Druid’s Altar, Bingley, West Yorkshire

Sacred Rocks: OS Grid Reference - SE 093 399

Getting There

Druid's Altar, sitting with mist

Pretty easy to get to. Best thing to do really, is ask a local and they’ll send you in the right direction. From Bingley, take the Harden road (B6429) across the river. As it bends sharply left, note there’s a track going up into the woods to the right. Walk up it! Keep going and, unless you take a detour, you’ll end up at the rock outcrop eventually (where the woods come to an end, Druid’s Altar appears before you with the track running along its top-side).

Archaeology & History

Mentioned in the Tithe Awards of 1849, this lovely outcrop of rocks looking down the Aire Valley on the southern edge of Bingley has “an immemorial tradition” of druidic worship, said Harry Speight in 1898 – though quite when it first acquired such repute is outside of any literary record.  In Sidney Greenbank’s (1929) rare book on this place, he could find little by way of archaeological data to affirm the old tradition, save the odd prehistoric find of flints here and there; though it is said that Beltane fires were burned upon the crags here in bygone centuries.

There was a 19th century account from the Ilkley Scientific Club where a member described there being a cup-and-ring carving “near the so-called Druid’s Altar, at Bingley,” but I’m unaware of the whereabouts of this carving and Boughey & Vickerman’s (2003) said nothing about it in their survey; though a possible cup-marking can be seen on one rock less than 100 yards west, which might account for the report. (a bit dodgy though!)

1894 photo of Druid's Altar (courtesy Clive Hardy)

Druid's Altar in 1894 (courtesy Clive Hardy)

Folklore

Harry Speight (1898) makes what sounds like a rare flight of fancy when he described faerie being seen atop of the many oaks beneath the Druid’s Altar.  In Clive Hardy’s (2002) work (from whence the old photo of the Altar is taken), he tells how “local antiquarians say that the cobbled way running from the Brown Cow Inn towards the site, is an old processional route walked by the druids.”

One, possibly two wells, each beneath the Altar rocks, are also reputed to have been associated with the old pagan priests, as their names tell: the Altar Well and the Druid’s Well – though the Altar Well has seemingly fallen back to Earth in recent years.

References:

Greenbank, Sidney, The Druid’s Altar, Bingley, R.G. Preston: Bingley 1929.
Hardy, Clive, Around Bradford, Frith Book Ltd: Salisbury 2002.
Speight, Harry, Chronicles and Stories of Bingley and District, Elliott Stock: London 1898.
Turner, J. Horsfall, Ancient Bingley, Thomas Harrison: Bingley 1897.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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