Old Woman’s Well, Guisborough, North Yorkshire

Holy Well (lost): OS Grid Reference – NZ 610 180

Getting Here

The grid reference here is an approximation, but the old well was definitely somewhere very close by, as evidenced by the place-name of the farmhouse. But if you wanna get here and wander about in the hope that you can re-locate this once sacred water source, go up the B1269 road north of Guisborough for about a mile. Carling Howe farmhouse is on the left-hand side of the road. Obviously the old well is somewhere close by…

Archaeology & History

The information I have of this site comes from old place-name listings. I found the reference in the directory for North Yorkshire by A.H. Smith (1928), in his entry for the etymology of ‘Carling Howe’ at Guisborough.  Smith ascribes the references of ‘Kerlinghou’ (which itself appears to have been lost) to mean the ‘Old woman’s mound’ and variants thereof, also saying, “There is an unidentified place in this township called Kerlingkelde,” (12th century ref. Guisborough Cartulary)—the ‘Old Woman’s Well’.  Very commonly in this part of Yorkshire—as at many other locations in northern England—a hou or howe (and variants thereof) relates to a prehistoric tomb – which is probably what we had here: a prehistoric Old Woman’s Grave with an associated Old Woman’s Well in close attendance.

The ‘old woman’ element in this name very probably relates to that primal mythic deity, the cailleach, the great prima mater of indigenous heathen folk, beloved mainly in Scottish and Irish lore, where her copious name and tales resonate to this day. This “well of the Old Woman, or cailleach“, would have been a place of particular importance in the mythic cosmology of our ancestors, but its precise whereabouts seems forgotten. There is a plentiful supply of water around Carling Howe Farm, one or more of which may once have been the site of this well. However, a lot of quarrying operations occurred here in the not-too-distant past, and this may have irreparably damaged our ability to accurately find the site – though perhaps a perusal of old field-maps could be productive.

It would also be good if we could locate the original whereabouts of the old tomb here which gave the place its name – the ‘Carling Howe’.  Other ‘howe’ sites in East and North Yorkshire turn out to be prehistoric burials and I have little doubt that the same occurred here.


  1. o’ Crualaoich, Gearoid, The Book of the Cailleach, Cork University Press 2003.
  2. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian