If you’re coming via the Keighley-Bingley (Airedale) road, go up to Riddlesden and then up the winding Banks Lane until it meets the edge of the moors. At the T-junction, turn left and about 330 yards along on your right there’s a dirt-track. Walk up here, sticking to the track (not the footpath) towards the cliffs of Rivock ahead of you, going through the gate and into the Rivock woods area. About 450 yards on from the gate on your right-hand side you’ll see the long straight length of walling that runs uphill—and about 60 yards up here, on the left-hand side of the wall you’ll see a very large boulder. Y’ can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
This large natural block, embedded into the hillside about 80 yards below the Wondjina Stone and its companions, is nothing much in the petroglyphic visual scale of things, but is worth checking out for a break if you’re checking out the other good designs in the Rivock cluster. Upon its sloping flat two-tiered surface there are just a small number of randomly spaced cup-marks of varying sizes: six at least, but perhaps as many as nine altogether. In times gone by (many years ago) we thought one of them might have had a very faint ring around it, but on my last couple of visits here I couldn’t see anything.
Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Wakefield 2003.
Hedges, John (ed.), The Carved Rocks on Rombalds Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.
Best approached via the Wondjina Stone, then over the wall and follow the geological ridge that bends into the trees. It’s difficult to find amidst the dense forest and is another one of those carvings that’s probably only for the purists amongst you.
Archaeology & History
If you’re doing the Rivock rock art tour, you might as well give this a go once you’ve checked ou the decent ones nearby. Here, on a rather large stone we find, on its uppermost ridge, three faint cup-marks next to each other in a very slight curve. The cup-mark in the middle is slightly larger than its two compatriots and might be natural. If you were to wet the rock when the sunlight is just right, you’ll probably get a better idea of its real appearance—otherwise we’ll have to let the computer-gadget lads suss it out!
From Fortingall take the road into the legendary Glen Lyon. About 8 miles along, a short distance past the Adamnan’s Cross standing stone, you reach the tiny hamlet of Camusvrachan. On your left is a singular dirt-track, past some cottages. Go along here and over the river bridge until you reach the junction on the other side. From here, turn right and a half-mile on when you reach the farm and manor-house on your right, park up. From here you’ll see a track going uphill. Walk straight up and after a half-mile or so, keep your eyes peeled to your right. You cannot fail to see this impressive giant on the slopes above you!
Archaeology & History
This is a truly mighty monolith! — a beauty no less! Standing upon a rocky ridge nearly halfway along the glen, the landscape it looks across is, without doubt, some of the finest in the British Isles. To our ancestors who, until just two hundred years ago peopled this and nearby glens in great numbers, this great stone would have been well known and had old myths told of it. Today we have only bare fragments.
To give an ‘archaeological survey’ of any kind to this site would seem somewhat of an anathema, as it is generally deemed to be little other than one of Nature’s incredible creations. We’ll come to that in a minute. But what is quite certain is that a line of very old and very low-lying walling runs from up the slope and almost straight down to Clach na Sgoltadh. You can see it pretty clearly in the photograph below. The walling stops at the giant stone and continues no further downhill from the other side of the giant upright.
Walk diagonally down the slope about 30 yards south-east from the stone and you’ll find a small but distinctly man-made ring of stones, low to the ground, with an entrance on its northeastern side. It’s somewhat of a puzzle as it’s too small for a hut circle (I laid down in it in various ways and found you’d have to lie foetal all night if you were to use it as your own little abode), and it equally too small as an animal pen – unless it was for just one animal, which is most unlikely. The small circular construction wouldn’t seem to be prehistoric, but it would be good to know what it is.
So, we do have some very slight archaeological association with the site, albeit minimal, with the very ancient walling that leads to the stone being the most intriguing.
The stone is generally attributed to be a geological creation. I certainly cannot say, as I have no expertise in the subject. However, in the opinion of just about everyone with whom I’ve visited this stone, I seem to be the only one who doesn’t think it’s man-made. A number of people have each insisted to me that it’s been stood upright by humans due to the quite distinct ‘squaring’ of the upright stone, particularly at the north-facing base. —and been seemingly bemused at my own lack of conviction. It does look as if it could have been cut and squared just as they all say but, let me repeat, I’m no expert at geology, and so all I can say is that I simply don’t know one way or the other. (useless prick that I am!)
