From Threshfield, go up Skirethorns Lane for about 1/2 mile, where the lane takes a sharp right. Continue uphill for nearly 2 miles to a metal gate. Go through the gate into the fields on your left where you’ll see this pair of curious standing stones ahead of you (if you keep walking uphill in the same direction, you’ll reach the impressive Hammond Close enclosure above you).
Archaeology & History
There seem to be no references in either archaeology or geology texts about this site which, when you approach it and consider the prevalence of other prehistoric sites all round you, strongly suggests that they are either archetypal standing stones, or the remains of a collapsed cairn, with the surrounding mound removed. This is certainly the case at the Druid’s Altar or Bordley Circle visible a few hundred yards west of here, on the same grassland plain.
As you can see in the photos, the stones here are 4 feet tall and stand in isolation from the excess of neighbouring settlements and enclosures. A scatter of small stones—perhaps packing stones, perhaps the remains of cairn-spoil—is evident at the foot of the stones. It was initially thought that the uprights here could have been the remains of enclosure or settlement walling, as we find an excess of such remains on the hills here, but this isn’t the case. Other unrecorded prehistoric remains scatter this part of the countryside.
Follow the same directions to get to Bordley’s Druid’s Altar circle. Where the little rough car-parky-bit happens to be by the cattle-grid, look up the sloping field where the wall runs up in a line and follow it up on foot. A coupla hundred yards up you’ll see a small craggy outcrop in front of you and another line of drystone walling in the corner. Just below this craggy outcrop you’ll notice a raised embankment comprising a line of small rocks running along the edge of the hill. This is the first bitta prehistoric walling that makes up a part of the settlement system. From hereon, follow y’ nose along and up the hill and look around. The settlement’s all around here!
Archaeology & History
This is quite an extensive area of prehistoric (seemingly Iron Age) enclosures on the top and around the edges of the unnamed rocky peak at the top of the large open Lantern Holes field. I’m not aware of any excavation work that may have taken place at this site, so please excuse me of any errors in the description that follows. (if anyone’s got an excavation report of the site, I’d love to read it!)
As with the many other settlements and enclosures in this region, much of it comprises of extensive stonework built up into and against the geological limestone bedrock either side of this hilltop site. Huge lines of prehistoric walling, measuring anything between one and three yards across, runs for hundreds of yards in and around this set of enclosures. We also find several distinct and well-preserved examples of old hut circles (one of which appears to have been re-used as a sheep shelter in more recent centuries) dotted around the edges and in the middle of larger sections of enclosed stone walls. This is all very impressive when you consider it was done a coupla thousand years back!
Very similar in design to the prehistoric settlement enclosures on the other (south) side of the valley at Hammond Close Pasture, above the Druid’s Altar, though more extensive. Measuring roughly 340 yards (311m) along its longer southeast-northwest axis, and nearly 280 yards (254m) from east-to-west, the uppermost parts of the site have at least seven separate large elliptical ‘enclosures’ built within the rocky enclaves, made up of typical Iron Age wall systems: a series of large upright monoliths packed up by smaller packing stones all along the length of the walling (using a system that still prevails today in drystone walling techniques on our upland moors). A couple of the photos here illustrated the walling very well and give you an idea of what to look out for if you’re out wandering the region, looking for old sites.
Although the walling we see today is barren and easy to spot, remember that in the time when people built these great structures, you wouldn’t have been able to see them, as they’d have been deliberately covered over and camouflaged with dressed earth and plants. In watching people emerging from these enclosures, you’d have got the distinct impression that they literally came out of the hill itself: a motif well-known to folklorists in relation to the origin of faerie-folk and other ‘little people.’
We need to go back up here and explore this settlement a bit more, as there’s tons more to be seen. And if anyone knows of any surveys that have already been done of this site, it’d be good to read the reports, preliminary or otherwise. A rough-camping weekend is planned on the tops at the break of Spring – so contact us if you’re into joining us for the amble. I reckon there’s gonna be other sites hidden in the landscape up here that even Arthur Raistrick missed out on!
…to be continued…
Raistrick, Arthur & Holmes, Paul F., Archaeology of Malham Moor, Headley Bros: London 1961.
Follow the same directions to reach the Bordley ‘circle’ (it’s actually a much denuded burial site). Look up the hill (south) at the limestone escarpments above you, walk past the Hammond Close Stones and head up the slopes in front of you. If you get to the top of the hill without noticing the extensive prehistoric walled structures you’ve passed, then start to slowly amble here and around the tops and the slopes you’ve just walked up. They’re everywhere!
Archaeology & History
The grid reference here has to be considered as a general one. The site we’re looking at, upon the tops of this wonderful limestone-enriched hill, is quite extensive and covers much more than the simple eight-figure grid ref I’m using to direct you here. On the way up the slope from the Bordley ‘circle’ site, you’ll notice how the natural lines of limestone have been used to define lines of walling. The remains of many smaller stones have been laid into the natural rock outcrops, and others set into the earth and sectioned off smaller enclosures within the greater whole. It was obviously a huge and time-consuming exercise to create these large rocky sections, some of which appear to have actually been cut into the rock. The aerial image here shows clearly the lines as they were laid out, intruding the extensive natural bedrock covering the landscape, not just here but much further afield. Indeed, the large set of enclosures here at Hammond Field typifies dozens and dozens of other such sites in the hills north and west of here.
The trouble with this and other sites in the Upper Wharfedale region is dating them. Although we typically ascribe an Iron Age date to many of these settlements, we know that many of them were added to and maintained by peasants and farmers well into medieval times. And why not!? They’re excellent, solid and need little maintainance! The sections we’re looking at here in this particular site may have had their origins in the Bronze Age. It seems a reasonable assumption considering the existence of the Bordley circle site and several other denuded burials along the same ridge at the bottom of the slope. But the majority of the ‘enclosed’ sections running up and around this hill seem to have Iron Age and Romano-British stamps on them. It’s likely that some of the ‘enclosed’ sections would have been constructed to keep cattle in, aswell as being living quarters for people. At least one well-defined hut circle can be seen along the north-facing edge of the hill and, perhaps, even the fallen remains of a once upright standing stone.
The topmost part of the Hammond Close hill is all but surrounded by Nature’s limestone, with a large oval grassy region in the middle of it all; but on the eastern side of the hill, the natural limestone walls are lacking and so were supplemented by the work of people who built an additional protective line of walling, running north for some 45 yards from the small craggy ridge at the top, along the level, until it meets up with more natural limestone. The man-made walling is built into this aswell. Halfway along this length of north-south walling is another section, running to the east for nearly 40 yards before bending slightly for another 25 yards into yet more natural outcrop.
I could spend the next few paragraphs describing all the walled sections visible on this hill and down its edges, but don’t wanna bore you with the small detail of it all! Aswell as that, if you climb over the eastern walls and walk a short distance across the rocky hill, you’ll start seeing other prehistoric settlement remains beneath your feet. And on the hill across directly to your north, we find more extensive remains at the very large Lantern Holes settlement, dating again from the Iron Age, if not earlier.
The ancient remains are all over the place round here! So those of you who love good outdoor wanderings, prehistoric archaeological sites and excellent views, give this place your attention! It’s well worth it!
Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys through Brigantia – volume 2: Walks in Ribblesdale, Malhamdale and Central Wharfedale, Aussteiger: Barnoldswick 1990.
From Threshfield, go up Skirethorns Lane for about 1/2 mile, where the lane takes a sharp right. Continue uphill for nearly 2 miles to a metal gate. Go through the gate, where you’ll see a pair of curious standing stones ahead of you, but instead walk about 250 yards along the line of the old field wall running to the west. You’ll see on the modern OS-map that a ‘cairn’ is shown: this is where you’re heading!
Archaeology & History
First highlighted on the 1852 OS-map of Bordley and district, this is a lovely site in a beautiful setting, surrounded by a veritable mass of other prehistoric remains at all quarters, including the large settlement of Hammond Close immediately south, the little-known settlement at Kealcup to the west, the Lantern Holes settlement up the hill immediately north, some standing stones due east, and much more. Although it was described in Aubrey Burl’s Four Posters (1988) as just such a type of megalithic relic (a “four-poster stone circle”), an earlier description of the site from the mighty pen of Harry Speight (1892) told of a much more complete ring of stones, with trilithon to boot. He wrote:
“This prehistoric relic consists of a round stone and earthen mound, about 150 feet in circumference and 3 feet high, and was formerly surrounded by a circle of upright stones, only three of which are now left standing. On one side was a large flat stone resting upon two others, and known as the Druid’s Altar. On the adjoining land an ancient iron spear-head was found some years ago, and fragments of rudely-fashioned pottery have also from time to time turned up in the same neighbourhood.”
Edmund Bogg’s (1904) description following his own visit a few years later described this “remains of Druidical sacrifice” as consisting of,
“a mound some four feet high, and fifty yards round the outer rim. In the centre are two upright stones about four feet in length; and others nearly buried in the mound. Numerous stones from this circle have been used in building the adjoining walls.”
A decade later another writer (Lewis 1914) merely copied what Speight and Bogg had recited previously. And whatever the modern books might tell of its status, I think we can safely assert that this was originally a much more substantial monument than the humble four-poster stone circle that meets our eye nowadays. Our megalithic magus Aubrey Burl (1988) wrote the following on Bordley’s druidical stones:
“On a circular mound 41ft (12.5m) across and 3ft (1m) high, three stones of local limestone form the corners of a rectangle 11ft 6in (3.5m) square, from which the SW stone is missing. At its corner is ‘a stump, possibly the base of a prostrate stone,’ 5ft 10in (1.8m) long, now lying near the centre. The tallest stone, 3ft 7in (1.1m) high is at the south-east. The sides of the square are close to the cardinal points. Between the SW and SE stones is a scatter of round cairnstones… Characteristically, the 4-Poster stands at the edge of a terrace from which the lands falls steeply to the west.”
The Druid’s Altar seems to have originally been a large prehistoric tomb, perhaps even a chambered cairn. Its situation in the landscape where it holds a circle of many outlying hills to attention, almost in the centre of them all, was evidently of some importance. The only geographical ‘opening’ from here is to the south, where a long open valley widens to capture the grandeur of Pendle Hill, many miles away. This would not have been insignificant.
We must also draw attention to what may be a secondary tumulus of similar size and form to the mound that the Druid’s Altar sits upon only some 25 yards to the west of the “circle”. The shape and form of this second mound is similar to that of our Druid’s Circle — though to date, it seems that no archaeologist has paid attention to this secondary feature. It measures some 21 yards (east-west) x 19 yards (north-south) in diameter and has the appearance of a tumulus or buried cairn. The mound may be of a purely geological nature, but this cannot safely be asserted until the attention of the spade has been brought here.
Although we have nothing directly associated with the circle, the surrounding hills here have long been known as the abode of faerie-folk. Threshfield — in whose parish this circle lies — is renowned for it. There have been accounts of curious light phenomena here too. Modern alignment lore tells the site to be related to the peaked tomb above Seaty Hill, equinox west of here.
Bogg, Edmund, Higher Wharfeland, James Miles: Otley 1904.
Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR 195: Oxford 1988.
Feather, S.W. & Manby, T.G., ‘Prehistoric Chambered Tombs of the Pennines,’ in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol 42, 1970.
Lewis, A.L., ‘Standing Stones and Stone Circles in Yorkshire,’ in Man, no.83, 1914.
Raistrick, Arthur, ‘The Bronze Age in West Yorkshire,’ in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol 29, 1929.
Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
Wingate, Neil, Grassington and Wharfedale, Grassington 1977.