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

Almscliffe Crags, North Rigton, North Yorkshire

Legendary Rocks:  OS Grid Reference – SE 2681 4900

Also Known as:

  1. Ormscliffe Crags

Getting Here

This is an outstanding site visible for miles around in just about every direction – so getting here is easy! If you’re coming from Harrogate, south down the A658, turn right and go thru North Rigton.  Ask a local.  If you’re coming north up the A658 from the Leeds or Bradford area, do exactly the same! (either way, you’ll see the crags rising up from some distance away)

Archaeology & History

Almscliffe Crags – looking east

This giant outcrop of rock rises out from the meadowlands here like a miniature volcano, visible for many miles all round.  The history and legends surrounding the aged edifice are prodigious and the view from its tops on a fine day is one to be remembered.   It is likely, although there is little corroborative historical evidence, that is was an “omphalos”, or navel centre of the universe for the local people many centuries ago.  A great cutting runs through its centre and “runs from nearly north to south, and forms the boundary between the townships of Rigton and Stainburn, so that a portion of the rock is in each township.”  On the respective sides of this division are carved the letters “T.F.” and “E.L.”, being the initials of the families who owned the land here in olden days, Thomas Fawkes [of the legendary Guy Fawkes’ family] and Edwin Lascelles, of the ancient Harewood family.

Although Almscliffe Crags have been described in a great many local history books, it almost beggars belief to find it omitted from all the ancient mystery or “sacred sites” books ever written.  Curious…  Such lesser sites as Alderley Edge, the Cow and Calf rocks, Kilburn’s White Horse, Twelve Apostles stone circle, and many more, whilst having their respective virtues, don’t touch this place for ritual or sacred intent.

First described in the early 13th century records of Fountains Abbey, A.H. Smith (1961) thought the name of Almscliffe itself originally came from a hypothetical lady’s name, which seems an all-too-easy proclamation to make, instead of the humble option of  “I don’t know”!  But Smith wasn’t the only one to throw some curious ideas up about the etymology of Almscliffe.  Said by some local etymologists to derive from the Celtic Al-, a rock or cliff, and mias, an altar, there are other attempts to bring its rocky form into a consensus meaning.  The anglo-saxon Ael or El, being fire, and messe, or mass; and the Scandinavian Ormcliff, being the “cliff of the serpent”.  In Jones’ History of Harewood (1859), he tells

“it to have derived its name from the distribution of almes, at certain times, agreeably to the tenor of legacies left to the chapel which stood there in the sixteenth century, and was at that time dedicated to the Virgin Mary.”

It’s difficult to say which one tells its true title.  Many a druidic tale has also been carved into its form.  Such is the nature of this site that Grainge (1871) wrote how,

“it would not be difficult to show, with the exception of the artificial temple or circle of stones, this place possesses all the accessories of that ancient worship as…typical of the worship of the sun.”

Simpson’s 1879 drawing of the Almscliffe ‘cromlech’

A remark that was even echoed by one of Yorkshire’s finest and most sober historians, Harry Speight. (1903)  Grainge also pointed out that in his day there were three standing stones by the great Crags, one fallen, but “two of these rocks yet stand upright.”  A few years later we find that the ranting christian writer,  Henry T. Simpson (1879), described similar megalithic remains here, though his description was of a “cromlech.” (illustrated here)  I can find no trace, nor further references to these relics; but think it reasonable to suggest that, perhaps, Simpson’s cromlech and Grainge’s standing stones may have been one and the same monument.

In the field 100 yards immediately north of the Crags (the one with the two rocks in it) there used to be seen the remains of some primitive early walling, suggestive of a small, early settlement site.  Very little can be seen of these remains today and, as far as I’m aware, no archaeological survey was ever done of them. In all honesty, it’s highly probable that a number of other important prehistoric sites were once in evidence at varying distances around Almscliffe Crags…

Folklore

The creation myth of Almscliffe tells that, long long ago, the great giant Rombald — whose main place of residence tended to be Ilkley Moor — was having a fight with the devil upon his homeland heath.  As is common in the myths of giants, the ‘devil’ picked up a great boulder and threw it at Rombald, but it missed and fell just short of the village of North Rigton, creating Almscliffe Crags. A variation of this tale tells that it was Rombald and his wife having the argument and she threw the stones to create the place.  Several sites have been named as the place where the mythological argument occurred: the Cow and Calf rocks, the Great Skirtful and Little Skirtful of Stones all cited in the folktales of our Yorkshire peasants.  Another variation of the tale tells that the devil was simply carrying some stones (as devils and giants are renowned to do in the folk-tales of the world) and he accidentally dropped them where the Crags now stand.  Such rock-throwing tales are, once more, symptomatic of cailleach tales more commonly found in Ireland and Scotland.

There are a great many cup-markings on the top surface of these Crags, most of which seem natural, but it is not unreasonable to think that, perhaps, some may have been carved by human hands? (not sure misself)  Eric Cowling (1946) sincerely believed the antiquity of some carvings here.  One of them particularly, three feet across and eighteen inches deep, though seemingly natural, has for several centuries been known as  the “Wart Well.”  Its name is attributed to folklore that is more commonly found in Ireland and the Scottish highlands; that is, should you have a wart, prick it with a pin until a drop or two of blood drips into the water that gathers in the stone bowl, then dip your hand in afterwards.  The wart is sure to vanish.  Another method to achieve the same end is to merely wash the skin affliction in the water, and it will soon fade. (Interestingly, an old psychotherapist friend, afflicted with the damned things, did just this and they promptly vanished.)

A more minor creation myth tells that the stone bowls we see on top of the Crags here – including the Wart Well – was actually made when the giant Rombald stepped from his home onto the Crags and left his footprint embedded in the rock face.  He was said to have made it in just one step, from the Giant Skirtful of Stones prehistoric cairn [where one legend reputes him buried].

Faerie folk were also long held to live here.  On the northwest side of the Crags is the entrance to a small cave that was always known as the Faerie’s Parlour, as it was said to be an entrance to their supernatural world.  In times past, many people have scrambled down into the cave, but never reached their Otherworldly paradise.  William Grainge (1871) wrote how the little people “were all powerful on this hill and exchanged their imps for children of the farmers round about.”  This is typical of old changeling lore!  In outlying villages surrounding the Crags there is a particular excess of faerie and old heathen lore.

One very curious-sounding tale tells how a goose was sent down the hole and, after some considerable time, re-emerged 3½ miles away out from a well near Harewood Bridge.  The goose is one of the many symbols of the sun and one of its primary symbolic attributes is that of winter.  Interestingly perhaps, as the rock art writer Graeme Chappell has pointed out, the underground journey of the goose from Almscliffe to Harewood Bridge coincides closely with the rising of sun on morning of the winter solstice.  This tale may simply be a folk remnant — and an archaic one at that — of just that event: ritualising winter solstice from these Crags.  In Norse lore, shamans tell of geese carrying the great god Wotan across the skies at the coming of the Yule period.

Another ritual date that was celebrated here was Beltane, or May 1.  Not only do we find many of the outlying villages possessed their own maypoles, but in 1879 Mr Simpson of Adel reported seeing Beltane fires atop of these rocks.  Other meetings were made here as the Crags are spliced in half by the local boundary line, and perambulation records show that people came here during the ‘beating of the bounds’, as they used to be called.  This boundary perambulation moot ingredient is what strongly implies the site to have had ritual importance.  And the fact that a mass of folktales emerge from here adds to this.  Then of course we have the physical situation of the Crags at the heart of the mid-Wharfedale landscape.  All these ingredients combined, strongly suggest the site would have been, not just the ritual meeting place of tribal elders in pre-christian times, but an omphalos: it rises majestically from the land and all monuments gaze towards its giant form.  Important giant prehistoric monuments from the hills miles away tell of myths that come and go from this proud mass of stone.  Although we have other omphali just over the extended horizons from Almscliffe, this is where the World began in the creation myths of ancient times in mid-Wharfedale, at the heart of the ancient kingdom of Elmet.

But there is still more lore to be told of these rocks…

The centre piece of the Crags is known as the Altar Rocks.  Upon its western side is carved the “figure of a large tree, which we take to be the monogram of the Celtic Jupiter,” says Grainge.  This assumption is derived from an eighteenth century writer who, said Speight (1903), told that “Almnus and Alumnus are titles of Jupiter, to whom this high altar was dedicated.”

The highest part of the Crags, to the west, is known as Lover’s Leap where, in 1766, a daughter of a respectable Rigton farmer of the name Royston, having been disappointed in love, decided to kill herself.  She jumped, so legend reputes, from a point some sixty feet above ground, but a strong wind blowing at the time caught hold of her dress and carried her through the air until she landed safely in an adjoining field with naught but a sprained thumb!  The said lady realised the stupidity of her ways and was said to have lived out a long and fine life.

In recent years earthlights (UFOs) have been seen floating above and around the great outcrop.  It is likely that these were the same things which, in days of olde, the people would call the faerie.  I highly recommend visiting the place!

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. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  6. Grainge, William, History & Topography of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, J.R. Smith: London 1871.
  7. Jones, John, The History and Antiquities of Harewood, Simpkin Marshall: London 1859.
  8. Simpson, William, Archaeologia Adelensis, W.H. Allen: London 1879.
  9. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 5, Cambridge University Press 1961.
  10. Speight, Harry, Kirkby Overblow and District, Elliott Stock: London 1904.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Almscliffe Crags

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Almscliffe Crags 53.936429, -1.593116 Almscliffe Crags

Walton Head, Kirkby Overblow, North Yorkshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 30335 49907

Getting Here

Along the A61 Harrogate-to-Harewood road, just below the roundabout where the A658 links up, is a small country road that turns towards the lovely village of Kirkby Overblow.  If you’re in a car, park up wherever you can hereabouts (being careful of the locals!).  Cross over onto the western-side of the A61 and walk along the small tree-lined field-edge until you find a spot to get over, where this stone stands.

Archaeology & History

It’s hard to suss out how many monoliths first stood here, but when William Grainge (1871) and Harry Speight (1903) described them, it was believed they had been uprooted in the 17th or 18th century.  Although one of them has gone, thankfully the scarred remnant of one is still here.

Site number 168 in Old Stones of Elmet, one of the two standing stones that were described in parish boundary records of 1577 as “two stones standing in Walton Head Layne” can be found northeast of the village, along the ancient church way between Rigton and Kirkby.  However, it is not as it once was! The boundary perambulation was redefined in 1767, when it was thought that a new monolith had been erected to replace the site of the old ones; but it turns out that some masons simply smoothed off the old stone and carved ‘K.F. 1767’ onto one of the original two. If you look at the base of the stone (which is more than 4 feet tall, leaning slightly to one side), it’s obvious that it’s been in the ground for one helluva long time. Much much longer than any old 1767 – or 1577 for that matter!  What we appear to have here is simply a worked remnant of a true prehistoric standing stone.

References:

  1. Grainge, William, The History and Topography of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, John Russell Smith: London 1871.
  2. Speight, Harry, Kirkby Overblow and District, Elliott Stock: London 1903.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Walton Head stone

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Walton Head stone 53.944387, -1.539336 Walton Head stone