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!
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.