Legendary Rocks: OS Grid Reference – SD 97313 35737
Also Known as:
- Oakenden Stones
Takes a bitta getting to this spot, but it’s worth the effort! Make a day of it and walk up here via the little-known Cuckoo Stones monoliths. From here the walk gets steeper! Follow the footpath from the standing stones, uphill, to the legendary Wuthering Heights building of Bronte-fame a half-mile ahead of you. Then walk immediately up the slope at the side of the derelict house higher onto the moor (there’s no real footpath to follow) until the moorland levels out. From here, look west and walk that way for a few hundred yards where you’ll be seeing a large rock outcrop ahead of you. That’s where you’re heading! (if you reach the triangulation pillar, take the small path from there along the top of the moor towards this large rock outcrop)
Archaeology & History
To those of you who like a bitta wilderness, or healthy normal people I suppose, this is a stunning place! Even though there’s little by way of archaeology here — save the usual expectations of a few flints and arrowheads — its geomancy, its position in the landscape, makes it excel as a once important ritual site for our ancestors in not-so-distant centuries. Although local tradition gave these great rocks a prehistoric pedigree, the archaeological record doesn’t say as much — but that doesn’t really mean much up here. We’ve found a singular Bronze Age cairn on the level at Middle Moor Flat 400 yards northwest (not in the record books), some prehistoric walling on the flat east of here (not in the record books), so a lot more attention is needed hereby to see what more may be hiding in this rocky heathland area.
The main feature amidst this extensive scattering of rocks is the large rocking stone, said to weigh six- or seven-tons, resting upon other glacial deposits. The rock itself can be made to rock very slightly. It was described in Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary as a
“cromlech, an evident druidical remain, (which) consists of one flat stone, weight about six tons, placed horizontally upon two huge upright blocks.”
But the placement here was done by Nature and not humans — making it much more important to our ancestors. This was a site for solace, for ritual and to commune with the gods themselves. A few visits to this place show this quite clearly — unless you’re unable to relax that is! It’s a place I wanna spend more time working with, as the mythic history around these stones feels strong, despite their absence from written records.
The druidic sentiments espoused by Lewis were all but echoed by our otherwise sober historian, J. Horsfall Turner, in his history of Haworth (1879), where he describes the Alcomden Stones as “the remains of a Druid’s Altar.” On top of the main ‘altar stone’ are what could be ascribed as worn cup-markings, but it seems they’re Nature’s handiwork once again; though this wouldn’t deny them as having some significance to our ancestors. A number of other boulders amidst this mass of rocks also have what seem like cup-markings, but none of them can be said with any certainty to have been carved by people. Indeed, the entirety of this legendary rock outcrop seems to have been created solely by the spirits of Nature.
It was first described as ‘Alconley’ in 1371, then in the 1379 Poll Tax returns as ‘Halcom’, the etymology of which is difficult. Al- is a cliff or rock, many of which occur here; den is certainly a valley, over which we look to the northeast (to Ponden Kirk, 500 yards away); but the central element of ‘com‘ is the greatest puzzle. Blakeborough (1911) tells of the old Yorkshire word ‘con’ — found in the 1371 spelling — meaning “to scan, or observe critically,” which one can certainly apply here in a topographical sense, i.e., “observation stones above a valley.” It’s simple, succinct, and makes sense!
As Elizabeth Southwart (1923) rightly said,
“Our forefathers, instinct and imagination more highly developed than knowledge, peopled their woods with fairies and their valleys with ghosts. On the high, wind-swept spaces they built their altars to Unknown Gods.”
And such she thought was done at this “heap of rocks called Oakenden Stones.” It seems likely, as this place is superb for ritual magick and meditative systems. But all we have are the repeats of numerous old historians, from Whiteley Turner (1913) and his namesake J. Horsfall, to James Whalley, J.W. Parker and more, who recorded what the old locals said: that is was a place of the druids. There may be a grain of truth in it somewhere…
- Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
- Blakeborough, Richard, Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire, W. Rapp: Saltburn 1911.
- Parker, J.W., Guide to the Bronte Country, J.W. Parker: Haworth n.d. (c.1971)
- Southwart, Elizabeth, Bronte Moors and Villages: From Thornton to Haworth, John Lane Bodley Head: London 1923.
- Turner, J. Horsfall, Haworth, Past and Present, Hendon Mill: Nelson 1879.
- Turner, Whiteley, A Spring-Time Saunter round and about Bronte Lane, Halifax Courier 1913.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian