Found high on the moors several miles south of Hawes, this is a small almost insignificant water source that I sat with, drinking in both the landscape and the waters many moons ago in a daydreaming amble. It’s history is only remembered in the name it was given, no doubt by some local to the Ordnance Survey lads in their own, albeit more focussed assessment on these hills. Its name puzzled me for a long while and I wondered if some untold story lay behind it. Sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case. Although there are doubtless many tales that could be told of the people who, through the centuries, have sat and drank the waters here, we know none.
Its name very probably derives from the misapprehended dialect word ‘cannel’ which, as Mr Wright (1898) explains, is simply “a ditch…gutter, watercourse,” which seems appropriate here. Of the place-names shown on the 1856 OS-map, it seems the most likely solution to the word.
As for a place to sit and have a drink, it’s very refreshing after the rains have fallen. All too often nowadays, as with many of the old hilltop watercourses, their life-blood is falling back to Earth…
Wright, Thomas (ed.), English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, Henry Frowde: London 1898.
The long country road running between Aysgarth and Kettlewell is the B6160. Whether you’re coming from the north (Aysgarth) or south (Kettlewell), when you reach either Buckden or Cray, take the minor road west to Hubberholme. Just over 1½ miles further on, you reach the tiny hamlet of Yockenthwaite itself. Cross the river bridge, then turn left and walk along the footpath parallel with the river. 600 yards or so along, keep your eyes peeled for the low small ring of stones in front of you.
Archaeology & History
Just above the well-trod path that runs parallel with the usually shallow River Wharfe, this small and silent ring of stones rests in the idyllic host of Langstrothdale, deep in olde Yorkshire. Tis a wonderful spot… Classed as a ‘stone circle’ for many a decade (even by the esteemed Aubrey Burl), this small but ancient ring shouldn’t really be held in the same category as our larger megalithic circles. In truth, it looks more like some of the larger hut circles I’ve seen and uncovered down the decades—and it may well be that. Indeed, even the archaeo’s aren’t in agreement as to what it is, with the general idea being that it is the remains of a ring cairn of some type, despite no human remains being found here.
Yockenthwaite itself was already know by this name in 1241 CE, when the monks of Fountains Abbey were given the land by one of the murderous invading Norman families of the period. This ingredient may be relevant to the history of the circle, for as the great northern antiquarian Harry Speight (1900) pointed out,
“in several places in the dales there are traces of what seems like ancient sheep or cattle enclosures, which are probably vestiges of this grant to the monks of Fountains in 1241.”
And Speight thought the circle had a similar origin to these remains. He continued:
“An enclosure of this kind, composed of a number of big stones on end, lies at the low end of the second pasture on the north side of the river between Yockenthwaite and Deepdale, and has been described as a Druid’s Circle. It is doubtless one of these monastic folds.”
And he may have a point. Although when Arthur Raistrick (1929) ventured here in the early 1920s, he had other ideas, pushing the date of the site way way back into the Bronze Age. “The circle,” Raistrick told,
“is slightly raised above the surrounding ground-level, and the stones, standing edge to edge, can be seen from a considerable distance on either fell side. The circle is 25 feet diameter, very nearly a true circle, there being only about 6 inches variation in diameter. The stones number 20, placed on edge to edge to edge…with only two small gaps, which would accommodate three or perhaps four more stones. These stones were probably removed some years ago to repair the stile in the neighbouring wall. Outside this circle of 20 stones, on the northwest side, there are four others placed concentrically, and very close to the circle, but there is no evidence that the circle was ever double, or that there were ever more than these extra four stones. There is a slight mound at the centre, and probing with a rod proved a small circle of stones, about 9 feet diameter at the centre, indicating probably a burial. Several large boulders lie on the level ground around the circle, but these are all rolled down from the fell-side above, and not placed in any connection with the circle. All the stones of the circle are of limestone…”
It was this designation that led to Burl (1976; 2000) to include it in his corpus of megalithic rings; although John Barnatt (1989) did question the validity of the site as a true ‘stone circle’ in his own gazetteer, saying:
“This unusual site comprises a contiguous ring of orthostats of c. 7.5m diameter, which are graded downslope to the SSW to allow for the gradient; their tops are all roughly horizontal. They range from 0.30 to 1.05m in height, 22-3 stones survive today and 3-4 appear to be missing. To the NNW there is a short outer arc of 4-5 stones placed immediately outside the main ring. 4 loose stones appear to have been added to the ring recently. Raistrick’s plan does not tally with the present remains, despite the sites undisturbed nature. The interior of the site is filled by a low horizontal platform, with virtually no height upslope to the north-east and a height of c. 0.5m to the south-west. The ring of stones stand well proud of this round the full circumference. This site appears to be a variant form of kerb-cairn rather than a true stone circle.”
The structure has been built onto a slight but notable platform, as has also been done with many hut circles—and the Yockenthwaite site may just be one of them. Only an excavation will tell us for sure. It’s isolated from other remains, but on the hills above, both north and south, denuded Iron Age and Bronze Age settlements look down on this solitary ring. Whatever it may be, it’s olde and in a beautiful setting. Well worth checking out if you like yer ancient sites!
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, Frank & Harriet, The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
Longworth, Ian H., Regional Archaeologies: Yorkshire, Cory, Adams & MacKay: London 1965.
Raistrick, Arthur, ‘The Bronze Age in West Yorkshire,’ in Yorkshire Archaeology Journal, volume 29, 1929.