Go through the village of Stanbury, past the last of the two reservoirs until you’re on the western edge of Ponden. Stop and look up the slopes to your south. This spot was recently found and photographed by Richard Stroud: a curious-looking mound with all the hallmarks of being a forgotten tumulus. We’ve gotta check it out properly though!
Although not in the archaeological records (not too unusual in Yorkshire it seems), the site does have some literary references and some all-too-common folklore motifs. Perusing my library for info about another nearby site (the Cuckoo Stones), I found the following said of this place in a rare book by James Whalley called The Wild Moor (1869, pp.103):
“It appears that some hills, as well as dales…have silvery names. There is a hill which is on the right hand on the way from Ponden House to Crow Hill Moor, which is distinguished by the beautiful designation of ‘Silver Hill.’ The hill is surrounded by a wall (I suppose to guard the treasure) and its surface is adorned with trees. Grey-headed men living on the borders of Crow Hill and Lancashire Moors affirm that during the Scotch rebellion here was deposited a large chest of silver, which was hid in the hill. It would appear as if the chest of silver is still there!”
This tradition was echoed a decade later by J. Horsfall Turner, and then again by Halliwell Sutcliffe in 1899, who reckoned the “vast treasure was said to have been buried during the ’45 rebellion,” adding how “the fields which climb this hill were well tilled aforetime through being constantly turned over in search of the treasure” – but nowt was ever found.
An additional bit of folklore tells of two spirits nearby: one of a man; another of a fiery barrel — either a remnant of earlier solar folk traditions hereby, or perhaps just an earthlight. One of these (the fiery barrel) rolled down the hill nearby; whereby the ghost of the man walked by the hillock along the track from Ponden House a little further east.
Horsfall-Turner, J., Haworth Past and Present, J.S. Jowett: Brighouse 1879.
Sutcliffe, Halliwell, By Moor and Fell in West Yorkshire, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1899.
Takes a bitta getting to this spot, but it’s worth the effort! Make a day of it and walk up here via the little-known Cuckoo Stones monoliths. From here the walk gets steeper! Follow the footpath from the standing stones, uphill, to the legendary Wuthering Heights building of Bronte-fame a half-mile ahead of you. Then walk immediately up the slope at the side of the derelict house higher onto the moor (there’s no real footpath to follow) until the moorland levels out. From here, look west and walk that way for a few hundred yards where you’ll be seeing a large rock outcrop ahead of you. That’s where you’re heading! (if you reach the triangulation pillar, take the small path from there along the top of the moor towards this large rock outcrop)
Archaeology & History
To those of you who like a bitta wilderness, or healthy normal people I suppose, this is a stunning place! Even though there’s little by way of archaeology here — save the usual expectations of a few flints and arrowheads — its geomancy, its position in the landscape, makes it excel as a once important ritual site for our ancestors in not-so-distant centuries. Although local tradition gave these great rocks a prehistoric pedigree, the archaeological record doesn’t say as much — but that doesn’t really mean much up here. We’ve found a singular Bronze Age cairn on the level at Middle Moor Flat 400 yards northwest (not in the record books), some prehistoric walling on the flat east of here (not in the record books), so a lot more attention is needed hereby to see what more may be hiding in this rocky heathland area.
The main feature amidst this extensive scattering of rocks is the large rocking stone, said to weigh six- or seven-tons, resting upon other glacial deposits. The rock itself can be made to rock very slightly. It was described in Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary as a
“cromlech, an evident druidical remain, (which) consists of one flat stone, weight about six tons, placed horizontally upon two huge upright blocks.”
But the placement here was done by Nature and not humans — making it much more important to our ancestors. This was a site for solace, for ritual and to commune with the gods themselves. A few visits to this place show this quite clearly — unless you’re unable to relax that is! It’s a place I wanna spend more time working with, as the mythic history around these stones feels strong, despite their absence from written records.
The druidic sentiments espoused by Lewis were all but echoed by our otherwise sober historian, J. Horsfall Turner, in his history of Haworth (1879), where he describes the Alcomden Stones as “the remains of a Druid’s Altar.” On top of the main ‘altar stone’ are what could be ascribed as worn cup-markings, but it seems they’re Nature’s handiwork once again; though this wouldn’t deny them as having some significance to our ancestors. A number of other boulders amidst this mass of rocks also have what seem like cup-markings, but none of them can be said with any certainty to have been carved by people. Indeed, the entirety of this legendary rock outcrop seems to have been created solely by the spirits of Nature.
It was first described as ‘Alconley’ in 1371, then in the 1379 Poll Tax returns as ‘Halcom’, the etymology of which is difficult. Al- is a cliff or rock, many of which occur here; den is certainly a valley, over which we look to the northeast (to Ponden Kirk, 500 yards away); but the central element of ‘com‘ is the greatest puzzle. Blakeborough (1911) tells of the old Yorkshire word ‘con’ — found in the 1371 spelling — meaning “to scan, or observe critically,” which one can certainly apply here in a topographical sense, i.e., “observation stones above a valley.” It’s simple, succinct, and makes sense!
As Elizabeth Southwart (1923) rightly said,
“Our forefathers, instinct and imagination more highly developed than knowledge, peopled their woods with fairies and their valleys with ghosts. On the high, wind-swept spaces they built their altars to Unknown Gods.”
And such she thought was done at this “heap of rocks called Oakenden Stones.” It seems likely, as this place is superb for ritual magick and meditative systems. But all we have are the repeats of numerous old historians, from Whiteley Turner (1913) and his namesake J. Horsfall, to James Whalley, J.W. Parker and more, who recorded what the old locals said: that is was a place of the druids. There may be a grain of truth in it somewhere…
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Blakeborough, Richard, Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire, W. Rapp: Saltburn 1911.
Parker, J.W., Guide to the Bronte Country, J.W. Parker: Haworth n.d. (c.1971)
Southwart, Elizabeth, Bronte Moors and Villages: From Thornton to Haworth, John Lane Bodley Head: London 1923.
Turner, J. Horsfall, Haworth, Past and Present, Hendon Mill: Nelson 1879.
Turner, Whiteley, A Spring-Time Saunter round and about Bronte Lane, Halifax Courier 1913.
Go through Haworth and head for the well-known Penistone Hill country park. On the far western side of the hill up near the top of Moorside Lane, there’s a car-park. Right across the road from this there are two footpaths: one heads you into the moor, whilst the other (going the same direction) follows the edge of walling onto the moors. Take this path. Walk on and downhill, past the end of the reservoir, then the path continues uphill. You’ll hit a nice cheery tree beside the path a few hundred yards up. Stop here, look into the boggy region with bits of walling on the moor in front of you. That’s where you’re heading!
Archaeology & History
This was a really curious spot to me, as I found absolutely nothing about the damn place! But thanks to the assistance of local historian and writer Steven Wood (2009), that’s changed. Shown on the 1852 OS-map, at least two springs of clear water trickle slowly from the wet slope above you into the boggy reeds. Close by there are overgrown remains of old buildings, covered with the time of moorland vegetation, seemingly telling that the waters were collected for bathing rooms. But who the hell even started the notion that they’d be able to get Victorian rich-folk up here at the crack-of-dawn to drink or bathe in the waters is seemingly forgotten. And, as is evident from the lack of local history, the project was a failed one which seemed not to have lasted too long.
It was quite obvious that of all the springs around here and despite the strong-flowing streams either side of these spa well, that the local animals drink here more than the other nearby springs of water, as there were literally hundreds of animal tracks all across the boggy ground of the spas.* The waters also seem to have the usual ‘spa’ qualities of stinking, but once we’d cleaned out the overgrown springs — which looked as if they hadn’t been touched for 100 years or more — the waters were clear and tasted good, and were curiously slightly warm!
Although my initial search for information on this site drew a blank, Steve Wood pointed us in the right direction for info on the place. As with many other holy wells and spas in Yorkshire, it turned out that this was another spot much revered around Beltane, indicating strongly there would have been earlier pre-christian rites practiced at this site. Steve pointed me to Martha Heaton’s (2006) local history work, which told:
“For many years the first Sunday in May was a special day. It was known as Spa Sunday, for on this day people gathered up in the hills overlooking what is now Leeshaw Reservoir, here was a well, known as Spa Well, and the stream which now feeds the reservoir is known as Spa Beck. People came from Haworth, Oxenhope, Stanbury, and other villages sitting round the well, they sang songs, some bringing their musical instruments to accompany the singing. Children brought bottles with hard spanish in the bottom filling the bottle with water from the well, shaking it until all the spanish or liquorice had been dissolved. This mixture was known as ‘Poppa Lol’ and would be kept for weeks after a little sugar had been added, then it was used sparingly as medicine. The custom seems to have died out when Bradford Corporation took over the water and made Leeshaw Compensation Reservoir in 1875, though up to about 1930 two men from Haworth would wend their way to the spot on the moor, the first Sunday in May. The men were John Mitchell and Riley Sunderland, better known, in those days as ‘Johnny o’Paul’s’ and ‘Rile Sun’.
It was a great day for many people, the Keighley News of May 1867 mentioned it, the report of local news reads thus: ‘A large assembly met on Spa Sunday on the moors about two miles from Haworth, and a party of musicians from Denholme performed sacred music’.
This locality was often visited during the summer months by the Bronte family.”
Heaton, Martha, Recollections and History of Oxenhope, privately printed 2006.
Wood, Steven & Palmer, Ian, Oxenhope and Stanbury through Time, Amberley Publishing 2009.
Acknowledgements: – Huge thanks to Steven Wood for his help; and to Hazel Holmes for permission to quote from Martha Heaton’s work.
* A common creation myth behind many healing wells is that animals with breaks or illness drag themselves to drink from otherwise small or insignificant springs and wells, despite of the copious streams or rivers which may be nearer.
Follow the same directions to get to the nearby Ponden Kirk and, once on top of the rocks, overlooking the valley, walk on the footpath to your right. It bends round and follows the stream up onto the moors. About 100 yards along, walk up the heathery slope to the right and you’ll find several boggy watering holes on the top of the ridge. In looking at the first OS-map of the area in 1853, it seems that the northernmost of six boggy springs is the Robin Hood’s Well – although we don’t know this for certain. It’s one of them though!
Archaeology & History
There’s little to see here really: it’s little more than a small boggy spring of water emerging from the edge of the ridge, as the photo shows. Curiously, descriptions of the site (and its neighbouring compatriots, Will Scarlett’s Well and Little John’s Well) are sparse aswell. It was noted by the Ordnance Survey lads in 1848 and subsequently posted on the first OS-map of the area in 1851. But the first literary description I can find of it is in Johnnie Gray’s (1891) Airedale survey, where he only gave it a passing mention. Several years later however, Halliwell Sutcliffe (1899) gave the first real description of the place, telling us:
“Half-hidden underground, and fringed with fern and bog-weed, lie the three wells which go by the names of Robin Hood, Little John and Will Scarlett. One may stop to ask how they came by their birth-names, to wonder why a man should have troubled to fashion them in this out-of-the-way spot; but neither speculation nor questioning of the moor folk brings one nearer to an answer.”
Apart from this site being a spot where the legendary outlaw stopped and drank in ages past, the healing attributes of these waters have long since been forgotten. Considering the proximity of the Ponden Kirk and its legendary association with fertility and marriage rites, I’d guess that such lore wold have centred around Beltane, or Mayday; and Robin Hood is very well known in folklore to have close associations with the same period. So — and I’m guessing here — it’s likely that whatever might have occurred at this well, would have taken place around Beltane aswell.
Sutcliffe, Halliwell, By Moor and Fell in West Yorkshire, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1899.
Go west through Stanbury village towards Lancashire for a mile till you reach the end of Ponden Reservoir. Where the water ends, follow the small track up to, and past, Whitestone Farm, till you reach the stream. Follow the valley up…
Archaeology & History
As the great Yorkshire historian J. Horsfall Turner (1879) told, “Ponden Kirk consists of a ledge of high rocks, dry in summer, but forming a stupendous cataract after heavy rain. It was here that Mrs Nicholls (Currer Bell) caught a severe cold shortly before her death.” The site is a fine one – not to be attempted from the base by unfit doods, unless you’re really serious about your climbing! But to those of us who like clambering up rocks and wholesome scenery, walk to the site via the stream (Ponden Clough Beck) and get to the cleft in the rock face. Tis a truly fine place!
In 1913, one writer posited the notion that the opening in the rocks through which local folk crawl (see Folklore, below) “is seemingly artificial” – which aint quite true, sadly.
Once on the tops above the Kirk, you’ve one helluva decent view, be it raining or sunny. On the far northeastern horizon arises the great omphalos of Almscliffe Crags; and next to that is the elongated top of Baildon Hill; and a little further northeast is Otley Chevin. It would be good to visit here on a few of the old heathen days and watch the sunrise, just to see if there are any intriguing solar observations to be made! (take a tent though – or p’raps, if you’re like us, don’t bother, but you’ll be bloody cold for the night!) The only potential sunrises of heathen significance appear to be midsummer and Beltane….
For me at least, one of the things which gives this site an intriguing form of sanctity is the fact that the Kirk itself forms the head at the end of the valley. It is a very fine ritual site and would obviously have had much more to be said of it than just the heathen marriage rites which are left today. The forces of wind and rain scream from its height, and in the valley beneath the chime of the gentlest echoes resonate, giving an altogether different ‘spirit’ amidst the same land. Those old cherubs of ‘male’ and ‘female’ spirit commune potently here – no doubt being the ingredients which gave form to the marriage customs… Those of you into feng-shui (the real stuff, not the modern bollox) and genius loci should spend time with the water and rocks here and you’ll see what I mean. Archaeologists amongst you, if you dare, should amble aimlessly here for sometime…for many hours, a few times, and give yourselves a notion of the ‘ritual landscapes’ you like to write about from the safety of your textbooks, to get a bittova better notion of what ‘experiencing the land’ is actually about.
This rocky outcrop was also said to be the place that Emily Bronte used in her Wuthering Heights novel as the place called Penistone Crags. A couple of other local writers have also added this legendary place in their tales aswell.
Alleged by Elizabeth Southwart (1923) “to be of druidical origin,” the first literary note of this great rock outcrop appears to come from the reverend James Whalley (1869) of Todmorden, who in his romantic amblings over the moorlands here, told that if any gentleman wants to get married,
“he must by all means pay a visit to Ponden Kirk… Here ‘they marry single ones!’ Any lady or gentleman who can successfully ‘go through one part of the rock’ (which is quite possible) is declared to all intents and purposes duly married according to the forms and ceremonies of Ponden Kirk.”
His wording here seems to imply that the event of passing through the rocky opening, is in itself a confirmation of the ceremony of marriage, not needing the blessing of some strange christian rites. If so, this tradition would be a very ancient one indeed, making the stone the witness to the marriage event. This would be a rite witnessed by the stones themselves: a universal heathen attribute found in most of the ancient traditional cultures. But this curious unwritten history was to be echoed a decade later by that great Yorkshire historian, J. Horsfall Turner (1879), who told us that,
“at Ponden Kirk, as at Ripon Minster, a curious wedding ceremony is frequently observed. It consists in dragging one’s-self through a crevice in the rock, the successful performance of which betokens a speedy nuptial… The place is now frequently called ‘Wuthering Heights. Apart from the association of such names as Crimlesworth and Oakden (see the Alcomden Stones), fancy easily ascribes a druidical settlement at the Kirk.”
A not unreasonable assumption – though nothing of this nature, of yet, has been found.
That other great Yorkshire writer, Harry Speight — aka Johnnie Gray (1891) — echoed the same folklore telling how,
“The natives of these parts have a saying, ‘Let’s go to Ponden Kirk where they wed odd ‘uns,’ which has its origin in an old custom of passing through an enormous boulder… The belief is that if you pass through it, you will never die single. No one knows how the rock acquired its name, but the Saxon kirk suggests a temple of worship, possibly extending back to the druidical times.”
A few years later, Mr Whiteley Turner came here and he too affirmed the old wedding rites, also telling that “according to tradition, maidens (some say bachelors too) who successfully creep through the aperture will be married within the year.” This bit of info also shows that the rocks also had oracular properties – a function known at countless other sites.
The proximity of Robin’s Hood Well, just a couple of hundred yards away, beckons for association with the Ponden Kirk – which it obviously had… But that’s a tale to be told elsewhere…
About a metre tall and found standing near the bottom of one of the fields diagonally across from the old farmhouse of Laverock Hall, here’s another old stone which may not have a prehistoric provenance. It is seemingly unknown by all but local people and would seem to be an old rubbing post for cattle — albeit a small one! There seems to be no written accounts of this stone; though until all of the local field-name maps have been checked, we can’t discount the possibility that this is the “standing stone” described in early place-name records that was mentioned by A.H. Smith in 1963.
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 6, Cambridge University Press 1963.
Pretty easy to find. Go along the Oakworth-Wycoller road, between Keighley and Colne, high up on the moors. When you get to the Water Sheddles Reservoir right by the roadside (y’ can’t miss it), stop! On the other side of the road walk onto the moor, heading for the walling a coupla hundred yards to your east (right). Where the corner edge of the walling ends, your standing stone is right in front of you! If for some reason you can’t see it, wander about – though beware the very boggy ground all round here.
Archaeology & History
This seven-foot tall monolith, leaning to one side thanks to the regularly water-logged peat beneath its feet, stands on the Yorkshire-Lancashire. It is locally known as the Hanging Stone and the Standing Stone, but the name ‘Water Sheddles’ is a bittova puzzle. The place-names authority, A.H. Smith (1961) thinks it may derive from the middle-english word, shadel, being a ‘parting of the waters’ – which is pretty good in terms of its position in the landscape and the boggy situation around it. But ‘sheddle’ was also a well-used local dialect word, though it had several meanings and it’s difficult to say whether any of them would apply to this old stone. Invariably relating to pedlars, swindling or dodgy dealings, it was also used to mean a singer, or someone who rang bells, or a schedule, aswell as to shuffle when walking. Perhaps one or more of these meanings tells of events that might have secretly have been done here by local people, but no records say as such — so for the time being I’ll stick with Mr Smith’s interpretation of the word! Up until the year 1618 it was known simply as just a ‘standing stone’, when it seems that the words “Hanging Stone or Water Sheddles Cross” were thereafter carved on its west-face, as the photo below shows.
Whether or not this stone is prehistoric has been open to conjecture from various quarter over the years. Is it not just an old boundary stone, erected in early medieval times? Or perhaps a primitive christian relic? Certainly the stone was referred to as “le Waterschedles crosse”, as well as “crucem”, in an early record describing the boundaries of the parish of Whalley, dating from around the 15th century. This has led some historians to think that the monolith we see today is simply a primitive cross. However, sticking crosses on moortops or along old boundaries tended to be a policy which the Church adopted as a means to ‘convert’ or christianize the more ancient heathen sites. It seems probable in this case that an old wooden cross represented the ‘crucem‘ which the monks described in the early Whalley parish records.
This monolith likely predates any christian relic that might once have stood nearby; although the carving of a ‘cross’ on the head of the stone may have supplemented the loss of the earlier wooden one. But it seems likely that this carved ‘cross’ was done at a later date than the description of the ‘crucem‘ in the parish records — probably a couple of centuries later, when a boundary dispute was opened, in 1614, about a query on the precise whereabouts of the Yorkshire-Lancashire boundary. After several years, as John Thornhill (1989) wrote,
“the matter was resolved on the grounds that the vast Lancastrian parish of Whalley had claimed territorial jurisdiction as far east as the Hanging Stone, thus the county boundary was fixed on the Watersheddles Cross.”
Certainly the stone hasn’t changed in the last hundred years, as we can tell from a description of it by Henry Taylor (1906), who said:
“The remains consist of a rough block of stone, leaning at an angle of about forty-five degrees against a projecting rock. The top end has been shaped into the form of an octagon, on the face of which a raised cross is to be seen. The stone is about six feet long and two feet wide, tapering to eleven inches square at the upper end, and appears once to have stood upright. Some local authorities have cut on it the words, ‘Hanging Stone or Waterscheddles Cross.'”
So is it an authentic prehistoric standing stone? Tis hard to say for certain I’m afraid. It seems probable – but perhaps no more probable than the smaller Great Moss Standing Stone found just a couple of hundred yards away in the heather to the west, on the Lancashire side of the boundary. Tis a lovely bitta moorland though, with a host of lost folktales and forgotten archaeologies…
Get to Widdop reservoir in the hills west of Hebden Bridge and park up. The great rock faces to your right (north) is where you’re going. Clamber to the top until the moor levels out, making sure you head NNW for less than a mile. The moors you’re now on are supposed to be private – but folk like me pay no attention! There are no footpaths to this great outcrop, only the heathlands and scattered stones – but keep walking for a half-mile north and you’ll get to them!
Archaeology & History
Erroneously ascribed by the place-name masters Eilert Ekwall and A.H. Smith (1961) as being ‘a place where doves gathered,’ this gigantic rock outcrop on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border — as shown on early maps — is actually the Dew or Black Stones (from the Gaelic, dubh). It’s an awesome place! Takes a bitta getting to, but it’s well worth the venture.
This long geological ridge, rising higher as you walk along it to the north, has the occasional cup-mark on it, with the giant Dove Stone at the very end having a cup-and-half-ring on its crown (be careful not to fall off). From here, you look across a huge, desolate, U-shaped valley, the far side of which we rise to 1700 feet and the grand setting of the Lad Law.
The folklorists Harland and Wilkinson (1882) included this in their survey of druidical sites, mentioning the several cup-markings, or druid basins as they called them. (though most of ’em on here are Nature’s handiwork)
For me, this is an incredible place – full of raw power and magick. It has a curious geomantic relationship with the Whinberry Stones, a couple of miles to the south, around which should be a ring of stones…though none can be found.
Best approached from Haworth and then walking along the Bronte Way footpath onto the moors (ask at the local Tourist Info if you aint sure). A few hundred yards along, cross the ‘Bronte Bridge’ and keep following the footpath up until you get past the trees and get onto the moors. Once on the heathland, a few hundred yards on keep your eyes to the right and at least one of the two stones here will appear!
Archaeology & History
This is a fascinating little site that has been mentioned in a few old local history guides, including John Lock’s Guide to Haworth (c.1965). First described in 1852 and only briefly noted in passing by Horsfall Turner (1879), the place was previously thought to have comprised just one standing stone, but in recent years explorations by Mark Davey and I found there to be two standing stones close to each other. They are not marked on any maps and are unknown even to many local people. However, the place once had a bit of a reputation (see folklore) and seemed to be well known in the region when the cult of the Church was at its height!
Both of the stones are between three and four feet tall, but the westernmost of the two was probably much taller in bygone days – that’s because the top of the stone was vandalised in centuries past, presumably by some christians if the folktale is anything to go by! On the north-facing side of the western stone is the faint carved outline of an old cross, first described by local historians in the 1960s. It’s faint, but you can work it out if your eyes work properly! The newly-recovered (July 2005) easternmost stone is in two sections, with the very top of it having been hacked off in centuries gone by, as seen in the photos.
When we unearthed the previously unknown Cuckoo Stone (which was laid in the earth and covered with heather and peat), a small deposit of quartz crystals was found in the original socket beneath it when we came to stand the stone back in position. Question is: who put the quartz there? The original builders, or the nutters who knocked it down? And then we might ask: what was the reason behind placing a large handful of quartz beneath the standing stone?
In the heather beyond, about thirty yards to the north, we also find what looks like the remains of an old prehistoric tomb. If we make sense of the Cuckoo Stone’s folklore, we can safely assert that these monoliths were the spirit-home of the old dood/s buried in the tomb behind…
Tis a lovely little place…
There’s also something from that strange electromagnetic-anomaly region attached to this site, well-known to students exploring the physics of megalithic sites. When my lovely friend Mark – “grope me baby! grope me!” – Davey and I rediscovered the second Cuckoo Stone, Mark brought with him a device that measures fluctuations in electromagnetic radiation. The readings taken were fine just about everywhere (background, with minor fluctuations), apart from two very curious straight lines which ran either side of the burial mound down towards the two Cuckoo Stones, with radiation readings being between 10 and more than 60 times above background! The highest readings came from those closest to the burial mound, with levels dropping as we approached the standing stones. Such magnetic anomalies have been found at a number of megalithic sites in the UK, as described in Paul Devereux’s Place of Power (1989) and other books. But the fact that the anomaly lines here seemed to run in lines would be something that those ley enthusiasts would no doubt be intrigued by!
The creation myth of this site tells that once, long ago, a great giant lived upon these old moors. He wasn’t a good giant though, from all acounts: robbing and persecuting those who would venture onto the hills hereabouts. The local people wouldn’t dare venture onto the moors and they long sought for a hero who’d be able to sort him out! This eventually happened and in a great fight, our unnamed hero caught and killed the old giant. But just as the giant was about to die, he used his ancient magick powers and, “with a magical groan, he did transform before them and became the Cuckoo Stone.”
But that wasn’t the end of the matter because, as our unnamed hero realised, knowing that the head was the seat of the soul, even in his petrified stoney state the giant may one day recover his life, and so he chopped off the top of the Cuckoo Stone and rolled it into the valley below, dismembering the ‘head’ from the giant, seemingly forever…
It is said that the winnings of this old giant, stolen from his countless victims, are hidden somewhere high upon these hills, awaiting the shovel of some fortunate treasure hunter!
The motif of this tale is universal and archaic, echoing traditional or aboriginal lore from elsewhere in the world. The tale is a simple one: originally the ‘giant’ was a local hero, chief or medicine man who lived on these hills and the Cuckoo Stones his petrified body, and with the incoming christian cult, the giant became demonised. It seems that the ingredient of the giant’s death may infer a burial of sorts and, a hundred yards behind the Cuckoo Stones (both of whom have had their ‘heads’ hacked off), is a mound of earth which, when seen after all the heather’s been burnt away, has all the hallmarks of a prehistoric tomb (it is seen in the top photo above, as the mound in the background behind the standing stones).
Go along the B6141 from Denholme to Oxenhope, turning right just by the bend which drops into Oxenhope, and head along the small road to Upwood Park camping site. Just before here is the Grange Park Animal sanctuary. Ask there to walk onto the field behind, where you’ll see a rise in the land, as you can see on the rather poor photo I took from the east-side.
Archaeology & History
Although ascribed on early OS-maps as a tumulus (and still shown as an antiquity on the modern ones), this site appears to be simply the end-point along a geological ridge, starting a few hundred yards east of here, consisting of an upsurge of rocks covered in earth and nothing more. A survey of the place done by Bellamy in 1970 (Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 42:6, 1970) seems to indicate the same. To those who want to test the theory, start by exploring it from Cullingworth Moor and walk along the ridge itself. It seems pretty clear.
The “antiquarian” element to the site seems to originate in its positioning in the landscape. Armshaw Lowe is on the topmost point of the hills hereabouts, with 360-degree views all round, commanding excellent sights all round. But it’s perhaps the word ‘lowe’ that might be the important bit here, as in old english it can mean an old moot or meeting spot — which it may well have been for local tribes. It is may be this element that gives Armshaw Lowe its lingering antiquarian status.
Check it out for yourselves and see what y’ think. I went up here to see an old burial mound, but found only a decent geological feature atop of local hills. But me ‘n’ the archaeologists might be wrong…
Gomme, G.L., Primitive Folk-Moots; or Open-Air Assemblies in Britain, Sampson Low: London 1880.