Breckon Howe, Sleights Moor, Sleights, North Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85374 03406

Also Known as:

  1. Brakken Howe
Breckon Howe on 1853 map

Getting Here

Along the A169 road between Sleights and Pickering, some two miles south of Sleights at the highest point on the moors just above the west side of the road, you’ll see a large mound with what looks like a standing stone on top of it.  A minor road turns off the A169 at this point, heading southeast, and the large mound is 150 yards from the roadside. You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Shown on the first OS map of the area in 1853, this conspicuous prehistoric tomb surmounted by a relatively recent boundary stone, sits at the highest point on the moors in these parts.  Despite this (as with others on these moors), very little has been written about the place and it has received only minimal attention in archaeology tomes.  Even the renowned pen of Frank Elgee (1912; 1930) gave it only passing mention.  Perhaps it aint a bad thing to be honest.

Breckon Howe, from the south

As well as being conspicuous, it’s large.  Rising some six feet above the natural ground level, it measures 26 yards across its east-west axis, and 29 yards north-south, with a rough circumference of 88 yards.  The boundary stone that surmounts its crown sits in a hollow that looks like it was opened up a century or two ago by antiquarians (much like ourselves).  But its position of the tomb in the landscape that is most striking.  The view from here is considerable, having a clear 360º view for many miles around.  Other prehistoric tombs can be seen from here, but more importantly this tomb can be seen on the skyline from many others.  This was probably a deliberate feature intended by its builders–and it’s not uncommon, as many of our upland regions are crowned with ancient tombs like Breckon Howe.  In all likelihood this would have been the resting place of some important ancestral figure: a tribal elder or a shaman, whose spirit after death could view and travel across the landscape they inhabited in life.

Although the tomb presently sits amidst an endless sea of heather (Calluna vulgaris) typical of moorland across our northern lands, the name of the site ‘breckon’, according to George Young (1817) derives from the dialect word meaning ferns or bracken.  This is echoed in Francis Kildale’s (1855) local dialect study and subsequently in Joseph Wright’s (1898) unequalled magnum opus.


In the early 19th century, one George Calvert who lived in the area, collected as much folklore as he could, as it was dying off with the coming of the Church.  One such piece told that there was once a hob who lived by this old tomb.  A hob is generally known as a supernatural creature, but in this area it can also be a medicine man.  Some hobs were good, others were malicious.  We know not what type of hob lived lived here, but Calvert simply told us there used to be “T’ Hob of Brackken Howe”.  Nowt more!  It would be good to find the story behind this old character, if it hasn’t been lost entirely…


  1. Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  2. Elgee, Frank, The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1912.
  3. Kildale, Francis, A Glossary of Yorkshire Words and Phrases Collected in Whitby and the Nieghbourhood, J.R. Smith: London 1855.
  4. Home, Gordon, The Evolution of an English Town, J.M. Dent: London 1905.
  5. Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, .Henry Frowde: London 1898.
  6. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clarke & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Acknowledgements:  A huge thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this great tomb and its companion.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Maiden Castle, Glendevon, Perthshire

Legendary Hill: OS Grid Reference – NN 9710 0141

Also Known as:

  1. Maiden’s Castle

Getting Here

1860 map showing Maiden Castle (and the Maiden's Well)
1860 map showing Maiden Castle (and the Maiden’s Well)

Take the small steep road uphill from the town of Dollar in Clackmannanshire towards Castle Campbell. Less than 100 yards above the small parking spot by the small white house near the top of the hill, turn to walk up the footpath on your right above the house, following the edge of the depleted forestry plantation parallel with the valley.  Cross the valley a few hundred yards up, but keep to path on the other side that stays parallel with the stream.  You’ll hit a small rocky glen a half-mile up. Walk thru it, alongside the very edge of the forest till the trees break and there’s a gap in the hills.  You’ve just walked past the Maiden’s Well and in front of you is a large natural rounded hill, which the footpath bends around. This hill is the Maiden Castle. (if you walk round this, a view into the eastern hills and a small lake opens up ahead of you)

Archaeology & History

The fairy hill of Maiden Castle
The fairy hill of Maiden Castle

A large rounded hill marking the opening of Glenquey to the north and the Glen of Care to the south. Although ascribed in place-names old and new as a ‘castle’, there are no remains as such left here to account for this title. Angus Watson (1995) tells of the possibility of the place deriving its name from the Gaelic Creag Ingheann, or maiden crag. In Bruce Baillie’s (1998) survey of the area, in trying to give some relevance to the place-name, he points out that whilst no hillfort or cairn that might help account for the folklore (see below),

“Large-scale maps indicate a spot opposite on Hillfoot Hill as Greig’s Grave. There would seem to be something ancient here but of what nature it is, at the moment, impossible to say.”

When we visited the place yesterday, snow still covered much of the ground hereby, so we couldn’t do our usual explorations seeking for old sites (even the hut circles 100 yards away were covered over). The legendary healing waters of the Maiden’s Well are below here, by the side of the burn.


This large rounded hillock was evidently a place of some importance in bygone days if the folktale here is anything to go by. Although the story echoes the some of the core sequences of modern ‘close encounter’ abduction events, other ingredients here tell of more arcane peasant rites that were once part of the social structure of our ancient heathen tribes:

“A piper, carrying his pipes, was crossing from Glendevon to Dollar in the grey of the evening. He crossed the Garchil (a little stream running into the Quaich), and looked at the Maiden Castle and saw only the grey hillside and heard only the wind soughing through the bent. But when he had passed beyond it, he suddenly heard a burst of lively music and turned round to look at what was causing it. And there, instead of the dark knoll which he had seen a few moments before, he beheld a great castle, with lights blaring from the windows, and heard the noise of dancing issuing from the open door. He went back somewhat incautiously to get a closer view, and a procession issuing at that moment from the Castle’s open door, he was caught up and taken into a great hall ablaze with lights, while people were dancing on the floor. He was at once asked to pipe to them and was forced to do so, but agreed to do so only for a day or two. At last getting anxious, because he knew his people would be wondering why he had not come back in the morning, as he had promised to do, he asked permission to return home. The faeries seemed to sympathise with his anxiety and promised to let him go if he played a favourite tune of his, which they seemed fond of, to their satisfaction. He played his very best. The dance went fast and furious, and at its close he was greeted with loud applause. On his release he found himself alone in the grey of the evening, beside the dark hillock, and no sound was heard save the purr of the burn and the soughing of the wind through the bent. Instead of completing his journey to Dollar, he walked hastily back to Glendevon in order to relieve his folk’s anxiety. He entered his father’s house and found no kent face there. On his protesting that he only gone away for a day or two before, and waxing loud in his bewildered talk, a grey old man was aroused from a doze beside the fire, and told how he had heard when a boy from his father that a piper had gone away to Dollar on a quiet evening, but had never been seen or heard since, nor any trace of him found. It turned out the piper had been in the ‘Castle’ for a hundred years.”

The Fortean experts John Keel (1971) and Jacques Vallee (1970) both contended, quite rightly, that some aspects of the ancient encounters related in such folklore has strong parallels to modern UFO ‘abduction’ events. In addition, Paul Devereux (1989) cites that such events occur where strong geomagnetic forces exist in proximity to rock outcrops, as found here.

There is the additional feature in these stories of the music of both faerie and pipers alike, whose revelling jigs carry the mortal out of time and, when returning back to human life, find no one recognises them.  This is a condition of some rites of passage in traditional societies, where mothers and fathers no longer recognise their child after they have been through the rituals after visiting spirit-lands and returning as adults for the first time: an element in our faerie-lore that has been overlooked in assessing the nature of these fascinating tales.


  1. Baillie, Bruce, History of Dollar, DMT: Dollar 1998.
  2. Devereux, Paul, Earthlights Revelations, Blandford: London 1989.
  3. Fergusson, R. Menzies, The Ochil Fairy Tales, David Nutt 1912.
  4. Keel, John A., UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, Souvenir Press: London 1971.
  5. Rhys, John, Celtic Folklore – Welsh and Manx: volume 1, Oxford University Press 1901.
  6. Vallee, Jacques, Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers, Tandem: London 1975.
  7. Watson, Angus, The Ochils: Placenames, History, Tradition, PKDC: Perth 1995.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Elf Howe, Folkton, East Yorkshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TA 0422 7726

Archaeology & History

A once-impressive haunted burial mound on the southern edge of Folkton parish, all that remains of the place now are aerial images showing the ghostly ring of its former site.  Commenting on the destruction of this burial mound  before he had chance to give it his full attention, in William Greenwell’s (1877) magnum opus he wrote the following:

“Elf Howe had been removed to a great extent, and the grave had been dug out before I had an opportunity of examining it.  I however got an account of what was discovered from the foreman on the farm, and I was able personally to inspect a small portion which had not been disturbed.  The barrow had been 60ft in diameter and 6ft high, and was made of earth and chalk.  Near the centre a deposit of burnt bones was met with, over which some large flints were placed; this was at a depth of 4ft, and as a great quantity of burnt earth was observed immediately round the bones, it is probable that the body had been burnt on the spot where the bones were placed.  Two unburnt bodies were found on the south side of the mound, with one of which a vessel of pottery was associated.  At a distance of 17ft south-south-east of the centre I found the body of a strongly-made man, laid on the right side, with the head to the south and the hands to the knees; he body was placed about 6in above the natural surface.  Immediately below the head was the body of a very young child, the bones of which were too much decayed to admit of anything being made out beyond the fact that it was a child’s body which was laid there.  Still lower, and on the natural surface, was a patella, a radius, and some other bones of a body, which had been disturbed, probably in the interring of the person who was found buried above.  At the centre was a grave, lying northwest and southeast, 7ft by 6½ft and 2½ft deep.  On the bottom at the north side was the body of a strongly-made man in the middle period of life, whose head…was to the south, but my informant could not remember on which side the body was laid; at the head was a ‘food vessel’, which, from the fragments that have been preserved, must have been a rudely-made one with unusually thick walls.”


Although antiquarians and archaeologists such as Elgee, Grinsell, Gutch, Johnson and others each tell (in their own respective ways) that Elf Howe “testifies to a widespread belief in goblin-haunted barrows” — albeit in the linguistic ‘elven’ of the Scandinavian invaders — we appear to have lost the original tale behind this fairy-haunted site.


  1. Greenwell, William, British Barrows, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1877.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian