Take the same directions as if you’re visiting the Cob Stone Field carving; but instead of going into the field on your right, walk down the track about 100 yards towards the large barn below. As you walk down keep your eyes peeled to the field on your left and, right up against the wall of the barn, you’ll see a large boulder resting quietly. That’s what yer after!
Archaeology & History
This large faded cup-marked rock whose western side has been split off in recent years, has a scatter of “up to 21 small shallow worn cups” on its upper surface. They can be difficult to see in some light, but they’re definitely there (as Ray Spencer’s photos clearly show), fading slowly into Nature’s winds and storms. A couple of ‘lines’ running down the edge of the stone are due to modern farm-workings.
Several other rocks in this and adjacent fields have what may be faded remains of other cup-markings, but without guidance from a geologist or a stone-mason, we can’t know for sure whether they’re authentic or not. It’s likely that there are other authentic carvings hiding in this area—they just need sniffing out!
Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, West Yorkshire Archaeology Service 2003.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to Ray Spencer for us of his photos in this site profile. Thanks Ray.
Take the Oakworth Road outta Keighley, turning right after a quarter-mile up Fell Lane. Go all the way up the very end (a mile or so), turning right at the end. After 100 yards or so, go up the track to the True Well Hall equestrian centre. As you approach the farmhouse, look on the grassy slope to the left and you’ll see a small run-down stone structure in the field above you. That’s it!
Archaeology & History
This is a curious site by virtue of so little being said of it, despite some modern proclamations of it having pagan values. Even the local historians say little on the place, with William Keighley (1858) being our notable exception. In his notes on the erroneous dedication of the Jennet’s Well to a fictitious saint of the same name, he mentions this once important water supply, writing:
“Westwards of Jennet’s Well there was another fountain, emphatically styled the ‘true well’, and probably from its once boasted efficacy intended as a rival to the former. This spring though no longer remembered for its healing qualities, evidently gave name to the farmhouse denominated ‘True Well Hole.'”
In Wright’s Dialect Dictionary (1898) we find the word ‘trew’ — also written as ‘true’ or ‘trow’ — could mean “to trust, believe, feel sure”, which may be applicable in terms of the value of the waters that once flowed here. We may never know. Though note should be made of the error at a recent exhibition in Cliffe Castle museum, where the 1842 Tithe Awards map of the region was copied and the field-names listed, showing the old True Well erroneously displayed as the ‘Time Well’. I assume they must have had a long day when they were copying the notes…!
A little further along the track running beyond True Well Farm we find another spring of water emerging from the grassy hill and which, perhaps, relates to the True Well. On the 1852 OS-map, we see a ‘trough’ shown in front of the farmhouse and not in the position where the modern map shows the True Well to be — and where the recent stone-worked trough in the photo is shown. In fact, on the 1852 map, no such well nor stonework is shown in the position presently deemed to be where the True Well is supposed to be, so the original position of the well is unclear. Is it possible that the spring of water which runs from the hillside behind True Well Farm may have been the site which gave this spot its name. Certainly the water from this spring is quite fresh and drinkable. If anyone knows owt more about the history of this curious site, it would be good to hear from you.
Keighley, William, Keighley Past and Present, Arthur Hall: London 1858.
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.
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…
You need to get to the eastern edge of Keighley Moor by taking the country road northwest out of Oakworth (one of two roads) and head to the end of Newsholme Dean Valley at Slippery Ford. You can park up at Slippery Ford at Morkin Bridge, then walk up the road for 250 yards, turning sharp left up the dirt-track. Walk along its wibbly route for another 250 yards and watch out for the large boulder in one of the fields on the left. That’s it!
Archaeology & History
I came across this previously unrecorded carving in August 2006 after returning from an amble over the moors in the pouring rain and was fortunate to be able to make out the faint design, for, as with most cup-and-ring carvings, depending on the daylight conditions determines whether the carving is visible or not. Although some of the cup-marks on here are quite distinct, several are very faded and — as usual! — there are a number of dubious ones to work out!
The carving gets its name due to the rock having a carved epitaph for an old local farmer — called William Walker — on its eastern face. There are also the letters “I.W.” carved on its sloping upper face, which looks typical of boundary mark notation, though this stone aint been on any boundary for at least 160 years (I aint checked earlier records). But much older on top of the rock we find perhaps as many as 20 cup-markings, which at first I first thought might be natural, but this was suddenly halted when I noticed in the bad light a large circle with several cups along it, inside of which were two other cups. On the southern edge of the rock it seems there may be another 3 or 4 cup-marks, one with a line running down (possibly natural). I took a couple of pictures when I first found it but they weren’t too well-defined. The ones here are a little better.
