From Bettyhill village, take the A836 road west towards Tongue. Several miles along the road, keep your eyes peeled for Borgie and Skerray on your right. Go down here for half-a-mile or so until, a hundred yards or so before the Borgie Hotel, a dirt-track on your right takes you down into some trees. As you enter the edge of the woodland, right by the trackside on your left, a large stone lays in the grass. A few yards from this is the hole in the ground.
Archaeology & History
When I was first shown this place, I could find no previous description of it in any of the archaeological records. I was fortunate in being taken here by one of the land-owners hereby, who told me that it had been known about locally for some years – but informing the archaeologists (patronizing as they were to the people hereby, as can be the case sometimes) was the last thing on their minds….
Immediately beneath the ridge where the Borgie chambered cairn once stood, the site was uncovered quite by accident when a local man went to move a large stone on the grassy embankment, to make use of it in walling or something similar. But much to his surprise, the boulder covered the entrance to an underground chamber known as a souterrain – inside which, local lore tends to tell, the little people once stayed. It’s an impressive structure! When Donna Murray took me to see this a few months ago, she said it was only a few yards long – but once I’d got inside, found it to be much longer than this. After dropping perhaps six feet down into the hollow, the very well-preserved wide chamber beneath – some 6-8 feet across – curved around to the north-northeast and into pitch blackness. I walked perhaps ten yards into the chamber, completely upright, and as the chamber curved and went further into the Earth, the pitch black stopped me venturing more.
The walls of the souterrain were very well structured indeed and were made up of hundreds of good-sized stones, akin to those used to build old stone walling in our northern hills. The floor was, typically, muddy and apart from a scatter of a few stones I could see little by way of a ‘floor’ beneath my feet (but it was dark!). However, the roofing was made up of large flat stones measuring 6-8 feet across, as wide as the structure itself, running parallel all along the chamber. I did not walk to the end of the chamber – but would assume that this roofing continued to the end of the souterrain.
In a number of souterrains we find examples of cup-and-ring carvings (the one at Pitcur, Perthshire, being one of the very best), but I could discern no such petroglyphs inside this chamber. However, considering how dark it was, another investigation with torches is necessary before any definitive remarks regarding internal petroglyphs can be made.
It’s in damn good condition indeed and is well worth looking at if you venture this far north. Other unrecorded prehistoric monuments are found all over this remote landscape – from cup-and-rings, to stone circles, to tombs, enclosures, cairns, you name it! If anyone knows of any permanent rental properties up here – please let me know and get in touch so that I can spend the rest of my life working here meandering, discovering and recording the prehistory of this truly archaic landscape! I’m serious!
Acknowledgements: Immense thanks to Donna from Borgie, for showing me this ancient monument and other sites.
This is a strange one. A really strange one….. The site would not have even been written about had it not been for James Elkington pushing me to make its existence visible to a wide audience. As with many sites that I’ve rediscovered, this is one of many that I never seem to write about, for various reasons…although I did do a short piece on it (Bennett 2001) many years back in a little earth mysteries mag, but kept the location quiet. But now, James has got me to change my mind about it. If anyone can throw any light onto what they think this site might be, feel free to let us know. With the exception of is early history, this is its story…
One weekend in the early Spring of 1977, Jon Tilleard and I made our weekly wander onto the southern edges of Rombalds Moor, doing little as usual apart from maybe seeking out the curious cup-and-ring stones and other ancient remains, along with walking through the obligatory bogs and wetlands, getting filthy and wet through as healthy kids do at that age. After making our way to Horncliffe Well (generally our first point of call most weeks), we decided to head straight west, off-path as always, and eventually sat ourselves down for something to eat near Wicking Crags on Bingley Moor.
As we packed up again, readying ourselves to walk further onto the moor, John stood upright. In doing so, he dislodged a stone by his feet—right where I was still sitting on the ground!
“Watch out!” he exclaimed loudly—and I quickly rolled forward to get out of the way of the impending stone. Thankfully it wasn’t too big. But then as I turned round to see what had happened, I saw John stood on the small rocky rise he’d been sitting upon—and right beneath his feet, the stone that he’d dislodged had been hiding a very curious secret indeed…
As the photos show, a small opening led into the Earth right underneath where Jon had been sitting. The stone he’d accidentally kicked away had covered and sealed a previously unrecorded entrance. Now, after however many centuries it had been closed and secret, he’d uncovered it again. For us two fourteen-year-old lads gazing into this passageway, our imaginations started running riot!
“What the hell izzit!?”—we must have exclaimed a dozen times or more to each other! To this day, we still don’t know.
I’m not sure how long we stayed here after we’d first found it, but before we left we made sure that the covering stone which had sealed the entrance was propped back upright, securely, so that no one else could find it. The site was quite a way off-path, at the head of a very large boggy area where—to this day—people very rarely walk (in all my years of walking these moors, I’ve yet to see another human walking in this area).
In looking into the tunnel for the very first time, the ground on the outside was of course covered by the usual moorland vegetation; but an inch behind where the stone had sealed this tunnel, the floor was grey dust, all the way in. There were no animal tracks, neither mice nor others, no droppings, no nothing (which we thought was rather unusual). No plants of any form were evident. This ‘door’ had been closed for a very long time it seemed. …Today if you visit the site, ferns and other small plants have encroached several feet into the tunnel.
The entrance itself is about 14 inches across, and from the ground to the top covering stone the entrance is less than 12 inches high, showing quite clearly that no humans can walk in or out of it. Which added to the puzzle: what the hell is it? And why was it sealed with a covering stone? But the more we looked (it became our regular port of call each time we were on the moors) the more obvious it became that a huge amount of work had gone into creating this antiquarian oddity.
As Winter came and cleared all the vegetation surrounding the site, we got an increasingly clear picture of it. But this wasn’t before we tried to get inside! Jon and I failed, but our torches showed that it went in for about 20-30 feet or so and then appeared to be stop, blocked by another stone. Thankfully I had a younger brother, Phil, who was seven-year old at the time—so we took him up to have a look at the place. We figured that only a small person could get inside the tunnel, but we didn’t tell him this (nor my parents!) until we arrived.
With torch in hand, Phil slithered into the entrance and, eventually, his little feet disappeared into the ground. He didn’t seem too happy about it as I remember—but I was his big brother! (cruel – cruel – cruel!) Shouting back down to us as he slithered further and further in, when he reached the blocking stone in the tunnel he exclaimed—”You can go round it!”
We were excited.
“Keep going Phil,” we urged. But he wouldn’t.
“I’m scared Paul,” he said. “I won’t be able to get back out”—or something along those lines. And he was probably right.
But he managed to get his young tiny body slightly round the blocking stone that he’d reached and shone the torch-light down the extended tunnel. He told that the it just kept going into the hill still further, keeping the same size and dimensions and straightness for about the same distance again—but then it started to curve very slightly, bending to the left (northwest) until it disappeared underneath the entire hillside, stretching out of sight. It seemed from his description, subsequently, that the tunnel went on for another 50 feet at least.
Once he was safely back out, he reiterated how far in it seemed to go. We walked up the hill under which it had been built and Phil bimbled to roughly where he thought the tunnel was as he saw it with the torchlight. Standing on the hilltop, this was obviously an extraordinary feat as there are thousands of tons of rock and earth covering it! Curiously, years later, a dowser who visited the place walked the same route that Phil had described when he went inside it (we told the dowser nothing of Phil’s venture until afterwards).
When all the moorland vegetation has died back, you can clearly see how the tunnel has been built upon by a large mass of earth and rocks, some of them loose. All round it is an extended collapse of what seems to be quarried stone tumbling down the hillside. At the top of the hill are the remains of old walling and at least two walled structures—although they appear to be post-medieval in nature, not prehistoric. At the entrance itself is evidence of continued walling of some form. It seems as if a wider man-made chamber of some sort may once have stood here, right in front of the present-day entrance. Even if this proves not to be the case, there is very clear evidence that the tunnel which goes into the hillside was once longer, as low walling continues outside away from the entrance, bending away some 50 yards to the southeast, before ending with no indication of additional structural remains. This walled structure swerving out from the entrance is equally perplexing.
The closest prehistoric feature is an unrecorded cairn and petroglyph a few hundred yards away. As far as I’m concerned, this tiny little entrance into the ground isn’t prehistoric. But I’m nonetheless still very intrigued by it, not least because of a few very strange things that subsequently occurred here after we’d discovered it.
Whoever did this, went to a helluva lot of trouble and immense effort to build it. And for what? …Since being opened nearly 40 years ago, very few people have been to see this curious entrance into the Earth. I’ve kept its location hidden. But amongst the visitors has been an archaeologist, a historian, antiquarian authors, occultists and friends. None have been able to say what this site might be. From souterrains to mine-shafts, probably the best suggestion so far was by Mr Paul Hornby who suggested it might have been some sort of kiln, as there seems evidence of fire against one of the stones. But there are anomalies with the site that don’t quite fit the glove of a normal kiln. The extended collapsed ‘tunnel’ which reaches way out, past the entrance which Jon broke in the 1970s, doesn’t make sense; nor the fact that the tunnel goes way into the natural hillside. Indeed, many things here don’t make sense, simply—I presume—because we haven’t asked the right question yet.
But one thing seems obvious: there may be something at the end of this tunnel, deep inside the hill, which someone many centuries ago, for some odd reason, wanted to keep hidden for a long long time. What’s at the end of this tunnel? And if it’s valuable treasure deep in there—it is NOT going to some museum which then, in later years, will be sold off cheaply to some wealthy dood when the museum runs out of money. It should be kept within the safe holdings of The Northern Antiquarian. If this becomes an issue, whatever lies at the end will simply be re-buried elsewhere.
On that fine Spring morning when we first discovered this “mine shaft for little people” as we called it, before we went on our way, we placed the stone that Jon had dislodged that had covered the entrance back into position so that no one could see the opening leading into the ground and under the hill. It was firm and secure when we left—we made sure of it.
The following Sunday morning we made our way back up past Horncliffe Well again and onto this little mine-shaft to sit and have summat to eat. The rocky arena here made it difficult to locate, even though we knew where it was. But when we eventually did find it again, the covering-stone was missing. In fact it had been rolled a good 5 yards away from the entrance. This was odd, we thought—considering that no one even knew of its existence. We wondered if an animal had taken up residence inside, but there were no tracks or remains consistent with this initial idea. We puzzled about it, ate our food, and said our au revoirs. Before we left, we repositioned the covering stone again to block the entrance. This time we made it a little more secure than previously.
The following Sunday morning we visited the site again—and the covering stone had been removed, again! So we replaced it, securely, and visited the place a week later—and the same thing had happened again. This occurred time after time, month after month, year after year. Every single time we covered the entrance, something came and removed it. Yet no one ever comes on this section of the moorland—and even if they did, the site is very difficult to locate. Until now, the site has never been added to any archaeology or history records anywhere—so no one knew of its existence (in asking two of the moorland rangers who’ve worked here over the decades, neither of them knew what we were talking about).
When Andrew Hammond and I left school at 18 (in 1981), we decided as a ritual to bring our school books onto the moor and burn them as the sun was setting in the northwest. We sat near the little mine-shaft and sang our songs of joys at being out of school at last—and as the darkness began to fall over the moor, we replaced the entrance-stone again. Within 30 minutes Nature had cast pitch black across the moor and we fell asleep.
Awaking at sunrise the following day, we wandered down the slope to the little mine-shaft where we’d repositioned the stone only hours previously. It had been moved again, several yards away from the position Jon Tilleard first dislodged it from, several years previously.
No animal tracks, droppings, or any evidence whatsoever of Nature’s creatures being responsible for the constant removal of the covering stone has ever been found. The constant removal of the covering stone remains a complete mystery.
When a dowser came and tried tracing the underground route of the tunnel in the early 1990s, his rods took him to the top of the rocky hill above, then led him in a small curve to the northwest for more than 100 yards before stopping.
In the event that archaeologists ever get round to excavating or assessing this site, I would appreciate being contacted before anything is done and would love to be involved in any work performed at the site. I’ll be a good boy! Other remains nearby (usually covered by heather) need appraising to enable a more complete analysis, otherwise all subsequent reports would lack wider archaeocentric contextualization. Thanks, in advance. 🙂
Bennett, Paul., ‘Into a Mythic Domain – a Passage into the Ilkley Underworld,’ in Northern Earth, 87, Autumn 2001.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to James Elkington for use of his photos to illustrate this site profile.