Sheep Scar Circle, Giggleswick, North Yorkshire

Ring Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SD 80519 66474

Also Known as:

  1. Borrins Top

Getting Here

Sheep Scar cairn circle, looking east

From Settle, take the same direction as if you’re visiting the giant Apronful of Stones cairn.  Walk past it, keeping to the walling for 350 yards (319m) until you reach the gate on your right.  Go through this and walk along the grassy footpath ahead of you for 75 yards (68.5m) and there, right by your left-hand side, you’ll see this low grassy circular embanked monument, or cairn circle.

Archaeology & History

This gorgeous, little-known cairn circle, hiding almost unseen beside the ancient grassy pathway that leads down to the haunted Borrins Wood, sits innocently, forgotten by those who would claim its importance.  When this overgrown ring of stones was first built, the trees of Borrins Wood grew around the sacred court of this monument, watching rites committed to the ancestors, annually no doubt at the very least, under guidance of the Moon.  But now such ways have been swept from the memory of those living, into worlds made-up of artifacts, linear time and dualist ideals, and our thoughts when brought here are encloaked by beliefs not worthy of such a place.  Like many other small rings of stone, this was important for the rites of the dead.  For here we can see a small stone-lined cist (grave) near the middle still growing from the Earth, with the small outer ring encircling the place of rites.  It was obviously of ‘religious’ importance to those who lived here, probably even centuries after initial construction.

Embankment and central ‘grave’
Central & southern section of the ring

Similar in size and structure to the Roms Law Circle on Burley Moor, this site on the hills above Giggleswick seems to be Bronze Age in nature.  From outer-edge to outer-edge the rough circular monument measures approximately 14½ yards (13m) north-south, by 15½ yards (14m) east-west, with an outer circumference of about 49 yards (43m).  The edges of the ring, as you can see in the photos, is made up of an embankment of thousands of small stones and rubble, measuring between 1-2 feet high and between 2-3 yards across.  The old cist in the middle of the ring—about 1 yard by 2 yards—has been dug into at some time in the past and a small mound of stones surround this central grave.  The entire monument is very much overgrown, but still appears to be in relatively good condition.  A new excavation of this and nearby prehistoric monuments would prove worthwhile.

The ruined circle has a tranquil spirit, enclosed within a rich green panoramic landscape, enhanced with the breaking of old limestone and gnarled hawthorns.  Other prehistoric cairns can be found nearby and the remains of a previously unrecorded prehistoric enclosure stands out on a small rise 164 yards (150m) southeast.  We’ve found other unrecorded prehistoric remains in this arena which will be added to TNA, as and when…

References:

  1. Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.

Links:

  1. Images & Walk to the Sheep Scar Circle and Nearby Sites

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Sheep Scar circle

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Sheep Scar circle 54.093794, -2.299350 Sheep Scar circle

Sheep Scar Cairn, Giggleswick, North Yorkshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SD 80678 66436

Getting Here

Paul Hornby on the old mound

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the Apronful of Stones giant cairn, above Giggleswick.  Walk past the giant cairn for a coupla hundred yards until you reach the large section of fallen walling, which you can clamber over and head towards the small rise of the Sheep Scar enclosure 100 yards in front of you.  Walk to the far end of this walled enclosure and look down the slope to your left, for 50-60 yards where you’ll see a small rocky mound rising above the edge of the hollow footpath.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

This lovely old overgrown prehistoric cairn seems to one of what were once the remains of many other old tombs that scattered this grassy rocky plain, on the western ridge between Stainforth and Settle.  Although there are what seems to be the remnants of others nearby, this particular stone heap, its edges buried beneath centuries of earth, is a fine little-known specimen that deserves attention after so long a period in the sleep of ignorant moderns.  The cairn is found within an area that Harry Speight (1892) called the “Field of the Dead”, where he came across “traces and remains of human graves which carry us back to the far dim ages of unwritten history.”  Whether he saw this particular cairn rising up above the edge of the old track that winds up from Borrins in the valley below, he doesn’t say — but I’d be amazed if the diligent Speight missed it!

The overgrown cairn, looking NW
Cairn centre, with Sheep Scar enclosure above

Standing more than a yard high, when Paul Horby and I paced this old ruin, it measured 10 yards by 12 yards across — though so much loose and overgrown stone was beneath the surface that it could be much bigger.  The top of the cairn had come loose, perhaps explored by some antiquarian in times gone by, exposing a considerable mass of small rounded and misshapen rocks, typical of such constructions.  When Harry Speight found the place more than a hundred years earlier, he described the situation much as we’d found it, telling of,

“other mounds of similar and smaller dimensions within the same area, some of which have been examined, but others do not appear to have been disturbed.  Many of the barrows or ‘raises’ have at some time or other been carelessly dug into in the hope of finding valuables, and as doubtless in most cases nothing was found but rude chests or coffins, containing bones, these were tossed aside and no record of them deemed worthy of preservation.”

A situation we find still prevalent thanks to the ignorance of some archaeologists in some regions of Yorkshire to this day (despite what they tell folk).  We could see nothing of any note in our brief look at this old cairn, except that it had the usual hallmarks of prehistory in its form, probably Bronze Age.  Possible remains of other similar-sized cairns can be seen a little further up the slope on the northeastern edges of the enclosure.  The prehistoric Sheep Scar Cairn Circle and other ancient remains scatter the fields all round here; something indicated by the place-name Borrins found in the woods below the ridge, meaning simply, ‘burial place.’ (Smith 1956: 57-8)

References:

  1. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956.
  2. Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Sheep Scar cairn

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Sheep Scar cairn 54.093459, -2.296917 Sheep Scar cairn

Rye Loaf Hill, Settle, North Yorkshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SD 86419 63309

Also Known as:

  1. Inglehow

Getting Here

Triangulation & cairn atop of Rye Loaf Hill on a truly foggy eve

Best way is to take the Settle to Kirkby Malham road: a tiny little thing running steep from Settle up and around the hills, making sure you don’t miss the turn-off to Kirkby and head down to Airton instead.  About 100 yards along from the road-junction to Kirkby, there’s a small copse of trees and a gate just before it.  Walk up through that and head right to the top of the nice hill a mile or so ahead of you to the north.  It can be boggy, slippy and well good!  A decent Barmy Bennett expedition this way lies!  Get to the top of the hill and you can’t miss the cairn!

Archaeology & History

First shown on the 1771 Greenwood map, this is another intriguing little-known antiquity in our Yorkshire hills.  It’s intriguing as the precise age and nature of the site doesn’t appear to have been ascertained.  On top of this lovely rounded hill is not only a stunning view for many miles in all directions (unless you climb it on a very cloudy foggy day, like we did!), but the rock-pile which someone in recent years has turned into a wind-break has been taken from a much larger, and much older rock-pile on the very summit.

The cairn stands about a yard tall at the highest and measures roughly 12 yards in diameter, but the edges of the site seem to disappear further beneath the peat and vegetation on the hilltop.  A section in the middle of the cairn has obviously been dug into, probably to create the stone shelter on its southern side, but it also gives the impression of having been dug into by treasure-seekers in the past — similar to the trenches found in the Snowden Crags cairn circle, the Great Skirtful of Stones and other prehistoric tombs.

The site has been marked on Ordnance Survey maps as a simple marker cairn (non-antiquated writing on the maps), but I have strong suspicions after visiting this peak that the cairn in question is a lot older than has previously been assumed.  So I contacted local archaeologist Robert White and asked if he knew of any archaeological data about the cairn, but he said there was nothing that he knew.  However, an additional piece of information that adds potential to the antiquity of the cairn came from the awesome pen of Harry Speight (1895) who told that,

“The original name of this eminence is Inglehow, which suggests like Ingleborough and ancient look-out post or beacon hill.”

The suffix how or howe is well-known to place-name students in northern England and beyond as a burial mound or tumulus.  We must be cautious however, for as Gelling (1988) says, the word “is frequently applied to a tumulus, but it can refer to a natural hill.” But Speight’s idea that the name may have had something to do with beacons was mentioned — albeit without reference to Rye Loaf Hill, whose history and features he ignored — in Thomas Whitaker’s (1878) huge survey, where he wrote:

“In this parish was an immemorial custom, continued within the memory of many persons yet alive, of kindling fires on the tops of the surrounding hills on St. Laurence’s Eve, the 9th of August.  This night was called the Kennel or Kennelk night; and the tradition of the place is, that the fires were intended as a memorial of the beacons kindled by the Saxons to alarm their countrymen on the sudden approach of the Danes.”

The parish in question that Whitaker described was Giggleswick, which is right next door to Settle, in whose parish Rye Loaf Hill lives.

On the southern edge of Rye Loaf are a couple of other archaeological place-names that need looking at.  We have a couple of ‘Stone Haws’, which are probably cairns, close to which we find extensive evidence of human activity at some time in the past.  But close to one of these piles of stones is another, far more fabled rock whose history appears to have long since been neglected: the Dragon Stone of Scosthrop Moor.  Never heard of it?  That’s not surprising…

References:

  1. Gelling, Margaret, Signposts to the Past, Phillimore: Chichester 1988.
  2. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956.
  3. Speight, Harry, Tramps and Drives in the Craven Highlands, Elliot Stock: London 1895.
  4. Whitaker, Thomas Dunham, The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven in the County of York, (3rd edition) Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rye Loaf Hill cairn

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Rye Loaf Hill cairn 54.065540, -2.208999 Rye Loaf Hill cairn

Sheep Scar Enclosure, Giggleswick, North Yorkshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – SD 80648 66374

Getting Here

Aerial view of enclosure

To reach here, follow the same directions to get to the Apronful of Stones giant cairn.  Walk on the footpath past the cairn for about 200 yards until you reach a large gap where the old walling has collapsed.  Go through this and walk across the limestone rocks, towards the small rocky hillock rising up 100 hundred yards in front to your east (not the more rounded one to the north).  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

This is a most intriguing find, and one to which I can find no other literary reference (though I aint checked Brayshaw’s Giggleswick).  An undeniably large natural hillock has been modified and added to by people at some considerable time long ago and at some considerable effort!  Measuring more than 47 yards (43m) roughly east-west, and 21 yards (19m) north-south, the most definable man-made remains here is the length of elliptical walling on the southern and western edges.  The internal circumference of the enclosure measures roughly 113 yards (103m) all round the edges.  The northern and eastern sides of the hill would appear to be mainly natural, but seem to have been modified a little — not unlike the mass of settlements and enclosures a few miles to the east, like Torlery Edge, Lantern Holes and others around Malham Moor and district.

The site needs professional assessment: first to ascertain its period (which seems Iron Age on first impression, but could be much later), and second to ascertain its nature.  On the ridges close by we find a veritable mass of archaeological remains, ranging between Bronze Age to Medieval in nature.  The giant Apronful of Stones is only 172 yards (158m) south; the Sheep Scar cairn circle 156 yards (143m) northwest; and one of the remaining Sheep Scar cairns only 58 yards (53m) away.  And hopefully when we return to the place next week (fingers crossed!), we’ll be able to get some more photos of the walling you can see that define some edges of the site…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Brayshaw, Thomas & Robinson, Ralph M., A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick, Halton & Co.: London 1932.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Sheep Scar enclosure

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Sheep Scar enclosure 54.092901, -2.297372 Sheep Scar enclosure

Feizor Thwaite, Lawkland, North Yorkshire

Ring Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SD 79798 67473

Getting Here

Feizor Thwaite circle (after ‘QDanT’)

From Feizor village, take the dirt-track south that cuts up between the two cottages and walk onto the level.  From here, the walling bends round and a small cut runs up the slope on your left.  Go up here and onto the top, bearing left again when you reach the footpath near the top of the slope.  Walk along here until the hills open up before you and less than 100 yards along, just on the right-hand side of the path, you’ll notice the overgrown outline of a ring just by the side.  Don’t miss it (like I did!).

Archaeology & History

Danny, Paul and I visited here a few weeks back on a fine sunny day and, my attention caught by some nearby rocks that got mi nose twitching, I just about walked past the place until Danny called me back and said, “Oy – ‘ave y’ not seen this?”  Right under my nose no less!

Feizor Thwaite circle, looking northwest

The site’s a little known circular monument east of Feizor village, less than a mile northwest of the cairnfield above Stackhouse (where lives the Apronful of Stones and other prehistoric friends).  Marked on modern OS-maps as an ‘enclosure,’ the site here is in fact an overgrown cairn circle, typical in size and form of the ones found at nearby Borrins Top, Burley Moor, Askwith Moor and elsewhere in the Pennines.  Measuring (from outer edge to outer edge) 66 feet 6 inches east-west and 59 feet north-south, the remains here consist of a raised embankment of stones, encircling an inner flatter region consisting of many smaller stones beneath the overgrowth of grasses and vegetation.  Locals told me that the some of the cairns up here were explored early in the 20th century by a local man called Tot Lord, but I’m unsure whether he looked at this one.

There are a couple of other smaller circular remains on the same grassland plain, clearly visible from aerial imagery, along with other crop-marks of human activity on this part of the Feizor Thwaite landscape.  More antiquarian analysis could do with focussing here to see what can be found!

Links:

  1. Feizor Thwaite & other nearby prehistoric sites
  2. Feizor Thwaite Computer Art

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.102745, -2.310441 Feizor Thwaite ringcairn

Feizor, Lawkland, North Yorkshire

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SD 78570 67177

Archaeology & History

Feizor on 1851 map
Feizor on 1851 map

There have been no previous archaeological reference to this site (until now), which was included in early place-names records (Smith 1961) and was also highlighted on the first Ordnance Survey map of the region around 1851.  Probably as a result of the archaeological lacking, the upright stone has finally succumbed to the destructive actions of modern man. When we asked the farmer if he knew owt about any standing stone here, he said he knew “nowt abaat that.”

Feizor stone stump
and from another angle

All that can be seen today is the very small stump of stone, just visible above ground level, in the middle of the field.  It’s not easy to spot either, as the grasses grow over what’s left.  But we found the slim remnant of the stump embedded in exactly the spot marked on old and modern maps, measuring 24 inches in length and just 4 inches across at the widest, with what seemed like worn rounded edges at either end.  We were unable to ascertain the depth of the remaining stone in the ground. The stone looks simply as if it’s been snapped at the base.  We have no idea how tall this standing stone was.

If any local people know anything more about this stone, or have any old photos, we’d love to hear from you — and would obviously give due credit for any help on this matter.

References:

  1. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 6, Cambridge University Press 1961.

Links:

  1. Feizor stone remnants & walks to nearby prehistoric sites

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  54.100035, -2.329199 Feizor stone

Cleatop, Settle, North Yorkshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS grid-reference – SD 821 613

Also known as:

  1. Druid’s Hill Circle
  2. Druid’s Circle

Archaeology & History

Speight's 1895 map - showing position of circle
Speight’s 1895 map – showing position of circle

Not included in any previous archaeological surveys of megalithic rings, this circle of stones was apparently visible from quite a distance away, sitting on the hillside where now there is woodland.  It was described by the great Yorkshire historian Harry Speight (1892, 1895), though today it seems that all remains of it have vanished.

An early description of it came after an excursion to the site by local antiquarians, who told that “at Cleatop, about a mile to the south of Settle, are the remains of an ancient stone circle.” (Horsfall-Turner 1888) A few years later, Mr Speight gave us more details of the place, saying:

“A little above Cleatop Farm (near Rathmell)…is Cleatop Wood.  Cleatop derives its name from the A.S. cleof, a rocky aclivity; Latin clivus, a bank or slope. Near the northeast side of the wood there was once a very noticeable Druid’s Circle, about 60 feet in diameter; indeed, Mr Thomas Brayshaw of Settle, informs me that within the memory of persons still living, it was so regular and well-defined that one or two gaps caused by the removal of stones could be easily distinguished. The eminence at the rear of the site has, from time immemorial, been known as Druid’s Hill.”

Some years later, that very same local historian Tom Brayshaw (1932) wrote:

“The Ordnance map marks, on the steep slope to the north of Cleatop Wood, ‘site of Stone Circle’.  It needs a very keen eye to identify the few stumps that remain today, and it is deplorable that this most interesting monument, after enduring for so many centuries, has been destroyed during the last eighty years.  In 1847 a description of the circle, as it then was, was sent to Captain Yolland of the Ordnance Survey.

“”I suppose the circle of stones in Cleatop High Park to be aboriginal British or Druidical remains from the following appearances: the circle is complete and the large stones are set on end, some of them several tons weight.  The stones are twelve in number now standing, beside several others that seem to be rolled a short distance, as it is placed on the ascent of a steep hill and commands a beautiful and extensive prospect (more so than any given point of the same altitude in the vicinity).  The circle is 36 feet in diameter.”

“A few stones were still standing in 1883.  The hill above long bore the name Druids Hill.  The Enclosure Acts passed towards the end of the 18th century greatly increased the number of drystone walls in the parish, and it is probable that many old stone monuments were destroyed in making them and in their subsequent repair”.

We have no references of burials or other excavations here to give us any idea of whether human remains had ever been found.  It’s an intriguing place in the landscape though…and worthy of further explorations…

References:

  1. Brayshaw, Thomas, A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick, Halton & Co.: London 1932.
  2. Horsfall-Turner, J. (ed.), ‘Antiquarian Excursion to Giggleswick and Settle,’ in Yorkshire Folklore Journal, vol.1, T. Harrison: Bingley 1888.
  3. Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
  4. Speight, Harry, Tramps and Drives in the Craven Highlands, Elliot Stock: London 1895.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Cleatop circle

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Cleatop circle 54.047351, -2.274870 Cleatop circle

Ebbing & Flowing Well, Giggleswick, North Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SD 8039 6538

Early postcard of this famous well

Getting Here

This famous old site can be found right by the roadside—the B6480—as you head out of the northern end of the town, beneath Giggleswick Scar.  It’s less than a mile along the old main road, just as you start to climb up the hill, just across from the entrance to Huntworth.  It is in reasonable condition and has long been thought of as a holy and magickal well.  Edna Whelan and Ian Taylor included it their fine work, Yorkshire Holy Wells. (1989)

Archaeology & History

The site as we see it today is but a shadow its former self.   Although the stone trough that we look at seems to be the site, this once great great well originally emerged up from the ground a good hundred yards further up the steep hill slope above us, as the early illustration here clearly shows.

Ebbing & Flowing Well (Whitaker, 1878)
Ebbing & Flowing Well (Whitaker, 1878)

Just above where the Ebbing & Flowing Well first appeared an excessive amount of flints were found in earlier years; and just above that, early human habitation in the caves to the back; along with ancient burials nearby — as well as numerous other neolithic, Bronze- And Iron Age remains all round here.  This peculiar water supply was obviously of considerable importance to our pre-christian ancestors…unless you’re an idiot that is!

The site’s name comes from the very action of the waters here, which have sadly long-since been stopped. The well could suddenly overflow very rapidly and the next minute subside, with seemingly little rational explanation.  As such, it was seen to be miraculous.  It was first described by one John Speed in 1627 (England and Wales Described), where he said,

“At Giggleswicke…there are certain small springs not distant a quaits cast from one another; the middlemost of which doth at every quarter of an houre (?) ebbe and flowe about the height of a quarter of a yard when it is highest, and at the ebbe falleth so lowe that it be not an inch deepe with water.”

Ebbing & Flowing Well

Though Harry Speight (1900) reckons such rapid undulations were slight exaggerations on Speed’s part.

Nearby we also find the Bank Well, where old lead goddess figurines were deposited around Romano-British times.  Archaeologist Alan King (1970) saw such deposits as important to the spirit of the waters, saying,

“The wells at Giggleswick, especially the Ebbing and Flowing Well, would be considered entrances to the Underworld and suitable sites for making offerings.”

It seems more likely however, that the Ebbing and Flowing Well would have a more pronounced oracular nature; though Underworld aspects would be prevelant, though would be the province of selected priestesses (whose folklore is found nearby, albeit in distorted form).

The waters themselves today flow quite well, but are close to freezing when you immerse your hands therein.  They also taste very good indeed and are most refreshing – better than any of the alleged ‘spring water’ people today buy in plastic bottles.  It’s gorgeous water here!

Folklore

Early drawing of the Well
Early drawing of the Well

An undoubted oracular site: the ebbing and flowing actions of the waters giving the well the distinct characteristic as a place used for prophecy and divination in very ancient times.  I have little doubt that this was a place used by shamans.  It was likely to have been a dreaming site aswell. (it would be good to know if there is any old witchcraft lore still left here)

The waters themselves are supposed to be a manifestation of a local female spirit, who was transformed into the waters by a woodland spirit. Also here, a local highwayman called Nevison was being chased by the local cops, when his horse stopped at the waters desparate for a drink. While here, Nevison prayed to the water spirit for help. She duly obliged, giving him a magic bridle, enabling his horse to run and jump over the high moors to escape his pursuers: a place called Hell Ghyll being one of the places he was said to have cleared.

References:

  1. Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Granada: London 1985.
  2. Hope, Robert Charles, The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  3. King, Alan, Early Pennine Settlement, Dalesman: Clapham 1970.
  4. Ross, Anne, Pagan Celtic Britain, RKP: London 1967.
  5. Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
  6. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  7. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire’s Holy Wells and Springs, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1989.
  8. Whitaker, T.D., The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven, Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.083957, -2.301251 Ebbing & Flowing Well

Apronful of Stones, Giggleswick, North Yorkshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SD 80652 66193

Also Known as:

  1. Scar Pasture

Getting Here

The scattered heap, looking south

Paul, Danny and I came here via the Feizor village route, zigzagging about, to and fro, seeing the other old sites in the region; but the easier direct way to get here would be from Settle.  Walking through Settle, going out of the top end of town, cross the old bridge and take the country-lane on the right, up northwards towards Stackhouse.  A mile along the road (shortly before Stackhouse), a footpath on your left veers up diagonally through a small copse of woods. Go up here and out the other side of the trees, the path turns left and up over the fields.  Go up here, and over the third wall along the footpath, you’ll see a large overgrown pile of rocks 30 yards in front of you with a large stone laid roughly in its middle.  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

This is an excellent though much neglected prehistoric cairn of some considerable proportions, its rocky mass laying half-covered in deep earth and grasses, yet with still a very large section of it open to the elements.  The creature is nearly 30 yards across and some 4 yards high — though it’s hard to say with any certainty, where exactly the natural Earth begins and the cairn starts.  But from whichever way you look at this large cairn, walking around the overgrown features, you know it’s a big thing — similar in size and nature to the Great Skirtful of Stones on Burley Moor, and the neolithic cairn on Bradley Moor, near Skipton.

Paul & Danny atop o’ t’ pile
Bear’s photo, looking SW

On the modern OS-map there are 2 ancient cairns marked close to each other — and our “Apronful of Stones” is the lower one of the two.

In recent years the site was described briefly in Dixon’s (1991) Journey through Brigantia, but there’s been very little written about the place in modern archaeological surveys.  The first account I’ve found of the site was written by an anonymous “W.F.” in The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1784.  In a detailed lengthy essay, the following words were penned:

“This barrow, or tumulus, stands in an elevated situation, upon a mountain, above the hamlet of Stackhouse, and may be discerned at a great distance…

“The form of this vast mass is circular, or rather orbicular ; the height, by computation on the spot, about 9 or 10 feet. It is composed of an incredible quantity of stones, piled in such a manner as to rest upon each other’s basis, and strengthened by its conic form, it rises upwards in this curious shape. Those stones that form the outside of the work are so small that a soldier could carry them; and since it has been argued that such a monstrous work as this would not be attempted by any nation, but was natural, the largeness of the tumulus may easily be accounted for, since they were annually increased out of reverence…

“This barrow had been opened many years ago, and it is represented in the plate in the state in which it has appeared till lately. Some old people in the neighbourhood remember its being entirely complete, and having a very flat top. It was usual, in finishing these works, to lay a flat stone at the top. The people that opened it left their intention unfinished, only throwing down the lid of the stone coffer, and one or two of the sides; and, meeting with nothing worth digging for, they left it. Upon examining it in this state, before its being entirely disfigured in the last attempt, I found several human bones scattered up and down therein, amongst which I selected the patelae of the knee, the vertebrae of the spine, part of the jaw, and several teeth.

“Round the area is a wall or rampart, of the same materials as the outside, its height from the interior part about 2 feet, irregularly ranged with fissured remnants. In the centre of the cavity or area is the above chest, consisting of several huge stones of vast magnitude and density, fixed firmly into the ground, which supported a lid of equal size, though it is now thrown off the top. In this chest are partitions, for what purpose is not known, unless each space was allotted to its particular relique or body. In the partitions and sides of the coffin is a kind of hole in the edge, with a rude mould. (my italics, PB) Not many weeks ago, the curiosity of some of the neighbourhood was excited to investigate this stupendous work of art, and accordingly labourers were hired, when, upon searching a day (yet not half the work done), a human skeleton was found, in due proportion, and in a fine state of preservation, excepting the skull and one of the limbs, which were moved out of their place by the workmen’s tools. A small circular piece of ivory, and the tusk of an unknown beast, supposed to be of the hog genus, was also found ; but no ashes, urns, coins, or instruments were discovered. ”

Many years later the giant cairn was described briefly in William Howson’s (1850) early survey of the district, when he told that,

“Near a gate on the path, where the descent is commenced to Stackhouse, there’s a cairn of eighty feet in diameter; it has not been completely examined, but human bones are commonly found in it.”

But it was more than a century after “W.F.’s” initial essay before another detailed appraisal of the place was given — and that was after a visit here by the legendary Harry Speight (1892) in the latter half of the 19th century.  Along with mentioning a number of other prehistoric tombs upon this ridge, Mr Speight told:

“From Settle Bridge you may take the field-path…or the rustic lane to Stackhouse, and where the road divides just beyond Mr Priestley’s pretty house you wind beneath the wood behind Scale House to a gate and stile on the left. Here ascend the field between two large trees, and at the top go over a stile, whence a path leads up the field a good half-mile to a gate which opens into what our remote Celtic ancestors would have reverentially called the ‘Field of the Dead,’ for within this enclosure are traces and remains of human graves which carry us back to the far dim ages of unwritten history. Following the grassy cart-road a short distance you will see on the left a large circular mound thrown up about 30 feet on the south side, and about 10 feet on the north or higher side. There are other mounds of similar and smaller dimensions within the same area, some of which have been examined, but others do not appear to have been disturbed. Many of the barrows or ‘raises’, have at some time or other been carelessly dug into in the hope of finding valuables, and as doubtless in most cases nothing was found but rude chests or coffins, containing bones, these were tossed aside and no record of them deemed worthy of preservation…

“The largest of these existing raises has happily been described by a writer who signs himself ‘W.F.’ in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ for 1784 and 1785. Although his account fills several pages, it is obviously defective in many particulars. We are told that the circumference of the base of the mound is 210 feet, and that its height is 9 or 10 yards, and that the casing is composed of stones “so small that a soldier could carry them,” while the inside is made up of earth and stones, some of the latter being “much larger than the external coating.” In form it was circular…and the diameter of the summit was 45 feet. The barrow he tells us was opened many years ago, but some old people in the neighbourhood remember it being entirely complete, and having a very flat top.

“…Upon examining it in its former state the writer discovered several human bones scattered about the rock and soil, among them the palletae of the knee, the vertebrae of the spine, part of the jaw and several teeth. In the centre of the mound was a cavity containing a chest composed of four upright stones and a lid 6 feet 9 inches long and 3 feet broad. The chest was in partitions, in the edges of which were a kind of hole with a rude mould. The writer, under date, Settle, Nov 23rd 1784, next informs us that, “not many weeks ago the curiosity of some of the neighbourhood was excited to investigate this stupendous work of art, and accordingly labourers were hired, when upon searching a day (yet not half the work done) a human skeleton was found, in due proportion, and in a fine state of preservation, excepting the skull and one of the limbs, which were moved out of their place by the workmen’s tools. A small circular piece of ivory, and the tusk of an unknown beast, supposed to be of the hog genus, were also found; but no ashes, urns, coins, or instruments were discovered.”

Other important prehistoric monuments can be found on the grassy limestone plain beyond the Apronful: these include the fascinating Sheep Scar Enclosure just 180 yards (165m) to the north; an associated prehistoric cairn (one of several) 57 yards further northeast; and a delightful, though overgrown cairn circle 325 yards NNW.  Other Iron Age and Bronze Age remains can be found elsewhere within this arena.  Archaeologists could do themselves a big favour by exploring this landscape more efficiently than they’ve done so far as other unrecognized sites exist in this area.

Folklore

Big stone in t’ middle

Harry Speight (1892) told us how the place got its name “from a tradition…that his Satanic Majesty, in haste to complete the bridge bearing his evil name near Kirkby Lonsdale, tripped and his apron-string broke which let drop this immense heap.”

Another tradition narrated again by our anonymous ‘W.F.’ in the Gentleman’s Magazine(1785) said how this giant tomb, “was raised over the body of some of the Danes slain in the general massacre of that nation.” He also told, “Such a conspicuous work must certainly be erected to the manes of some chiefs, though there is no ground to support its tradition.”

References:

  1. Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys through Brigantia – volume 4: Beyond the Hill of Winds – Walks in Upper Ribblesdale, the Three Peaks & Upper Wharfedale, Aussteiger: Barnoldswick 1991.
  2. Ferrand, William, “Stackhouse, Yorkshire,” in The Gentleman’s Magazine (London 1784).
  3. Howson, William, An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven, Wildman: Settle 1850.
  4. Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.

Links:

  1. Images and walk to Apronful of Stones and nearby sites

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Apronful of Stones

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Apronful of Stones 54.091274, -2.297299 Apronful of Stones