Little Almscliffe Crags, Stainburn, North Yorkshire

Legendary Rocks:  OS Grid Reference – SE 23237 52275

Also Known as:

  1. Little Almes Cliffe
  2. Little Almias Cliff Crag

Getting Here

Little Almscliffe Crag (photo – James Elkington)

Coming from Harrogate, take the B6162 and B6161 road to Beckwithshaw, through the village and, 4-500 yards on, turn right onto Norwood Lane.  2 miles along, keep your eyes peeled on your left for a gravelled parking spot and you’ll see the large rock outcrop 200 yards south of the road. …Otherwise, from Otley: go over the river bridge and turn right up Farnley Lane and follow the B6451 for a few miles, thru Farnley village up the Washburn valley, past Norwood and at Bland Hill, turn right along Broad Dubb Road for 1¾ miles where you’ll reach that same gravelled parking spot.

Archaeology & History

Very much the ‘little brother’ of Great Almscliffe, 3 miles (4.83km) to the southeast, this site would be more of interest to the travelling geologist, perhaps, than to antiquarians.  But that depends what tickles y’ fancy I s’ppose.

In 1702 when the northern antiquarian Ralph Thoresby mentioned this and its big brother to the southeast, he described the “two famous crags of Almes Cliff—in some old writings called Aylmoys ut dicitur—but have seen nothing memorial of it, saving its remarkable lofty situation.”  He missed the cup-and-ring carving on the east-side of the crags, obviously, which indicates that it had some form of animistic sanctity in ancient times.

The location on 1851 map
Little Almscliffe c.1900

Little Almscliffe was one of many impressive places located within the ancient Forest of Knaresborough; and although it wasn’t on the original boundary line, a perambulation (i.e., annual ritual walking to the old stones, trees and wells defining the region) of the area written in 1770, in what Mr Grainge called “the Copyhold Forest”, was undertaken by the Enclosure Commissioners.  It differed from the more ancient perambulation rite, in that the newer one included a mention of,

“five bounder stones also marked F to an earth-fast stone, lying northeast of Little Almes Cliffe, marked also with an F; (and) from thence by other four bounder stones marked F to Sandwith Wath…”

The letter ‘F’ here signifying the word ‘forest’, as in the Forest of Knareborough.

William Grainge (1871) also believed these crags to have been a place of druidic worship.  He wasn’t the only one.  Many other writers of the time thought the same thing; and although we have no concrete evidence to prove this, it is highly likely that these rocks would have served some ritual purpose in pre-christian days.  Certainly in more recent times (during the 1980s and ’90s) we know that ritual magickians used this site for their workings.  On a more mundane level, the crags were previously used as a site for for beacon fires.  One was erected here in 1803 when the first Bonaparte threatened to invade England; but I can find no written accounts of earlier beacons here.


  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.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Kendal Maypole, Kendal, Westmorland

Maypole (destroyed):  OS Grid reference – SD 5161 9212

Archaeology & History

Long since gone, it’s existence was recorded by, amongst others, the Kendal historian Cornelius Nicholson. (1861)  He described it in relation to one of the town crosses, that was removed due to it being “an obstruction in the street.”  The maypole too, he said,

“was another incumbrance, but indispensable, according to the custom of our forefathers.  It stood in Kirkland, opposite the house of the late Thomas Reveley, Esq., and was suffered to remain till within eighty years ago.  In the time of our good Queen Katherine, who may fairly be supposed to have partaken of the amusements, countenanced by her royal consort, the original festivity of maying and morris-dancing would be here celebrated, by the annual ceremony of “maying” when, immediately after sunrise, on the 1st of May, processions, entering the town at various inlets, streamed through the streets, with music of horns and flutes; boys with their May-gads (willow-wands twined with cowslips), and girls with their “brats” full of flowers — young and old alike joining in merry laughter, and song, and the customary chorus, “We have brought the summer home.”  When the above-named ceremonies became less fashionable, the May Pole was made the rendezvous of all the milkmaids in the neighbourhood, who came and paraded round it on Easter Mondays.  On other occasions of rejoicing, afterwards, such for instance, as terminating an apprenticeship, and the like, it became customary for young men to go and dance around it.”

The author then told that this annual village ceremony was still being performed at the beginning of the 19th century, “in the assemblage of young people in the Vicar’s Fields, on Easter Tuesday.  After spending the afternoon there, they returned in procession through the streets, threading grandy needles.”


  1. Nicholson, Cornelius, The Annals of Kendal, Whitaker & Co.: London 1861.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Sacred Hill:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8731 9377

Getting Here

Blakey Topping (James Elkington)

From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farmhouse of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate and there, ahead of you, rises Blakey Topping…

Archaeology & History

The giant hill of Blakey Topping was recorded as early as 1233 CE and in a simplistic style just means the ‘black mound’; but this derivation has additional ingredients, implying it as a ‘black meeting-place’ or moot.  Black in the etymological sense also implies ‘shining’ and it may also relate to the northern airt of black (meaning death, darkness, north, etc), when you’re stood at the ruined stone circle 400 yards to the south. But I’m speculating here…

Several 19th century antiquarians suggested there may have once been a cairn on top of the hill, but others who’ve explored this idea seem to have put it to bed.


This great hill is well recognised amongst local people and, to this day, its animistic creation myths and other folklore elements are still spoken.  When the photographer James Elkington recently visited the nearby standing stones, he bumped into the old farmer who told him how his father had seen the faerie-folk on the hill many years back.  And its modern reputation as a gorgeous site adds to such lore, which dates way back.

In Frank & Harriett Elgee’s (1933) archaeology work, they narrated the old creation myth that local people used to tell of this great hill,

“A witch story related by a native 25 years ago attempts to explain two conspicuous natural features two miles apart on Pickering Moor; Blakey Topping, an isolated hill, and the Hole of Horcum, a deep basin-shaped valley. The local witch had sold her soul to the devil on the usual terms, but when he claimed it, she refused to give it up, and flew over the moors, with the devil in hot pursuit. Overtake her he could not, so he grabbed up a handful of earth and flung it at her. he missed his aim and she escaped.  The Hole of Horcum remains to prove where he tore up the earth and Blakey Topping where it fell to the ground.

“From our point of view the significance of this story lies in the fact that between the Hole and the Topping there is a Bronze Age settlement site at Blakey Farm, with its stone circle. The rough trackway leading from the Hole to the circle is known as the Old Wife’s Way, presumably also marking the witch’s flight. This, together with other Old Wife’s Ways, preserves as it were Bronze Age church tracks”.

Looking up from the SW (James Elkington)

A relative variation on this tells that the Hole of Horcum was made by the local giant, Wade. He was having a row with his wife, Bell, and got so angry that he scooped out a lump of earth and threw it at her.  The huge geological feature known as the Hole of Horcum is the dip left where he scooped out the earth, and Blakey topping, the clod itself, resting in situ where it landed.  A christian appropriation of the story replaces Wade and his wife with their ‘devil’: a puerile element unworthy of serious consideration.

In more recent times, the old geomancer Guy Ragland Phillips (1976; 1985) found that a number of alignments, or leys (known as a ‘node’), centred on Blakey Topping: twelve in all, reaching out and crossing numerous holy wells, prehistoric tumuli, standing stones, etc.  The precision of the alignments is questionable, yet the matter of the hill being a centre-point, or omphalos, would seem moreso than not.


  1. Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
  2. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  3. Phillips, Guy Ragland, The Unpolluted God, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1987.
  4. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.


  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the photographer, James Elkington, for use of his photos in this profile. Cheers mate.

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian

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)

The crags of Little Almscliffe are today peppered with many modern carvings, such as are found on many of our northern rock outcrops.  Yet upon its vertical eastern face is a much more ancient petroglyph – and one that seems to have been rediscovered in the middle of the 20th century.  When the great northern antiquarian William Grainge (1871) visited and wrote of this place, he told us that, “the top of the main rock bears…rock basins and channels, which point it out as having been a cairn or fire-station in the Druidic days; there are also two pyramidal rocks with indented and fluted summits on the western side of the large rock” – but he said nothing of any prehistoric carvings. Curiously , neither the great historian Harry Speight or Edmund Bogg saw anything here either.

Stuart Feather & Joe Davies here, c.1955
Cup&Ring, left of ‘door’ (photo by James Elkington)

This singular cup-and-ring design seems to have been reported first in E.S. Wood’s (1952) lengthy essay on the prehistory of Nidderdale. It was visited subsequently by the lads from Bradford’s Cartwight Hall Archaeology Group a few years later; and in the old photo here (right) 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.


  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

Strand Maypole, Westminster, London, Middlesex

Maypole (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3073 8092

Archaeology & History

This huge traditional monument was once a sight to behold!  It stood close to where an ancient stone ‘cross’ once lived.  But—alas!, with the intrusion of the incoming christians bringing a profane ‘religion’ that belongs to countries far from here, its destruction was imposed.  They destroyed so many of our ancient monuments with their hatred and ignorance… But thankfully we have some good accounts of this long-forgotten relic of London’s real history.

In A.R. Wright’s (1938) account of it, he called this “the most famous maypole in England” and it stood taller than even the great maypole that’s still raised at Barwick-in-Elmet, in Yorkshire.

There seems to have been three maypoles on this same site – the first of which was standing before the destruction of Strand’s ancient cross, where local jurisdictions and early village meetings took place.  We don’t know the date when the first maypole was erected, but it was shown on a local plan of the area “which Anthony van den Wyngaerde issued in 1543…in front of the old church of St. Mary le Strand, which was demolished in 1549.”   According to Mr Hone (1826), it could be found a door or two westward beyond “where Catherine Street descends into the Strand.”

In Edward Walford’s (1878) massive tome, he gave us perhaps the best and most extensive account of the site, telling:

“The Maypole, to which we have already referred as formerly standing on the site of the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, was called by the Puritans one of the “last remnants of vile heathenism, round which people in holiday times used to dance, quite ignorant of its original intent and meaning.” Each May morning, as our readers are doubtless aware, it was customary to deck these poles with wreaths of flowers, round which the people danced pretty nearly the whole day.  A severe blow was given to these merry-makings by the Puritans, and in 1644 a Parliamentary ordinance swept them all away, including this very famous one, which, according to old Stow, stood 100 feet high.

On the Restoration, however, a new and loftier one was set up amid much ceremony and rejoicing. From a tract printed at the time, entitled The Citie’s Loyaltie Displayed,’ we learn that this Maypole was 134 feet high, and was erected upon the cost of the parishioners there adjacent, and the gracious consent of his sacred Majesty, with the illustrious Prince the Duke of York:

“This tree was a most choice and remarkable piece; ’twas made below bridge and brought in two parts up to Scotland Yard, near the king’s palace, and from thence it was conveyed, April 14, 1661, to the Strand, to be erected. It was brought with a streamer flourishing before it, drums beating all the way, and other sorts of musick.  It was supposed to be so long that landsmen could not possibly raise it.  Prince James, Duke of York, Lord High Admiral of England, commanded twelve seamen off aboard ship to come and officiate the business; whereupon they came, and brought their cables, pullies, and other tackling, and six great anchors. After these were brought three crowns, borne by three men bareheaded, and a streamer displaying all the way before them, drums beating and other musick playing, numerous multitudes of people thronging the streets, with great shouts and acclamations, all day long. The Maypole then being joined together and looped about with bands of iron, the crown and cane, with the king’s arms richly gilded, was placed on the head of it; a large hoop, like a balcony, was about the middle of it.  Then, amid sounds of trumpets and drums, and loud cheerings, and the shouts of the people, the Maypole, ‘far more glorious, bigger, and higher than ever any one that stood before it,’ was raised upright, which highly did please the Merrie Monarch and the illustrious Prince, Duke of York; and the little children did much rejoice, and ancient people did clap their hands, saying golden days began to appear.”

A party of morris-dancers now came forward, “finely decked with purple scarfs, in their half-shirts, with a tabor and a pipe, the ancient music, and danced round about the Maypole.”

The setting up of this Maypole is said to have been the deed of a blacksmith, John Clarges, who lived hard by, and whose daughter Anne had been so fortunate in her matrimonial career as to secure for her husband no less a celebrated person than General Monk, Duke of Albemarle, in the reign of Charles II., when courtiers and princes did not always look to the highest rank for their wives.

…Newcastle Street, at the north-east corner of the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, was formerly called Maypole Alley, but early in the last century was changed to its present name, after John Holles, Duke of Newcastle, the then owner of the property, and the name has been transferred to another place not far off. At the junction of Drury Lane and Wych Street, on the north side, close to the Olympic Theatre, is a narrow court, which is now known as Maypole Alley, near which stood the forge of John Clarges, the blacksmith, alluded to above as having set up the Maypole at the time of the Restoration.

As all earthly glories are doomed in time to fade, so this gaily-bedecked Maypole, after standing for upwards of fifty years, had become so decayed in the ground, that it was deemed necessary to replace it by a new one.  Accordingly, it was removed in 1713, and a new one erected in its place a little further to the west, nearly opposite to Somerset House, where now stands a drinking fountain.  It was set up on the 4th of July in that year, with great joy and festivity, but it was destined to be short-lived. When this latter Maypole was taken down in its turn, Sir Isaac Newton, who lived near Leicester Fields, bought it from the parishioners, and sent it as a present to his friend, the Rev. Mr. Pound, at Wanstead in Essex, who obtained leave from his squire, Lord Castlemaine, to erect it in Wanstead Park, for the support of what then was the largest telescope in Europe, being 125 feet in length.  It was constructed by Huygens, and presented by him to the Royal Society, of which he was a member. It had not long stood in the park, when one morning some amusing verses were found affixed to the Maypole, alluding to its change of position and employment. They are given by Pennant as follows:

“Once I adorned the Strand,
But now have found
My way to Pound
On Baron Newton’s land;
Where my aspiring head aloft is reared,
T’ observe the motions of th’ ethereal Lord.
Here sometimes raised a machine by my side,
Through which is seen the sparkling milky tide;
Here oft I’m scented with a balmy dew,
A pleasant blessing which the Strand ne’er knew.
There stood I only to receive abuse,
But here converted to a nobler use;
So that with me all passengers will say,
‘I’m better far than when the Pole of May.'”

Along with the Strand Cross, this old maypole would have been on the ancient ley (not one of those ‘energy lines’ invented by New Age fantasists) that was first described first by Alfred Watkins (1925)—running from St. Martins-in-the-Field to St. Dunstan’s in Fleet Street. The alignment and maypole was subsequently described in greater detail in Devereux & Thomson’s (1979) work on the same subject, and again by Chris Street. (2010)

The nature of the maypole (and the nearby cross, it has to be said), may have been representative of an omphalos in early popular culture (before the christians of course)—which would put the original ritual function of the place far far earlier than is generally considered.  This is something that Laurence Gomme (1912) propounded in one of his London works and cannot be discounted.


  1. Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark – volume 4, Cowie & Strange: London 1829.
  2. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  3. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  4. Gomme, Laurence, The Making of London, Clarendon: Oxford 1912.
  5. Hone, William, The Every-Day Book – volume 1, William Tegg: London 1826.
  6. Street, Christopher E., London’s Ley Lines, Earthstars: London 2010.
  7. Walford, Edward, Old and New London – volume 3, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
  8. Watkins, Alfred, The Old Straight Track, Methuen: London 1925.
  9. Wright, A.R., British Calendar Customs: England – volume 2, Folklore Society: London 1938.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

The Maypole, Alconbury, Huntingdonshire

Maypole (removed):  OS Reference Number TL 18554 75972

Getting Here

Maypole Square, outlined in red on the 1901 OS map
Maypole Square, outlined in red on the 1901 OS map

Maypole Square forms the junction of High Street, Church Way and Chapel Street in the centre of the village.

Archaeology & History

The Alconbury Maypole had passed out of living memory by 1942, but was historically attested by the ‘Maypole Square’ in the centre of the village.


C.F. Tebbutt wrote in 1950:

“At Alconbury, it is remembered that about 1890 an old soldier, who lived in the corner house (east end) of the row of cottages facing Maypole Square, used to dig holes in the road opposite the row and set up May bushes there on May day”.


  1. C.F.Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk and their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VI, part V, 1942.
  2. C.F.Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk and their Folklore II”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VII, part III, 1950.

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

Ashlar Chair, Burley Moor, West Yorkshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – SE 12075 44833

Ashlar Chair, looking southeast

Also Known as:

  1. Carving no.111 (Hedges)
  2. Carving no.115 (Boughey & Vickerman)
  3. Druid’s Chair
  4. Etching Stone

Getting Here

There are two large boulders here, one of which was deemed the Ashlar many moons back. You can approach it from the lazy way: park y’ car at the top of the road by the Whetstone Gate TV masts and walk east right along the boundary path till you get here. The better way is from Twelve Apostles: from there walk a coupla hundred yards north to the Lanshaw Lad boundary stone, where a small path heads west. Along here for another coupla hundred yards, then hit the footpath south for the roughly the same distance again. You’ve arrived!

Archaeology & History

The Ashlar Chair is ascribed in folklore, said Harry Speight (1892), “to be a relic of druidism,” as one of its titles in ages past was the Druid’s Chair.  In the nineteenth century it also became known as the Etching Stone, (Smith 1961-63) but it has retained its present title for more than two hundred years.  Shaped more like a couch than a chair, its present title—the Ashlar—is important in ritual Freemasonry, which has two aspects to it: the ‘rough’ and the ‘perfect’.  The first represents the neophyte; the latter, the illumined one.  Oaths are sworn on the ashlar, and laws are spoken from it.  In its higher aspect it is representative of the spiritual maturity  of evolved man.

Ashlar Chair on 1851 map

Although there are no public records as to who gave the site its present name, the land which lays before it, The Square, is an even greater indicator that this rock was was considerably more than just a curious place-name, for the open moorland that is overseen from Ashlar Chair—The Square — is 396,000 square yards of flat open heathlands that have never been archaeologically explored.  The Square is also one of the most important elements of Freemasonry: representing the manifest universe, its laws are spoken from the Ashlar. (Jones 1950)

Between the two of them, represented here in the landscape near the very tops of these moors, we have a form of late geomancy, although the names of our geomancers are nowhere to be found.  It is obvious though, simply from the name of the land, that dramatic ritual of some form was enacted here.  In recent times, ritual magickians from differing Orders have found the place most effective, as have wiccan folk and other pagans who have frequented it at the summer solstice.  The possibility that some members of the Grand Lodge of ALL England (a legendary Masonic Order, said by the modern London masons not to have existed until the eighteenth century) gave this place its name is not unreasonable.  Records show that in the fourteenth century at least one member of the Order, Sir Walter Hawksworth, frequented ritual circles on these moors; and another member of the same Lodge from the nearby Washburn valley was an ally to the Pendle and Washburn witches who, we know, met on these moors at Twelve Apostles stone circle and probably the Ashlar.  But it proves nothing I suppose. (I tend to believe (not a necessarily healthy viewpoint) that the Grand Lodge did use the Ashlar as one of their moot points, along with the Pendle and Washburn witches.)

Its primary geomantic attribute is as an omphalos.  Geographically the Ashlar Chair is the meeting-point of Bingley, Burley, Morton and Ilkley moors and, metaphorically speaking, when you stand here you are outside the confines of the four worlds yet still a purveyor of them.

Nature’s cups-and-grooves on the Ashlar

Upon the large rock itself it are carved the faint initials, “MM, BTP, ISP and IG, 1826.”  Several early records described cup-and-ring designs on the Ashlar: firstly in Forrest & Grainge’s (1868) archaeological tour; then in Collyer & Turner’s Ilkley (1885); and lastly by the great Yorkshire historian and topographer Harry Speight (1892, 1900), who said “it bears numerous cups and channels.”  Although we can see some of these on top of the Ashlar, they are mainly Nature’s handiwork.  It is possible that some man-made cup-and-rings once existed on the rock, but if so they have eroded over time.


  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Collyer, Robert & Turner, J.H., Ilkley Ancient & Modern, William Walker: Leeds 1885.
  3. Forrest, C. & Grainge, William, A Ramble on Rumbald’s Moor, among the Dwellings, Cairns and Circles of the Ancient Britons in the Summer of 1867 – Part 1, W.T. Lamb: Wakefield 1868.
  4. Jones, Bernard E., Freemason’s Guide and Compendium, Harrap: London 1950.
  5. Speight, Harry, Chronicles & Stories of Old Bingley and District, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
  6. Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Churn Milk Joan, Midgley Moor, West Yorkshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 01974 27684

Also Known as:

  1. Saville’s Low

Getting Here

Churn Milk Joan, Midgley

From the village of Midgley, high above the A646 Halifax-to-Todmorden road, travel west along the moorland road until you reach the sharp-ish bend in the road, with steep wooded waterfall to your left and the track up to the disused quarry of Foster Clough.  Go up the Foster Clough track for 100 yards and, when you reach the gate in front of you, go over it but follow the line of the straight walling uphill by the stream-side (instead of following the path up the quarries) all the way to the top. Here you’ll see the boundary stone of  Churn Milk Joan.

Archaeology & History

The present large standing stone you see before you isn’t prehistoric.  However, the small broken piece on the ground by its side may have been its prehistoric predecessor; and there is certainly something of an archaic nature here — albeit a contentious one — as we find old cup-markings cut into its eastern face.

Two ‘cup-marks’ on eastern face

The upright is roughly squared and faces the cardinal points.  It was described in Mr Heginbottom’s  (1977) unpublished survey on Calderdale rock art, where he described there being a few cup-markings inscribed on its east- and south-facing edges, some of which may be prehistoric — though they would obviously have had to have been carved upon the upright stone when it still lay earth-fast.  However, we must posit the the notion (unless some of you have better ideas) that the tradition of etching cup-marks onto rocks was still occurring in this part of Yorkshire until the late Middle Ages, as this stone was, as we know from boundary records, only placed upright to mark the meeting of the three boundaries of Wadsworth, Hebden Royd and Sowerby.

Churn Milk Joan’s other name, Saville’s Low, originates from the great Saville family who owned great tracts of land across the region in the fourteenth century, possibly when the Churn Milk Joan we see today was created.  The word “lowe” may derive from the old word meaning, “moot or gathering place,” which this great stone probably served as due to its siting at the junction of the three townships.*


In modern times the stone has become a focus for a number of local pagans and New Agers who visit and ‘use’ the site in their respective ways at certain times of the day, albeit estranged (ego-bound) from the original mythic nature of the site.

The name of the stone comes from an old legend about a milk-maid named Joan who, whilst carrying milk across the moors between Luddenden and Pecket Well, got caught in a blizzard and froze to death.  When her body was found many days later, the stone we see here today was erected to commemorate the spot where she died.  Although such a scenario is quite likely on these hills, as Andy Roberts (1992) said,

“Considering the sheer amount of sites with similar legends this explanation is unlikely to be true and we should looker deeper for the meaning behind Churn Milk Joan, to be found in its positioning in the landscape and ourindividual feelings about it.”  [see profiles for the Two Lads and the Lad o’ Crow Hill sites)

The monolith’s other title, Churnmilk Peg, is the name given to an old hag who is said to be the guardian of nut thickets.  How this female sprite came to find her abode upon these high hills is somewhat of an enigma, but it was first stated as such in an article by Andy Roberts (1989) in “Northern Earth Mysteries” magazine.  E.M. Wright (1913) noted this supernatural creature in her work on folk dialect, describing it as a West Yorkshire elemental who, along with another one known as Melsh Dick:

“are wood-demons supposed to protect soft, unripe nuts from being gathered by naughty children, the former being wont to beguile her leisure by smoking a pipe.”

Another legend of the stone tells how it is said to spin round three times on New Year’s Eve when it hears the sound of the midnight bells at St. Michael’s church (St. Michael was a dragon-slayer) at Mytholmroyd in the valley below.  Another piece of folklore tells that coins used to be left in a small hollow at the very top of the stone which, according to Haslem (1981), was “a gift to the spirit world, to bring luck” – a common folk motif.  It may equally originate from the custom of it as a plague stone.  This tradition of leaving coins atop of the stone is still perpetuated by some local folk.

Mr Haslem also made some interesting remarks about the nature of Churn Milk Joan standing as a boundary stone, representing something which stands not just as a physical boundary, but as a boundary point between this and the Other- or spirit world.  In folklore, streams and rivers commonly carry this theme.  But here on Midgley Moor, as a standing stone at the junction of three boundaries, we may be looking at the place as an omphalos: a centre point from which the manifold worlds unfold. (see Almscliffe Crags, the Ashlar Chair and the Hitching Stone)

The other motif here, of milk and snow [both white], have been speculated to represent power of the sun at midwinter, and geomantically we find the position of the stone in the landscape exemplifying this: it stands midway in the moorland scenery facing south, the direction of solar power, yet is bounded as an equinox marker from east and west.  The winter tales it has nestled around it are merely complementary occult augurs of its more wholesome elements at this point in the hills.

There is however, another much more potent element that has not been conveyed about the site and its folklore—and one which has more authenticity and primary animistic quality.  Regardless of ‘Joan’ or ‘Peg’ being the elemental preserved in the landscape title, the ‘churning’ in its name and the ‘spinning’ of the stone in myth at the end of one year and the start of the next at New Year, are folk memories of traditional creation myths that speak of the cyclical seasons endlessly perpetuated year after year after year, in what Mircea Eliade (1954) called the ‘myth of the eternal return.’  As season follows season in the folk myths of our ancestors, everything related to the natural world: a world inhabited (as it still is) by feelings and intuitions learned from an endless daily encounter, outdoors, with the streams, hills, gales, snow and fires.  Their entire cosmology, as with aboriginal people the world over, saw the cycles of the year as integral parts of their daily lives.  Here, at Churn Milk Joan with its central landscape position along an ancient boundary, the churning and turning of the year was commemorated and mythologized year after year after year; with maybe even the Milky Way being part of the ‘milk’ in its title, from which, in the shamanistic worlds that were integral to earlier society, the gods themselves emerged and came down to Earth.


  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, Bollingen 1954.
  3. Haslem, Michael, “Churn Milk Joan: A Boundary Stone on Midgley Moor,” in Wood and Water, 1:8, 1980.
  4. Heginbottom, J.A., “The Prehistoric Rock Art of Upper Calderdale and the Surrounding Area,” Yorkshire Archaeology Society 1977.
  5. Ogden, J.H., “A Moorland Township: Wadsworth in Ancient Times,” Proceedings of the Halifax Antiquarian Society, 1904.
  6. Robert, Andy, “Our Last Meeting,” in NEM 37, 1989.
  7. Robert, Andy, Ghosts and Legends of Yorkshire, Jarrold: Sheffield 1992.
  8. Wright, Elizabeth Mary, Rustic Speech and Folk-Lore, Oxford University Press 1913.

* The great stone at the cente of the Great Skirtful of Stones, Burley Moor, which previously stood at the centre of the Grubstones Circle, was just such a moot stone.  Upon it is carved the words “This is Rumble’s Lawe”.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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…


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!


  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

Fearby Cross, Masham, North Yorkshire

Cross: OS Grid Reference – SE 1984 8127

Getting Here

Take the road from Masham into this lovely hamlet and, as you reach the staggered crossroads, you’ll see a small village green with a single tree at where the four roads meet.  In the grass below the tree is this forgotten monument!

Archaeology & History

Fearby Cross remains

Found at the meeting point of five old lanes, little has been written about the old cross remnants here, which is barely a foot high and rests on its roughly circular stone base.  It sits where five old tracks meet and is thought to be medieval in origin.  Speculation alone pronounces the site to have been a place where local council proclamations occurred, and where funerals stopped and the dead were rested.

One intriguing piece of information narrated by Edmund Bogg (1906) that may have had some relevance to the siting of this old cross, told that between here and the hamlet of Healey a mile west,

“there were formerly circles of upright stones and other relics suggestive of druidical origin.”

Any historical information or folklore relating to these apparent megalithic remains needs to be uncovered!


  1. Bogg, Edmund, Richmondshire and the Vale of Mowbray, James Miles: Leeds 1906.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian