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!
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)
Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956.
Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
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!
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!
Easy enough to get to – and a lovely place to behold for an amble! From Settle, take the B6479 road up to Horton-in-Ribblesdale (ask a local if you’re too dumb to find it!), turning right at Stainforth and up the single-track road towards Pen-y-Ghent. Keep yer eyes peeled for Rainscar – you’ve about a mile to go. If you end up at Pen-y-Ghent House you’ve gone past ’em. Turn back for 2-300 yards. It’s on the right-hand side of the road as you’re coming up, about 100 yards up the footpath.
Archaeology & History
The earliest description I’ve found of this is in Terence Dunham Whitaker’s History and Antiquities of Craven (1878), where he reckoned the remains here to be of Danish origin. The same thing was professed by the southerner, archdeacon W. Boyd, who said as such to the local people hereabouts more than 100 years ago, but they thought him a bit stupid and laughed at his notions! (though it does seem that Boyd wasn’t liked locally, tending to think himself better than the local people, who told him very little of local lore and legend) Describing the remains, Whitaker said there were skeletons found in the tombs:
“The bodies have been inclosed in a sort of rude Kist vaen, consisting of limestone pitched on edge, within which they appear to have been artificially bedded in peat earth.”
But Harry Speight (1892) doubted this, saying that Whitaker never even visited the site! When he went here he told us that,
“What is left at present are a few mounds of earth, the largest, which is divided into two, and lies north and south, measures about 28 feet by 25 feet. There is another apparent grave-mound on the east side of it, and again to the north is an oblong excavation or trench, 7 feet wide and nearly 30 feet long, in which several bodies or coffins may have been deposited. Several large oblong stones lay flay upon the ground beside the graves, but these were removed a few years ago and degraded to the service of gate-posts.”
The site was excavated in June 1936 by Arthur Raistrick and W. Bennett (1937) after they had been badly damaged and the stones robbed for walling and other profane building operations. Herein were found two burial cists with fragments of human bones in each tomb. In Bennett’s short account he told:
“The site consists of a nearly circular bank, about eight feet wide, and in parts two feet high, surrounding a much disturbed area. Within the area are the remains of two cists and a number of hollows that certainly represent other similar structures. The farmer tells of the removal of more than twenty large stones from these hollows, for use as gateposts, wall throughs and drain covers.* The bank encloses an area fifty-four feet east to west…and fifty feet north to south. At the west end there is a smaller bank, roughly in form of a circular apse, extending a further thirty feet. Many large boulders and vast quantities of smaller stone are incorporated in the bank.
“Near the east end, with its axis bearing N75E, is a cist — three stones in position. This was cleared to a depth of eighteen inches, and though no floor stone was present, among the sifted soil were found (i) broken bones, including parts of humourus, axis, vertebrae, ulna, ribs and cranium, all human; (ii) five teeth — two molars, one wisdom tooth, and two incisors, which appear to represent tow individuals. Sir Arthur Keith reports that the bones submitted to his examination may represent more than one adult person, and there is also a fragment of a child’s tibia. Most of the limb bones belong to a man of medium stature… He suggests from the condition of the bones a person of the Iron Age. While this is possible with a secondary interment in the area, it is rather unlikely, as all the bones came from within the built cists, and not from the earthen part of the mound, where secondary burials would be expected.
“At the west end are two large stones, the side stones of cists or of a chamber. The ground in front of them has been excavated many years ago…and partially refilled with boulders… Within the small extension on the west a trial excavation showed eighteen inches to two feet of random boulders, and beneath them, on the old sub-soil surface, two inches of fine grey sand, with two small flints — one of them a well-worked blade. These probably pre-date the construction of the circle.
“The whole site is suggestive of a multiple cist burial mound, or even a “passage grave” type. The obvious hollows, from which many of the larger stones have been lifted, are aligned in a parallel series, along an axis N75E, directed towards the two remaining large stones at the west, which may be part of a chamber wall and not part of a cist.”
Recent archaeological analysis has suggested these may be the remains of an old chambered cairn, although there is today far too much damage that’s been done to give us an accurate portrayal of what this originally looked like. The Dawson Close prehistoric settlement is less than half-a-mile further up the ridge.
The folklore here is simple: these are the graves of giants who lived in the valley of Littondale in ancient times.
Bennett, Walter, ‘Giants’ Graves, Penyghent,’ in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 131, 1937.
Boyd, W. & Shuffrey, W.A., Littondale Past and Present, Richard Jackson: Leeds 1893.
Feather, Stuart & Manby, T.G., ‘Prehistoric Chambered Tombs of the Pennines,’ in YAJ 42, 1970.
Speight, Harry, The Craven and North-West Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
Whitaker, Thomas Dunham, History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven, Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1878 (3rd edition).
* It might be worthwhile exploring the local gateposts and walls to see if any of these covering stones had cup-and-rings carved on them, as was traditional in many parts of Yorkshire and northern England.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Ferrand, William, “Stackhouse, Yorkshire,” in The Gentleman’s Magazine (London 1784).
Howson, William, An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven, Wildman: Settle 1850.
Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.