Robin Hood’s Well, Higham, Lancashire

Sacred Well: OS Grid Reference – SD 81755 35151

Archaeology & History

Robin Hoods Well on 1848 map

On the north-side of the River Calder, a short distance above the riverbank below Pendle Hall—as shown on the earliest OS-map of the area, but without a name—the local history writer, Joe Bates (1926), told us about this “spring of icy cold water”, which, in bygone years, “used to be called Robin Hood’s Well.”  (Having moved out of the area, I’m not able to say whether this site is still visible.  Can any local folk illuminate us on the matter?)


Like many other sacred and healing wells across Britain, Bates (1926) said that the waters from Robin Hood’s Well,

“was at one time considered a specific for certain ailments of the eyes.”


  1. Bates, Joe, Rambles twixt Pendle and Holme, Nelson 1926.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Emmott Cross, Colne, Lancashire

Cross:  OS Grid Reference – SD 888 401

Also Known as:

  1. Touch Cross

Archaeology & History

The Emmott Cross

At the north side of St Bartholomew’s church-yard, Colne, stands the medieval Emmott Cross or Touch Cross. It was re-erected here in 1967 by local historian Mr Wilfred Spencer and a team of volunteers having being removed from the grounds of Emmott Hall, Laneshawbridge, when the old hall was being pulled down. The cross had stood for centuries close to the famous Hallown Well, both of which were highly venerated by pilgrims travelling between Whalley Abbey and Yorkshire. It appears that originally the cross had stood at the side of the Stanbury to Haworth road over Herders, close by Emmott.

The cross shaft stands 7 feet tall and is referred to as of the English Gothic style, probably 13th century. It stands in an octagonal socketed stone base which is 2 foot high and 4 foot square. Its slender octagonal shaft tapers away towards the top where there is a carved capital or corona – this may once have held a cross head or some other religious object. There used to be some faint lettering on the shaft but this has now worn away. A local historian Dr Whitaker described the lettering as “I.H.S.” along with the Greek omega symbol.

It was to all intent and purposes a preaching cross to which pilgrims would congregate and listen to the word of God and many would be baptised in the Hallown Well at the same time. In the penal times of the 16th century the cross was in great use, but by the 17th century it was being referred to as a “papist cross”.  During this period in history it suffered damage and the shaft broken in two places; the cross-head taken away and smashed. For safety reasons the cross-shaft was removed to Colne church-yard but returned to the grounds of Emmott Hall in 1728 when relative calm had returned.

The slender cross shaft and its hefty base are said to weigh about 2 tons and I have no doubt it does. It is now grade 11 listed.


The name Touch Cross probably comes about in the sense that pilgrims touched the cross in the hope of a safe pilgrimage, or the name may be something to do with a troop of soldiers who were stationed at the hall in the past. They touched the stone too, but for different reasons – that they would live to fight another day in battle.


  1. Byrne, Clifford H., “A Survey of the Ancient Wayside Crosses in North East Lancashire,” unpublished manuscript, 1974.
  2. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.
  3. Whitaker, Thomas Dunham, An History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honor of Clitheroe, Nichols, Son & Bentley: London 1818.

© Ray Spencer, 2011

Castercliff, Nelson, Lancashire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – SD 8850 3840

Also Known as:

  1. Caster Cliff

Getting Here

Castercliff hillfort plan (after D.G. Coombs)

From Colne train station, cross the road and go along Bridge Street and where it meets Knotts Street follow it all the way up into the countryside and, bending to the right, uphill again until it levels out.  The farmhouse a few hundred yards ahead of you (just off Southfield Lane) at the bend in the road is where you’re heading.  There’s a track on your right, just before the farm.  Go on this and look into the field immediately right.  The undulations and earthworks are the remains of this old hillfort!

Archaeology & History

This old site was constructed some 850 feet above sea level, overlooking the valley of Colne immediately west and giving commanding views of the outstretched landscape towards the sacred Pendle Hill and beyond for many miles.  The place was described as early as Castell Clif in 1515, and then again as Castyclyff in 1533, meaning simply the “castle on a cliff” or high verge as it is here.  Yet despite its early appearances in literary studies, the first real work to explore this monument doesn’t appear to have been done until one J.A. Plummer carried out work on the site between 1958-60.  However, Plummer died before being able to publish his findings in full.   Ascribed variously as a settlement, an enclosure, and generally in the archaeological fraternity as a hillfort, the first detailed published description of the site was done by Forde-Johnston (1965), where he told:

Forde-Johnston’s early plan

“The hillfort is a very regular oval in shape and encloses an area about 350ft long and 250ft wide.  The overall dimensions are 550ft by 450ft.  The site has been affected by quarrying on the south and east and there are a number of gaps in the defences on the northern and western sides.  The character of the remains differs in various parts of the site, but the general pattern appears to be as follows.  The innermost line of defence is represented by a very slight bank or, in many places, only a very shallow scarp which can be traced round the whole circuit of the site… The second or middle bank is the most prominent or substantial of the three.  It has considerable gaps in its length, but the various portions are all of much the same character — it rises between 3 and 5ft above the interior and falls about 9ft to the ditch bottom.  On the south side the middle rampart takes the form of a scarp about 10ft high, immediately below the scarp of the inner rampart.  The third, outermost bank is, in fact, a counterscarp bank to the second ditch.  It does not exist as a continuous bank around the whole of the site, but there are sections of it on the northern and eastern sides.  On the eastern and northeastern sides, from which approach was easiest, there appear to have been additional outer defences, situated about 70ft forward of the counterscarp bank.  These outer defences now take the form of a scarp about 4ft high curving round the eastern and northeastern sides for about 250ft.  At the southern end there is an inner scarp, forming a bank, and a little to the south, is a detached portion of bank.  There are other short detached sections of bank on the northern side which are presumably to be connected with these outer defences.”

When Mr Plummer did his excavation here a few years before, one section of the site was examined and, thanks to the survival of an interim report he did — described by D.G. Coombs (1971) — we know the following of what he did:

“His work was concentrated in the northwest corner of the site where he cut a trench through the defences.  Outside the counterscarp bank, which was not continuous, there was a bedding trench, packed with stones and containing charcoal.  The ditch, which was rock-cut and flat-bottomed, had a homogenous fill.  The rampart itself showed timber supports at the front and back with traces of stone revetting at the front and some distance from the timber uprights.  The rear of the rampart was marked by a line of stones.  Behind this rampart the site had been extensively disturbed and here he claimed to have found traces of primitive iron-smelting furnaces constructed from stones packed and sealed with loose black earth.  A single post-hole beneath the rampart was suggested to belong to an earlier phase.”

Though we have to note here that Mr Plummer believed that the iron furnace remains were actually medieval in date, but that the embanked settlement itself was Iron Age and “that the collapse of the fort could be dated between 60-90 AD.”  When Mr Coombs and his team came back here in 1970 to re-examine the works of both Plummer and Forde-Johnston, they confirmed some of their earlier finds, but uncovered additional finds at what they called this “once great fortress.”


In Robert Lord’s (1976) superb imaginary piece on what he calls the Pendle Zodiac (a zodiac allegedly forged into the landscape in ancient times, in the manner of the famous and equally imaginary Glastonbury zodiac), a section of the deity Diana is made up of this prehistoric earthwork:

“The lower edge of the cap (on her head) coincides with a minor road between Colne, skirting the Iron Age Castercliffe hill-fort, above Nelson, as far as Catlow.”

…to be continued…


  1. Coombs, D.G., Interim Report: Excavation at Castercliff, Nelson, Lancs., Unpublished Report 1971.
  2. Ekwall, Eilert, The Place-Names of Lancashire, Manchester University Press 1922.
  3. Forde-Johnston, The Hill-Forts of Lancashire and Cheshire, Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society 1962.
  4. Pennick, Nigel & Lord, Robert, Terrestrial Zodiacs in Britain, Institute for Geomantic Research: Bar Hill 1986.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Jinny Well, Newchurch-in-Pendle, Lancashire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – SD 82377 39458

Getting Here

Easy to locate: it’s just by the roadside on the left-hand side of the road, Jinny Lane, coming out of the village, just after the last house where the field begins.

Archaeology & History

Nowt to write home about, as they say.  The waters here trickle from the earth into an old stone trough — but they don’t look too appetizing (even I didn’t have a drink, which is something of a rarity!).  Its the folktale accompanying this little site, giving a distinct hint of some heathen past, that I found intriguing.


Here was once the spirit of a woman called Jinny – who gave her name to the road it’s on – that wandered betwixt the well and an old stone, once found further up the hillside (after a bitta digging, we found the remains of the old stone, previously an authentic monolith). It was said that if you wandered along the road on certain moonlit nights, her spirit would chase you. To make matters worse, the ghost was a headless one!

Jinny’s spirit originally resided, peacefully, in the broken old stone atop of the hill. At a certain time of the year, the spirit of the stone would venture downhill to drink from the waters here (much as we find at Rollright and other places). But one day a xtian priest came along and, because of its heathen association, broke the old stone in half and cursed the spirit which roamed between the sites. Thereafter, Jinny’s ghost wandered in torment, with her head hacked off, scaring people half to death when they saw her. And so, another priest was eventually called who, to the satisfaction of local people, eventually put Jinny’s ghost to rest, as they say. It seems to have been a successful ritual, as no-one has reporting seeing the headless ghost for many a long year.


  1. Byrne, Clifford H., Newchurch-in-Pendle: Folklore, Fact and Fiction, Marsden Antiquarians: Nelson 1982.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Newchurch-in-Pendle, Lancashire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SD 822 387

Also Known as:

  1. Pendle Stone Circle

Archaeology & History

A destroyed site mentioned by several local historians. It was positioned at the valley bottom just below Faughs, a hundred yards west of Lower Moss End, where today it is simply overgrown meadows with the typical excess of Juncus reeds.  As local investigator John Dixon said, there are “five stones shown on (the 1848) map just west of Spen Brook Mill.”

In the 1970s, one writer described there being several uprights still in place, but a visit here a few weeks back (though I – unusually! – didn’t walk all through the boggy grounds and explore as extensively as I normally would) found nothing.

Its geomancy, however, was striking. The unnamed hill immediately to the north of its position (at the southern end of the legendary Pendle Hill, a coupla hundred yards west of St. Mary’s church) rises up like a great singular ‘pap’ which, to our old ancestors, was animated with female spirit. I sat here in the pouring rain looking up at this hill and its presence in front of the circle was striking.

…And so I walked onto the top of the said hill. Thereupon I found a small gathering of rocks, not unlike a cairn-spoil. When I enquired with a few local people about the age or nature of this rock-pile, I found no-one seemed aware of its existence. Weird. But from the hill itself, the view is excellent – and the small valley amidst which the old circle once stood teems with legends and myth: of cailleachs, ghosts, wells, witches and more. An excellent spot!

The local writer, historian and walker, John Dixon, sent us the following notes of his exploration here:

“Clifford Byrne, the late Nelson antiquarian, mentions in his book ‘Newchurch in Pendle’ the site of a former stone circle that stood just below Faughs, a hundred yards west of Lower Moss End. Today no large stones of any kind can be located anywhere near this spot, the stones having been removed or broken up some time in the past. However, the 1848 6” OS map records the number and position of these stones as being in two parallel lines about a hundred yards apart lined up west to east. The northerly line (SD 823 389) consists of 3 stones, the southerly (SD 823 387) of 4 stones, all being some 3 yards apart.

“It appears that we have an avenue of stones, not a circle. But why their position in the landscape at the headwaters of two valley streams? The Sabden Brook starts its journey westward to meet with the Calder from the stones, while Dimpenley Clough rises from the stones running east to join Pendle Water – could this be of any significance?”


  1. Byrne, Clifford, Newchurch-in-Pendle: Folklore, Fact, Fancy, Legends and Traditions, Marsden Antiquarians: Nelson 1982.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Lower Apronful of Stones, Pendle Hill, Lancashire

‘Cairn’:  OS Grid Reference – SD 778 390

Getting Here

Park up at the Nick of Pendle and follow directions to the Devil’s Apronful of Stones, but about halfway along the path, bear to the right along a swerving footpath which eventually takes you to another guiding cairn. On the OS-maps there’s the Chartist’s Well 100 yards due west of this old overgrown tomb.

Archaeology & History

The much-overgrown Lower Apronful, with modern cairn on top
The much-overgrown Lower Apronful cairn

Seemingly excluded from all previous archaeological surveys, this is a very large structure indeed.  Crowned with a small modern cairn on its top marking a small footpath crossing the site, this very large cairn-like structure is about four feet tall at the highest.  I first came across it at the end of August, 2006, after going through some folklore records which then led to exploring the area in the hope that there might be some archaeological ruins in the region — and we weren’t to be disappointed!

Outline of extended monument
Outline of extended monument

This giant cairn structure is larger than the denuded remains of the Devil’s Apronful cairn that can be seen a few hundred yards further uphill, but is almost entirely overgrown with grasses.  It measures at least 31 yards (east-west) by 29 yards (north-south) and is just like an overgrown Little Skirtful of Stones on Burley Moor. Parts of its eastern side have been dislodged and the main rock structure is plainly visible where the vegetation has come away.  A ringed embankment is also very clear, mainly on the north and eastern sides of this large structure (as one of the photos here shows), but on the whole it is overgrown and ruinous.  It’s a brilliant spot though and sorely needs some proper archaeological attention.  In the event that this site aint a prehistoric cairn, please lemme know so I can delete it from TNA.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Hitching Stone, Keighley Moor, West Yorkshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – SD 98665 41698

Getting Here

Hitching Stone through fog and snow
Hitching Stone through fog & snow

The easiest way to get here is via Cowling – though you can approach the place via moorland roads from Sutton-in-Craven, Oakworth and Keighley, but Cowling’s the closest place (so we’ll take it from there).  Turn east off the A6068 up Old Lane at the Ickornshaw side of town and go up the steep and winding road until you hit the moors.  Just as the road levels out with walling on either side of the road, there’s some rough ground to your left.  You can park here.  You’ll blatantly see our Hitching Stone on the moorland a few hundred yards above you on the other side of the road.  Walk up the usually boggy footpath straight to it!

Archaeology & History

For me, this is a superb place! Each time I come here the place becomes even more and more attractive — it’s like it’s calling me with greater strength with each visit.  But that aside…

Supposedly the largest single boulder in Yorkshire, it possesses several legends, aligns with the sacred Pendle Hill in Lancashire, is an omphalos (centre of the universe spot) and has other good points too! My first visit here was near the end of the Great Drought of 1995.  All of the streams and springs had dried up on the moors but, on the very top of this huge rock, measuring at least 8 feet by 4 feet across (and 3 feet deep) was a large pool of water, not unlike a bath, in which a couple of you could easily bathe (and do more besides, if the fancy takes you!).  It was surreal!  Water-boatmen and other insects were living in this curious pool on top of the rock.  Yet all other water supplies for miles around had long since dried-up.  It didn’t really seem to make sense.

Crystalline tunnel in the Hitching Stone
Crystalline tunnel in the Hitching Stone

On the west-facing side of the boulder, about 8 feet up, is a curious deep recess known as the Druid’s or Priest’s Chair, into which initiates were sat (facing Pendle Hill, down which it seems the equinox sun “rolls”) and is believed, said Harry Speight, “to have some connection with Druidical worship, to which tradition assigns a place on these moors.” If you climb up and inside the Priest’s Chair section you’ll notice a curious “tunnel” that runs down through the boulder, about 12 feet long, emerging near the northern base of the rock and out onto the moor itself.  This curious tunnel through the rock is due to the softer rock of a fossilised tree (Lepidodendron) crumbling away — and not, as Will Keighley (1858) believed, “the mould or matrix of a great fish.” When we visited the stone the other day in the snow, we noticed how the inner surface of this tunnel was shimmering throughout its length as if coated in a beautiful crystalline lattice (you can sort-of make this out in the image here, where the numerous bright spots on the photo are where the rock was lit up). Twas gorgeous!

The Hitching Stone, looking north
The Hitching Stone, looking north

The boulder lies at the meeting of five boundaries, and was the starting point for horse-racing event until the end of the 19th century.  A short distance away “are two smaller stones, the one on the east called ‘Kidstone’, the other ‘Navaxstone’, which stands at the terminus of the race-course.” (Keighley 1858)  Lammas fairs were also held here, though were stopped in 1870.

The cup-marked Winter Hill Stone a few hundred yards to the northeast, which I previously thought aligned with this site around winter solstice, but which happens to be a few degrees of arc off-line, would have indicated a very early mythic relationship, but this thought may now have to be put to bed.  I’ve not checked whether the winter solstice alignment shown in the photo below (with the Hitching Stone being shown on the near-horizon as the sun rose on winter solstice, 2010, from Winter Hill Stone) would have been closer in neolithic times or not.  Summat to check out sometime in the future maybe…

This aside, there is little doubt that this was an important sacred site to our ancestors.


Winter Solstice sunrise, 2010 (from Winter Hill Stone)

Legend has it that the Hitching Stone used to sit on Ilkley Moor. But it was outside the rocky house of a great witch who, fed up by the constant intrusion the boulder made to her life, tried all sorts of ways to move it, but without success. So one day, using magick, she stuck her wand (or broomstick) into the very rock itself and threw it several miles from one side of the valley to the other until it landed where it still sits, on Keighley Moor.

A variation on the same tale tells that she pushed it up the hill from the Aire valley bottom. The “hole” running through the stone is supposed to be where our old witch shoved her broomstick!


  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Gray, Johnnie, Through Airedale form Goole to Malham, G.F. Sewell: Bradford 1891.
  3. Keighley, William, Keighley, Past and Present, R. Aked: Keighley 1858.
  4. Wood, Eric, Cowling: A Moorland Parish, Cowling Local History Society 1980.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Burwains, Foulridge, Lancashire

Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SD 888 421

Archaeology & History

Burwains on the 1848 map

The place-name burwain is an early Old English word meaning “a cairn or tumulus”.  It has variants such as borrans, borwen and borwans.  In the developing survey by Parsons & Styles (2000), other linguistic examples are given, all of which point to the same thing, i.e., a prehistoric burial of one form or another.  Also, in 19th century northern English dialect, Wright (1898) told that borrans is “a cairn, a heap of loose stones”—which is what used to exist hereby.

The fact that there is a place-name telling of its existence implies that it was a cairn of some size, but sadly all remains of it have long since gone.  All that we’ve got left is the name of Burwains house on the early Ordnance Survey maps.  Built on a hilltop rise, which is a common construction spot for such sites up and down the country, it’s possible that the cairn was destroyed when the Foulridge Lower Reservoir was built in 1793, with the mass of stone used in its construction (the reservoir also kept the name of Burwains lake for sometime).


  1. Clayton, John A., Valley of the Drawn Sword, Barrowford Press 2006.
  2. Parsons, D.N. & Styles, T., Vocabulary of English Place-Names – volume 2, EPNS: Nottingham 2000.
  3. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1954.
  4. Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, Henry Frowde: London 1898.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian