Castle Dykes, Aysgarth, North Yorkshire

Henge Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SD 9822 8728

Also Known as:

  1. Castle Dyke

Getting Here

Castle Dyke on 1856 map
Castle Dyke on 1856 map

Go west through Aysgarth village along the A684 road and, just as you’re coming out of the town, take the left turn on the Thornton Rust road, past Town Head Farm, and turn left up the track (called Folly Lane).  Go past the house where the track veers to your right and follow it straight on (don’t turn up the track on your left a short distance along).  Keep walking on here for nearly a mile (about 10 mins), keeping your eyes peeled for the embanked rise in the field on your left, which is where the henge can be found!  You’re damn close!

Archaeology & History

A.H. Allcroft's 1908 plan
A.H. Allcroft’s 1908 plan

One of the earliest accounts I’ve found describing the Castle Dykes henge is in Mr Barker’s (1854) lovely literary exploration of Wensleydale, where he describes, “on Aysgarth Moor, which is now enclosed, may be seen a circular encampment, probably Danish” in origin.  But he tells no more.  When Edmund Bogg (c.1906) came here fifty years later, he added little extra, simply telling of, “the earthworks known as ‘Castle Dykes’, probably Angle or Danish, although Roman relics have been found here.”  However, the brilliant Mr Speight (1897) gave what seems to be the earliest real description of the site when he described “the Celts” and the earliest settlers of the region, saying how:

“The so-called ‘Castle Dykes’ at Aysgarth betrays a probable connection with the same settlers.  It is an irregular circular rampart, measuring about forty yards across its longest diameter, and not unlike the earthwork on Harkaside called ‘Maiden Castle’… A ditch completely encloses the mound, which, it should be noted, is unusually low, being little higher than the outer bank or upcast from the trench.  It is totally different from the elaborate burh at Middleham; indeed, from its low and simply form, as well as from its situation in Celtic territory, there seems little doubt that it was the work of these early people.”

Ditch of Castle Dykes henge, looking east (photo credit – Richard Stroud)

Speight also made a suggestion that the place-name of Aysgarth itself may derive from this monument.  He may have a point.  A.H. Smith (1928) and other place-name authorities tell the name to derive from “an open space” either surrounded by, or — in some way — defined by oak trees.  We might never know for sure…

Not long after the works of Speight and Bogg came the first real survey of British prehistoric earthworks by A.H. Allcroft (1908) — and amidst the mass of archaeological curiosities (as many were at the time) was another description of this great ceremonial monument.  Allcroft told that here,

“a weak vallum of earth encloses a perfectly regular oval area measuring from crest to crest of the vallum 257 feet (east to west) by 217 feet (north to south).  Immediately within the vallum is a broad fosse varying from 25 to 32 feet in width.  The vallum at its highest (east) rises not more than seven feet above the floor of the fosse.  The “island” measures 196 by 160 feet and is perfectly flat.  There is no berm and no outer fosse.  The vallum is broken by three gaps, of which that to the southeast is apparently original, as the fosse has never been excavated across it.  The other gaps point respectively northeast and south-southwest, the latter being a mere depression like that to be seen at the eastern side of the northern ring at Thornborough.  At one point in the vallum, on the southeast, a single large stone rises slightly above the turf which otherwise covers the whole work, and certain depressions observable at other points suggest that other such blocks have been removed —that, in fact, it originally had a peristalith standing upon the vallum.  The principal entrance looks towards Pen Hill…”

Around the same time, the early scientific discipline of astroarchaeology was taking root and in Sir Norman Lockyer’s Nature journal, the reverend J. Griffith (1908) explored the potential astronomical orientation of Aysgarth’s Castle Dykes, thinking that the main entrance to the site gave indications of an alignment towards either Alpha Centauri or Capella.  Y’ never know…

Although many visitors and local people knew of Castle Dykes, it was pretty late before the site gained status as a henge monument.  This happened following a visit here by the pedantic archaeologist R.J.C. Atkinson (1951) in September of 1948.  Following his visit, Atkinson described the place, saying:

“It consists of an oval enclosure bounded by a well-preserved ditch and external bank, with an entrance on the East side.  Two small gaps in the bank, without corresponding causeways across the ditch, were probably made in recent times to allow the escape downhill of the surface water which collects in the ditch.  The dimensions in H. Allcroft’s plan are incorrect.  The markedly oval shape is probably in part dictated by the situation, in order that as much as possible of the enclosed area should lie on the level ground topping the ridge.  There is no sign of any stone structure in the central area, but the district abounds in stone walls, for which the site may have been robbed in the past.”

Aerial image

In more recent years, archaeologists have speculated that the site was a sacred site or meeting place, aswell as a site where trade occurred, particularly a place where axes were traded; but this latter idea is  more due to the projection of a modern religious notion, of ‘The Market’ with little veracity in terms of the site’s function.  This increasing imposition of ‘economics’ and ‘trade’ (see Brown 2008:44-6)  as vital ingredients to this and other sites has little relevance outside of a simple epiphenomenalistic adjunct to magical and tribal exchanges.  But such notions are outside of archaeological frameworks, so we shouldn’t be surprised at so prevalent an error.

But this place is damn impressive — though with the exception of Mr Griffith, one notable ingredient archaeologists seem to have forgotten about was the position of this site in the landscape.  The views surrounding the henge are excellent, giving a 360° arena all round.  If the monument once had a ring of stones around it, as Allcroft suggested, the views would still have been the same.  A modern excavation here might prove worthwhile and, as a result, open up once again, the potential for further astronomical investigations with the many hills and notches along the living horizon.  This site, whilst requiring analysis of it as a ‘specimen’, must also be placed in the context of the wider living environment which, to all early traditional cultures, were such important and integral ingredients.

We have also found some previously unrecorded prehistoric remains nearby which, hopefully, we’ll be able to explore a little more in 2011 and report here.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allcroft, A. Hadrian, Earthwork of England, MacMillan: London 1908.
  2. Atkinson, R.J.C., “The Henge Monuments of Great Britain,” in Atkinson, Piggott & Sandars’ Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon (Department of Antiquities: Oxford 1951).
  3. Barker, W.G.M.J., The Three Days of Wensleydale, Charles Dolman: London 1854.
  4. Bogg, Edmund, Wensleydale and the Lower Vale of Yore, E. Bogg: Leeds (c.1906).
  5. Brown, Paul & Barbara, Prehistoric Rock Art in the Northern Dales, Tempus: Stroud 2008.
  6. Griffith, Rev. J., “English Earthworks and their Orientation,” in Nature, volume 80, 18 March 1909.
  7. Harding, A.F., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  8. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire,Cambridge University Press 1928.
  9. Speight, Harry, Romantic Richmondshire, Elliot Stock: London 1897.

AcknowledgementsMany thanks to Richard Stroud for use of his photo of the henge.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Parc-y Meirw, Llanychaer, Pembroke

Standing Stones:  OS Grid Reference – SM 9988 3591

Also Known as:

  1. Parc y Marw
  2. Parc y Meirw

Archaeology & History

Parc y Meirw - by Liz Haines
Parc y Meirw – by Liz Haines

This is an impressive and well-known megalithic stone row, found just 4-5 miles inland from the coastal town of Fishguard.  The drawing here is used courtesy of Elizabeth Haines, landscape artist, and gives a fine representation of the site as I’m sure you’d agree!  Consisting of at least eight standing stones — four still upright and four laid down — aligning northwest to southeast, the tallest stone stands at the southerly end measuring 11 feet tall.  The stone row is found in a region rich in prehistoric remains.  Aubrey Burl (1993) said of the place:

“Four of the eight stones in this unusual row still stand, trapped in a  field-wall, tow of them now gateposts.  Thom suggested that the line, 131ft (40m) long, was laid out downhill towards the WNW and the minor northern moonset just north of Mount Leinster ninety-one miles away across the Irish Sea.”

Quite a distance!  And perhaps because of this, Burl thought that the nature of this line of stones was more archaeological than astronomical, with its focal point being more likely up the slope to the ESE instead.

Folklore

There was once an adjacent chambered tomb here which, when it was “destroyed for a house in 1844 brought the owner no luck” (Thom, Thom & Burl 1990) – which is damn good to hear!  There was a piece of folklore mentioned by E.L. Barnwell (1868) and other writers that the fields here marked the fall of three Welsh princes in the Battle of Mynydd Carn in 1084.  In Roger Worsley’s (1988) fine tour of Pembrokeshire’s historical sites, he tells how these megaliths in the “field of the dead” are also haunted, saying:

“A local tale tells of Ladi Wen, a ghostly White Lady wandering about the fields at night, and who will kill anyone who ventures near; it was enough to keep villagers away from the site well into this century, though the stone row is over five thousand years old.”

References:

  1. Barber, Chris & Williams, John Godfrey, The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge: Abergavenny 1989.
  2. Barnwell, E.L., “Alignments in Wales,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, volume 14, 1868.
  3. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  4. Thom, Alexander, Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones, BAR 560: Oxford 1990.
  5. Worsley, Roger, The Pembrokeshire Explorer, CCP: Abercastle 1988.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSA huge thanks to Elizabeth Haines, Landscape Artist, for use of her drawing of Parc-y Meirw.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 


Bryn Celli Ddu, Llandaniel Fab, Anglesey

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SH 50761 70185

Also known as:

  1. Bryncelli Ddu
Bryn Celli Dhu in 1847

Archaeology & History

An excellent passage grave tomb that’s been described by many historians over the last two hundred years, and was subject to a fine excavation in the first half of the 20th century.  Ascribed as neolithic in origin, recent finds of human activity on the edge of the surrounding henge indicates people have been “up to things” hereby since at least 6000 BC.  Deriving its name from “the mound of the black grove,” the site as we see it today has been much restored and is so different to when it was visited by Thomas Pennant and other antiquarians.

According to an anonymously written essay in Archaeologia Cambrensis in 1847, the site was first described by Henry Rowlands (1723) where, in relation to another site, he told were,

“the remains of two carnedds, within a few paces of one another: the one is somewhat broken and pitted into on one side, where the stones had been carried away; the other having had its stones almost all taken away into walls and hedges, with two standing columns erected between them.”

A somewhat more detailed description came from Thomas Pennant a few years later.  He wrote:

“A few years ago, beneath a carnedd similar to that at Tregarnedd, was discovered, on a farm called Bryn-celli-ddu…a passage three feet wide, four feet two or three inches high and about nineteen feet and a half long, which led into a room about three feet in diameter and seven in height.  The form was an irregular hexagon, and the sides composed of six rude slabs, one of which measured in its diagonal eight feet nine inches.  In the middle was an artless pillar of stone, four feet eight inches in circumference.  This supports the roof, which consists of one great stone near ten feet in diameter.  Along the sides of the room was, if I may be allowed the expression, a stone bench, on which were found human bones, which fell to dust almost at a touch: it is probable that the bodies were placed on the bench… The diameter of the incumbent carnedd is from ninety to a hundred feet.”

Ground-plan

But the main excavation work at Bryn Celli Ddu was done in the late-1920s by W.J. Hemp (1930) and his team, who, as usual following such digs, ended up with just as many questions about the site as they had answers!  One of the best descriptions of Hemp’s excavation work was by W.F. Grimes (1932) in an essay he wrote for the East Anglian Prehistoric Society where he gave the following detailed description of the finds:

“The cairn here was circular, with a chamber of some 160ft and an original maximum height of at least 12ft.  The chamber is a polygonal structure of large stones augmented…with dry-stone walling, entered on the northeast side by a long passage built in the same way.  Many of the stones had been dressed and in the chamber stood a single pillar which had been artificially rounded and smoothed, but which had never actually supported the capstone.

“These features had been more or less apparent for many years.  But the reparation work soon showed that this was by no means all.  In the first place, it was found that the chamber had been surrounded by four circles of standing stones.  The first of these, around the outside of the mound at its base, had disappeared, although early accounts and a single hole found in the course of the work of excavation, are evidence of its existence.  The second and third circles were found when the entrance to the passage wall was being cleared.  Here the walls of the passage were found to merge into an outer circle of large stones and an inner of smaller, set close together and elaborately packed and sunk in a ditch six feet deep and eighteen wide, enclosing the chamber in such a way that passage, chamber and circles together form a gigantic unbroken spiral, with the chamber itself as an unbroken loop in it.  The fourth and innermost circle was in the area enclosed by the ditch (which is represented on the plan by the shaded portion).  This consisted of a number of stones of various sizes, irregularly placed and in some cases inclined outwards.  Under some of them were deposits of burnt human bones.  Lines connecting these stones diametrically were found to intersect at the centre of the monument, directly behind the chamber, and here was found a slab-covered pit which contained an elaborate filling whose purpose is unexplained.  Beside the cover-stone of the pit was a second larger slab of grit, lying flat, the faces of which were covered with an elaborate and continuous pattern of spirals, scrolls and zig-zags.  The position of this stone is shown beside the central stone on the plan.  Of it purpose it can only be said that it was probably magical…

“As if the elaborate features already described thus badly were not enough, a uniform floor of purple clay was found to cover the old natural surface within the area enclosed by the ditch, and there were on the floor, in the ditch, and in many other places extensive traces of fire in the form of burnt patches, blackening and quantities of charcoal.  In addition there were outside the entrance, a line of post-holes and remains of walls suggesting the former existence of some kind of forecourt crossed by a temporary barrier.  Here also were traces of fire and of elaborate ritual.  It must be emphasized of course, that all these features, with the exception of the outer circle of stones and the forecourt, had been completely concealed by the mound, so that they were not visible once the monument was completed… Moreover…the entrance to the chamber had been closed with an elaborate blocking which suggested that once closed the chamber had not been intended to be re-opened.”

Although many questions emerged following the excavation, perhaps that relating to the chronology and evolution of the site (after its ritual use) was most important.  The site as we see it today sits within the confines of a henge monument (which should also be given an independent entry account) and once a stone circle.  And although present day field evidence is inconclusive about which came first, archaeologists like Richard Bradley, Clare o’ Kelly and others are not without opinion.  Bradley (1998) told:

“O’ Kelly argued that there had been two successive monuments on the site.  The earlier one was a stone circle, enclosed by the earthworks of the henge.  In a later phase this was replaced by a passage grave which was built over the surviving remains of the stone circle, its outer kerb being bedded in the ditch of the older monument.”

But Bradley himself doubts this for various reasons, himself interpreting,

“the sequence at Bryn Celli Ddu is to suggest that in its first phase it consisted of a circular unrevetted mound about 15m in diameter, containing a passage grave.  Around the edge of this structure was a stone circle, and beyond that there was a quarry ditch.  When the monument was enlarged, not on one occasion but twice, the passage was extended as far as the earlier ditch and a significantly larger mound was bounded by kerbstones.”

Though adding himself that there is also a trouble with this idea!  As with many other sites, Bryn Celli Ddu appears to have been aligned to the summer solstice.  This notion was first propounded by astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer (1909) in his hugely revised work on the astronomical function of megalithic sites.  It was nearly 100 years before any archaeologist got off their backside and tested Lockyer’s original proposal and found the scientist to have been way ahead of them at their own discipline.  Not unsurprisingly, archaeologist Mike Pitts (2006) was a bit slow in his gimmicky headline in British Archaeology, where he deemed Steve Burrow’s personal observation as “sensational.”  Oh how common this theme seems to be in archaeology.  Twenty years previously Miranda Green (1991) posited that the chamber alignment from Bryn Celli Ddu aligned towards “May Day sunrise” — which doesn’t seem to work.  And on a similar astronomical note, archaeologist Julian Thomas (1991) thought that five post-holes found some five yards beyond the entrance were somewhat reminiscent of the “A” holes at Stonehenge and related to some lunar alignments, thinking that:

“It seems likely that  (they) record a series of observations upon the rising of some heavenly body in order to ascertain its standstill position.”

A point that Clive Ruggles (1999) explored with a little scepticism, pointing out:

“The only possibility is the northern minor limit of the moon, and while the adjacent posts are ranged on the correct side to record the position, say, of the midwinter full moonrise in years before and after the minor standstill, many other interpretations of these posts are doubtless possible.”

There’s been lots written about this place and lots more could be added with various archaeologists showing their relative opinions about the place.  But perhaps more worthwhile is a visit to the place, later on, when the tourists have fallen back under a starlit sky…

References:

  1. Anonymous, “Cromlech at Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, volume 2, 1847.
  2. Barber, Chris & Williams, John G., The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge: Abergavenny 1989.
  3. Bradley, Richard, “Stone Circles and Passage Graves – A Contested Relationship,” in Prehistoric Ritual and Religion, edited by Alex Gibson & Derek Simpson (Sutton: Stroud 1998).
  4. Green, Miranda, The Sun Gods of Ancient Europe, Batsford: London 1991.
  5. Grimes, W.F., “Prehistoric Archaeology in Wales since 1925,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia, 7:1, 1932.
  6. Hemp, W.J., “The Chambered Tomb of Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey,” in Archaeologia, volume 80, 1930.
  7. Lockyer, Norman, Stonehenge and other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered, MacMillan: London 1909.
  8. Lynch, Frances, Prehistoric Anglesey, Anglesey Antiquarian Society 1991.
  9. o’ Kelly, Clare, “Bryn Celli Ddu: A Reinterpretation,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, volume 118, 1969.
  10. Ruggles, Clive, Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland, Yale University Press 1999.
  11. Thomas, Julian, Rethinking the Neolithic, Cambridge University Press 1991.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Achnancarranan, Islay, Argyll

Standing Stones:  OS Grid Reference – NR 3895 4606

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 37581

Getting Here

From Port Ellen take the A846 road east to Laphroaig, and on the far side of the village, past the small forested part on your left, walk up the slightly sloping hill alongside the small River Kilbride.  Over a couple of walls on your way up, look up the small hill to your right (north) and you’ll see these large standing stones.

Archaeology & History

A triple-stone row no less!  Although only two of these stones are upright, a third central prostrate stone is included in archaeological surveys as an original upright.  And it seems likely. Although passed over in Alexander Thom’s astroarchaeological analyses, Clive Ruggles (1984) looked at this stone row and found the alignment here to possess no solar or lunar function.  But if it aligns north the mythic relationship obviously relates to death, as North “is the place of greatest symbolic darkness” where neither sun nor moon ever rise nor set.   There may have been an early association with Alpha Draconis, or Thuban in the constellation of the Dragon: the Pole Star in early neolithic times around which the heavens were seen to revolve by our ancestors and hold the pillar of the sky in place.  But we may never know.  Perhaps by the time these monoliths were erected, the mythos relating to A.Draconis may have faded…

The stones are found amidst a scatter of other neolithic and Bronze Age remains.  In the Royal Commission (1984) report on the stones they described the respective monoliths as follows:

“The north stone, measuring 1.28m by 0.35m at the base and 2.70m in height, rises with a gradual taper, the top curving gently to its highest point at the top of the south side.  The centre stone, now prone, has fallen onto its E face and lies embedded in the ground with its upper surface (originally the west face) flush with turf; it is 3m long and up to 0.9m broad.  The south stone measures 0.80m by 0.40m at the foot and 2.85m in height.  It leans towards the west and the top slopes down sharply from the south to a shoulder 2.1m above ground level on the north side.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 5: Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay, HMSO: Edinburgh 1984.
  3. Ruggles, C.L.N., Megalithic Astronomy: A New Archaeological and Statistical Study of 300 Western Scottish Sites, BAR: Oxford 1984.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Cultoon, Portnahaven, Islay, Argyll

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NR 1956 5697

Also Known as:

  1. Cultoun

Archaeology & History

Following excavation work on this denuded megalithic ring in 1974 and 1975 under the joint auspices of the Islay Historical Works Group (IHWG) and the Hunterian Museum of the University of Glasgow, under the direction of archaeologist Dr Euan MacKie (1976), with the intent of actually restoring the site to what they thought was its former glory by resurrecting the fallen monoliths in this ring of stones, some intriguing facts came to light.  Dr MacKie wrote:

“This site stands on a low, shallow knoll about a mile from the sea and with an extensive peat bog to the west.  Before excavation the stone ring consisted of a rough oval of two standing stones and ten fallen ones, the latter being partly or nearly completely buried under the turf.  The dimensions of the ring were about 45 by 40 yards.  The excavations were based on a 6m grid and the ain was to explore as much as possible the perimeter of the ring and part of the interior.  In this way it was hoped to identify the sockets from which the prone monoliths were assumed to have fallen and thus to discover the exact positions at which they were to be re-erected…

“It soon became clear that the prone monoliths had not in fact fallen out of their sockets.  All of them lay on the old ground surface under the peat which had evidently begun to grow — in the 8th century BC according to one C-14 date — after the site had reached its present condition.  Some stones had no socket next to them and a number of sockets were found without adjacent stones.  Several stones lay next to sockets in such a position as to make it clear that they had never been set up.  The site had evidently been abandoned in the middle of construction and those sockets already dug were allowed to fill slowly with rubble and silt.  One socket was discovered which had been deliberately filled up, confirming that some change of plan had occurred before the final abandonment.  Cultoon is the only stone circle apart from two phases of Stonehenge to have revealed evidence of never having been completed. (my italics, Megalithix)

“The finds were few and consisted of mesolithic flint microliths and some larger, presumably neolithic flints.  The former were all on and in the buried topsoil — the circle builders’ ground surface — while the latter were on the land surface and in the lower part of the peat; these last included scrapers and are hollow-based points of Bronze Age type.  Of particular interest was the discovery of caches of flint flakes in the peat next to the two standing stones.  They appear to be deliberate offerings and suggest that the site retained its sanctity for some centuries after its abandonment.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. MacKie, Euan, “Cultoon, Islay,” in Glasgow Archaeological Society Bulletin, No.2, 1976.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Wallace’s Stone, Dunblane, Stirlingshire

Standing Stones / Stone Row:  OS Grid Reference – NN 83259 02293

Also Known as:

  1. Lairhill Stones

Getting Here

Follow the same directions as to reach the cup-marked Sheriffmuir Carving, which is just a coupla hundred yards away to the southwest.  On a clear day you can see this standing stone from the pub by the roadside, a few hundred yards away!

Archaeology & History

Wallace Stone (photo credit – James Elkington)

This is alleged to be just one standing stone in a straight line of five once-upright monoliths.  Starting at the southwestern end of this row we have the 7ft-long cup-marked Sheriffmuir Carved stone — which certainly looks as if it stood upright in the not-too-distant past — and as we move up the line we pass another that’s been split in half.  Another earthfast-looking rock is the next contender, before we reach our famous Wallace Stone, standing upright and proud on this moorland ridge.  It’s about 6ft tall and 3ft across at its widest and certainly acts as a marker for the line of stones that allegedly stood upright here.  And if we walk just a bit further up we have another big stone laid on the ground which is alleged to be a part of the same alignment.

The split stone (photo credit – James Elkington)

If it is an authentic megalithic row, it’s not included in either the Thoms’ (1990) two-volume work on the subject, nor Aubrey Burl’s (1996) compendium a few years later.  And though the alignment looks good, I’ve found ones just like this in the Pennines where we have just one upright left and then a line of other seemingly prostrate stones running dead straight either side of the singular upright (and have kept mi gob shut about ’em for sensible reasons), so I’m not too sure what to think.

But, alignment aside, the Wallace Stone itself is a damn good standing stone and well worth checking out.  It’s highly probable that other prehistoric remains still lurk, undiscovered, amidst these heaths…like the lost stone circle to be found nearby…

Folklore

A slight variation on a theme about this spot:  in both accounts the stone was named after the legendary Scottish independence fighter, Sir William Wallace.  The folklore tells that he and his fighting clans gathered here in 1297 preceeding the Battle of Stirling Bridge; whilst the variation tells that the stone here was actually erected around that time to commemorate the event.  This tale was first narrated by a local story-teller called Blind Harry and was found by local historian A.F. Hutchinson (1893) to be a case of mistaken identity!

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish: The Prehistoric Stone Rows and Avenues of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 1993.
  2. Heggie, Douglas C., Megalithic science: ancient mathematics and astronomy in north-west Europe, Thames & Hudson: London 1981.
  3. Hutchinson, A.F., “The Standing Stones and other Rude Monuments of Stirling District,” in Transactions of the Stirling Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 1893.
  4. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  5. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – 2 volumes, B.A.R.: Oxford 1990.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks as always to James Elkington for use of his photos in this site profile – prints of which are available from the man himself!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Black Knoll Cross, Morton Moor, West Yorkshire

Cross:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1034 4465

Also Known as:

  1. Black Knowle Cross

Getting Here

Black Knoll on 1851 map

Get up to the Twin Towers right at the top of Ilkley Moor (Whetstone Gate), then walk east along the footpath, past the towers for about another 100 yards, looking out on the other side of the wall until it meets with some other walling running downhill onto Morton Moor.  Follow this walling into the heather for a few hundred yards.  Where it starts dropping down the slope towards the small valley, stop!  From here, follow the ridge of moorland along to your left (east) and keep going till you’re looking down into the little valley proper.  Along the top of this ridge if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll find the stone cross base sitting alone, quietly…

Archaeology & History

This old relic, way off any path in the middle of the moor, has little said of it.  Whilst its base is still visible — standing on a geological prominence and fault line — and appears to taken the position of an older standing stone, christianised centuries ago, the site is but a shadow of its former self.  When standing upright may centuries back, the “cross” was visible from many directions. We discovered this for ourselves about 20 years back, when Graeme Chappell and I sought for and located this all-but-forgotten monument.  When we found the stone base, what seemed like the old stone cross lay by its side, so we repositioned it back into position on July 15, 1991.  However, in the intervening years some vandal has been up there and knocked it out of position, seemingly pushing it downhill somewhere.  When we visited the remains of the cross-base yesterday (i.e., Dave, Michala Potts and I) this could no longer be located.  A few feet in front of the base however, was another piece of worked masonry which, it would seem, may have once been part of the same monument.

Cross-base, looking north
Close-up of cross-base

Years ago, after Graeme and I had resurrected the “cross” onto its base, I went to visit the Bradup stone circle a few weeks later and found, to my surprise, the upright stone in position right on the skyline a mile to the northeast, standing out like a sore thumb!  This obviously explained its curious position, seemingly in the middle of nowhere upon a little hill.  This old cross, it would seem, was stuck here to replace the siting of what seems like a chunky 3½-foot long standing stone, lying prostrate in the heather about 10 yards west of the cross base.

Stuart Feather (1960) seems to be the only fella I can find who described this lost relic, thinking it may have had some relationship with a lost road that passed in the valley below here, as evidenced by the old milestone which Gyrus and I resurrected more than 10 years back.  Thankfully (amazingly!) it still stands in situ!

If you aint really into old stone crosses, I’d still recommended having a wander over to this spot, if only for the excellent views and quietude; and…if you’re the wandering type, there are some other, previously undiscovered monuments not too far away, awaiting description…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  2. Feather, Stewart, “A Cross Base on Rombald’s Moor,” in Bradford Antiquary, May 1960.
  3. Feather, Stewart, “Crosses near Keighley,” in Cartwright Hall Archaeology Group Bulletin 5:6, 1960.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Lesser Cursus, Larkhill, Wiltshire

Cursus Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1056 4350

Also Known as:

  1. Small Cursus
  2. Stonehenge Smaller Cursus

Archaeology & History

James Fergusson’s drawing of both cursus monuments

Just like its much larger companion, the Stonehenge Cursus earthwork a short distance to the south, this Lesser or Small Cursus is generally deemed by archaeologists to “speak of a clear religious or ritual aspect to this patch of downland that…reaches back generations before the first Stonehenge was built.” (Pitts 2001)  The monument was aligned roughly east-west, showing possible relationships with the rising and setting of both sun and moon. (though I wouldn’t get too carried away with that misself…)

When Fergusson (1872) described this and its larger cursus companion a few hundred yards away, he thought they may have been dug to mark out lines of battle in prehistoric times, denouncing the horse-racing course hypothesis that was still in vogue at the time.  His theory drew evidence from the numerous prehistoric tombs scattering this area of Salisbury Plain, but seemed more influenced by notions of prehistoric barbarism and warfare than ideas relating to a cult of the dead — which was yet to reach it heights in the archaeological minds of Victorian England.  But, like other cursus monuments all over the British Isles, this one also seemed to have a distinct relationship with monuments of the dead: for at its western extremity (until being ploughed out of existence) was a large round barrow, catalogued as the “Winterbourne 35” tomb.  Tim Darvill (2006) tells its wider tale:

“Levelled by ploughing between 1934 and 1954, the Lesser Cursus was investigated in 1983 as part of the Stonehenge Environs Project… Three trenches were cut into different parts of this large monument, showing that there were at least two main phases to its construction.  Phase 1 comprised a slightly trapezoidal enclosure 200m by 60m, whose ditch may have been recut more than once and in part at least deliberately back-filled.  In Phase 2 this early enclosure was remodelled by elongating the whole structure eastwards by another 200m.  This extension comprised only two parallel side ditches, making the whole thing about 400m long with a rectilinear enclosure at the west end with entrances in its northeast and southeast corners giving access into a second rectilinear space, in this case open to the east.”

Lesser Cursus aerial view
Ground-plan of the Lesser Cursus (after Richards 1990)

The entire structure had finds dating from the periods between 3650-2900 BC; and the aerial imagery showing an oval-shaped structure near the eastern end was confirmed by geophysical surveys — though precisely what this is has yet to be ascertained.

It seems likely that this and other cursus monuments were, to a very great degree, not only related to mortuary practices but — as their development occurred at the same time as the destruction of Britain’s great forests began — to be monuments to the gods themselves.  This seems very evident at a couple of cursus monuments where animal deposits were made in some of the great mounds at their terminii, where archaeologists had previously assumed— incorrectly — the mounds to have been human burial mounds.  More about this in due course…

References:

  1. Darvill, Tim, Stonehenge: The Biography of a Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  2. Devereux, Paul, The Haunted Land, Piatkus: London 2001.
  3. Fergusson, James, Rude Stone Monuments in all Countries, John Murray: London 1872.
  4. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  5. North, John, Stonehenge, Harper-Collins: London 1997.
  6. Pitts, Mike, Hengeworld, Arrow: London 2001.
  7. Richards, Julian, The Stonehenge Environs Project, English Heritage: London 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Nine Stones Close, Harthill, Derbyshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SK 2254 6264

Also Known as:

  1. Grey Ladies
  2. Hartle Moor Stone Circle

Getting Here

Nine Stones Close circle

From Bakewell take the A6 Matlock road, follow this till just past the signs for Haddon Hall where you take a right (the first major junction) for Youlgreave the B5056.  After about 1km take the first left over the bridge.  You then take the first right turn: a steep lane with restriction signs (don’t worry there’s access for cars but no wide vehicles). Take the first left you come to by the barn and then just follow the road, up through the woodland where the lane narrows then shortly after you’ll see Robin Hood’s Stride to your left.  Park a little way after the field gateway and look across the field to your left.  The stones are visible from the road.

Archaeology & History

This is a fine-looking ring of stones — though perhaps the word ‘ring’ is slightly misleading here, as only four of (apparently) nine originals still remain and they are, by definition, more in a square-shape than a circle!  But it’s a lovely site.  When Geoff brought us here for the first time only last weekend, despite the dark clouds and cold grey day, along with the fact that we’d been sleeping rough the night before and got soaking wet through, there was a subtle feel to this place which my shivering senses still touched.  Only just though…!

Two southernmost stones

Mebbe it was the rising crags of Robin Hood’s Stride to its immediate south?  Or the quietly hidden companionship with other stones and sites in the locale?  I don’t really think so.  There was something a little more about its own genius loci that tingled very slightly on the rise in the field upon which the circle sits.  Some people would, perhaps, acquaint my sense of a subtle genius loci here to the various leys or ley-lines that have been drawn through here by other writers— but it wasn’t that.

When earlier writers came here, they too had various inspirations of differing forms.  John Barnatt’s (1978) early impressions of the place had him signing astronomical events in and around the remaining stones here, despite knowing that the site had been damaged.  In later years he revised his early notions — as most of us do as our perspectives are enriched — but the astronomy is still assumed here.  As Clive Ruggles (1999) told:

“Other rings are located where natural features coincide with astronomical events, such as Nine Stone Close in Derbyshire…from which the Moon at the southern major standstill limit, sets behind the gritstone crag of Robin Hood’s Stride to the SSW, between ‘two stubbly piles of boulders jutting up at either end of its flat top.'”

Major Rooke’s drawing of the Nine Stones Circle, c.1780

The stones that remain here are quite tall, between 6½ and 8 feet tall.  One of them seems to have originally been taken from a stream or river-bed.  They stand upon the small rise in the field and has diameters of 40 and 45 feet respectively.  Aubrey Burl described there being seven uprights still here in 1847, and the early drawing of the site near the end of the 18th century by Major Hayman Rooke highlights 6 stones around the spot where the circle now stands.  In J.P. Heathcote’s (1947) summary, he wrote that,

“Bateman, in his Vestiges, says an excavation in 1847 yielded some indications of interments in the form of ‘several fragments of imperfectly-baked pottery, accompanied by flint both in a natural and calcined state.’  In 1877, Llewellyn Jewitt and Canon Greenwell…turned their attention…to the Nine Stones.  They dug at the foot of the second highest stone and the Canon directed a good deal of digging within the circle, but nothing special turned up. The area in the circle is now quite level, but it is probable that there was, as Bateman says, a tumulus in the centre.”

This latter remark is the impression I got of the place.  Tis a really good little site.  All around here are a number of other sites: cup-marked stones, enclosures or settlements, prehistoric trackways, and more.

Folklore

One of the old names of this site was The Grey Ladies.  This came from the well known tale found at other sites across the world, that some ladies were dancing here at some late hour and were turned into stone.  A variation on this theme told how Robin Hood stood on the nearby rock outcrop to the south and pissed over the landscape here, “where seven maidens upon seeing it turned to stone.”  In this case, Robin Hood replaced an older, forgotten account of a giant, who forged the landscape and the sites around Harthill Moor.

Another tale — whose origins and nature are allied to that of the petrification of the Grey Ladies — narrated with considerable sincerity by local people, was that the circle was a place where the little people gathered and where, at certain times of the year, “fairy music and the sight of hundreds of dancing shapes around the stones” would happen.

Said by Rickman and Nown (1977) to be “Derbyshire’s most magical ancient site,” they thought the site was on a ley that linked up with Arbor Lowe, less than 5 miles west, crossing a couple of tumuli on its way.

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of the Peak, Turnstone: London 1978.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 1995.
  3. Clarke, David, Ghosts and Legends of the Peak, Jarrold: Norwich 1991.
  4. Heathcote, J. Percy, Birchover – Its Prehistoric and Druidical Remains, Wilfrid Edwards: Chesterfield 1947.
  5. Rickman, Philip & Nown, Graham, Mysterious Derbyshire, Dalesman: Clapham 1977.
  6. Ruggles, Clive, Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland, Yale University Press 1999.
  7. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Megalithic Rings, BAR: Oxford 1980.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Nine Stones Monolith, Harthill, Derbyshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SK 2253 6256

Getting Here

Taking the roughly north-south road betwixt the village of Elton and the town of Youlgrave, rising up to see the great rock outcrop of Robin Hood’s Stride, park-up by the roadside and walk down the path across the fields to the Nine Stone Close stone circle. Once at the circle, look at the wall immediately south of here (looking towards the great Robin Hood’s Stride rock towers) about 100 yards away and you’ll see a large, nicely-worn ‘standing stone’ in the walling, with another a few yards to its side.

Archaeology & History

Nine Stones monolith, with stone circle behind

It seems like there’s been quite a lot written of this particular stone — much of it deeming, or speculating, that it once had summat to do with the stone circle of Nine Stones Close (which you can see in the background on one of the photos). The local archaeologist and writer, J. Percy Heathcote (1947) told us that around 1819, a Mr Glover said that this stone and a companion stood next to each other, but Mr Heathcote thought that,

“Judging from its size alone, only one of these is large enough to be compared to the stones in the circle.”

Standing Stone and Robin Hood’s Stride in background

Heathcote continued:

“Dr Phillips apparently assumes this stone to be connected with the circle in the same way as the similarly placed King Stone was connected with the Nine Ladies (Stanton Moor).  However, it seems more reasonable to suppose that the stone was brought by a farmer into the wall and not that he built the wall up to the standing stone.”

In more modern times however, John Barnatt (1978) thought that this stone was originally in the circle, but “has been moved across the field to the south to act as a gatepost.”

It’d be hugely improbable that it didn’t have summat to do with the stone circle, but exactly what, we can only speculate.

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of the Peak, Turnstone: London 1978.
  2. Heathcote, J. Percy, Birchover – Its Prehistoric and Druidical Remains, Wilfrid Edwards: Chesterfield 1947.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian