Old Wives’ Well, Stape, Pickering, North Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid-Reference – SE 7944 9406

Also Known as:

  1. Nattie Fontein

Archaeology & History

Old Wives Well, 1848 OS-map

The history of the site is scanty to say the least.  It first seems to have been recorded when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in the 1840s, although they left no record as to why the site was given such a dedication.  It’s a decidedly pre-christian title as the name “old Wife” is usually indicative in northern counties as being related to the primal Earth deity of northern England and lowland Scotland (when we reach the Highlands and Ireland, She becomes known—amongst other names—as the cailleach).  However, apart from its name we have no additional information.  Neither the holy wells writer Edna Whelan (1989; 2001), nor hydrolatry researcher Graeme Chappell were been able to find anything about the place in their own researches.  And so we must go on name alone…

The waters bubble up into a small stone-lined chamber with the words Nattie Fontein carved into the lintel.  This is something of a mystery in itself, for, as Edna Whelan (1989) told,

“it would be most unusual for the word fonten to be used for a spring in North Yorkshire: ‘keld’ is the local word.  The rather roughly inscribed word may be a corruption of Fons Natalis, the name of a Celtic water nymph.”

Graeme Chappell (2000) meanwhile, noticed in a visit to the site in June 1999,

“that the N and A in “NATTIE” are carved in such a way that the word could be read as “MATTIE FONTEIN” perhaps meaning “Mother Fountain”. This might then be another reference to the Old Wife?”

He then goes on to note how,

“the latin word ‘natalis‘ meaning ‘birth’ and its link with the roman Festival ‘Dies Natalis Sol Invictus‘ (day of the birth of the unconquered sun) which took place on the 25th December. Natalis also gave rise to the welsh word ‘Nadolig‘ – meaning Christmas.”

This Yuletide element has an intriguing relationship with the name of the well; for to the west of Yorkshire’s borders into Cumbria there was annual gathering known as Old Wives’ Saturday that took place on the first Saturday after Christmas, or first Saturday of the New Year in a person’s house or inn, where a feast was had to bring in the New Year; but there is no known written lore of such a tradition here.

Nowadays the old tradition of hanging rags on the trees surrounding the well as offerings to the spirit of the place (known as memaws in parts of Yorkshire, and clooties in Scotland) has become a regular practice of those who hold such sites as sacred in their own way.  Whelan mentioned seeing memaws here in the 1908s, but the Northern Antiquarian contributor Jon Barker told that, “The rags are a comparatively recent addition to the well, it is not a tradition there. When I used to go in the ’60s therewere no rags.”

On an even more curious note: very recently (from when this profile was written), the Northern Antiquarian contributor and photographer James Elkington visited Old Wives’ Well for the first time.  It was a grey overcast day and when he arrived here, there was a woman ahead of him at the head of the well.  I’ll let him tell the rest of it in his own words:

The Old Wives Well, Stape  (James Elkington)
Old Wives Well at Stape (James Elkington)

“In front of the well was a lady dressed in what looked like a white nighty, she had her back to me.  There was a candle lit nearby, and her hands were in the water moving slowly about like she was washing something.  She had long dark shoulder length hair.  As I was about 25 feet away I was sure she wasn’t aware of me, and I thought it would make a good photograph.  I quietly put my bag on the ground and got my camera out, and looked up and…she was gone!  I couldn’t have taken my eye off her for more than 5 or 6 seconds.  I looked all around and there was no sign of her.  Even if she had legged it through the woods I would have seen her.  I think it was then that I realized that I may have had ‘an encounter’.  I quickly took three pics of the Well and got the hell out of there!”

He rang me once he had regained his senses in a somewhat emotional state and recounted over and over what had just happened.  Whether this was a visual manifestation of the genius loci of the we can’t say.  But such encounters are not unknown at numerous sacred water sites all over the world.  We can only hazard a guess that this is what he was fortunate to encounter.

Just a few hundred yards north is the old Mauley or Malo Cross, which may or may not have had some mythic relationship with our Old Wives…


  1. Chappell, Graeme, “Old Wives’ Well, Stape,” YHW 2000.
  2. Elgee, F., Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  3. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  4. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.


  1. Yorkshire Holy Wells

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Backstone Circle, Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SE 12605 46130

Getting Here

The ruins of Backstone Circle (photo, Richard Stroud)
The ruins of Backstone Circle (photo, Richard Stroud)

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.

Stones amidst the reeds
Stones amidst the reeds

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….

Fortean History

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.”

Phil continued:

“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…


  1. Bennett, Paul., “The Backstone Circle,” Earth 15, 1990.
  2. Bennett, Paul, “Archaeological and Geometrical Applications of the Lost Stone Circle of Ilkley Moor,” Earth 15, 1990.
  3. Bennett, Paul, Circles, Standing Stones and Legendary Rocks of West Yorkshire, Heart of Albion Press: Wymeswold 1994.
  4. Bennett, Paul, “The Strange Case of Backstone Circle,” Right Times 1, 1998.
  5. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  6. Bennett, Paul, The Twelve Apostles Stone Circle, TNA Publications 2017.
  7. Collyer, Robert & Turner, J. Horsfall, Ilkley: Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.
  8. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  9. Gyrus T., “An Interview with Phil Hine,” Towards 2012 volume 4, 1998.
  10. Hine, Phil, “The Physics of Evocation,” Chaos International 1990.
  11. Roberts, Andy, Ghosts and Legends of Yorkshire, Jarrold: Norwich 1997.
  12. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 4, Cambridge University Press 1961.

AcknowledgementsMany thanks to Richard Stroud for his photo of Backstone at winter time; to James Elkington for saying, “Come on Paul – get yer finger out!” + his photos too…


  1. Backstone Circle on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Fairy Mine, Bingley Moor, West Yorkshire

Miscellaneous:  OS Grid Reference – SE 12 43

Archaeology & History

Fairy Mine, Bingley Moor
Fairy Mine, Bingley Moor (photo by James Elkington)

This is a strange one.  A really strange one…..  The site would not have even been written about had it not been for James Elkington pushing me to make its existence visible to a wide audience.  As with many sites that I’ve rediscovered, this is one of many that I never seem to write about, for various reasons…although I did do a short piece on it (Bennett 2001) many years back in a little earth mysteries mag, but kept the location quiet.  But now, James has got me to change my mind about it.  If anyone can throw any light onto what they think this site might be, feel free to let us know. With the exception of is early history, this is its story…

Close-up of the entrance (photo by James Elkington)
Close-up of the entrance (photo by James Elkington)

One weekend in the early Spring of 1977, Jon Tilleard and I made our weekly wander onto the southern edges of Rombalds Moor, doing little as usual apart from maybe seeking out the curious cup-and-ring stones and other ancient remains, along with walking through the obligatory bogs and wetlands, getting filthy and wet through as healthy kids do at that age.  After making our way to Horncliffe Well (generally our first point of call most weeks), we decided to head straight west, off-path as always, and eventually sat ourselves down for something to eat near Wicking Crags on Bingley Moor.

As we packed up again, readying ourselves to walk further onto the moor, John stood upright.  In doing so, he dislodged a stone by his feet—right where I was still sitting on the ground!

“Watch out!” he exclaimed loudly—and I quickly rolled forward to get out of the way of the impending stone.  Thankfully it wasn’t too big.  But then as I turned round to see what had happened, I saw John stood on the small rocky rise he’d been sitting upon—and right beneath his feet, the stone that he’d dislodged had been hiding a very curious secret indeed…

As the photos show, a small opening led into the Earth right underneath where Jon had been sitting.  The stone he’d accidentally kicked away had covered and sealed a previously unrecorded entrance.  Now, after however many centuries it had been closed and secret, he’d uncovered it again.  For us two fourteen-year-old lads gazing into this passageway, our imaginations started running riot!

“What the hell izzit!?”—we must have exclaimed a dozen times or more to each other!  To this day, we still don’t know.

I’m not sure how long we stayed here after we’d first found it, but before we left we made sure that the covering stone which had sealed the entrance was propped back upright, securely, so that no one else could find it.  The site was quite a way off-path, at the head of a very large boggy area where—to this day—people very rarely walk (in all my years of walking these moors, I’ve yet to see another human walking in this area).

In looking into the tunnel for the very first time, the ground on the outside was of course covered by the usual moorland vegetation; but an inch behind where the stone had sealed this tunnel, the floor was grey dust, all the way in.  There were no animal tracks, neither mice nor others, no droppings, no nothing (which we thought was rather unusual).  No plants of any form were evident.  This ‘door’ had been closed for a very long time it seemed.  …Today if you visit the site, ferns and other small plants have encroached several feet into the tunnel.

The entrance itself is about 14 inches across, and from the ground to the top covering stone the entrance is less than 12 inches high, showing quite clearly that no humans can walk in or out of it.  Which added to the puzzle: what the hell is it?  And why was it sealed with a covering stone?  But the more we looked (it became our regular port of call each time we were on the moors) the more obvious it became that a huge amount of work had gone into creating this antiquarian oddity.

As Winter came and cleared all the vegetation surrounding the site, we got an increasingly clear picture of it.  But this wasn’t before we tried to get inside!  Jon and I failed, but our torches showed that it went in for about 20-30 feet or so and then appeared to be stop, blocked by another stone.  Thankfully I had a younger brother, Phil, who was seven-year old at the time—so we took him up to have a look at the place.  We figured that only a small person could get inside the tunnel, but we didn’t tell him this (nor my parents!) until we arrived.

With torch in hand, Phil slithered into the entrance and, eventually, his little feet disappeared into the ground.  He didn’t seem too happy about it as I remember—but I was his big brother! (cruel – cruel – cruel!)  Shouting back down to us as he slithered further and further in, when he reached the blocking stone in the tunnel he exclaimed—”You can go round it!”

“What!? Really!?”

We were excited.

“Keep going Phil,” we urged.  But he wouldn’t.

“I’m scared Paul,” he said.  “I won’t be able to get back out”—or something along those lines.  And he was probably right.

But he managed to get his young tiny body slightly round the blocking stone that he’d reached and shone the torch-light down the extended tunnel.  He told that the it just kept going into the hill still further, keeping the same size and dimensions and straightness for about the same distance again—but then it started to curve very slightly, bending to the left (northwest) until it disappeared underneath the entire hillside, stretching out of sight. It seemed from his description, subsequently, that the tunnel went on for another 50 feet at least.

Once he was safely back out, he reiterated how far in it seemed to go.  We walked up the hill under which it had been built and Phil bimbled to roughly where he thought the tunnel was as he saw it with the torchlight.  Standing on the hilltop, this was obviously an extraordinary feat as there are thousands of tons of rock and earth covering it!  Curiously, years later, a dowser who visited the place walked the same route that Phil had described when he went inside it (we told the dowser nothing of Phil’s venture until afterwards).

Denuded walling leading to entrance
Denuded walling leading to entrance (photo by James Elkington)
Low walling leading to the 'Mine'
Low walling leading to the ‘Mine’ (photo by James Elkington)

When all the moorland vegetation has died back, you can clearly see how the tunnel has been built upon by a large mass of earth and rocks, some of them loose.  All round it is an extended collapse of what seems to be quarried stone tumbling down the hillside.  At the top of the hill are the remains of old walling and at least two walled structures—although they appear to be post-medieval in nature, not prehistoric.  At the entrance itself is evidence of continued walling of some form.  It seems as if a wider man-made chamber of some sort may once have stood here, right in front of the present-day entrance.  Even if this proves not to be the case, there is very clear evidence that the tunnel which goes into the hillside was once longer, as low walling continues outside away from the entrance, bending away some 50 yards to the southeast, before ending with no indication of additional structural remains.  This walled structure swerving out from the entrance is equally perplexing.

The closest prehistoric feature is an unrecorded cairn and petroglyph a few hundred yards away.  As far as I’m concerned, this tiny little entrance into the ground isn’t prehistoric.  But I’m nonetheless still very intrigued by it, not least because of a few very strange things that subsequently occurred here after we’d discovered it.

Whoever did this, went to a helluva lot of trouble and immense effort to build it.  And for what?  …Since being opened nearly 40 years ago, very few people have been to see this curious entrance into the Earth.  I’ve kept its location hidden.  But amongst the visitors has been an archaeologist, a historian, antiquarian authors, occultists and friends.  None have been able to say what this site might be.  From souterrains to mine-shafts, probably the best suggestion so far was by Mr Paul Hornby who suggested it might have been some sort of kiln, as there seems evidence of fire against one of the stones.  But there are anomalies with the site that don’t quite fit the glove of a normal kiln.  The extended collapsed ‘tunnel’ which reaches way out, past the entrance which Jon broke in the 1970s, doesn’t make sense; nor the fact that the tunnel goes way into the natural hillside.  Indeed, many things here don’t make sense, simply—I presume—because we haven’t asked the right question yet.

But one thing seems obvious: there may be something at the end of this tunnel, deep inside the hill, which someone many centuries ago, for some odd reason, wanted to keep hidden for a long long time.  What’s at the end of this tunnel?  And if it’s valuable treasure deep in there—it is NOT going to some museum which then, in later years, will be sold off cheaply to some wealthy dood when the museum runs out of money.  It should be kept within the safe holdings of The Northern Antiquarian.  If this becomes an issue, whatever lies at the end will simply be re-buried elsewhere.

Fortean History

On that fine Spring morning when we first discovered this “mine shaft for little people” as we called it, before we went on our way, we placed the stone that Jon had dislodged that had covered the entrance back into position so that no one could see the opening leading into the ground and under the hill.  It was firm and secure when we left—we made sure of it.

The following Sunday morning we made our way back up past Horncliffe Well again and onto this little mine-shaft to sit and have summat to eat.  The rocky arena here made it difficult to locate, even though we knew where it was.  But when we eventually did find it again, the covering-stone was missing.  In fact it had been rolled a good 5 yards away from the entrance.  This was odd, we thought—considering that no one even knew of its existence.  We wondered if an animal had taken up residence inside, but there were no tracks or remains consistent with this initial idea.  We puzzled about it, ate our food, and said our au revoirs.  Before we left, we repositioned the covering stone again to block the entrance.  This time we made it a little more secure than previously.

The following Sunday morning we visited the site again—and the covering stone had been removed, again!  So we replaced it, securely, and visited the place a week later—and the same thing had happened again.  This occurred time after time, month after month, year after year.  Every single time we covered the entrance, something came and removed it.  Yet no one ever comes on this section of the moorland—and even if they did, the site is very difficult to locate.  Until now, the site has never been added to any archaeology or history records anywhere—so no one knew of its existence (in asking two of the moorland rangers who’ve worked here over the decades, neither of them knew what we were talking about).

When Andrew Hammond and I left school at 18 (in 1981), we decided as a ritual to bring our school books onto the moor and burn them as the sun was setting in the northwest.  We sat near the little mine-shaft and sang our songs of joys at being out of school at last—and as the darkness began to fall over the moor, we replaced the entrance-stone again.  Within 30 minutes Nature had cast pitch black across the moor and we fell asleep.

Awaking at sunrise the following day, we wandered down the slope to the little mine-shaft where we’d repositioned the stone only hours previously.  It had been moved again, several yards away from the entrance.  No animal could have moved it.  Whatever it was, it kept doing it every time we repositioned the covering stone.  No animal tracks, droppings, or any evidence whatsoever of Nature’s creatures being responsible for the constant removal of the covering stone has ever been found.  The constant removal of the covering stone remains a complete mystery.

When a dowser came and tried tracing the underground route of the tunnel in the early 1990s, his rods took him to the top of the rocky hill above, then led him in a small curve to the northwest for more than 100 yards before stopping.


In the event that archaeologists ever get round to excavating or assessing this site, I would appreciate being contacted before anything is done and would love to be involved in any work performed at the site.  I’ll be a good boy!  Other remains nearby (usually covered by heather) need appraising to enable a more complete analysis, otherwise all subsequent reports would lack wider archaeocentric contextualization.  Thanks, in advance. 🙂


  1. Bennett, Paul., ‘Into a Mythic Domain – a Passage into the Ilkley Underworld,’ in Northern Earth, 87, Autumn 2001.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to James Elkington for use of his photos to illustrate this site profile.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Hitching Stone, Keighley Moor, West Yorkshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – SD 98665 41698

Getting Here

Hitching Stone through fog and snow
Hitching Stone through fog & snow

The easiest way to get here is via Cowling – though you can approach the place via moorland roads from Sutton-in-Craven, Oakworth and Keighley, but Cowling’s the closest place (so we’ll take it from there).  Turn east off the A6068 up Old Lane at the Ickornshaw side of town and go up the steep and winding road until you hit the moors.  Just as the road levels out with walling on either side of the road, there’s some rough ground to your left.  You can park here.  You’ll blatantly see our Hitching Stone on the moorland a few hundred yards above you on the other side of the road.  Walk up the usually boggy footpath straight to it!

Archaeology & History

For me, this is a superb place! Each time I come here the place becomes even more and more attractive — it’s like it’s calling me with greater strength with each visit.  But that aside…

Supposedly the largest single boulder in Yorkshire, it possesses several legends, aligns with the sacred Pendle Hill in Lancashire, is an omphalos (centre of the universe spot) and has other good points too! My first visit here was near the end of the Great Drought of 1995.  All of the streams and springs had dried up on the moors but, on the very top of this huge rock, measuring at least 8 feet by 4 feet across (and 3 feet deep) was a large pool of water, not unlike a bath, in which a couple of you could easily bathe (and do more besides, if the fancy takes you!).  It was surreal!  Water-boatmen and other insects were living in this curious pool on top of the rock.  Yet all other water supplies for miles around had long since dried-up.  It didn’t really seem to make sense.

Crystalline tunnel in the Hitching Stone
Crystalline tunnel in the Hitching Stone

On the west-facing side of the boulder, about 8 feet up, is a curious deep recess known as the Druid’s or Priest’s Chair, into which initiates were sat (facing Pendle Hill, down which it seems the equinox sun “rolls”) and is believed, said Harry Speight, “to have some connection with Druidical worship, to which tradition assigns a place on these moors.” If you climb up and inside the Priest’s Chair section you’ll notice a curious “tunnel” that runs down through the boulder, about 12 feet long, emerging near the northern base of the rock and out onto the moor itself.  This curious tunnel through the rock is due to the softer rock of a fossilised tree (Lepidodendron) crumbling away — and not, as Will Keighley (1858) believed, “the mould or matrix of a great fish.” When we visited the stone the other day in the snow, we noticed how the inner surface of this tunnel was shimmering throughout its length as if coated in a beautiful crystalline lattice (you can sort-of make this out in the image here, where the numerous bright spots on the photo are where the rock was lit up). Twas gorgeous!

The Hitching Stone, looking north
The Hitching Stone, looking north

The boulder lies at the meeting of five boundaries, and was the starting point for horse-racing event until the end of the 19th century.  A short distance away “are two smaller stones, the one on the east called ‘Kidstone’, the other ‘Navaxstone’, which stands at the terminus of the race-course.” (Keighley 1858)  Lammas fairs were also held here, though were stopped in 1870.

The cup-marked Winter Hill Stone a few hundred yards to the northeast, which I previously thought aligned with this site around winter solstice, but which happens to be a few degrees of arc off-line, would have indicated a very early mythic relationship, but this thought may now have to be put to bed.  I’ve not checked whether the winter solstice alignment shown in the photo below (with the Hitching Stone being shown on the near-horizon as the sun rose on winter solstice, 2010, from Winter Hill Stone) would have been closer in neolithic times or not.  Summat to check out sometime in the future maybe…

This aside, there is little doubt that this was an important sacred site to our ancestors.


Winter Solstice sunrise, 2010 (from Winter Hill Stone)

Legend has it that the Hitching Stone used to sit on Ilkley Moor. But it was outside the rocky house of a great witch who, fed up by the constant intrusion the boulder made to her life, tried all sorts of ways to move it, but without success. So one day, using magick, she stuck her wand (or broomstick) into the very rock itself and threw it several miles from one side of the valley to the other until it landed where it still sits, on Keighley Moor.

A variation on the same tale tells that she pushed it up the hill from the Aire valley bottom. The “hole” running through the stone is supposed to be where our old witch shoved her broomstick!


  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Gray, Johnnie, Through Airedale form Goole to Malham, G.F. Sewell: Bradford 1891.
  3. Keighley, William, Keighley, Past and Present, R. Aked: Keighley 1858.
  4. Wood, Eric, Cowling: A Moorland Parish, Cowling Local History Society 1980.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian