Who Threw the Sod – the Giant or the Devil?

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Map Ref: SE873934  Landranger Map Number: 94

Easy to get to (grid ref and directions are for the stone circle)

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 a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farm house of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate. Enter the field on the right and up the track. The stones are in front of you.

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There just seems to be so many Giants around! Exploring the gorgeous North Yorkshire Moors, I came across it’s local Giant, Wade – and his unfortunate wife Bell. Like a lot of Giants, they seemed to quarrel a lot, and local tales tell of these fights. One such tale tells us that the huge ‘Hole of Horcum’ was created when Wade scooped up a clod of earth to throw at Bell and it landed a couple of miles away, forming the hills of Blakey Topping, Roseberry Topping and Freebrough Hill.

The ‘Hole of Horcum’, on the North York Moors – a few miles from the market town of Pickering

Another tale tells of a witch who, after making a pact for her soul with the Devil, changed her mind and escaped over the moors on her broomstick. Enraged, the Devil grabbed a handful of earth and slung it at the witch, missing her, and where it landed created Blakey Topping. Like Wades tale, the hole left by the clod was the Hole of Horcum. It us surprising how many witches lived on the moors – it sort of reminded me of the one on Rombalds moor 70 miles away. She (like this one, was nameless), but that is another story I will tell later.

The sared hill of Blakey Topping – created by either a Giant, or the Devil – take your pick!

So, on a beautiful late Spring morning, I walked the ‘Old Wife’s Way’ down to the sacred hill. A slight detour took me through a field of buttercups and some curious horses grazing in a field, and in a mile or so was standing where the stones were. Yes, you can really see why this hill is regarded as sacred. There are 4 stones – 2 standing, one laid down in the earth, and one propped up as a gatepost.

The ‘Old Wife’s Way’ – the ancient track to the hill. Legend says that the witch fled along this track persued by the Devil, but another one says that Giantess Bell drove her cattle along it in times past

English Heritage says this is a ‘stone row’, whilst Aubrey Burl thought a stone circle. According to one Robert Knox, who wrote in 1855, some short distance NNE of Blakey Topping, on the moor tops there were 9 standing stones – some of them in triangles – one with a hole all the way through it – standing between 4-6ft tall. According to the official websites, they don’t exist!

A standing stone – possibly part of a Bronze Age stone circle. The sacred hill can be seen through the line of trees.

I saw some earthworks and what looked like some stones in a field in that direction, but unfortunately so were about 4 dozen very frisky heifers – so gave it a miss. I will try another day to see if they can be found. If they are still there, they are probably lying down in the bracken – or use as gateposts or in a wall or barn – often the case for old stones!

Horses grazing in a field of yellow buttercups – with Blakey Topping in the distance

It is east to see why Blakey Topping is regarded as sacred – it has a certain ‘feel’ about it, and apart from the ancient standing stones it also has two tales told about it. So, a good candidate indeed!

—- As I was returning back to the car, I spied an old man walking towards me. As I passed, he asked if I had I been up Blakey. I said that I didn’t get to the top as the field was full of heifers. He said it wasn’t the heifers I should be wary of – but the fairies! Curious, I asked him more. He said he hadn’t seen them himself – but his ‘old Dad’ swore that he had once…another reason for it being sacred!

With huge thanks to Paul Bennett for the info about the extra stones – and much more!

You can read much more about this hill and these stones here.

 

 

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The James Stone

Getting there

SE 15196 54722 (OS Explorer 297)

Fairly easy to get to – if you don’t mind getting wet feet. Just be warned, there are several  hidden dips in the long heather, some 2 or 3 ft. deep.

From Skipton in North Yorkshire – take the A59 towards Harrogate, and about 5 miles or so after the Bolton Abbey roundabout, you will come to the little church of Blubberhouses on the right – the signpost will point to Otley. From Blubberhouses church, walk up the slope (south) as if you’re going to Otley, for 100 yards or so, taking the track and footpath past the Manor House and onto the moor.  Once you hit the moorland proper, take the footpath that bears left going down into heather and keep going till you hit the dead straight Roman Road path running west onto Blubberhouses Moor. Carry along the Roman Road for about 200 yards, and looking right (if you squint) you can just make out a small pimple half way up the moor ridge about a quarter of a mile away. That is where you are heading.

This is a lovely little prehistoric standing stone, first discovered by my walking buddy James Turner and myself 2 years ago.

Through lush meadows with wildflowers, to the drab greens of the moors.

I say ‘first discovered’ – we think it is a new discovery, and can find no reference to it anywhere. It doesn’t appear in Cowlings ‘In Rombalds Way’ (1946), or in either of William Grainge’s (1871; 1895) detailed history works of the region. We consulted with various people and no one is able to find anything about it. So we claimed it as our own and named it in our honor (if anyone knows of this stone we will gladly give them full credit)…

Looking North from Lippersley. Blubberhouses moor stretches away, with the Roman road and the Greenplain settlement in the dip. Further on is Nidderdale.

As it is a new find, we are unable to discover anything associated with it in the way of legends (many standing stones have some sort of tales attached to them – usually involving the Devil in some guise). But this one is silent.

It is a lovely little chap too – standing about 4 and a half feet tall, and it appears friendly enough (not all do – believe me). It may have had something to do with the nearby unexcavated Green Plain settlement – although closer to it is (or was) another smaller settlement which we first encountered when we discovered the stone.

A little boundary stone half hidden in the deep heather. ‘D’ is probably for Denton – but I am not 100% sure. There are lots of boundary stones on these moors.

Since then Paul Bennett and myself have paid another visit to the stone and noticed, sadly, that the little settlement has been destroyed and all that exists are now a pile of stones and a muddy field.

A small cairn marks out the path on Blubberhouses moor. The Roman road is in the distance, and bypasses the Timble woods plantation.

I don’t think this was done on purpose – probably land clearing by the local farmer. But it is still a shame.

The Green Plain settlement – as large as a football pitch with a circuit wall running most of it’s circumference. Probably Bronze Age in origin, I wonder what the inhabitanta thought about having the Romans marching past their front door

This is a nice place to visit – regardless of whether you go to the James stone or not. The moors are stunningley beautiful, with lots of variety and several prehistoric carvings. It is a perfect place for a hike – with no one about. Great for an explore and blowing the cobwebs away!

For a couple of weeks at the end of August the heather turns a vibrant purple- adding extra drama to the moors.

There is so much waiting to be explored on these moors, who knows – you may find something new yourselves!

 

Putting the Stones to Bed

Killin circle in the Scottish Highlands

Welcome – and thank you for joining me. This new blog is a continuation from my old, now defunct blog ‘Walking With A Smacked Pentax‘ – which if you have viewed it’s last post you will know why I have started this one. More info can be found in the ‘About’ Page. I hope you like this new one as much as you have enjoyed the last one, and will stay and accompany me on my new journey. Anyway, on with the show!

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Scotland has many ancient remains.

During my frequent excursions to this wonderful land, I come across – nay, actively seek out the ancient and mysterious. Stone circles are my favourite, and scotland has some of the finest. This is Killin circle, nr. Loch Tay. It isn’t actually the subject of this particular post, but it serves to illustrate just one of Scotlands Bronze Age circles. There are plenty more!

It was on one of these visits that I heard this tale. I know the person who related it to us very well, and I have no doubts as to the authencity of the story.

This person was hiking in a remote part of the highlands in early winter several years ago. It was getting dark and decided to stop in a local pub for the night. After a few ‘drams’ with the locals, he asked if there were any ancient artifacts about he might visit in the morning. He was told that there were ‘some stones’, but they were ‘tucked away’ for the winter.

Asking for clarifcation, he was told that locals from the next village unearthed the stones when winter arrived. They were then very carefully wrapped in old cloths ‘to keep them safe and warm during the cold’, and placed snugly in hay in a barn. Come Beltane (Gaelic May Day) they were brought out and replaced in their holes. Fires were then lit and people danced around the stones. Beltane rituals are performed throughout the British Isles, so this was nothing new – but he had never heard of putting the stones to bed for the winter.

The beautiful circle of Croft Moraig in the Highlands

Astonished, my friend returned to the same place in summer and the stones were in a field where he was told they would be. Examining the stones, he noticed that holes where the stones were put had fresh earth around it, the obvious conclusion was that they had been rehoused recently!

A similar tale concerns another stone circle, again in Scotland, but this time near a large village. Two friends of ours were looking for directions and chanced upon an elderly lady tending her garden. Striking up a converstion, my friend asked if she knew of any ancient artifacts nearby. Surprisingly, she told him there was a ‘Druids circle’ at the back of her house! She and her sisters used to play in it as children.  Asked if they could see it, he was led to the circle – and it was a genuine, unrecorded Bronze Age stone circle.

He said he was surprised that no one had recorded it before, and she said that some people from the Royal Commission had unexpectedly showed up several years ago asking about it, and because they were rude to her she said she had never heard of it and promptly shooed them off her property! Some of the older people in the village knew about it, but rarely spoke about it to outsiders.

Even in the 21st century, there are still old legends and ways known only to locals in the remote places of the Dales, deep moors and Scottish Highlands.

It is these tales that I will try to convey in this blog.