smoothed aswell, with the edge between the two sides almost squared at right-angles. The eastern and southern sides of the stone are undressed, as the phrase goes. These physical characteristics have just been found at a newly found pair of un-erected standing stones on the western edges of the Ochils, just below a newly found cairn circle.
There were several early descriptions of this stone, two of which talked about an avenue or road along which the stone seemed to stand within. This ‘avenue’ was in fact the very edge of what is probably an earlier prehistoric enclosure—but you can’t really see this anymore unless you’re in the air (check Google Earth, which shows it reasonably well).
In J. Romilly Allen’s (1882) account, he mentions the stone only in passing, telling it to be “a single standing stone measuring 4 feet by 3 feet and 5 feet high (with) no markings on it.” It was later described in Fred Coles’ (1911) survey of the region where he told:
“This monolith is the westerly of the two prehistoric sites grouped on the O.M. as Standing Stones. It stands a few yards to the south of the avenue, almost half a mile from the East Lodge. The Stone has a slight lean towards the north. Its southern side is remarkably broad and smooth, measuring 4 feet across the base on that side, in girth 13 feet 1 inch and in vertical height 4 feet 9 inches.”
In Alexander Thom’s edited magnum opus (1980) he found that this standing stone—800 feet northwest of the superb Monzie cup-and-ring stone and associated megalithic ring—marks the midsummer sunset from the stone circle. We noted on our visit here, that this alignment runs to the distant cairn on the far northwest horizon, many miles away.
In Joyce Miller’s (2010) excellent work on Scottish heathenism, she told the folowing tale of this stone:
“The standing stone is said to mark the site of Kate McNiven or MacNieven’s, sometimes known as the witch of Monzie, execution. The story goes that she was put in a barrel and rolled down what is now known as Kate MacNieven’s Craig on the north side of the Knock of Crieff before being burnt. Kate had been the nurse to the Grahams of Inchbrackie, and was accused of witchcraft, including turning herself into a bee. Graham of Inchbrackie tried to save her but to no avail, but as she was about to die it is said that she spat a bead from her necklace into his hand. The bead – a blue sapphire – was turned into a ring and it was believed that the ring would keep the family and lands secure. She did, however, curse the laird of Monzie, although whether this worked or not is not known. MacNiven or Nic Niven was also believed to be the name of the Queen of Fairies. Indeed it is not clear whether Kate MacNiven was a real person or is a conflation of stories. There do not appear to be any contemporary records of her execution at or near Crieff, and dates for her unpleasant death are variously given as 1563, 1615 and 1715.”
To the north of Rudston village and its giant standing stone, running roughly parallel with the divinatory waters of the Gypsey Race river and passing a mass of prehistoric remains en route, we find one the biggest prehistoric cursus monuments in the British Isles: the Rudston D cursus. More than twice as long as any of the three other cursus monuments nearby, its northern end or ‘terminal’ is flattened in nature (others are rounded) and is due east of the village of Burton Fleming starting at the intriguingly-named Maidens Grave field, just as the land begins to rise at TA 099 717. From here it begins its almost southern trajectory and runs almost dead straight for several hundred yards until edging, ever so slightly in direction, to a slightly more secure southern alignment. Past the site of the Rudston henge, the cursus broadens out slightly and, as it reaches the farmlands of Littlethorpe, edges slightly further to a more decisive direct southern route. The cursus then maintains a dead straight course for another mile, heading straight for, and stopping just short of the Rudston monolith in its modern churchyard. A short distance before we reach its southern end, archaeologists found that a section of the Cursus C monument cut right across it. Altogether, the Rudston D Cursus is more than 4km (2.3 miles) long! At its narrowest width, this monument is a mere 160 feet (50m) across, and at its widest is 280 feet (90m). A giant by anyone’s standard!
Along the entire length of this continuous ditch and inner bank there were just 3 small cuttings on the western side and three on the east, but two of the eastern openings were quite large. Some of these openings were affected by natural elements and others by modern agriculture. Today, much of this gigantic ritual monument (as the archaeologists call them) is not visible at ground level.
In visiting this area, make yourself aware of the other monuments in this class: the Rudston A cursus and Rudston B cursus, southeast and southwest of here respectively. A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue. To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a phenomenon long known to comparative religious students and anthropologists exploring the animistic natural relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.
Burl, Aubrey, Rites of the Gods, J.M. Dent: London 1981.
Harding, Jan, ‘Pathways to New Realms: Cursus Monuments and Symbolic Territories,’ in Barclay & Harding, Pathways and Ceremonies: The Cursus Monuments of Britain and Ireland, Oxbow: Oxford 1999.
Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape: The Cursus Enigma, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.
Stead, I.M., ‘La Tene Burials between Burton Fleming and Rudston,’ in Antiquaries Journal, volume LVI Part II, 1976.