The Swastika Damage

Grid Ref: SE0955746967

From Ilkley, head up the road towards White Wells and keep going along the road.  Shortly before the road becomes a dirt-track, just over a small stone bridge with gorse all around, there’s a noticeable footpath that runs west onto the moors, going roughly parallel to the wealthy houses by the moorside.  Keep going along this footpath and you’ll hit the recently unneeded modern creation of a large sandy trackway (and excessive litter that it’s created) that takes you straight to the curious railings stuck upon some rocks a quarter-mile away. That’s where you’re going!

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We have a totally ancient and unique carving on Ilkley moor, the Swastika stone.  Discovered 200 years ago, the carving is a beautiful amoeba shape, perched on a high ridge overlooking the Wharfe valley. The design has a double outline with four curved arms enclosing several ‘cup’ marks, the like of which can be found on other stones nearby. It also has a small hooked tail at one end. It is similar to the Camunian Rose found in Italy.

The stone was named the Swastika stone when first discovered as it resembled an ancient Swastika shape, a sign for good luck or fire. There are numerous theories as to who carved it, how old it is and what it’s significance is. A quick look on Google will bring up lots of conflicting views. It it generally thought to be about 4000 years old, but experts cannot agree on that.

The Swastika Stone. The Victorian carving is prominent – the original can just be seen on the far stone near the little white pebble. Probably 99% of all visitors who see the copy think it is the original Swastika.

The carving is surrounded by iron railings and secured with a heavy steel padlock. It is possible to scale the railings, but this would be quite difficult – and dangerous. The stone is on a well worn path and many walkers come this way to admire the views – and the stone. There are many other prehistoric carvings on this ridge but the Swastika is the famous one.

I was passing this way last week, and to my horror I notced that someone had scaled the railings and carved graffiti all over the stones. There were Nazi Swastikas and the words ‘Heil’ scratched across the stones in a deliberate act of vandalism.

I was totally at a loss why anyone would do this.

Over the years I have had dealings with a couple of archaeologists, and I contacted Ian Sanderson at West Yorkshire Archaeological Services and sent him some photos of the damage. Ian contacted Historic England to report the damage, and also sent a member of his team to assess it. Her report is here:

The carved rock itself has a Nazi swastika and the word HIEL (sic) written across and some of the less distinct markings.  A swastika has also been scored to each of the north, east and west faces of the bedrock outside of the railed area. No marks have been made on the 19th swastika copy.

I think the graffiti has been created by using a stone to scratch across the carved rocks, probably a stone from the limestone hard-core used for footpaths as, close to, the markings have a similar slight yellowy colour.

There is a padlock to a door in the railings and it appeared to be secure. The railings surrounding 3 sides of the carved stone, they are spiked and as high as an adult, and the fourth side is a sheer drop down some significant distance, so to get onto the carved rock would be difficult without help – the open side maybe can be accessed with rock climbing skills?  The scoring of a swastika on the north side with the sheer drop could be done if someone had got onto the rock and leaned over that face.

I think that the marks, which are undoubtedly ugly, are superficial and can probably be reduced in clarity by using water and a cloth, but only if access is allowed through the padlocked gate!

Ian also told us that they were unable to clean the damage as thy didn’t have funding or resources, and that the stones were not in ‘Guardianship’. The landowner would be responsible for the stones. Legally, only an archaeologist is allowed to clean the stones. Last year I watched an archaeologist, Stefen Maeder clean some detritus from the nearby Panorama stones. These too are protected by a railing and Stefan got the keys from Bradford Council. I emailed Stefan to see if he could help but he is in Germany, but he gave me a contact within Bradford Council – who I rang but got no reply.

I also posted on our Facebook group (I am an Admin) ‘The Northern Antiquarian‘ for help. Most people were shocked, but were unable to provide much advice other than to offer suggestions as to how to clean it. Even if I managed to get the keys (doubtful) I wouldn’t be allowed in to clean the stones – and I wouldn’t want to. It would mean getting hold of an archaeologist who specialises in this sort of work.

Someone suggested that I contact ‘The Friends of Ilkley Moor‘ –  they are a large group who probably know one or two archaeos who could help. I got an email back from the Chair, a nice chap called Owen who said he will take a look.

Yesterday, after lots of rain, a lady posted on the Facebook Group these photographs showing the stones starting to get clean. Maybe it is just that the scratchings are hard to see on the wet stones, but it is encouraging nonetheless.

Lets hope that the damage isn’t permanent and that Mother Nature (and any archaeos that are interested and have the funding) can clean up this ugly mess. And that nothing else happens to these ancient and precious stones that are our heritage.

You can find out more about the Swastika stone here.

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The Souterraine

Map Ref: NO 2529 3738

From Coupar Angus, take the A923 road southeast for nearly 2½ miles where you reach the crossroads.  Keeping walking along the A923 for just over 300 yards, then where you come to the second field on your left, follow the line of fencing the slope until you reach an overgrown fenced section.  It’s in there!

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This is an absolutely gorgeous site, and one that I will remember exploring for a very long time. It is the ‘Pitcur Souterraine’, and it’s located in the Scottish highlands in a farmers field. If you enter ‘souterraine’ in Google, you will get results back for a French village, or a restaurant, or anything for that matter except an Iron Age underground structure.

This one is about 10 ft. below ground, and is a couple of hundred feet long. It is roofless, similar to a trench, and snakes along until it meets a ‘doorway’ at one end, then it enters an underground chamber maybe 15 yards long – but the end is terminated by a roof fall so it probably much longer.

No one really knows what they were used for, but a secure pen for cattle, and grain storage have been suggested. But personally I can’t see either of these being correct. Grain would probably get damp, and I doubt that cattle would fit along the trench-like sides and besides, probably easier to build a wall.

Paul and I arrived here on a beautiful autumn afternoon, and approached the souterraine rather gingerly. It is impossible to see it unless you are nearly on top of it. The sides are crumbly and steep, and the grass and bracken made it difficult to get down. But once we were in the trench, the cool air made exploring a joy. We scrambled along the trench floor, until we eventually came to the doorway.

Prehistoric carvings were placed in the wall next to the entrance, and we cautiously went into the darkness. It reminded me a bit of when I used to go caving, but this one was bone dry – and completely still. Scrambling to the end, we sat for awhile in silence, feeling the peace and wondering who built this, and why, so many thousands of years ago.

The site was discovered in 1878, when a plough hit a large stone and was removed to reveal an underground passage. A couple of excavations revealed several hundred finds – all sadly lost. These included a bronze pin and some beads, as well as a bowl and some Roman coins. The site was obviously completely buried, and had at least one entrance, probably filled in. There are a couple of large carvings surrounding the trench, but these may have been moved here during the excavation.

Folklore says that there was a community of ‘clever’ little people, ‘the merry elfins’, and that they lived at the site, but little else is known about the place.

Whatever the folklore and archaeology of the site, it is an amazing place to visit and well worth it if you are in the area. This is one of several souterraines in this part of Scotland, but is one of the best preserved.

Whilst we were visiting, we saw a farmer coming towards us. I was aware that we were on private land, and that we didn’t seek permission to be here. But this chap just gave us a friendly wave and carried on his way.

More information on this fascinating site can be found here.

The Strange Afterlife of the Reverend Robert Kirk

Getting there:

From Glasgow follow the A81 north to Aberfoyle.

From Stirling follow the A84(T), A873 then A81 west to Aberfoyle.

From Callander follow the A81 south to Aberfoyle or, for a more scenic route, take the A821 – known as The Duke’s Pass – via The Trossachs.

The car park is in the centre of Aberfoyle, just off the main street behind the Tourist Information Centre.

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The Reverend Robert Kirk was a strange fellow. He was a native of Aberfoyle, born in the manse in 1644, the seventh son of Reverend James Kirk. Despite having an extremely poor upbringing, against all odds he excelled himself and managed to get a place at a local school. He progressed well, attending the University at Edinburgh and eventually graduating with a Master of Arts degree. Kirk became minister of Balquhidder in 1664, and later of Aberfoyle, from 1685 until his death In 1692.

Despite Kirk being a Mnister of the cloth, and a strict interpretation of the Christian faith had made its force felt in every corner of the nation, he also believed implicity in fairies.

Kirk walked every night to the hill of Doon just outside the village. He used to lie with his ear to the ground and listen to the noises that apparantly eminated from the fairy realm. It is said that he normally only left when his wife came to get him – anxious as she was over her husband’s nightly escapades. He even stated that he had communicated with the fairies of Doon Hill, which he called “The People of Peace”. It is said that he used to preach in church about the fairies, much to the consternation of the congregation.

Along with his own personal experiences, he also collected folklore of the fairies and somewhere between 1691-2 he created a manuscript entitled ‘The Secret Commonwealth’, detailling all he knew of the ‘little folk’. Unfortunately he died before it could be published. He had gone to the hill of Doon one evening, as was his custom, and his body was later found lying on the hill. In 1815, Scottish author Walter Scott came across Kirks manuscript and published it. Folklore scholars consider The Secret Commonwealth one of the most important and authoritative works on fairy folk beliefs.

Popular legend says that Kirk’s coffin is empty, or filled with stones, as the fairys have taken his body to their realm to be the ‘Minister to the Fairy Queen’.

One of the little houses on the trail – done for kids really, but cute nonetheless

A couple of friends and I were in the area recently, we had gone to see if the salmon were leaping in the next burn. It made sense to have a visit to Doon hill, so on a wet and misty autumn afternoon, weI walked the ‘fairy trail’ from the village of Aberfoyle to the top of the hill. It is a beautiful, mysterious place – made all the more so by the mist over the surrounding mountains.

The Ministers Pine – with ribbons and wishes tied to it

Passing some cute little ‘fairy houses’ carved into tree trunks, (it is promoted as a walk suitable for children), we got to the ‘Ministers Pine’ at the top of the hill without too much exertion. Ribbons surround the trunk, and people have written wishes on cards and have tied them to the ribbons….who says the old beliefs are dead.

Mist over the village of Aberfoyle

You can read the Secret Commonwealth here.

The Last Witch to be Burnt in Perthshire

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Along the A822 road past Crieff and then Gilmerton, shortly past here is a small road to Monzie and the Glenturret Distillery or Famous Grouse Experience. Go on this road and after a just a coupla hundred yards you’ll see the large old gatehouse for Monzie Castle on the left. Ask at the gatehouse and they’ll point you to the stone—in the field about 300 yards past the Monzie stone circle, 200 yards past the gatehouse itself.  You can’t really miss it!

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Pity poor Kate McNiven, for her fate was a terrible one.

Kate was a nurse at nearby Monzie Castle, and was a well known healer, who – amongst other things – could turn herself into a bee.

She must have fallen out with someone at the castle, as before long she was being accused as a witch. Kate was seized, taken up a very steep hill known as the Knock of Crieff to the north of the town, forced into a barrel and rolled down the side. The slope down which she was pushed is now called Kate McNiven’s Craig.

If that wasn’t enough, she was then dragged out of the barrel and set alight (just to make sure, presumably)…

The Witches Stone – on the site of Kates burning. In reality it is a prehistoric standing stone and thousands of years older than the legend of Kate McNiven

One of the Grahams of Inchbrackie (which is a neighbouring property) tried to save Kate, but to no avail. In gratitude she spat out of her mouth a bead into Graham’s hand – which on closer examination turned out to be a sapphire from a ring. Kate told Graham that as long as his family kept the bead they would prosper (in truth, they may have but Inchbrackie Castle has gone and the lands were sold in 1882).

Before McNiven was burnt she cursed the Laird of Monzie and the Village of Monzie itself.

From father to son, Monzie shall never pass; no heir of line should ever hold the lands now held by him

She then proceeded to curse the Kirktoun of Monzie;

In future years, its size and population should decrease, it should hold no share in all the growing prosperity of the surrounding towns, and ever by some hearth amidst its cottage homes there should crawl an idiot with lolling tongue and rolling eyes.

There is a modern-day rhyme in the village of Monzie that regards Nevin;

As long as the Shaggie rins crookit and bent
there’ll be a Witch o Mon-ie
And she’ll ne’er be kent

I don’t know why she didn’t just turn herself into a bee and buzz off!

The Giant’s Headless Body

Map Ref: SD 99034 35709 Landranger Map Number: OL21

Easy to get to, and a gorgeous walk too.

Several place to park – it you want a long walk, park in Haworth (beware, some car parks are extortionate and clamp if you are even a couple of minutes late). Or, you can go through the village until you find Moorside Lane and there is a car park there. If unsure, ask at the Tourist Offce or a local.

Pickup the trail for the ‘Bronte Waterfall’, and then go over the bridge and onto the open moorland – signposted ‘Top Withens’. Follow the path for 3 quarters of a mile, then look to your right and the stone is 20 feet away.

This can be a long walk – depending where you park, and how far you walk. If you go all the way to Top Withins (and I recommend you do – it can take at least 2 or 3 hours from the Moorside Lane car park and back, and maybe 5 from Haworth village.

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This legend concerns a prehistoric standing stone which is at the side of the track to Top Withins – named ‘The Cuckoo Stone’.

The Cuckoo Stone

An unnamed giant lived on these moors – he wasn’t a good giant, he was a bad giant and he robbed and persecuted the folk who lived round about. The locals needed a hero who would fight and kill the giant, and after many years they found one. After a great fight, the giant was beaten, and just as he was about to die, he used his magic power to turn himself into the Cuckoo Stone.

But our unnamed hero was smart – he realised that the head is the source of the soul, and he chopped off the top of the Cuckoo Stone and rolled it down the hill to the beck below – thus seperating the head from the body and destroying the giant forever.

I visited this stone in late August 2018, it is in a beautiful location surrounded in a sea of heather. After spending a while with the stone, reimagining the legend, I set off to ‘Top Withins’ higher up the moor.

Top Withins is said to be the inspiration for Emily Bronte’s famous novel ‘Wuthering Heights’, the Heights being the Earnshaw home in the book. It is a wild, lonely place and is in a perfect setting with the beautiful Yorkshire moors all around.

It is several years since I walked up there and as it was a lovely late summer day I took lots of photographs and enjoyed the hike.

Enjoy the photos, and the moors!

Top Withens

For much more information, I suggest you read the Northern Antiquarian article here.

St Gregory’s Minster

Map Ref: SE8667594943

From Pickering in North Yorkshire, take the A170 towards Helmsley. Go through the market town of Kirkbymoorside, and after a mile or so you will see a road marked ‘Kirkdale’. Take this for a mile, then turn left. The Minster is in front of you.

I recently had a commission to photograph this lovely ancient church in Ryedale in North Yorkshire. The church is set in a beautiful, peaceful location near a river, and when I got there several sheep were lazily grazing between the old gravestones.

This church is very, very old – and you can feel the age of the place just by being there in the lovely surroundings. The church was erected on the site of an earlier building and was built between the dates 1055-1065.

We know this as there is a huge old sundial in the porch of the church and an inscription – in Old English – reads “Orm, the son of Gamal, bought St Gregory’s church when it was broken and fallen, and had it made anew from the ground in honour of Christ and St Gregory, in the days of Edward the King and Tosti the Earl”.

“Edward” is the Confessor. “Tosti” is better known to us as Tostig, brother to King Harold who was famously defeated by William the Conqueror in 1066. So it is easy to date it. Tostig was Earl of Northumberland between 1065-1066. The sundial is remarkable as it was plastered over for 700 years, the plaster being removed in 1771, thus preserving it so well.

Ancient Anglo Saxon or Viking crosses added to the outer wall, 9th or 10th century

Ancient Anglo Saxon or Viking crosses added to the outer wall, 9th or 10th century

Orm was a significant figure in Northumbria and he married Aethelthryth, daughter of Earl Ealdred of Northumberland. He was a major landowner within the Ryedale area. St Gregory’s was a minster church, that is one which is associated with monks who took the Word of God to surrounding villages and communities.

Inside the church are two extroardinary tomb slabs, which experts believe date back to the 8th and 9th centuries, suggesting that the original church may date as far back as AD750!

Tomb slabs dating back to the 8th and 9th century

Tomb slabs dating back to the 8th and 9th century

There are several additional designs on the outside walls which help determine the great age of this church. A beautiful woven design, possibly from a cross shaft and two Anglo Saxon or Viking crosses date from the 9th and 10th centuries.

St Gregory’s isn’t unique – there are plenty of other ancient churches about, with their equally beautiful and precious treasures. But I do like this one, it must surely be one of the best locations anywhere for a church to be built. It was just so nice to spend a couple of quiet hours away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and meditate amongst it’s ancient stones.

If you wish for more information about this old church you can read about it here.

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Malo Cross

Map Ref: SE8667594943 Landranger Map Number: 94

Easy to get to, and a lovely walk too

From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole of Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately 100 yards until you meet the MOD sign. Take the left path along the side of the woods, then at the end take the right fork. Follow the path along the side of the ridge for about a mile and a half. Enjoy the views!

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I love old crosses, especially those that are just stuck in the middle of nowhere. I find them quite sad in a funny sort of way, as though they once belonged to a time long gone.

The North Yorks Moors has an abundance of old crosses. and as I don’t know this area as well as I should I set out to find one. Looking at the maps and websites, I chose one not too far away. We are in the midst of a heatwave at the moment and didn’t fancy too long a hike in 28 degree heat.

Malo cross isn’t that old, but it’s location seemed just right – a couple of miles there and the same back. I could have done a circular but it was quite too hot for walking far and I wanted to be back in time to watch England play footy! And there is a bit of a mystery associated with it – although probably not supernatural.

An ancient track along a ridge eventually takes you to the cross

Past an ancient Tumulus

The walk to the cross is just superb – by the side of a short wood, then along a large ridge with spectacular views over the North Yorks Moors that are really superb, although it was a bit hazy. Then down an ancient path towards the cross. The grass was dry and the sheep, still not shorn, were lying in the shadows keeping cool.

Views over the superb North Yorks Moors.

I came across a party of young hikers – maybe 7 or 8, all about school age and a chap in his mid 30’s, he was obviously ‘in charge’ of them and he stopped me and asked for directions. Turned out he didn’t have a map of the area (none of them did) and after looking at mine, he realised they were quite a way from where he thought they were. They had also run out of drinks – and I passed around my bottle to the ones who seemed most needy. There was a farm house about a mile away and I pointed them towards that – maybe they could get a drink there and ring someone for a lift. But that decided it for me, any doubts I had of doing the circular were dashed as I now only had a little bit of water left and it was a very hot day.

Malo Cross

Anyway, back to the cross. It is situated where 4 paths meet (often suicides were buried at crossroads so their Spirit wouldn’t be able to find their way home). I don’t know if this is one such place or not – but I doubt it. The cross is directly in front of you as you approach from the ridge. And it looks quite eerie too – I should imagine more so in dusk.

Malo Cross

First erected in 1619 by Sir Richard Egerton as a boundary marker for his manor. It was named after the de Mauley family of nearby Mulgrave Castle. It went missing for about fifty years in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It was found in a garden in Pickering and returned to its rightful place in 1924.

The initials ‘RE’ carved on the cross which denote Richard Egerton. I am guessing the ‘K’ stands for ‘Knight’.

Who would want to steal a cross, and why? It’s a big thing, standing about 5 or 6 ft. high, and probably very heavy too.

Anyway, it is a small mystery and one that maybe someone knows the answer to. But it is a lovely walk and well worth doing. Just make sure you bring a spare map and lots to drink in case you meet any other idiots in charge of kids – maybe they are still there???