“Perhaps a stone mason might know?” someone suggested—which seemed to be a good idea. Certainly a stone mason would surely be able to tell if it had been cut and dressed at the base, where it fits into the large earthfast rock….
Cue Chris Swales: a reputable stone mason from near Skipton, North Yorkshire. Chris and his friends took a week long whistle-stop tour in and around the Loch Tay region and thought they’d visit Glen Lyon. I heard about this and so asked him if he’d have the time to visit this stone giant and, if possible, let us know his opinion: is is a natural obelisk, or does it look to have been erected by humans? I told him my opinion and that of the geologists who give it an entirely natural provenance.
It was a few weeks later when he got back in touch and I asked him if he’d been up to Clach na Sgoltadh.
“I did,” he said. “it’s bloody impressive Paul. And what a gorgeous landscape too. I’d love to go there again.”
“Aye, it is Chris. And what did you think of the giant stone then? In your opinion is it man-made or natural?”
“Well I don’t know for certain Paul,” he said, “but in my opinion I’m 95% sure that it’s man-made.” He said it plain as day, just like a typical daan-to-Earth Yorkshireman. Chris isn’t into any the energy ley-line stuff, so his words carry more weight than those who wanna spice-up a site by projecting their own beliefs onto a place. As a result, I was somewhat taken aback by his words.
“What—are you sure Chris?!” I asked.
“Like I said – I’m not 100% sure Paul. I can’t really say it 100% – but I’m 95% certain that people cut and dressed the base of that stone and put it there. If it’s natural, then I’d like to know how they think that’s the case. I’m willing to be shown otherwise, but in my opinion, on the whole, it’s man-made. People stuck that stone there!”
It would be great to get another stone mason’s opinion about this site; and it would definitely be good to read a geological viewpoint, but I’m not aware of any papers regarding this stone. (does anyone know of any?) For my part: I can only reiterate that I’m ‘unsure’ whether or not this is man-made. I’m simply not qualified to give an objective opinion.
The curious thing is: if this isNature’s handiwork, then it would have been held in greater reverence to our ancestors than if it had been erected by people. Impressive creations of Nature were always deemed to be inhabited by genius loci of truly archaic potency. And in these deep impressive mountains, where the names of nature spirits still abound, this—without doubt!—would have been a place of considerable awe and sanctity. May it remain as such…
Looking to the west immediately uphill and behind Clach na Sgoltadh is the rising rounded hill of Creag nan Eildeag. Legend has it that the great Celtic hero Fionn stood atop of this crag and fired one of his arrows at the stone, splitting it in half and leaving the stone as we see it today.
In a small cleft in the stone, quartz deposits can be seen along with an effigy of the Virgin Mary. However, the title of the Praying Hands of Mary is a modern attribution and has no historical or mythic veracity.
Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.
From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farm-house of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate. Enter the field on the right and up the track. The stones are in front of you.
Archaeology & History
The great rounded hill of Blakey Topping—recorded as early as 1233 CE and meaning the ‘black mound’ or ‘black meeting-place’— has the ruins of a stone circle living several hundred yards to its south, little-known to many. The early writer George Young (1817) seemed to come close here, mentioning the ‘druidic’ standing stones of Blakey Moor and district, but gave no specific indication of the ruinous ring we’re visiting here. Instead, the first real description was penned by Robert Knox (1855) who, at the time of writing, was under the academic spell of druidism: prevalent as it was amongst most universities and places of learning back then. Also, beset by the equally sad plague of Biblical comparitivism—beloved even to this day by halfwits—Knox’s formula about this ancient ring was founded on the druidical reverence of Blakey Topping as a site beneath which our Bronze age tribal ancestors erected their stones with the rounded hill immediately to the north, as signified by its early name, black. (In early place-names, ‘black’ and its variants—dubh, dove, etc—relates to the cardinal direction of ‘north’ and actually means ‘shining’; and white or ban is ‘south’, when both elements are located in relative proximity.) Knox told us:
“At the southwest side of this arch-Druid’s tomb-like hill (Blakey Topping) a far more conspicuous cluster of larger Druid stones occurs; here three pillars form a triangle…and a smaller one…stands one hundred and fifty paces east of these nearer to the farmhouse there. These single stones, possibly, once formed part of a circle… The diameter of a circle formed on this triangle of stones would be about fifty-five feet; but as these pillars form a nearly equilateral triangle, the number of stones in that circle cannot now be correctly ascertained, if, indeed, they ever formed part of a circle…
“These three sandstone pillars, untouched by tools…are much weather-worn; and hence it may be inferred that they are very ancient. I shall only add that the tallest pillar here is nine feet high, from two-and-a-half to three feet wide, and rom fifteen to twenty inches thick, and is the tallest ancient pillar next to the celebrated one in Rudston churchyard, now standing in the eastern part of Yorkshire. When I last visited the Blakey Topping Druid-stones in 1836, I learned that the farmer, on whose ground they stand, “had talked about breaking the three large ones to pieces,” and perhaps nothing but the trouble of doing so has hitherto preserved them, and many others. I told him what had been their use, and begged he would preserve them.”
And thankfully they remain there to this day! Around the same time of Mr Knox’s visit, the Ordnance Survey lads came here too and, in 1854, highlighted the remaining ‘Druidical Stones’ on the first map of the area. But references to the stones from here onwards are sparse and add nothing pertinent to its archaeomythic status. It was a Mr & Mrs Elgee (1930) who were the next to tell us about the site in their exposition on Yorkshire archaeology. They wrote:
“Three large standing stones about 6 feet high on the south-west side of Blakey Topping…are the remains of a circle about 18 yards in diameter. Two or three hollows in the ground indicate the position of other stones, some of which are serving as gateposts nearby. Others have been broken up to help build a wall. These stones are associated with a large settlement sites similar to (one) on Danby Rigg not very far from the imposing Bridestones and approached by an ancient trackway known as the Old Wife’s Trod.”
The general interpretation by the great megalithic archaeologists Aubrey Burl, John Barnatt and their fellow associates, is that these stones are the remains of a stone circle – which seems apt. But of even greater importance seems to be the great hill of Blakey Topping itself, to which this olde ring no doubt related to. Many other prehsitoric sites once scattered this area, but sadly most of them have been destroyed.
Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
Elgee, F., Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
Gutch, Mrs E., Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, David Nutt: London 1899.
Acknowledgements: Big thanks to the photographer James Elkington, for use of his photos in this profile. Cheers mate. Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farmhouse of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate and there, ahead of you, rises Blakey Topping…
Archaeology & History
The giant hill of Blakey Topping was recorded as early as 1233 CE and in a simplistic style just means the ‘black mound’; but this derivation has additional ingredients, implying it as a ‘black meeting-place’ or moot. Black in the etymological sense also implies ‘shining’ and it may also relate to the northern airt of black (meaning death, darkness, north, etc), when you’re stood at the ruined stone circle 400 yards to the south. But I’m speculating here…
Several 19th century antiquarians suggested there may have once been a cairn on top of the hill, but others who’ve explored this idea seem to have put it to bed.
This great hill is well recognised amongst local people and, to this day, its animistic creation myths and other folklore elements are still spoken. When the photographer James Elkington recently visited the nearby standing stones, he bumped into the old farmer who told him how his father had seen the faerie-folk on the hill many years back. And its modern reputation as a gorgeous site adds to such lore, which dates way back.
In Frank & Harriett Elgee’s (1933) archaeology work, they narrated the old creation myth that local people used to tell of this great hill,
“A witch story related by a native 25 years ago attempts to explain two conspicuous natural features two miles apart on Pickering Moor; Blakey Topping, an isolated hill, and the Hole of Horcum, a deep basin-shaped valley. The local witch had sold her soul to the devil on the usual terms, but when he claimed it, she refused to give it up, and flew over the moors, with the devil in hot pursuit. Overtake her he could not, so he grabbed up a handful of earth and flung it at her. he missed his aim and she escaped. The Hole of Horcum remains to prove where he tore up the earth and Blakey Topping where it fell to the ground.
“From our point of view the significance of this story lies in the fact that between the Hole and the Topping there is a Bronze Age settlement site at Blakey Farm, with its stone circle. The rough trackway leading from the Hole to the circle is known as the Old Wife’s Way, presumably also marking the witch’s flight. This, together with other Old Wife’s Ways, preserves as it were Bronze Age church tracks”.
A relative variation on this tells that the Hole of Horcum was made by the local giant, Wade. He was having a row with his wife, Bell, and got so angry that he scooped out a lump of earth and threw it at her. The huge geological feature known as the Hole of Horcum is the dip left where he scooped out the earth, and Blakey topping, the clod itself, resting in situ where it landed. A christian appropriation of the story replaces Wade and his wife with their ‘devil’: a puerile element unworthy of serious consideration.
In more recent times, the old geomancer Guy Ragland Phillips (1976; 1985) found that a number of alignments, or leys (known as a ‘node’), centred on Blakey Topping: twelve in all, reaching out and crossing numerous holy wells, prehistoric tumuli, standing stones, etc. The precision of the alignments is questionable, yet the matter of the hill being a centre-point, or omphalos, would seem moreso than not.
Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
Phillips, Guy Ragland, The Unpolluted God, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1987.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
On the roadside at Shipley Glen, from Brackenhall Circlewalk up for about 250 yards, where you’ll notice the land dips as it drops into the woods below. Follow this dried stream down until you reach the mossy Loadpit Beck in the valley. By the waterside is a footpath: follow this upstream for a short distance, keeping your eyes peeled on the Earth below where a smaller stream crosses the path you’re walking on. Follow this uphill to its source!
Archaeology & History
Halfway up (or down) the moss-covered waters of Shipley Glen the all-but-forgotten waters of the Cloven Hoof Well still flows nice and freely, and is still good to drink. It was shown on the first OS-map of the area in 1852, where it was called the Raygate Well, whose derivation neither the great Baildon historian W. Paley Baildon nor the place-name giant A.H. Smith could account for. It sounds just like it was someone’s surname, but local genealogy cannot affirm this. One possibility—and which reflects in the local lore of the site—is that it’s a compound word from the old northern dialect word Rea, “an evil spirit or demon”, and gate, “a hole, an opening or gap.” The terms are used in a prayer given in Mr Sinclair’s Satan’s Invisible World Displayed (1814),
“as recited in the time of Popery by persons when going to bed, as a means of them being preserved from danger:
“Keep this house from the weir… And from an ill Rea, That be the gate can gae.””
But this purely speculative….
A photograph and brief description of the Cloven Hoof Well was given in an early edition of the Bradford Scientific Journal after a geological excursion to Shipley, though nothing was said of its curious name. However on a rock below the spring, a hoof-print mark is clearly seen. It appears to be part-natural and partly enhanced. This is an area rich in prehistoric petroglyphs, or cup and rings stones.
Mosses thankfully still cover the rocks from whence the waters flow; and bilberry, blackberry, male fern and bracken also grow around it. Psychoactive plants also abound nearby. The water is healthy and never seems to dry up, even during long warm summers. And below here, on the other side of the stream at the bottom, you can visit the little-known Wood Well.
Local lore told that the devil stepped here and left his hoof-mark in the rock, making the waters rise from the Earth. Possibly a venerated site in earlier days, one finds numerous ancient remains nearby (cup and rings, stone circle, walling, cairn fields). Pagans amongst you should love this place!
Armitage, Paul, The Holy Wells and Healing Springs of West Yorkshire, forthcoming
Baildon, W. Paley, Baildon and the Baildons (parts 1-15), St. Catherines: Adelphi 1913-26.
la Page, John, The Story of Baildon, William Byles: London 1951.
On the outer southern edge of Kilbarchan parish—right near the ancient boundary line itself—this giant stone of the druids is seems to be well-known by local folk. Located about 40 yards away from the sacred ‘St Bride’s Burn’ (her ‘Well’ is several hundred yards to the west), it was known to have been a rocking stone in early traditions, but as Glaswegian antiquarian Frank Mercer told us, “the stone no longer moves.” The creation myths underscoring its existence, as Robert Mackenzie (1902) told us, say
“This remarkable stone, thought by some to have been set up by the druids, and by others to have been carried hither by a glacier, is now believed to be the top of a buried lava cone rising through lavas of different kind.”
The site was highlighted on the first OS-map of the area in 1857, but the earliest mention of it seems to be as far back as 1204 CE, where it was named as Clochrodric and variants on that title several times in the 13th century. It was suggested by the old place-name student, Sir H. Maxwell, to derive from ‘the Stone of Ryderch’, who was the ruler of Strathclyde in the 6th century. He may be right.
Folklore told that this stone was not only the place where the druids held office and dispensed justice, but that it was also the burial-place of the Strathclyde King, Ryderch Hael.
Campsie, Alison, “Scotland’s Mysterious Rocking Stones,” in The Scotsman, 17 August, 2017.
MacKenzie, Robert D., Kilbarchan: A Parish History, Alexander Gardner: Paisley 1902.
Acknowledgements: Big thanks to Frank Mercer for use of his photos and catalytic inception for this site profile.
When the great northern antiquarian William Grainge (1871) wrote of this place, he told that, “the top of the main rock bears…rock bains and channels, which point it out as having been a cairn or fire-station in the Druidic day; there are also two pyramidal rocks with indented and fluted summits on the western side of the large rock” — but said nothing of the faded cup-and-ring that we’re highlighting here, to be found on its vertical eastern face. This ancient geological rise is today more peppered with increasing amounts of modern graffiti – much more than when I first visited the place in the early 1990s with my old petroglyph colleague, Graeme Chappell.
In modern times, this singular cup-and-ring seems to have been reported first in E.S. Wood’s (1952) lengthy essay on prehistoric Nidderdale. It was visited subsequently by the lads from Bratf’d’s Cartwight Hall Archaeology Group a few years later; and in the old photo here you can see our northern petroglyph explorer Stuart Feather (with the pipe) and Joe Davis looking at the design. In more recent times, Boughey & Vickerman (2003) added it in their survey of, telling briefly as usual:
“On sheltered E face of main crag above a cut-out hollow like a doorway is a cup with a ring; the top surface of the rock is very weathered and may have had carvings, including a cupless ring.”
Indeed… although the carving is to the left-side of the large hollow and not above it. Scattered across the topmost sections of the Little Almscliffe themselves are a number of weather-worn cups and bowls, some of which may have authentic Bronze age pedigree, but the erosion has taken its toll on them and it’s difficult to say with any certainty these days. But it’s important to remember that even Nature’s ‘bowls’ on rocks was deemed to have importance in traditional cultures: the most common motif being that rain-water gathered in them possessed curative properties.
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Bogg, Edmund, From Eden Vale to the Plains of York, James Miles: Leeds 1895.
Bogg, Edmund, Higher Wharfeland, James Miles: Leeds 1904
Cowling, E.T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
Grainge, William, History & Topography of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, J.R. Smith: London 1871.
Parkinson, Thomas, Lays and Leaves of the Forest, Kent & Co.: London 1882.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to James Elkington for use of his fine photos on this site.
Highlighted on the 1901 OS-map of the area, this old rocking stone was located on the heights of Pen y Filas above Llandudno. Originally a site of heathen worship—the druids, it is said—the site was later patronised by the Irish saint, Tudno: a hermit who lived in a cave (Ogof Llech) a mile to the northwest, on the heights of the legend-filled Great Orme.
Rocking stones are well-known as geo-oracular forms (stone oracles) in folklore texts across the country, although they’re almost entirely rejected by historians as little more than ‘curiousities’ and meaningless geological formations. In olde cultures elsewhere in the world however, stones like this were always held in reverence by traditional people – much as they would have done in Wales and elsewhere in Britain.
Hughes, Arthur R., The Great Orme: Its History and Traditions, R.E. Jones: Conway n.d. (c. 1950)
Jones, H. Clayton, “Welsh Place-Names in Llandudno and District” in Mountain Skylines and Place-Names in Llandudno and District, Modern Etchings: Llandudno n.d. (c.1950)
Tale the A85 road between Comrie and Crieff and, roughly halfway between the two towns, take the minor road south to Strowan (it’s easily missed, so be aware!). A few hundred yards along, stop where the trees begin and walk into the fields immediately east. Keep walking, below the line of the trees, and you’ll get to it within five minutes.
Archaeology & History
Samson’s Stone, looking east
Mistakenly cited by some as a standing stone, the large boulder which rests here on the hillside just below the woodland is a glacial erratic. Highlighted on the 1866 OS-map of the region, I hoped that we might find some rock art on the stone, but cup-and-rings there were none. However, there is a curious ‘footprint’ on top of it, similar to the ones found at Dunnad, at Murlaganmore and other places (see Bord 2004); but I can find no previous reference to this carved footprint.
‘Footprint’ on top of stone
In 1863 the site was described in the local Name Book, where it was reported to be “a large oblong shaped stone lying on the surface, eight feet long, four wide, and three thick”; but, much like today, it was also reported that “There is no tradition respecting it in the neighbourhood. Supposed to have received the name in consequence of its great size.”
Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.