The main feature here is obviously the curious ‘ring’ above a small eroded basin, consisting of several cups, with two in the centre. On closer examination it appears that the ‘ring’ is in fact an unfinished circle with the two central cups having lines running from them to the incomplete ring, leaving a gap or opening at the bottom. The lack of other cup-and-ring carvings in the vicinity (apart from the simple Cob Stone, 750 yards away below Grey Stones Hill) is an oddity. A few more ventures onto the local hills are definitely required to see if anything else can be found!
Acknowledgements: With thanks to Angela Hainsworth for her assistance and sketch of the design.
A bittova wander with not much to see, if truth be had. Best way here’s from the top Oakworth Road heading to the Lancashire border, right on the moor-edge. Go along the Hare Hill Edge road for a coupla miles till you hit the Pennine Way. Walk along it up onto the moor, following the dead straight walling for several hundred yards. Where the walling stops, all of a sudden, stop! (there’s a wooden post here) Now walk left (west) across the heath for less than 100 yards. You’ll find it…
Archaeology & History
I’ve found nothing of this site in archaeology records – but that’s likely down to me not looking hard enough! I’m not even sure that it’s prehistoric – but as there’s nowt written about it, and there are other sites which relate to this old stone, it’s certainly worthy of mention.
The stone lays in the grasses, some four-feet long, with a more recent 18th-19th century boundary stone laid a few feet away. It seems most likely that Old Bess had stood here much longer though. Old Bess seems to be the first in a row of at least 6 seemingly unrecognized boundary stones running northwest in a straight line up to the Wolf Stones, about half-a-mile from here. Neither the early, nor modern OS-maps show any of these stones, several of which are accompanied by earlier, more worn stones – two of which have the letters ‘C.C.’ or ‘G.C.’ carved on them.
About 10 yards north of Old Bess are the remains of a very noticeable oval-shaped ‘hut circle’ – or something closely resembling such remains. About five yards across at the most, with stone walling making up the edge of the ring beneath the moorland grasses, an excavation here wouldn’t go amiss! Although it’s hard to see in this photo (it’s the roughly circular rise in the middle), when you’re on the moor it’s obvious. It looks and feels as if the remains were something from medieval times, or perhaps even later – but it’d be good to know for sure! The remains of an old delph 100 yards south may account for more of Old Bess and its accompanying hut circle than owt prehistoric.
From Old Bess, walk in a straight line towards the large rock outcrop of the Wolf Stones, northwest of here. After a short distance you’ll come across another large stone, cut and shaped in bygone centuries (not prehistoric though) laying in the boggy tussock grass and looking similar to Old Bess. Another 100 yards on from here, along the same straight line towards the Wolf Stones, you’ll find another cut stone of similar dimensions; and from here you’ll see another stone about the same distance again ahead of you. These would appear to be the lost medieval boundary stones which led to a boundary dispute between the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire a few centuries ago. For those medieval historians amongst you, check ’em out: it would appear that these are the lost stones (pushed over, obviously) which led to the said dispute. How on earth no-one’s found ’em previously beggars belief!
A little-known site with a spirit ancestor giving rise to its name. Surrounding it are tales of little people, for just above it is where the faerie lived at the Fairy Fold Dike. While a couple of hundred yards west lived an old hob (another faerie creature) who used to drink from an old well named after him, the Hob Ing Spring. Victorian lore tells of druidic folklore further up the moor by the old Wolf Stones, which is linked to Old Bess by virtue of the line of old boundary stones running from here.
From Keighley town centre, take the main road to Oakworth (B6143) and you’ll see it right by the main roadside, about a mile up on the left-hand side upon a small grassy area in Exley Head, just past the turning up to Wheathead.
Archaeology & History
The upright stone monolith, or cross, which would once have stood here has long since disappeared. All we are left with today is the large cross-base by the roadside: roughly squared, with a large hollow at the centre in which the upright stone cross originally stood erect! In the past, a number of archaeologists and historians have speculated that the Exley Head Cross dated from as early as the 9th up till the 15th century. We may never find out for certain, though it’s likely a post-Domesday medieval relic. It’s position at the roadside gives it the category of being a ‘Wayside Cross’ and it is likely one in a deliberate sequence that were placed along the ancient route from above Keighley, to Oakworth and over the border into Lancashire, near Wycoller and beyond.
Quite why it was placed here is something we may never know: though it is close by an old crossroads and could have replaced an earlier heathen site, but I’ve found no records to indicate this. Its position in the landscape would also have been more impressive before the housing was here, previously giving a wide open view of the Aire Valley below. I’d be grateful for any more info on this site.
Brigg, J.J. & Villy, F., “Three Ancient Crosses near Keighley,” in Bradford Antiquary, New Series 6, 1921.
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.