Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8719 9338

Getting Here

Old stones of Blakey Topping (James Elkington)

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.”

Stone re-used as gatepost (James Elkington)

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.

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
  3. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  4. Elgee, F., Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  5. Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
  6. Gutch, Mrs E., Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, David Nutt: London 1899.
  7. Knox, Robert, Descriptions Geological, Topographical and Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire, London 1855.
  8. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  9. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
  10. Spratt, D.A., Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire, BAR: Oxford 1982.
  11. White, Stanhope, Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North Yorkshire Moors, privately printed: Scarborough 1987.
  12. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – 2 volumes, Clark & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Links:

  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

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.

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.328552, -0.660786 Blakey Topping circle

Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Sacred Hill:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8731 9377

Getting Here

Blakey Topping (James Elkington)

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.

Folklore

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”.

Looking up from the SW (James Elkington)

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.

References:

  1. Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
  2. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  3. Phillips, Guy Ragland, The Unpolluted God, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1987.
  4. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.

Links:

  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the photographer, James Elkington, for use of his photos in this profile. Cheers mate.

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.332035, -0.658827 Blakey Topping

Cloven Hoof Well, Shipley Glen, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 12839 39331

Also Known as:

  1. Raygate Well

Getting Here

Cloven Hoof Well, Shipley Glen

On the roadside at Shipley Glen, from Brackenhall Circle walk 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….

Cloven Hoof Well on 1852 map

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

Folklore

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!

References:

  1. Armitage, Paul, The Holy Wells and Healing Springs of West Yorkshire, forthcoming
  2. Baildon, W. Paley, Baildon and the Baildons (parts 1-15), St. Catherines: Adelphi 1913-26.
  3. la Page, John, The Story of Baildon, William Byles: London 1951.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.850079, -1.806321 Cloven Hoof Well

Clochoderick Stone, Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire

Rocking Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 37363 61280

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 42329

Archaeology & History

The Clochoderick Stone

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.”

Clochoderick Stone on 1857 map

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

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.

References

  1. Campsie, Alison, “Scotland’s Mysterious Rocking Stones,” in The Scotsman, 17 August, 2017.
  2. 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.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.817286, -4.597285 Clochoderick Stone

Little Almscliffe, Stainburn, North Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 23242 52260

Also Known as:

  1. Little Almes Cliffe
  2. Little Almias Cliff Crag

Archaeology & History

Little Almscliffe Crag (photo by James Elkington)

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.

Stuart Feather & Joe Davies here, c.1955
Cup&Ring, left of ‘door’ (photo by James Elkington)

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.”

Close up of design

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.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Bogg, Edmund, From Eden Vale to the Plains of York, James Miles: Leeds 1895.
  3. Bogg, Edmund, Higher Wharfeland, James Miles: Leeds 1904
  4. Cowling, E.T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
  5. Grainge, William, History & Topography of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, J.R. Smith: London 1871.
  6. 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.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.965940, -1.647187 Little Almscliffe Carving

Maen Sigl, Llandudno, Caernarvonshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SH 7792 8297

Also Known as: 

  1. Rocking Stone
  2. St. Rudno’s Stone

Archaeology & History

Maen Sigl on 1901 OS-map

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.

References:

  1. Hughes, Arthur R., The Great Orme: Its History and Traditions, R.E. Jones: Conway n.d. (c. 1950)
  2. 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)

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.329504, -3.834657 Maen Sigl

Samson’s Stone, Crieff, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 82519 22021

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 96866

Getting Here

Samson Stone on 1866 map

Samson Stone on 1866 map

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

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

‘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.”

Most peculiar…..

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Samson Stone

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Samson Stone 56.375822, -3.903839 Samson Stone

Heatheryhaugh, Bendochy, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 19639 51153

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 29141
  2. Mains of Creuchie

Getting Here

Heatherhaugh Carving, in situ

Heatherhaugh Carving, in situ

Take the A93 road north out of Blairgowrie for 5 miles or so to the Bridge of Cally, making sure you do NOT drive up the A924.  Keep on the A93 for a coupla hundred yards, just as you come out of the village take the right turn on the minor road to Drimmie. When you hit the dead straight section of road, turn left near its end. The follow this bendy moorland road for 1½ miles (2½km) where a small copse of trees appears on the nearby hillock on your left. In the next field past this, close to the roadside, you’ll see a large boulder.

Archaeology & History

A large rock in the large field 350 yards (320m) SSE of the lovely Park Neuk stone circle which was described by the Royal Commission (1990) lads as being a “cup-and-ring” stone is, sadly, not as impressive as it sounds.  The carving was initially rediscovered and described by Mrs Lye (1982) who told:

“A large glacial erratic boulder with ten cup marks scattered over its surface lies in a field one sixth of a mile SSE of the ‘four poster’ and ruined stone circle at Heatheryhaugh.  The boulder is garnet mica schist and is 3m long, NS, by 2.70 wide, EW, with a circumference of 9m at ground level.”

When the Royal Commission visited the carving in 1987 they found that it had,

“on its sloping W face at least fifteen weathered cupmarks, two cups with single rings and one cup with a possible ring; the cupmarks average 50mm in diameter by 15mm in depth.”

Cup-marks faintly visible

Cup-marks faintly visible

Close-up of cups - some natural, some enhanced

Close-up of cups – some natural, some enhanced

But some of these ‘cups’ are, without doubt, geological in origin – and when Paul Hornby and I visited the stone in near perfect weather conditions, there was only one ring very faintly discernible, with a possible arc on the top-edge of another ‘cup’.  You can see from a couple of the photos how some of the cupmarks are geophysical in nature.  The cups with greater veracity were very probably etched from the natural cut in the stone (as found at Stag Cottage and many other cup-and-rings).

References:

  1. Lye, Mrs D., “Heatheryhaugh: Cupmarked Stone,” in Discovery & Excavation in Scotland, 1982.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, North-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1990.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Heatheryhaugh CR

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Heatheryhaugh CR 56.645265, -3.312029 Heatheryhaugh CR

Kirk Stones, Morton Moor, West Yorkshire

Legendary Rocks (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 0886 4479

Archaeology & History

Kirk Stones on 1851 map

Kirk Stones on 1851 map

A place-name that is still recognised on modern Ordnance Survey maps, even though the original site giving rise to it was all but destroyed some one hundred-and-fifty years ago.  Derived from the old word kirk, meaning a church or sacred site, no christian remains of any kind have ever existed here and so we must presume an earlier, more heathen site of sanctity (an abundance of prehistoric petroglyphs exist very close by).  The singular reference detailing the nature of these Kirk Stones is in J.A. Busfield’s (1875) rare tract on the history of Upwood, in the parish of Bingley.  Upwood Hall was built by the Busfield family and, as the author tells,

“one of the most striking features in the vicinity at this age [c.1800, PB] was the fine range of magnificent rocks called Kirkstones, which had existed for countless ages. These grand rocks, towering one above another, extended along the whole southern boundary of the [Whetstone] Allotment on the left of the road to Ilkley, and were really a fine object, but alas!, through the ignorance or stupidity of the agent Colonel Bence, the “Crags of Kirkstone” were broken up and disposed of in the construction of the Bradford Water Works about the year 1854.”

Sadly we have neither illustrations nor other references to these fine sounding sentinels.
Undoubtedly the Kirkstones were a natural feature, despite their venerated title. It would have been their very appearance that gave rise to their revered title, as in the great and contorted rock masses seen at Brimham Rocks which, from Bensons’s description, these Kirk Stones seem reminiscent. The only piece of extant lore to these stones is that the uprights that went into making the recently destroyed Bradup stone circle a short distance south of here, came from this sacred outcrop.  It seems reasonable to assume that they played an important role in the magickal history of these hills when they were scattered with forest.

The Kirk Stones aligned along the equinox axis to the Black Knoll standing stone less than a mile [1.4km] due east.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Busfield, Johnson Atkinson, Fragments Relating to a History of Bingley Parish, Bradford 1875.
  3. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – Part 2, Cambridge University Press 1956.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Kirk Stones

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Kirk Stones 53.899193, -1.866724 Kirk Stones

Ringstone, Torrisdale Bay, Farr, Sutherland

 

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  58.524038, -4.248900 Ringstone, Torrisdale

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69128 61741

Getting Here

The Ringstone, Torrisdale Bay

Along the A836 road between Tongue and Bettyhill, turn down towards Skerray at Borgie Bridge for 1.8 miles (2.87km) until you reach the little information sign at the roadside. Walk downhill and cross the little bridge and wander onto the west side of the beach.  You’re likely to end up daydreaming… so once you’ve re-focussed, head into the middle of the beach and walk up the steep-ish sand-banks to your right (south).  Once at the top, you’ll see a gigantic rock—the Ringstone—bigger than a house.

Folklore

This gigantic boulder is part of one of Sutherland’s archaic Creation Myths as they’re known: ancient stories recounted by archaic societies about the nature and origins of the world.  Such tales tend to be peopled by giants, gods, huge supernatural creatures, borne of chaos, eggs, darkness and primal oceans.  Thankfully we still find some examples of these tales in the northern and northwestern mountainous regions of Britain, as the Church and Industrialism never quite destroyed the hardcore communities—despite what they might like to tell you…

Face of the Ringstone, from above Torrisdale’s sand dunes
The Ringstone, looking east

The following folktale of the Ringstone was thankfully preserved by the local school headmaster, Alan Temperley (1977), before it disappeared from the oral traditions of local people (as is sadly happening in these mountains).  It typifies stories told of such geological giants from aboriginal Australia, to Skye, to everywhere that people have lived.  Mr Temperley wrote:

“Many years ago there were two giants, the Naver giant from the river at Bettyhill, and the Aird giant from the hill above Skerray.  Normally they got on quite well, but one afternoon they became involved in a heated argument about some sheep and cattle, and both grew very angry.  The Aird giant was standing on top of the hill above Torrisdale bay with the animals grazing around him, and the Naver giant stormed across the river to the beach below.

“Those are my sheep,” he roared up the hill.

“No they’re not,” the Aird giant said. “At least not all of them.”

“You stole them. You’re a thief!”

“No I didn’t. They came up here themselves. Anyway, you owe me fifty sheep from last year.”

“You’re not only as thief, you’re a liar!” shouted the Naver giant.  If you don’t send them down this minute, I’ll come up and see to it myself.”

At this the Aird giant gave a disparaging laugh and made a rude face, and picking up a great boulder flung it down the hill at his friend.

The Naver giant was speechless with fury, and picking the stone up himself, hurled it back up the hillside, making a great hole in the ground.

The Aird giant saw things had gone far enough.

“I’ll send them back if you give me that silver ring you’re always wearing,” he said.

“Never!” roared his friend, his face all red and angry.

“Suit yourself then,” said the Aird giant, and picking the stone up again he tossed it back down the hill.

For long enough the rock kept flying between them, and in time the giant from Naver grew tired, because he was throwing it uphill all the time.

“Will you give me the ring now?” said the Aird giant.

For answer the Naver giant tried one more time to throw the stone up the hill, but it only got halfway, and rolled back down to the shore.

“Come on,” said the giant from Aird, for he wanted to be friends again. “Give me the ring, and I’ll let you have it back later.”

“No!” said the Naver giant from the bottom of the hill.  “I’ll never give it to you!” His eyes began to fill with tears.

“Oh, come on, please!” coaxed the Aird giant. “Just for a week.”

“Never, never, never!” shouted the giant from Naver, and pulling the ring from his finger he threw it on the ground and jammed the great boulder down on top of it.  Then he sat down on top of the stone and stared out to sea.  Every so often he sniffed, and his friend, looking down at his broad back, saw him lift the back of a hand to his eyes.

They never made friends again, and after a long time they both died.

The ring is still buried under the stone, and so far nobody has ever been able to shift it.”

The giant’s face, in profile

When I got back from visiting this immense rock a few weeks ago, a local lady Donna Murray asked me if I’d seen the face of the giant in the rock.  I hadn’t—as I was looking to see if the name ‘Ringstone’ related to any possible cup-and-rings on its surface, which it didn’t (although I didn’t clamber onto the top).  But in the many photos I took from all angles, Donna pointed out the blatant simulacra of the giant’s face when looking at it from the east.

However, on top of the slope above the Ringstone (not the Aird side), I did find a faint but distinct ‘Ringstone’ carving (without a central cupmark).  Whether this ever had any mythic relationship to the tale or the stone, we might never know.  The rocky terrain above Aird now needs to be looked at…

References:

  1. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  2. Long, Charles H., “Cosmogony,” in Eliade, M., Encyclopedia of Religion – volume 4, MacMillan: New York 1987.
  3. MacLagan, David, Creation Myths: Man’s Introduction to the World, Thames & Hudson: London 1977.
  4. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

Acknowledgments:  Massive thanks again to Donna Murray, for her help and for putting up with me amidst my wanderings up in Torrisdale and district.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 2017