The Wallace Stone

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Getting There

From Dunblane, head up the Glen Road for nearly a mile, turning left up the Sheriffmuir Road and all the way on till you reach the pub near the T-junction another couple of miles on. Go past the pub for a quarter of a mile, then head onto the moors. The stone can be seen a hundred yards in front of you.

I am not one for big Hollywood Blockbusters, although some are quite good. But I must admit that I did like Braveheart with Mel Gibson. I know that historically it is a bit ‘dodgy’, but it is a good romp and despite me being ‘English’ (well Canadian) I was rooting for the Scots!

I happened to find myself in ‘Braveheart country’ this week, on one of my many trips to see my mate Paul who lives in a little village near Stirling in the highlands. Paul thought that I may be interested in the ‘Wallace Stone’, reportedly the mustering place of William Wallace and his army in 1297 prior to the battle of Stirlng bridge. There are even several marks on the stone and legend says that Wallace used this stone for sharpening his sword!

The stone is in an amazing location, miles from anywhere with the magnificent backdrop of the Ochill mountains behind. Our ancestors certainly must have appreciated the location – it is simply superb!

This is one of 5 stannding stones which were originally in a straight line, although the others are on their side now and can be difficult to find when the heather is deep. We visited the others, but this one took my eye.

There are some ‘cup and ring’ carvings nearby, and a lost stone circle which we didn’t find – but I was happy with the Wallace stone. And if you close your eyes and let your imagination run free, you can almost see William Wallace and his army meeting here some seven hundred years ago before going to battle in the valley far below. And if you REALLY let your imagination run free, you can see Wallace sharpening his great sword across this superb standing stone!

More information is available here.

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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.

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.

 

 

The James Stone

Getting there

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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!