Cowling’s Enclosure, Askwith Moor, North Yorkshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1793 5127

Getting Here

Danny, James & Paul on the NE corner, for scale

Coming up from Otley, make your way up to the Askwith Moor road (the only one that goes across the moors) and park up on the rough parking spot on the right-side (east) of the road.  You can’t really miss it.  From here walk up the road for less than 500 yards until your reach the rickety gate and the path onto the moors.  From here I walked 600 yards east, thru the heather until I reached the wall (close to the Tree of Life Stone) and then followed the wall up for 150 yards, then back up (west) onto the moor again and, about 50 yards along at the foot of the slope, keep your eyes peeled for the earthworky undulations beneath your tiny feet!

Archaeology & History

Just below the scattered Snowden Moor settlement we find this curious large structure, first described 75 years ago by the northern antiquarian Eric T. Cowling (1946). Since then, apart from a cursory overview, archaeologists haven’t really paid it much attention.

Eastern ditch, looking N
Eastern ditch, looking S

It’s a large site – and one which Cowling thought was constructed in the Iron Age.  He may have been right, but there’s such a profusion of ancient sites on this small moorland area—dating from Neolithic times onwards—that it could be earlier than he thought.  It’s an odd site too!  Unlike the prehistoric D-shaped enclosure and settlement on the top of the slope less than 100 yards away, and an equivalent D-shaped enclosure to the south, the area inside Cowling’s enclosure ostensibly is on quite sloping ground, with barely a flat level area anywhere inside it.  As a result of this, we can safely conclude that it wasn’t where people lived; and the complete lack of any inner hut circles (which you’d expect in a standard enclosure of this size) encourages this view.  It’s a bit of a puzzle!  Cowling opted for the idea that it was built to enclose cattle – which may be right; but again, even this must be questioned, as there is ample space on more level ground where this could have been done.  His description of the site is as follows:

“The most prominent feature (on these moors) is a D-shaped enclosure which covers the nose of the spur; the area is eighty feet from north to south and seventy feet from east to west. The enclosing bank is of piled boulders, three feet high and eight feet wide.   Cuttings across the north side revealed no evidence of dry walling, but rather a bank to carry a heavy stockade.  A shallow trench runs inside the bank, which is doubled where it is overlooked by higher ground at the northeast corner.  A second outer bank at the eastern side has an outer trench. Along the ridge to the east are circles of varying size, probably a hut group.  A larger circle (?) of heavy material, some thirty feet in diameter, is isolated on the shelf above Snowden Crags to the west.  Strips of wall and remains of enclosures of circular shape abound.”

Cowling’s plan of the site
Northern bank, looking E

Cowling’s initial measurements of the site underestimated its real size, as the bank and ditch that runs roughly north-south is close to 52 yards—nearly twice as long!  The same was found along its east-west size: being 56 yards, which is more than twice what Cowling measured.  Altogether, the enclosure measures approximately 225 yards around its outer edges.  In fairness, Cowling’s error was probably due to it being covered in vegetation when he came to do his measurements here.  …So, if you’re gonna check this place out, make sure you do it in the winter or early spring months, before the bracken encroaches.

There’s a real abundance of prehistoric sites all over this part of the moor, from more settlement remains, cairns, ring cairns and petroglyphs.  Make a day out of it.

References:

  1. Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Sunrise Stone (605), Snowden Crags, Askwith, North Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 18066 51251

Also Known as:

  1. Carving 605
  2. Northern Earth Mysteries Stone

Getting Here

Sunrise Stone, Snowden Carr

Sunrise Stone, Snowden Carr

Take the same directions as if you’re going to visit the Naked Jogger Carving (stone 612), not far from the well-known Tree of Life Stone.  From the Naked Jogger carving, walk up the small outcrop of rocks that bends above you.  Barely 100 yards up when you reach the top, you’ll notice a single large sloping stone barely 50 yards ahead of you in the same field.  That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

This is a little-known beauty of a carving just off the edge of the quiet moors that are littered with prehistoric remains.  It was only rediscovered a few years ago — by myself if you believed the writings of rock art student Keith Boughey (2010) in his essay on the validity of amateurs exploring petroglyphs, in a work scattered with mistakes.  But I’d never even visited this carving until two years ago!  The stone was in fact found during a field-walk by early members of the Northern Earth Mysteries group in August 1989 (Wilson 1990) and subsequently described and illustrated for the first time by Phil Reeder (1990).

Close-up of main cluster

Close-up of main cluster

As can be seen in the photos accompanying this site profile, the rock on which the carving has been done has, at some point in the past, been cut into and its edges have been hacked away and destroyed, literally cutting into the overall design.  We have no idea what the original size of the stone was, obviously, but this petroglyph was once larger than the design that we see at present.  Such is the price of ‘progress’, as some folk call it.

Anyway – a few months after the carving was rediscovered, Phil Reeder (1990) wrote:

“After a visit to the Tree of Life stone…a cursory inspection by the NEM Group was made on nearby rock outcrops, part of which showed evidence of recent exposure due to soil erosion.

“One stone in particular stood out as five shallow cups and associated rings could be discerned.  When cleaned, it became apparent that further carvings extended beneath a thin eroding soil layer.  When this layer was cleared, a complex set of carvings were revealed.

“Only preliminary work at the site has been carried out to date, but it appears that the carvings comprise of at least 28 cups, 13 of which have associated rings; several of the cups are linked by gutters forming an intricate design, one gutter part enclosing 11 cups.  The carvings on the lower edge of the stone have weathered badly and are difficult to interpret.”

Reeder’s amateur description is a good one. Certainly more accurate than the subsequent one by Boughey & Vickerman (2003):

“Large rock of coarse grit whose surface slopes with the hill. About forty cups, some large, many with single rings, and many curving grooves, the whole forming a remarkable, complex design.”

Phil Reeder's 1990 drawing

Phil Reeder’s 1990 drawing

Boughey & Vickerman's sketch

Boughey & Vickerman’s sketch

We can see in the respective drawings by both Reeder (left) and Boughey & Vickerman (right) that some elements which should have been included in the ‘official’ drawing were missed, yet had been accurately included in the earlier ‘preliminary’ drawing, as Mr Reeder put it.  I hope that readers will forgive me pointing out these seemingly minor elements; but I do it to illustrate the ineffectiveness of more recent rock art students who are gaining the title of ‘experts’ in this field.  It’s important to recognise that, in this field of study, “experts” are few and far between indeed… I’ve certainly yet to meet any!

Northern end of carving

Northern end of carving

Southern side of carving

Southern side of carving

The carving is mentioned briefly in Beckensall’s (1999) introductory study, with little comment.  But of note here is not only the curious linear feature running between two cup-and-rings, but the position of the stone in the landscape.  For if you sit either upon or next to this carving, you are looking east straight across the gorgeous Fewston valley directly at the prominent wooded hill of Sword Point.  As it slopes down into the present-day greenery of fields and scattered woods, the Wharfe Valley spreads out to the distant east and, as the sun rises and scatters its rays onto the wet morning stone here, the design on the rock awakens with much greater visual lucidity than that which our daytime eyes bestow to us.  In all likelihood, sunrise was an important element in whatever mythic function underscored this curious carving, with its human-like figure rising on its southern side, emerging from the edge of the rock, personifying perhaps the rising solar disc and the living landscape as the daylight breath awoke Earth’s creatures; or maybe it signifies a symbolic group of people gathered together watching the sunrise…

Of course, I’m dreaming…

References:

  1. Barnett, T. & Sharpe, K. (eds.), Carving a Future for British Rock Art, Oxbow: Oxford 2010.
  2. Beckensall, Stan, British Prehistoric Rock Art, Tempus: Stroud 1999.
  3. Boughey, Keith, “The Role of the Amateur in the Study of UK Prehistoric Cup-and-Ring Art,” in Barnett & Sharpe, Oxford 2010.
  4. Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Leeds 2003.
  5. Chappell, Graeme, “North Yorkshire Rock Art – New Discoveries,” in Northern Earth, no.62, 1995.
  6. Michell, John, The Earth Spirit, Thames & Hudson: London 1975.
  7. Reeder, Phil, “Snowden Carr Rock Carvings,” in Northern Earth Mysteries, no.40, 1990.
  8. Wilson, Rob, “Pateley Bridge Gathering,” in Northern Earth Mysteries, 40, 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian