Various ways to get here, but probably the easiest is to start from Cow & Calf Rocks, walking up the steep slope onto the moor-edge. Paths veer left and right once you’re on the level, but you wanna head straight forward, west(-ish), for about 350 yards till you reach the stream. Cross over and then take the path that runs parallel with the stream, uphill. Nearly 200 yards up, where the moor begins to level out, you cross a path running east-west; keep going past this for about another 50 yards (as if you’re heading to the Backstone Circle) and you’ll notice some small sheep-paths leading you into the heather to your right and, some 40-50 yards into the heath you’ll see this large flat stone!
Archaeology & History
This carving seems to have been rediscovered in the 1950s by Michael Walker and Stuart Feather. They were amongst a small group of people who visited this and some other carvings in June 1956, when the first (known) sketch of the carving was done by Mr Walker. His sketch of the stone is somewhat more elaborate than the one in John Hedges’ (1986) later archaeological survey. Indeed, in some ways the two drawings seem to show little resemblance to each other. (not uncommon with these things!)
Walker shows nine cup-and-rings in various states of completion, with several clusters of singular cups at different places on the rock—more than forty in all, some of which are connected to each other by short lines. This is in contrast with the later archaeological description, which saw far fewer of the primary symbols. When John Hedges (1986) described the carving in his inventory, he informed the reader:
“Fairly smooth, medium sized grit rock standing up in heather, crowberry and grass, sloping SW to NE with the hill, its almost triangular flat top covered with carvings, some very clear, interesting patterns. About thirty-five cups, seven surrounding a small ring with cups on the circumference and at centre. Two long grooves with a cup at one end, running down to the edge of the rock. ‘Peck’ marks noticeable in one groove and in one ring round a cup. Three other grooves going half round cups, or leading from a cup. Slice of rock apparently removed.”
Boughey & Vickerman (2003) added nothing new in their later survey.
Although we have an uninterrupted open view of the landscape to the north and west from here, it might not have been like this when the carving was done 4-5000 years ago. The scattered woodland covering these heaths may have impeded the views. However, immediately west of this carving are the broken remains of a small Bronze Age settlement, some of whose walling is traceable some 100-150 yards away and any tree cover that may have been here may have been cut back. We may never know for sure…
Boughey, K.J.S. & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Leeds 2003.
Hedges, John (ed.), The Carved Rocks of Rombald’s Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.
Jackson, S. & Walker, Michael J., “Ilkley Boulders Tour,” in Cartwright Hall Archaeology Group Bulletin, 2:1, 1956.
Up the A9 past Blair Atholl, a few miles later there’s the turning for Struan. Scarcely a mile east of old Struan Church, head past the old farmhouse of Old Kindrochat and keep going eastwards along the edge of the trees for about 200 yards until you reach the sheepfold. There you’ll see a singular rock sitting alone by the fence. That’s it!
Archaeology & History
This little known healing stone was, at one time last century, of great repute in the Highlands. Today, very few people even know it exists. One of many rocks that were said to possess healing abilities, this one (obviously) was of great repute in the curing of whooping cough. But it wasn’t the rock alone that did the work here, for upon its edge was a small basin into which rainwater collected and this, when used correctly and in due accord with ancient ritual tradition, could enact the cure. Mr Duncan Fraser said of this fascinating healing stone:
“The grey water-worn stone is about 4ft 6in long, 2ft 6in broad and 2ft high, with a deep gash on top, where the water lingers even in long dry spells. When full it holds about half-a-gallon. People were still coming here with their sick children as late as 1860 — and bringing a spoon made from the horn of a living cow. There was no cure without that.”
The ritual “spoon made from the horn of a living cow” was an important ingredient at another site with the reputation for curing whooping cough about 50 miles south of here, near Balquhidder. (see Whooping Cough Well, Killin) What truly fascinates me is the origin of this stone and its medicinal virtues. When did the healing rites first start here – how long ago…?
Fraser, Duncan, Highland Perthshire, Standard Press: Montrose 1969.
This fascinating looking carving (in my personal Top 10 of all-time favourites cup-and-rings in the UK!) was unfortunately destroyed sometime between 1918 and 1920. A huge pity, as the design on the rock is almost unique in its ‘linear’ system of cups running a considerable length across the surface of the stone (like the similar design found at Old Bewick in Northumberland).
Shown first of all on Kirkwood’s Environs of Edinburgh map in 1817 (above), this legendary rock was found amidst a cluster of other cup-and-ring stones at Tormain (some are still there) and was initially said by Daniel Wilson (1851) to have been the giant capstone of a cromlech that once stood here, but whose structure had fallen away. This idea is implied in the earliest drawing we have of the stone in Wilson’s magnum opus (above); Sir J.Y. Simpson (1867) gave us a similar impression with his drawing a few years later. But upon visiting the Witches Stone just as his book was going to the press, Mr Wilson visited the site and proclaimed that he “altogether doubted if they are the remains of a cromlech”, and what rested here were more probably just fascinating geological remains, with even more fascinating carvings on top!
In the years that followed Wilson’s initial description, the Witches Stone was visited and described by a number of eager antiquarians. Simpson (1867) gave us a quite revealing account, telling:
“On the farm of Bonnington, about a mile beyond the village of Ratho…are the remains of ‘this partially ruined cromlech’…with the capstones partially displaced, as if it had slid backwards upon the oblique plane of the huge stones or stone which still supports it. Two or three large blocks lie in front of the present props. Its site occupies a most commanding view of the valley of the Almond, and of the country and hills beyond. The large capstone is a block of secondary basalt or whinstone, about twelve feet long, ten in breadth and two in thickness. Its upper surface has sculptured along its median line a long row of some twenty-two cup-cuttings; and two more cup-cuttings are placed laterally: one, half a foot to the left of the central row and at its base; the other, two feet to the right of the tenth central cup and near the edge of the block. The largest of the cups are about three inches in diameter and half an inch in depth; but most of them are smaller and shallower than this…”
A few years later another early petroglyph authority, J. Romilly Allen (1882), visited the Witches Stone and found “an Ordnance bench mark (had been) cut on the stone itself”! He then continued with his own description of this once-important megalithic site:
“The Witch’s Stone is a natural boulder of whinstone, rounded and smoothed by glacial action, whoso upper surface slopes at an angle of about 35° with the horizon. The length of the sloping face is 8 feet and at the top is a flat place 2 feet wide. The breadth of the stone is 11 feet 3 inches at the upper end, and 4 feet at the lower end. The thickness varies from 2 to 3 feet. The highest part of the stone is 6 feet 6 inches above the ground, and the lowest 1 foot 6 inches. It rests on what has originally been a portion of the same boulder, but is now a mass of whinstone broken up into several fragments, which serve as supports to prop up the stone above. Viewed from the north side the whole presents the appearance of a cromlech, the upper stone forming the cap, and the disintegrated portion below the supports. This notion, however, will be clearly seen to be erroneous on looking at it from the opposite side, as shown on the accompanying sketch…where the crack separating the two portions of the boulder is very apparent… The sculpturings consist of twenty-four cups varying in diameter from 1½ to 3 inches. Twenty-two of these cups are arranged in an approximately straight line along the sloping face of the stone, and divide it into two almost equal parts. The two remaining cups lie, one 7½ inches to the left of the lowest cup of the central row, and the other 2 feet 3 inches to the right of the ninth cup up the stone… The field in which the Witch’s Stone is situated is called “Knock-about.” The sloping face of the stone has been much polished by the practice of people climbing on to the top and sliding down. Some of the cups are almost obliterated in consequence. The stone forms a very prominent feature in the view, and must always have attracted attention from its peculiar shape.”
Some twenty years after Allen, the megalithomaniac Fred Coles (1903) came and checked the Witches Stone out for himself and, as happens, had a few additional things to say about the place:
“Although this huge boulder and its cup-marks have been more than once figured and described, I found, on a close examination of the broad surface of the Stone, that none of the illustrations showed the cup-marks in their exact relation to each other, nor in their true relation to the contour of the Stone. The drawing shown above…was made after a careful measurement by triangulation of the Stone; and it is claimed to be the first that shows that the cups, two and twenty in number, are not disposed in one continuous line, but that thirteen follow each other from the high south edge of the stone for a distance of exactly 6 feet, and nine others lie a few inches to the west, occupying a space 3 feet long of the overcurving edge of the north end. It is further shown that, at a point 2 feet 3 inches west of the ninth cup-mark, there is another one quite as large as the largest in the rows near the middle of the Stone. The south edge (A B) has slipped a little down from its original height, the boulder being frost-split horizontally; its height there above ground is 8 feet. The northern and narrower end is about 2 feet above ground, and does not touch the ground, as it rests upon its lower portion, beyond which it projects a few inches. The cup-marks run due north.”
If the Witches Stone was in fact a natural outcrop stone and not a cromlech, this very last point telling that “the cup-marks run due north” probably had much greater importance than a mere compass-bearing to the people who etched this carving. For in pre-christian religious structures across the northern hemisphere, north is commonly representative of death and the land of the gods. In magickal rites “it is the place of greatest symbolic darkness,” as neither sun nor moon ever rise or set there. Additionally, north is the place where, in shamanic traditions, the heavens are tied to the Earth: the cosmic axis itself that links heaven, Earth and underworld revolve around the northern axis in the skies. In early neolithic traditions this mythic structure was endemic. Whether its magickal relevance was intended here, at this stone, we will probably never know…
Folklore tells that the Witches Stone was one of the sites used in magickal rites by the Scottish occultist, Michael Scot. J.R. Allen’s (1882) description of “the sloping face of the stone has been much polished by the practice of people climbing on to the top and sliding down,” may relate to folk memory of fertility rites once practised here, as found at similarly carved rocks in the UK and across the world.
From Appletreewick take the road east through Skyreholme and up Skyreholme Bank, bearing right at the fork in the tracks along the ancient Forest Road. Keep going till you cross the Larnshaw Beck and keep walking along the track until it runs wallside. Look over the wall and you’ll see this sloping-chair-shaped rock . You’re here!
Archaeology & History
Worth looking at if you’re visiting the Spiral Stone of Eller Edge field and its large associate, but otherwise this cup-marked stone is probably only for the purist rock-art mad-folk amongst us! There are what seem to be three decent cup-marks upon the sloping face of the rock here, with a possible pecked line to the side of two of them — though we have to consider the possibility that a geological condition is responsible for the easternmost cup. Described in the Boughey & Vickerman (2003) survey simply as:
“Large triangular rock of smooth gritstone, quarried at SE and sloping into ground at W and N. Three cups on top sloping face.”
Thirty yards up the slope along the wall-side you’ll find carving 432 with its single cup-marking.
Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Wakefield 2003.
Dead easy! If you come from Silsden, take the Holden Road up onto the moor edge, all the way up the wooded hill. As you reach the top, keep your eyes peeled for the stone in the slope to your left. Otherwise, coming from Riddlesden, take the moor road upwards (to Silsden Road) as if you’re gonna visit Peggy Mawson’s Well, the Baldwin Stone or some of the Rivock carvings. Keep on the road to where you see the microwave tower on Pinfold Hill to your right. It’s just below it!
Archaeology & History
Flints have been found on the slopes above here, but records of this stone only go back — as far as I’ve found — to 1850 (this seems to typify records around the Keighley district, which only seems to record anything post-1500 AD). In mid-Victorian times, plans were afoot to use the rock for building material, but local people objected and so the stone kept its position overlooking the valley. There are a number of very defined ‘cups’ on the sloping face of the stone, but several (though not all) of these have all the likeness of the holes dug into the rock by climbers — though why climbers would even think to cut foot-holes into this easy rock beggars belief!
Not too surprisingly, folklore tells that this stone was one of the places where our old hero Robin Hood sheltered, when being chased by god-knows-who in one of his many exploits. We’ve no way of proving this of course, but the sparse woodland remains above here also bear the hero’s name. What seems to be a more modern piece of industrial folklore alleges that this stone was actually put here by workers in the Victorian times! The boulder allegedly lived near Barden, Bolton Abbey, but was blocking construction work, so was uprooted and moved all the way to where it now sits! In bygone times the rock was a local meeting place – perhaps around Beltane, in line with Robin Hood festivities.
Gray, Johnnie, Through Airedale from Goole to Malham, Elliot Stock: London 1891.
This is a stupendous site! It looks like some of this may have been quarried, a long time ago, but it also seems that nothing at all has been written about it – even in the simple travelogues beloved by our Victorian historians. To come across it quite by accident, as I did (only yesterday), was excellent! When I first got here, by following the wooded ridge betwixt Hollins Lane and the main Keighley-to-Steeton road (A629), the place seemed brilliant; but as time went on and my amblings through the sometimes dense and also very old woodland were overcome by the dream of the place, I couldn’t believe how this place had become forgotten. Adrenalin rushed through me for a while, but then it was the dream of the place again. The memories here were ancient – and you could feel them. In places there was the solace of darkness, beloved of those who know old trees and dangerous places. For here, walk the wrong place too quickly and Death comes. Broken limbs await in the curious gorges which just appear in the woods, only a yard wide, but 50-60 foot deep, only to vanish again away from sight a few yards later. Caves and dark recesses, seemingly unknown, reach out to climb down. And all round is the aged covering of lichens and mosses that know centuries.
The Kirk itself – meaning simply, ‘place of worship’, in the old sense – is like something from Lord of the Rings! If you walk along its top, as I did, the great cliffs below come late to the senses. A curious ridge of cup-markings, seemingly natural ones, stretch along the very edges of the drop – which stretches on for some distance. And then as you walk along its edge, you find this great drop which looks north, is now on both sides of your feet! It’s quite breathtaking!
Trying to get down into the gorge below can be done, but it’s a bit dodgy! If you aint agile and crazy, stick to doing it by walking round – a long way round… Someone a few centuries back either cut into the rock, or laid steps, reaching into the mossy gorge, which runs to nowhere.
You can appreciate how this place would have been a sacred site: it’s big, it’s old, it takes your breath away, and it looks across to the great Rivock Edge where many fine cup-and-ring stones were cut. I’ll try and get some images of the place when I call here again in the very near future, but they’ll never capture the experience of being here.
The only thing I have come across which seemingly relates to this great edifice, tells of a great cave in the woodland, which legend tells stretches many miles to the north and emerges at Bolton Abbey. (Clough 1886) I wondered about the potential visibility factor in this legend and found it obviously didn’t work. However, if you stand on a certain part of The Kirk and look north, a dip in the horizon enables us to see, far away, hills which rise up directly above the swastika-clad Bolton Abbey. Twouldst be good to work out exactly which hill above the Abbey we can see from here.
On another issue, John Clough (1886) told that “on top of the rock there is a footprint and the initials of one of the Waites, who is said to have leaped over the chasm.”
Clough, John, History of Steeton, S. Billows: Keighley 1886.
Gray, Johnnie, Through Airedale from Goole to Malham, Walker & Laycock: Leeds 1891.