Described in context with an extant standing stone 100 yards to the north, this stone circle seems to have been destroyed in the latter half of the 19th century. It was described in the Royal Commission’s huge Pembrokeshire (1925) survey, after they had visited the site and viewed the remains. They told us:
“On the side of the road immediately opposite to Cliff Cottage, and constituting part of the garden walls of Upper Lodge, are numerous boulders which formed a well-defined stone circle. A few years ago they were moved, dressed, and used for walling. The entrance to the circle is said to have faced north-east. The southern portion was still visible about the year 1896.”
As far as I’m aware, local people report that a couple of the stones are still visible in the overgrown walling. Students working for the Welsh Coflein database allege that the remaining stones “are of doubtful antiquity.” Unless they have some substantial evidence to validate this statement (none is given) their remarks should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Wales, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales & Monmouthshire: VII – County of Pembroke, HMSO: London 1925.
From the double-ring that is the Brackenhall Circle at Shipley Glen, go up the road towards the hills and seek out the cup-marked Glovershaw Quarry Stone. Shortly before this, notice the small trees close the quarry edge. From here, walk straight east, as if you’re going toward Baildon Hill. Barely 10 yards into the bracken you’ll notice this small ring of stones (best looked for in winter before the bracken grows back – otherwise you’ve no chance!).
Archaeology & History
This site was explored when James Elkington, Paul Hornby and I came across it on Wednesday, 11 March 2015, after returning from a short excursion to look at some of the petroglyphs on Baildon Hill.
Ostensibly it is a small ring of stones comprising of at least 7 large rocks that are set deeply into the peat and bracken-mass, with a small eighth movable stone on the northern side. It seemed likely that another, larger rock was beneath this small portable rock, but we didn’t dig into the vegetative mound to explore this. The most curious thing about the ring of stones was that it measured barely 4 yards in diameter. My initial thought was that this was a previously unrecorded cairn, but there seemed to be no internal mass of rocks in the centre that characterize such monuments and which you’d expect in a ring of this size – meaning that it may be, perhaps, the smallest stone circle in Britain. It’s a pretty good contender at least! (the stone circle known as “Circle 275” at Penmaenmawr in Wales is of similar size to this one, but with less stones in that ring)
Close-up of the stones
It would be good if the regional archaeologists could give this site their attention and clean it up to see exactly what lays beneath the boscage. Close by are several cup-marked stones and a couple of other larger cairn circles.
The name of the site came after I almost stood on a hibernating toad, found beneath the bracken-mass right at the edge of one of the stones. I carefully picked him up and reburied him in another spot close by, leaving him (perhaps) to ponder his venture into the bright daylight of consciousness! Mr Hornby promptly declared – “these are the Toad Stones!” – and it stuck.
All sorts of ways to get here – all via road I’m afraid. Those southern-types aint into walking over fields and ambling about like we can do ‘ere up North. Best way to get here really, is get to Chipping Norton (a good little town with many good folk there), and ask! Take the road out of the town to Over Norton, taking the first road left as you enter the village. Go along this country lane for a mile until you reach a crossroads at the top of the hill. Turn right at the crossroads and watch out for the parking space at the roadside a few hundred yards along. Stop there and walk through the gate to go round to the other side of the trees. (if there’s a Rollright Trust member there loitering in the entrance asking you for some money to walk or sit by the stone circle – don’t give ’em it! They’ve used the cash for poisoning the wildlife in the past (killing the moles, field mice and other indigenous creatures there) and then lied about what they did (reckoning it was nowt to do with them!), so I wouldn’t trust them).
Archaeology & History
There’s masses to be said on this site, which I can’t add all in one go (I’ve literally got a full unpublished book on the many aspects if this lovely site) — so this entry will be updated occasionally with additional bits and bats of info and images as time floats by.
This remarkable and quite atmospheric megalithic complex has so much to say for itself that entire books have been written on the place (see the extensive references below), dealing with its archaeology, folklore and ritual use.
The King’s Men is a near-perfect circle of oolitic limestone uprights. Thought for centuries to be the memorial site of some victory by the Danish King Rollo, they have been described by many historians, travellers and antiquarians from the 14th century upwards. Several early writers described a sort of “avenue” running from the circle, not unlike the one perceived at Stonehenge and elsewhere. Evidence for this cannot be fully disregarded, as there are some recumbent monoliths along the road beside the stone complex, known as the Jurassic Way. This was a prehistoric trade route and it is more likely than not that some other uprights would have been nearby.
The Rollright Stones were used as the prime base for what was known as the Dragon Project: an exploratory examination of potential electromagnetic anomalies that were recorded at the standing stones here by scientists, geomancers and archaeologists who were involved daily monitoring work over many years. Much of this was published in Paul Devereux’s book, Places of Power – required reading for everyone who pretends an interest in megalithic sciences.
The Rollright complex today consists primarily of three sites: the Whispering Knight’s portal dolmen, the King’s Men stone circle, and the King Stone. Of these, it is the stone circle which draws most attention. Several alignments are connected with the complex. The original ritual use of the place would have, primarily, involved rites of passage and death rituals; though it seems obvious that menstrual rites were also an important social event here. After dark, this stone circle has distinctly ‘female’ spirit, sometimes manifesting in a quite wrathful form (please don’t confuse any of the modern witchcraft mythos with such things – they are fundamentally different in both social and ritual aspects). Women obviously played a large part in the ritual use and geomantic layout of the original complex. It also seems likely that the stone circle was used as a moot spot, which may have been in use until medieval times. The recent discovery of the carving of a family crest, at least 500 years old, implies this.
Until Tom Wilson and I lived in the hut at the circle in the 1990s, previous reports of ‘carvings’ at the stone circle were few and debatable. But two of the stones in the Rollright circle have quite distinct carvings on them. The most pronounced is etched on the tallest stone (stone 1 – Barnatt Survey) and comprises of a typical heraldic shield – although we cannot, as yet, ascertain the motif in the middle of the shield. This was first seen by a visiting tourist who wanted to remain anonymous, but the finding was written up in an article I wrote shortly afterwards. (Bennett 1999) The image below – reproduced courtesy of Alistair Carty’s Archaeoptics Limited laser scanning company – clearly shows the carving, which confirmed the initial discovery. The report of his findings can be read here.
Not unsurprisingly, since the discovery of the shield various screwy interpretations have been put forward to account for the design. My favourite has to be the one suggested by a pagan friend of the Rollright Trust, who, occult-like and all secret (y’ get the drift) reckoned it was all to do with King Arthur! Needless to say, my response of, “Y’ talking bollox mate!” was received somewhat nervously by pagan Karin Attwood and the twee little entourage who were discussing the shield, in the usual ‘secrecy – secrecy’ hush-hush tone of false witches and similar idiots!
A few months later I found another set of carvings on stone 62 (Barnatt survey), comprising a set of Ogham letters. These Ogham are very faint and are best observed before midday, when lighting conditions highlight them much clearer. If anyone can decipher them, it would be greatly appreciated. (though please don’t gimme some shit about King Arthur)
Folklore ascribes that the number of stones in the complex cannot be counted (a motif found at other megalithic sites) and, intriguingly, of the surveys done here, no two are the same! One early illustration of the circle shows 30 stones, nother describes 46, and one survey describes just 22 stones! As the 20th century progressed the numbers increased dramatically, with surveys differing at 58, 60, 71, 72, 73, 77 and 105. The present-day ‘guesstimate’ is about 77. Weird!
Folklore tells that if you can count the stones three times in a row and get the same number, you may have any wish you choose. But recently this has become reversed and it is said to be a curse if you count three times the same. Intriguingly, modern visitors who allege no superstitious beliefs, will not count the stones a third time if the same number crops up twice.
The best-known folk tale of this place is of the King, his men and the knights, who “were once men who were changed into vast rocks and fossilised,” as Camden first put it in 1586. The King’s men sometimes go to drink at a well near Little Rollright, as does the king, but he only goes at certain times. At midnight however, on certain days, the King’s Men have sometimes been known to come to life, join hands and dance in a circle. This sounds more like a folk remnant of ritual use here.
Faerie folk are said to live beneath the circle, in great caverns, some of which are linked up to the single monolith across the road. Ravenhill  described how local folk had sometimes seen the little people dancing around the circle by moonlight, but nobody has seen them of late.
…to be continued…!
Anonymous, The Rollright Stones: Theories and Legends, privately printed, n.d.
Anonymous, ‘Oxfordshire Mysteries,’ in The Ley Hunter 86, 1979.
Aubrey, John, Monumenta Britannica, Milbourne Port 1980.
Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
Follow the directions to reach the Great Skirtful of Stones giant cairn (very worryingly being encroached upon, illegally [it’s a protected monument], by employees of Bradford Council digging tracks into its edges). Walk less than 100 yards to the east, down the slight moorland slope (Leeds & Otley Chevin are in the distance). You’re here!
Archaeology & History
This is a very intriguing site. Intriguing because we don’t actually know what it is! It’s best seen at the end of winter, shortly after the heather-burning’s been done; but if there’s been no burning here, after a year or two it’s almost impossible to find!
Despite it being only a short distance east of the Great Skirtful giant cairn, very little has been written about it (a surprise in itself!) – but this is down the failings of archaeological professionals in the area, who still neglect this incredible prehistoric arean. It was first described in Mr J.N.M. Colls’ (1846) survey of sites in the region, where he thought it to be a prehistoric camp. Several years later the Ordnance Survey lads visited here and deemed it to be prehistoric barrows, which doesn’t seem true. Nearly a hundred years later, the great northern antiquarian Eric Cowling (1946) who saw fit to describe it as an “enclosure” — so I’m copying his idea so I don’t get into too much trouble! Thinking it to be a Bronze Age monument, he wrote:
“On the main ridge of Rombald’s Moor and about eighty yards to the east of the Great Skirtful barrow, is a small circular enclosure with a diameter of twenty yards. There appears to have been an entrance on the eastern side, which is protected by a short length of banking to the east.”
The “length of banking” he described didn’t seem apparent when we visited the site yesterday (23.3.09), but we intend a further exploration of this and the adjacent monuments in the coming weeks and hope to locate it!
Interestingly, the archaeologists Faull & Moorhouse (1981:1:103), in their otherwise fine survey, actually doubted this place as having any prehistoric status, without giving any reason why—which was a big mistake. No doubt they spent too much time in offices and board meetings instead of getting out a bit more! Unless evidence to the contrary can be strongly presented, this site must be classed as undoubtedly prehistoric in nature (Bronze Age or Iron Age certainly) and almost certainly had something to do with rituals of the dead.
From outer edge to outer edge the ‘ring’ measures 102 feet across, N-S, and with a rough maximum 101 feet E-W, being diameter, being some 300 feet in circumference. When you look at the site at ground level it appears to be an almost perfect ring, consisting of an embankment little more than 2 feet high at the most, with entrances both east and west. However, as the aerial images show, the perfect circle aint quite so perfect! But at ground level, there’s a certain uniformity about it. The embankment is in very good condition around much of the ring, with only slight damage in certain parts. The western opening strongly implies a direct relationship with the Great Skirtful cairn — which would infer this monument to have more of a ritual nature rather than the simple domestic enclosure, inferred by Colls and Cowling. Adding to this we find a tumulus 100 yards east and the remains of several other cairns nearby, making the site almost hemmed in by death-sites. A prehistoric cemetery is a short distance further down the moorland slopes to the east. Add also the fact that the Burley Moor stone avenue runs immediately south and the death-motif has to be increased.
What do I think it is? Not sure! The thought that it’s a previously unrecognized henge has crossed my mind…but henge monuments aren’t things that I’m very clued-up on, so wouldn’t like to say for sure. If there are any university archaeology students out there who are into getting their feet dirty, give this site a look-over. It’s intriguing, in very good condition, and could do with an accurate ID!
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
Colls, J.N.M., ‘Letter upon some Early Remains Discovered in Yorkshire,’ in Archaeologia, volume 31, 1846.
Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
Faull, M.L. & Moorhouse, S.A. (eds), West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey – volume 1, WYMCC: Wakefield 1981.
Stone Circle (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NT 774 292
Also known as:
Archaeology & History
Less than a mile northwest of the hillfort on Linton Hill, modern OS-maps show the field-name of ‘Five Stone Field’ which is where, in bygone years, another important stone circle once stood. Today unfortunately, not a single stone remains. As the Scottish Royal Commission (1956) lads told:
“About a mile NE of Frogden, on the N side of the road between Frogden and Greenlees, there were formerly five or six upright stones forming a circle, ‘about the size of a cock-pit’ (1792 Statistical Account). This circle, which was adopted as a rendezvous by Border raiders in the Middle Ages and became known as The Tryst, has long since disappeared, but its approximate site is indicated on the OS map by the name Five…Stone Field.”
One of many stone circles used as an old moot, or gathering spot. This was described in one of the many footnotes to Sir Walter Scott’s (1802) Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, in which he told:
“At Linton, in Roxburghshire, there is a circle of stones surrounding a smooth plot of turf, called the Tryst, or place of appointment, which tradition avers to have been the rendezvous of the neighbouring warriors. The name of the leader was cut in the turf, and the arrangement of the letters announced to his followers the course which he had taken.”
This tradition was echoed around the same period in Robert Forsyth’s (1805) massive work on the history of Scottish life and landscape, saying:
“In different parishes, such as Moorbattle, Linton, and others, are to be found what are called tryst stanes. These are great stones commonly situated on high grounds. They are placed perpendicularly in rows, not unfrequently in a circular direction. It is said, as also the name imports, that in times of hostility they marked the places of resort for the borderers when they were assembling for any expedition of importance.”
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
Forsyth, Robert, The Beauties of Scotland – volume 2, Thomas Bonar: Edinburgh 1805.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Roxburghshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1956.
Scott, Walter, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, James Ballantyne: Kelso 1802.
Best approached by taking the same direction to the unexcavated Foster Clough ‘enclosure.’ From here, walk towards the walling about 100 yards to your east. Follow it along on the moorside for another 100 yards then follow the small sheep-path up the angle of the slope onto the moor itself. Once you’re at the top and on the level, it’s right ahead of you! If the heather’s deep though, you might as well give up before y’ start! (honest – I went there a while back for a night’s sleep & couldn’t find the damn thing!) But if you’ve made the effort getting here, wander 200 yards towards Crow Hill and keep yer eye out for the large heather-clad tumulus.
Archaeology & History
This site was rediscovered in October 1995, when I was bimbling about on the southern side of Crow Hill. It was one of those good periods, when the heather had been extensively burnt back, so enabling a better examination of the moors for any potential prehistoric remains. I unknowingly walked right into the middle of this small ring of stones with a fella called John Billingsley, who seemed quite unaware of what I was getting excited about until I pointed out to him exactly what we were standing in the middle of! (he couldn’t see what was under his nose, which was a bit weird considering he edits an earth-mystery mag) But I wouldn’t have even been looking for this site, were it not for what happened just a few days earlier…
I was on one of my many ambles across the moortops, which to many people watching would seem like some seemingly aimless, lost soul – an apt description at times! – wandering across the hills (those who know me well, have long called such seemingly aimless treks, Barmy Bennett Expeditions!). It was a lovely day: a shallow snow-cover lay across the moors and as the wind brushed across the earth and up, Her wisps of breath were freezing. But I was well-wrapped and sat, upon occasion, behind the small rock outcrops I was checking for cup-and-rings for shelter when needed. But as the day fell on and the sun touched the western hills, I had to turn for home as the cold was strengthening. Being on the moors at night, in this sort of weather, is never a good idea unless you’ve got your gear with you — and this day I hadn’t. So I set off back for home in Hebden Bridge, in that dreamy sort of state which the hills elicit after a day’s ambling. The colours of Earth and Sky were crisp in the bracing air and as I headed for the footpath towards the old stone known as Churn Milk Joan, I gazed at Crow Hill a half-mile or so away…
Without warning, it came like a thunderbolt up through my dreaming mind: ‘There’s a stone circle over there!‘ came the words. And though the words were quiet and simple, their effect was anything but! I focused quickly – very quickly! My mind staggered out of the dreaming and into the ego state, trying quick to rationalise what had just emerged from my unconscious. An adrenalin rush hit me and amidst the snow-filled hills I started to bound, gazelle-like, across the wibbling moors, straight towards Crow Hill. But then I stopped!
“Wait… She’s nearly dark,” I said to myself. “You’ve no food and there’s gonna be no no light. Come back in a day or two and you’ll have all the time you need to explore.”
And so I wandered back in the dark to the warmth of fire and home and waited a few days, for the Earth to drink Her snow, and hope that the curious intuition — as it had been on numerous other occasions — proved fruitful. And so it did…
If you can find the place (almost impossible when the heather’s in full growth), you’ll see that this ‘cairn circle’ is little more than 32 feet across, with the tallest stone in the ring little more than 2 feet tall. A curious small squared circle of loose stones exists in the south side of the ring and a raised embankment surrounds the site. Scatterings of small, football-sized stones are found both in, out and at the edge of the circle. (Please note – to those of you who wanna cross-reference – that the photos alleging to show this site on The Megalithic Portal are not of the right place.)
Close by are other neolithic remains, including extensive walling, 2 or 3 other small standing stones and a large tumulus which one rather myopic hobbyist (Mike Haigh) reckoned – in a poor attempt at sarcasm – might be the burial tomb of a successful local farmer. Hmmmm…..
The site was later described in an article by the same Mike Haigh (in Billingsley’s Aspects of Calderdale) as being discovered by John Billingsley himself, which wasn’t just a mistake but a rather huge lie. John was there with me when I found it, as he knows full well. But it seems here we have an example of people who like to try give themselves credit for discovering things that they did not do.* Even sillier, Mr Billingsley then moaned when I described the site (in my Old Stones of Elmet) without mentioning his name! But in all honesty, if that’s the disreputable way in which they go about their business, what do they expect in return!? (What’s worse is that the site was first described in an article in his own Northern Earth Mysteries mag in 1995, which I co-authored, and then when I asked if he could point out the error and correct it, he ignored the request in just the same way politicians do. Pure bloody ignorance no less. But then, he is one of those incoming Southern-types – y’ know the sort…)
This aside: the entire region hereabouts requires considerable archaeological attention as we have here the remains of either a neolithic settlement, or graveyard, or both!
* see the note at the bottom of the ‘About TNA‘ page on such issues.
To get here, ask all and sundry where Shipley Glen is and, once there, head to the Brackenhall Countryside Centre. It’s less than 100 yards past it, right on the roadside (a coupla nice birches sit in its edge).
Archaeology & History
Described by many local writers over the years and marked on modern OS-maps as ‘The Soldier’s Trench,’ this curious double-ring of stones has long been somewhat of an archaeological anomaly. Thought by archaeologist John Barnatt to be “almost certainly an enclosure, of indeterminate age”; and similarly by Faull and Moorhouse (1981), who describe it as a settlement or enclosure. It has previously been classified as a ‘stone circle’ by archaeologists, and although I’ve added it to the listing of such sites here on TNA, I do so as a historical tradition, as the site aint a true megalithic ring. Although we don’t know exactly what it was used for, we’re better using the term ‘enclosure’ for it.
The first description of the place was by J.N.M. Colls (1846). When the pseudonymous Johnnie Gray (a.k.a. Harry Speight) got here he wrote:
“It comprises portion of an earthwork (which was perfect a few years ago), raised between two concentric circles, whose grater circumference is 137 yards, and diameter 57 yards north to south, and 39 yards east to west… There are unmistakable evidences about it of immense fires.”
At least two of the stones in this double-ringed complex have cup-markings etched on them; though Boughey and Vickerman (2003) report a third such carving, but doubt its authenticity. They could be right!
The other name for this site, the Soldier’s Trench, comes from an old tale which relates to the place being used as a camp by a group of soldier’s the night before they went into battle.
The site stands right next to a prominent geological fault (as any visitor clearly sees!). It’s likely that this cleft in the Earth is one of the causative factors in the creation of numerous UFO phenomena that have been reported hereabouts through the years. One large spherical object with a very slight ‘tail’ to the rear, travelled slowly over this site in the 1980s and was watched for several minutes slowly following the geological ridge up and round Baildon Hill to the north, fading back to Earth and eventually out of sight.
Baildon, W. Paley, Baildon and the Baildons – parts 1-15, Adelphi Press: London 1913-1926.
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS 2003.
Colls, J.N.M., ‘Letter upon some Early Remains Discovered in Yorkshire,’ in Archaeologia 31, 1846.
Faull, M.L. & Moorhouse, S.A. (eds.), West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey to AD 1500 – 4 volumes, WYMCC: Wakefield 1981.
Glossop, William, ‘Ancient British Remains on Baildon Moor,’ in Bradford Antiquary, 1882.
Gray, Johnnie, Through Airedale from Goole to Malham, Elliott Stock: London 1891.
Hedges, John (ed.), The Carved Rocks on Rombald’s Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.
la Page, John, The Story of Baildon, Byles: Bradford 1951.
There are many ways of reaching the Apostles, but I’ll stick to describing the two commonest routes for those of you who wanna find it. The first is the route out of Ilkley. Get to the White Wells (white building nestled on t’ edge of t’ moors) – ask a local if you don’t know where it is. From here follow the path up past the Wells, up the stepped-cliffs, and once on top where there’s a crossing of paths, keep straight forward onto the moors for about a mile. Once you’re on the very top of the moors, keep your eyes peeled to the left of the footpath and you’ll see it! From the other, southern-side of the moor, start from Dick Hudson’s pub, cross the road and go up the footpath onto the moor. Now, just keep walking for a mile or so, until the circle appears on the right-hand side of the footpath right near the very top of the route.
The other route is easier if you’re unfit. Go up the old Roman Road which crosses the moors and when you get to the two radio masts on the top, take the footpath east. Walk straight on for about a mile until the path veers to the right (southeast). This is Ashlar Chair. From here, take the left-hand path and walk on for a few hundred yards till you hit the main footpath. Double-back on y’self (right) and the Apostles are about 100 yards away.
Archaeology & History
First highlighted on the 1851 Ordnance Survey map as a “Circle of Stones” close to “The Stone called Lanshaw Lad”, the Twelve Apostles stone circle is one of the highest of all ancient monuments upon Rombald’s Moor, 1264 feet above sea level. Only a small prehistoric enclosure (recently discovered) and the defamed giant cairn at the very top of the moors, known in previous centuries as ‘Nixon’s Station’—described in 1885 as being a hundred-and-seventy-five yards in circumference, then in 1900 as a hundred-and-fifty-yards—are higher. It is by no means a spectacular stone circle. Certainly in comparison to places like Castlerigg, Avebury, Callanish or the Argyll stones, it fades into insignificance!
In earlier times the circle possessed such names as the ‘Druid’s Chair’ and the ‘Druidical Dial Circle’—the first of which implying it to have been a place of ritual inauguration, and the latter a folk remnant of it being a site where the solar and lunar year would be recorded. Indeed, as early as 1850, antiquarian and rambler James Wardell described this site as “the astronomical circle,” after local folklore about the site being used as such. Today, such ‘folklore’ has entered into being academically acceptable in many quarters; though the significance of such alignments is still hotly debated.
What greets us today would have been, several thousand years ago, planned and prepared sometime before the stones were erected close to the crossing of the two most important trackways crossing these moors, marking “an event of some importance.” These trackways face the four cardinal points, or airts, and one of them is believed by archaeologists to have been a major prehistoric trade-route that crossed the mid-Pennines. Around 1800 BC – the academics guess – the ring of stones took form.
The all-but-forgotten Black Beck Well (SE 1276 4494), two hundred yards south of the Twelve Apostles, was an important water-hole for our prehistoric traders and travellers and may well have had some function relative to this megalithic ring. Certainly, the well was being used by traders late into the 19th century.
According to archaeologist Arthur Raistrick, the Twelve Apostles originally consisted of at least twenty upright stones with a solitary monolith at its centre. It was this central stone which, not unsurprisingly, gave it the tradition of being a druidical dial circle. This is probably not without foundation as the centre-stone may well have acted as some sort of shadow-marker, or simply the point from where solar, lunar and perhaps stellar observations were made. When Raistrick first came here though, he reported that only three of the stones were standing. A few years later when Cowling described the site, he said that all of the stones “are now overthrown.” This is, sadly, something we have to constantly deal with. In Raistrick’s further description of the Apostles, he wrote:
“The circles of stones is erected on a bank of earth and small stones, as nearly circular as can be measured, and fifty-two feet (15.9m) in diameter, centre to centre of bank. The bank is about four feet wide and in places about two feet above the surrounding ground level.”
Cowling’s measurements told it to be fifty-eight feet across. Sadly, traces of the raised embankment that once enclosed the entire circle can now only be seen in the undergrowth on the south-side of the ring. When the heather is low you can make out an arc of raised rubble about 12 inches high and no more than a yard across, running for some 20 yards along the edge of the circle. In the 1960s all of the standing stones in this circle had been knocked over and were left ruinous in deep heather. The local authority council and regional archaeologist of Ilkley and district were (and still are) negligent of their duties to look after the ancient monument on these moors. Thankfully a group of local heathens took it upon themselves to stand the stones back upright and restore the circle to roughly how it looks today. Local pagans and amateurs have looked after the Apostles, restoring it when vandalized, from the ’70s onwards. In all honesty — and the same still applies to this day — if we’d have waited for the local archaeologists to get off their arses to restore the Twelve Apostles, it would have been destroyed long ago.
In more recent times, the site has been ascribed as “a circular ceremonial monument”, which I think is appropriate, although no burial or ritual remains have ever been found here. As we shall see however, this description is most fitting when put into context with the wider landscape.
Visitors to the Twelve Apostles should be aware (if they weren’t already) that the circle they see today bears little resemblance to the place when it was first constructed around four thousand years ago. The scattered woodland which covered most of these now-barren moorland heights have long since gone and the stones have been moved and overthrown so many times that it would be very difficult indeed to gain an accurate picture of what the circle originally looked like. But this should not deter our investigations.
We should also be very cautious in making assumptions about the nature of pre-christian events that occurred here. Although modern pagans frequent this place at set times of the year, their activities have little, if any bearing, on the rites of our ancestors (despite what some of them might tell you!). However, scattered historical accounts do tell us about the activities of more obscure events hereabouts.
At the nearby Roms Law or Grubstones Circle (SE 1363 4473), records tell us how local people gathered on Rogation Day (a pre-christian agricultural ritual festivity, closely related to Beltane). A central stone—now moved into the huge Great Skirtful of Stones tomb a few hundred yards east—stood at its centre and an orator spoke to the people from here, ending with the words, “This is Rumbles Law!” Although we have no records of such actions at Twelve Apostles, the central stone which once stood here may have been a focus for such orations. The tribal leader and tribal shaman would have enacted this in ancient days. However, we do know from folklore records that the fabled Pendle witches and the lesser-known witches of Fewston (in the beautiful Washburn Valley a few miles to the north) met together on top of these hills, and the Twelve Apostles is a good contender as one of their likely assembly points.
Any verifiable history of Twelve Apostles is, as we can see, somewhat scarce, although in recent years observations from the site itself at select times of the year (solstices, equinoxes, etc.) have brought us a greater wealth of information.
As every good geomancer knows, literal knowledge about a place in the landscape is limited: how we look at such ritual sites determines, to a very great degree, how much we receive. If we look at the site as an astronomer, we will see the place through astroarchaeological eyes; if we look at it as an architect, mathematical formulae will overlay the complex; or if we see it as a New Ager, angels and auras will appear. With this in mind it is imperative we look at such places with a non-ethnocentric perspective. No easy thing.
Although dispossessed of its original spirit, it does not distract us from perceiving some elements of what appears to be one original function of the site. Its position in the landscape was obviously of grand geomantic importance and, having watched the motion of both sun and moon from this quiet ring of stones (the lunar standstills are recorded here), one is impressed, if not by its feeling, certainly by its siting relative to other arcane monuments. Those who know the Twelve Apostles and have visited it on a fine clear day will know what I mean. The view is considerable, peering far into the uplands of the Yorkshire Dales, looking upon a great panoramic circle nearly eighty miles across. I remember seeing this for the first time as a child and was entranced by it. So why had they placed this circle where they had…?
Looking at the Twelve Apostles on a large-scale Ordnance Survey map (6-inch to the mile, or 1:10,000)—as most linear-thinkers do nowadays—we see a remarkable geometric image unfold before our eyes. Running straight eastwards 1180 yards away (1.08km) we reach the Grubstones circle. From the Apostles again, go straight north for another 1180 yards (1.08km) and you reach the ruins of the Backstone Circle (SE 1261 4613). Between these three circles we find a perfect isosceles triangle. But this isn’t the end of it: the longer axis connecting Grubstones to Backstone is some nineteen-hundred yards long (1.731km) and at the mid-point along this line, the now-recumbent Lanshaw Lass boundary stone once stood. Intriguingly, if we stand at Twelve Apostles for the Beltane sunrise (May day), we would see its golden orb rising on the far-eastern horizon right above our Lanshaw Lass.
This all may, of course, be coincidental. Our megalithic ancestors surely knew nothing of isosceles triangles and such stuff…
Other astronomical alignments are perhaps not as contentious. In 1989 when the moon rose at its maximum northern point on the horizon (which occurs every 18.6 years and is known as the Major Lunar Standstill), it was photographed setting on the north-western horizon behind the old cairn which once stood just 130 yards away to the northwest, behind which stands the old boundary stone of Lanshaw Lad (this cairn was recently destroyed by some stupid halfwits from Ilkley). This alignment, if transposed onto a map and extended further, eventually reaches a quite remarkable ancient carving known as the Swastika Stone (SE 0956 4695) more than two miles away.
This alignment may again be coincidental as there are so many prehistoric sites upon these moors. Indeed, it seems that it would be hard not to find alignments up here! And although not all stone circles have astronomical systems encoded within them, studies show that many of them do.
The Summer Solstice Alignment One very curious and probable alignment at the Apostles is the midsummer sunrise. It is celebrated every summer here by local folk who have been visiting the place, in recent years at least, for the last thirty years, despite the contorted attempts by the Church to suppress its natural celebration. In recent years the number of people visiting Twelve Apostles at midsummer has steadily increased; so much so that people are now scattering the moors in their hundreds to other sites. For many years I ambled my way up to this old ring of stones and waited for the sun to rise at summer solstice. After a few years the question of “Where exactly does it rise?” on this longest of days intrigued my teenage mind, but I had to wait a few more years until the morning air was clear enough to see the distant skyline…
Then, on the morning of the summer solstice in the mid-1980s, whilst the people around me were drumming, cheering, chanting and silencing themselves as the giant fireball rose once more from its daily horizon, I stood gazing, not at the sun, but at the very land beneath where it rose on that longest of days. And what I saw stunned me!
More than thirty-five miles (53km) northeast from the Twelve Apostles, the faint etching of a great white horse scarred the distant landscape exactly beneath where the sun rose on this longest of days. I must admit, I was metaphorically kicked in the neurological bollocks by this! If my eyesight wasn’t truly impaired by a night of no sleep, the far distant solar indicator I could see was the White Horse of Kilburn (SE 5142 8129)…
…And white horses, as is known in folklore, are potent symbols of the sun.
The real screwball with this sunrise indicator lies in the fact that Kilburn’s white horse was etched into the hillside only in the middle of the 19th century! It was cut into the slopes by a local man called Thomas Taylor. He had visited the magnificent prehistoric white horse at Uffington in Oxfordshire, plus others in the Vale of the White Horse, and was so impressed by them that he decided to make one in his own back yard, so to speak. After considerable effort and with the help of more than thirty local men, the steep slopes northwest of Kilburn had its own Epona: 314 feet long and 278 feet high. Said by one writer to be “visible for twenty miles” and another that it “could be seen up to seventy miles away”—figures that need drastically revising!
Despite the revelation that the midsummer sunrise from Twelve Apostles aligns with the White Horse of Kilburn, it was obvious that no arcane relationship—and hence no authentic mythic virtue—was possible here. The fact that some four thousand years separate the construction of both monuments precludes any valid connection between them.
This aside, I asked a research of friend, Graeme Chappell, to run through the possible astroarchaeology from Apostles to Kilburn in order to ascertain the validity, or otherwise, of this seemingly incredulous alignment. Lo and behold, in 1857 (when the Kilburn horse was completed), the “sun would have risen when it was over the white horse, but only just.” So I began putting this long distance alignment down to nothing more than a wonderful visual coincidence—until Graeme pointed out a much more curious astronomical folk remnant…
Around 1700 BCE, close to the time when Twelve Apostles was built, observers standing at the circle would watch the midsummer sunrise exactly over White Mare Crag. This wouldn’t seem that curious were it not for the folklore of these distant crags, themselves deeply symbolic of the sun.
The renowned Victorian antiquarian and folklorist, Edmund Bogg, wrote extensively about the curious legends that abound in and around the Kilburn area—several of which surround the great cliffs of the White Mare (locally known as Wisson Cliff in times past). Tradition tells that a white horse was once visible in the hillside here. Bogg told that it received its name from this horse, whose shape was visible in the shape of the huge rocky crags. At the bottom of the cliffs the faerie folk were said to live. Also here is Gormire Lake—bottomless according to folklore and apparently the abode of a sunken village, though history records (and geology) make this unlikely, so we must seek elsewhere for an explanation to such a tale. The waters of this lake fall into a small crevice at its edge and, so legend tells, these then flow uphill until eventually re-emerging at a well at Cold Kirkby village a mile to the east in the direction of the setting sun. These tales in themselves are intriguing relics of shamanism whose nature lies beyond the scope of this enquiry.
One folktale tells of a local ‘witch’ who was chased over the local moorland (by who or what isn’t remembered). She eventually reached the edge of White Mare Crag cliffs where she carried on running and jumped, landing in the waters of Gormire Lake beneath where it was thought she would drown. But, following the flow of water underground, the tale tells how she eventually re-appeared nine miles away out of an old (unnamed) well. An equally curious piece of lore tells of a goose that was dropped into the same crevice the witch went into after it had apparently dried-up, only to emerge, without any feathers, twelve miles away to the east at Kirkbymoorside.
But one tale in particular appears, to me at least, to have considerable relevance to our midsummer sunrise from the Twelve Apostles…
A long time ago an abbot from Rievaulx Abbey was in possession of a pure white horse, said to be as quick and nimble as any horse in the region. The abbot met up with a local landowner, Sir Harry Scriven, who also owned a horse of great repute – this time jet black, called Nightwind – and he challenged him to a race across Hambleton Moors (just above White Mare Crags). Sir Harry accepted, but the abbot insisted they swapped horses so that he could ride Nightwind and Harry was on the white steed. They took off, racing fast over the high moors until they reached the edge of White Mare Crags but, instead of stopping, the abbot continued galloping with Sir Harry following until they each plunged over the edge of the high cliffs. Legend tells that as Sir Harry fell to his inevitable death, the white horse which he rode dissolved into thin air and, as he looked across at his own horse Nightwind, looked at the abbot who turned into the devil. As Cooper points out, “the winged horse is the sun…as is also the white horse,” and as the horse in this legend “dissolved into thin air” as it went west over the Crags, could this be an old symbolic tale of the setting sun dissolving as it sets over the far horizon to the west? The black horse which remains, Nightwind: is this not the dark night which naturally follows?
We might never know, but it certainly makes sense of the tale. Especially when seen in relation to the summer solstice alignment from the Apostles. And if there was any possible commemoration of this line from White Mare Crags, the dark horse, Nightwind, would be the triumphant one, as the alignment into the far southwest from here to Twelve Apostles records the shortest night of the year: the winter solstice. Intriguing stuff!
But this primary midsummer alignment from Twelve Apostles gets even more curious…
Although books and magazine articles detailing ‘leys’ are numerous, they are, on the whole, full of lines that exist simply in the mind of their creators. Knowing these non-existent ‘old bent tracks’ — as us Yorkshire folk have come to call them! — are ammunition for trivialising the subject, precision is extremely important. It is obvious in this alignment however, that we are looking plain and simply at an astronomical line—not a ley. But, in good old fashioned ley-hunter style, I decided to get out the Ordnance Survey maps—2½-inch-to- the-mile scale—and check the cartographic nature of the line for myself. It took some doing! But its outcome threw up yet more bizarre finds, bending the parameters of Jungian synchronicity, never mind geodelic science!
As the illustration here shows, the line passes an old stone in the village of Askwith. A little further on we pass what Eric Cowling called ‘The Old Man of Snowden’—a squat standing stone close to the crossroads which appears to have been destroyed. Here too is the Grey Stone: an ancient boundary marker scared with intricate cup-and-ring designs. Although we pass one or two other fascinating spots where good folklore and history can be had—such as the moot points of Sword Point and Jack Hill—things don’t really start getting too interesting until we pass Nidd Church. (SE 3013 6081) “In the churchyard,” wrote Arthur Mee, “is the shaft of a cross about 600 years old, but it is said that the story of the village goes back twice as far, and that a great church council met over 1000 years ago.” This is more than likely, for just beyond is a place called Temple Yarmer where, as Harry Speight reminded us, once stood “an immense menhir or standing monolith.” Folklore told it to have been part of a now lost stone circle.
A little further on we pass by a few old boundary stones (SE 3160 6219; SE 3568 6578), but these will have nothing to do with our midsummer alignment. Not until we pass by the gigantic Devil’s Arrows at Boroughbridge (SE 3912 6650) do things begin getting a little bizarre. Although just three huge monoliths remains today, we know that least five of them were standing in the 15th century. It is very probable that more standing stones were in the original complex and our solar line may have crossed part of it. More certain are we of the midsummer’s day horse-festival that has been held here for many centuries. Known as the Barnaby Fair, recent years have seen the event almost vanish into history. But the motif of horses and midsummer here is intriguing. Nearby, at Kirkby Hill – over which our solar line crosses – is a spot known as the Fairy Hill and where, at midsummer, the little-people were wont to play in the early hours.
Continuing further and getting ever-closer to the White Horse which stands out from the Apostles, we reach the North Yorkshire village of Sessay. Here once lived a great one-eyed giant, said by folklore to be one helluva nasty dood – but this is just the Church demonising something it refused to try understanding. (In the neighbouring towns and villages of Topcliffe, Dalton and Pilmoor are other giant legends. It would be interesting to find the archaic roots of this geographical cluster.)
Next we reach the village of Kilburn itself. And here, every midsummer as far back as records can go, we have another horse festival. The activities here have truly heathen origins, comprising in parts to a great feast over the midsummer days. During this a procession itself is made by the villagers to the White Horse. We also have the figure of an androgynous ‘Lady Mayoress’ who runs through the streets receiving kisses from other ladies.
The final point on our journey along this midsummer line is the White Horse itself, whose visibility from Twelve Apostles started this journey in the first place.
The truly curious ingredients in this line is the coincidence (?) of midsummer fairs and horses as we travel along it. One wonders if there’s some sort of Cosmic Joker sat behind it all, rubbing its hands gleefully, waiting for the crazy speculators or New-Age dreamers to proclaim a Divine Rule or something similar. Stranger things have happened…
…Like the midwinter alignment from Twelve Apostles…
From our humble stone circle we trek out, south-east this time, first passing the Black Beck Well [SE 1276 4495] and then an ancient boundary stone [SE 1357 4430], before reaching Odda’s Hill. Slightly past here and below Hawksworth Hall is the Alder’s Well [SE 1671 4168] where a ceremonial procession used to be performed starting at the Hall—but I have been unable to establish what time of year this occurred. But, just a little further on, our midwinter line comes to the Hawk Stone [SE 1792 4099] where, “legend tells that a man on horseback leapt from the top of the Hawk Stone and landed safely at Low Hall, Yeadon, 2500 yards east.”
A man on horseback, jumping over cliffs on a midwinter solstice line… Doesn’t that ring a bell somewhere…? What’s the hell’s going on here…?
There is a modern piece of folklore about the Apostles which has been written purely to see if others should simply repeat it without ascertaining its veracity. We find it in Andy Roberts’ book (1992) and the folklore and legends of Yorkshire. But his tale for the Twelve Apostles is without foundation. He wrote how,
“legend says it is impossible to count the stones correctly at the first attempt.” Adding, “From here the Wild Hunt, dead souls led by the devil, were said to fly out across the moortops in search of victims, and fairies have also been witnessed” here.
None of this is true! Andy told me he’d deliberately invented a few tales in his book for the fun of it — and that bit is one such invention! Soz Andy…
If our flying horses and solstice sunrises verge on the borderline of possibility, to many people the same cannot be said of the strange lights which have, from time to time, been seen around Twelve Apostles. Reports of ‘UFOs’ as they are generally known, should more accurately be described as ‘earthlights,’ or ELs. These are consciousness-sensitive light-forms which are known to interact with humans who come into close contact with them. The modern myth of them as spaceships is the latest in a long line of historic perspectives. In earlier times, people who saw these ELs transposed the thought of airships onto them. Before that, people saw the huge glowing eyes of phantom dogs and other entities emerge from them. Earlier still they were known as faerie-lights. Around the same periods they were devil-lights or witches on broomsticks. Some people saw them as gods, to which the lights accordingly responded. Religious folk have watched Jesus, the Virgin and angels emerge from these lights when they’ve got too close. But it must also be said that a great number of people who see such ELs see nothing but that: anomalous light-forms floating or darting about curiously, seemingly with a mind of their own.
One of these ELs certainly perplexed three members of the Royal Observer Corps in the summer of 1976 during exercises on the moors. Heading towards the Twelve Apostles they suddenly noticed a brilliant white sphere of light, seemingly hovering right above the stone circle at a low level. It made no manoeuvres other than, eventually, shooting straight upwards into the sky at remarkable speed and out of sight, without making a sound!
In July 1990, two witnesses who spent the night at the Backstone circle (a site with a considerable pedigree of supernatural events) watched another brilliant white ball of light about a mile away, low down on the horizon, move quickly and silently from the west until reaching Twelve Apostles, where it stood motionless for some time. It then backtracked rapidly at tremendous speed, before returning to the circle, executing a 180° turn without stopping or slowing down. It then flew back west and rapidly out of sight. Within seconds of this, the witnesses allege a military jet flew right over the moors following the trajectory of the object.
On a couple of occasions I’ve seen what geologists call ‘earthquake lights’ emerge from the ground immediately around Twelve Apostles at the dead of night, lighting the sky up for a considerable distance around the circle.
And that imaginative writer Nicholas Size (1934) reportedly watched the ghostly vision of a grand ritual procession from here.
Bennett, Paul, ‘Stone Circles of West Yorkshire,’ Earth 1, 1986.
Bennett, Paul, ‘The Megalithic Faults of Rombald’s Moor and District,’ Earth 14, 1989.