Legendary Rock (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – HP 5223 0467
Archaeology & History
Whilst classifying this as a “legendary” rock, it was as much a functional stone that played an integral part of local village life in the 19th century and, most probably, way before that. This large stone possessed a large cavity in the shape of a giant human footprint, measuring 12 inch by 4 inch. It could be seen “above the Deeks of Bracon, North Yell, up Hena”, but when first described in 1865, it was said to be “no longer in existence.” Despite this, when an Ordnance Survey dood came looking for it in 1969, he reported it as “still in existence” and known of by local people. Is there anyone in the far far north who can tell us?
The impression of the large footprint was natural, but the use to which local people made of it is valuable when we seek to understand pre-industrial customs. The Royal Commission (1946) lads echoed the folklore handed down by J.T. Irvine from 1865, telling that,
“Formerly the people used to wash in dew or rain-water that had gathered in the cavity and stand in it to get rid of warts. The tradition was that a giant had planted one foot here and the other on a stone on the Westing of Unst.”
Healing stones with such properties can be found everywhere on Earth.
Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland – volume 3, HMSO: Edinburgh 1946.
There is no written history of this site; only the quiet murmurings of a few locals whose families go back to when the english came and destroyed the people and their lives in the 18th and 19th century in the ethnic cleansing we known as The Clearances. As with the Darach nan Sith (the Oak of the Fairies) a few miles away, the local traditions were lost, and ancient monuments destroyed. Thankfully, due to the remote location of this site, its status remains….
It is found 2000 feet up, near an old derelict village (english academic romancers term it as ‘sheilings’). An ancient track and stone bridge runs over the burn nearby, place-names evidence tells of a prehistoric tomb a few hundred yards west, and there’s a dispersal of forgotten human evidences scattering the south-side of the mountain all along here. The clach (stone) sits on the very top of a large earthfast rock; is an elongated loaf-sized smooth red-coloured stone, about 14 inches long and 8 inches wide, and of a different type and much heavier than the local rock hereby. It is said to have been a healing stone, used in earlier times to cure warts and other ailments.
My first venture here was, like many in this area, amidst a dreaming. Those who amble the hills properly, know what I mean. I cut across the mountain slopes diagonally, zigzagging as usual, always off-path, resting by mossy stones and drinking the waters here and there. My nose took me to the mass of giant rocks hedging into the higher regions of Allt Ghaordaidh: a pass betwixt the rounded giants of Meall Ghoaordie and Meall Cnap Laraich, where only eagles and Taoist romancers might roam.
The great rock comes upon you pretty easily. Approaching it for the first time I wondered whether there might be petroglyphs on or around it, but the rich depth of lichens and its curious crowning elongated stone stopped any further thought on the matter. The setting, the eagles, the colour of day and the fast waters close by, stole all such thoughts away. In truth I must have walked back and forth and near-slept below the place for an hour or two before I gave way to rational focus! And then my curiosity got even more curious.
“This must be the place,” I mused, several times.
As you can see in the photo, a large natural earthfast boulder, six feet high or more, like a giant Badger Stone covered in centuries of primal lichens, has a large deep red-coloured stone on its very crown. The stone is unlike any of the local rock and is very heavy. I found this out when trying to prize it from its rocky mount, dislodging it slightly from the seeming aeons of vegetation that held it there. But the moment I moved it, just an inch or so above its parent boulder, a quiet voice inside me rose sharply into focus.
“You shouldn’t have done that!”
Quickly I set it back into place, shaking my head at what I’d done. One of those curious feelings you get at these places sometimes wouldn’t leave me, however much I tried to shake it off. …Silly though it may sound, the echoes inside kept saying over and over to me, “you’re gonna get warts now you’ve done that!” Logically, of course, that made no sense whatsoever. I’d only ever had one wart in my life, a couple of decades ago. And yet, a few days later, one of the little blighters emerged on my finger! So there was only one thing for it! If this was a Wart Stone, I should revisit it again and place my afflicted finger back onto the wart and ask it to be taken back into the stone.
A week or so later, I clambered all the way up the mountainside again and asked the place to forgive my stupidity and take back the wart. Apologising to the spirit of the stone, I rubbed my finger on the curious coloured rock and, I have to be honest, didn’t know what to expect.
I spent the next few hours meandering here and there over the hills and cast the thought of the Wart Stone back into my unconscious. But a few days later it had started shrinking – and within a week, had completely gone! This faint relic of an older culture, this Clach na Foinne had performed its old ways again, as in animistic ages past…
At Bradford City’s football ground there used to be the holy well known as the Holy Ash Well, adjacent to which was this old stone (as shown on the 1852 OS map). For some reason it was uprooted and moved further up the hill around the end of the 19th century and was resurrected beside the old Belle Vue Hotel on Manningham Lane. From thereon however, I’ve not been able to trace what happened to it, and presume it’s been destroyed. It was known by local people to have had a ritual relationship with the adjacent healing well, to which people were said to visit from far and wide.
It seems to have been described first by Abraham Holroyd (1873), who told us that:
“In Manningham Lane there is a fine well, in old deeds called Hellywell, i.e., holy well, in a field now called Halliwell Ash, now a stone quarry… Near this is the ancient Pin Stone.”
The Bradford historian William Preston also made mention of the stone in one of his early surveys, where he told how local people also knew the stone as the Ash Stone, due to its proximity and ritual relationship to a great old tree.
Also known as the Wart Stone, thanks to its ability to cure them and other skin afflictions. Intriguingly, the building which now stands on the site is said to be haunted.
As my old school-mate, Dave Pendleton (1997), said of the place and its associated well:
“Prior to 1886 the only feature of any real note in the Valley Parade environs was a holy well that emerged near the corner of the football grounds Midland Road and Bradford End stands; hence the road Holywell Ash Lane. Today the site of the well is covered by the football pitch.
Only the road name survives as a reminder of what was apparently one of the district’s foremost attractions. On Sundays and holidays people would gather to take the waters and leave pins, coins, rags and food as offerings to the spirit that resided in the waters.
Accounts suggest that the well was covered and had a great ash tree standing over it (hence ‘holy ash’). There was also a standing stone called the wart stone of unknown antiquity. The stone had a carved depression that collected water. It was believed that the water was a miraculous cure for warts. Indeed, as early as 1638 the Holy Well had been credited with healing powers.
The well suffered a decline in popularity during the late nineteenth century and its keepers resorted to importing sulphur water from Harrogate, which they sold for a half penny per cup. The well disappeared under the Valley Parade pitch during the summer of 1886 and the wart stone was moved to the top of Holywell Ash Lane – which then ran straight up to Manningham Lane. The stone was still there as late as 1911 but thereafter it seems to have disappeared into the mists of time.”
Unfortunately we have no old photos or drawings of this lost standing stone – though I imagine that some local, somewhere must be able to help us out with this one. Surely there’s summat hiding away…
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.