St. Thomas’ Well, Cambusbarron, Stirlingshire

Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – NS 779 931

Archaeology & History

St.Thomas Well pond - on a freezing grey day!

Very close to the edge of the M9, this old water source is thankfully still visible, though not in its original state.  At the bottom of the ridge, loosely enclosed in the grounds of St. Thomas Well House, we find that the original well has been submerged into the pond which covers it.

Folklore

I’ve not yet found the mythic origins behind the dedication to this site, though St. Thomas’ Day is the winter solstice on December 21, and his mythic status was that of didymus, or twin.  In Yorkshire, folk customs surrounding this figure have been found to be inextricably intertwined with death rites, Robin Hood and shamanism!  But this Stirlingshire site is as yet silent.  The presence of the King’s Park cup-and-ring stone on the hillside above the well may have something to do with its dedication; it’s likely that an old tomb once accompanied this cup-and-ring, but all remains appear to have vanished.

References:

Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1965.
Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 2, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Cnoc a’ Chuirn Mhoir, Jura, Argyll

Cairn – OS grid reference NR 682 942

Archaeology & History

This ‘hill of the big cairn’ is near the top end of the island, past the cup-marked stones of An Carn, just beneath the top of the prominent knoll, a half-mile east of the track.  It’s about 200 yards from the summit on the southern side of the hill.  More than 50 feet across and about 3 feet high, what may be kerb-stones can be seen on the west-side of the tomb.  The Royal Commission (1984) lads tell us that,

“its northern edge is buried under field-gathered stones, and a small enclosure of comparatively recent date overlies the cairn.”

References:

Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll: volume 5 – Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay, HMSO: Edinburgh 1984.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Snowden Carr Carving (571), Timble, North Yorkshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 17776 51293

Getting Here

Take the same directions as to reach the Snowden Crags Necropolis, and where the small rounded hill rises up on the eastern end of the plain, look around and you’ll find the stone in question.

Possible carving 571 (© Richard Stroud)

Archaeology & History

Up near the edge of the Snowden Moor settlement, just a few yards away from Carving-570, is this medium-sized earthfast boulder with what seems to be three or four cup-markings on its western-face. Boughey & Vickerman (2003) describe the stone as with a “deep gully, cups and enlarged cup, perhaps weathered carving but could be natural” — which seems a reasonable assessment. Certainly the cups seem weathered, although a couple of them may have been man-made.  At the side of the rock are the remains of a small cairn, and it is positioned next to the beginning of the Snowden Moor Cemetery.

References:

Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS 2003.
Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way: A Prehistory of Mid-Wharfedale, William Walker: Otley 1946.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Miller’s Grave, Midgley Moor, West Yorkshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SE 01912 28366

Getting Here

Millers Grave cairn

From the village of Midgley, high above the A646 Halifax-to-Todmorden road, travel west along the moorland road until you reach the sharp-ish bend in the road, with steep wooded waterfall to your left.  From here, across the road (roughly) there’s a track onto the moor.  Go up this, keeping to the line of the straight walling uphill by the stream-side (instead of following the path up the quarries) all the way to the top. Here you’ll see the boundary stone of  Churn Milk Joan. Take the footpath to its side for up onto the moor 250 yards or so, taking a right turn into the deeply cut footpath and walk along for several hundred yards, keeping your eyes to the north (right).  You’ll see the rocky cairn of Miller’s Grave not far away in the heather, near to the large rounded boulder known as Robin Hood’s Pennystone.

Archaeology & History

Ascribed by some as neolithic, and others as Bronze Age (the more probable), here is a curious archaeological relic: curious, inasmuch as it’s received very little attention from archaeologists.  It’s quite a large monument — and perhaps the fact that it has always seemed to be in isolation from other prehistoric remains has held it back a little.  But recent ventures here have brought about the discovery of more cairns (though singular small ones), neolithic walling, hut circles and other prehistoric remains that have never previously been reported.

Millers Grave01

Miller’s Grave, Midgley Moor (during VERY heavy rain!)

Central stone aligning north to Nab End

It’s a decent site aswell.  Mainly consisting of the usual mass of smaller stones piled up and around one main point; in the middle of this ‘tomb’ is a large split glacial erratic boulder, which may have been the original focus of the builders.  Some may even ascribe a coupla cup-markings on this ‘ere central rock form — but they’d be pushing it a bit! This large central feature aligns to the high peak of Nab Hill several miles north, above Oxenhope.  Whether this feature was of any significance in the cairn’s construction is debatable (though as north represents death in pre-christian peasant lore, this ingredient has to be noted).

Profile shot – looking NE

Looking SE, with small cairn in foreground

The cairn is a goodly size: some 4 feet tall and about 50 foot across at its greatest diameter.  Some of the stones near the centre of the stones have been put there in more recent years.  In previous centuries, treasure-seekers came here in the hope that they’d uncover gold or other trinkets and stripped off much of the original cover, moving many rocks to the edges.  Others were also stolen from here to make some of the grouse-butts, not far from away.  In a foray to the site on 5.9.10. we were lucky to find the heather had been burnt back and found, some ten yards to the north and to the southwest, the remains of small, outlying singular cairns (though these need excavating to ascertain their precise nature).

Calderdale Council’s archaeology notes on Miller’s Grave tell it to be “situated on the summit of Midgley Moor”, which is quite wrong.  The summit of the moor is some distance west of here, near where an old standing stone called the Greenwood B stone (75 yards south of the Greenwood Stone) and the much denuded remains of other prehistoric sites could once be found — though I’m not sure that they, nor the regional archaeologist for Upper Calderdale has ever been aware of them.

Folklore

In F.A. Leyland’s (c.1869) extensive commentary to Watson’s History of Halifax (1775), he relates a fascinating tale which seems to account for the name of this old tomb:

“About ninety years ago,” he wrote, “that is, towards the end of the eighteenth century – one Lee, a miller, committed suicide in Mayroyd Mill near Hebden Bridge. The jury at the inquest held on the occasion returned a verdict of felo-de-se, and the body was buried at Four Lane Ends, the Rough, in Midgley. The fact, however, of the body of one who had laid violent hands upon himself, lying in unconsecrated ground at a point where the highways met, and at a spot which the inhabitants passed early and late, oppressed the people of the neighbourhood with an irresistible dread. Persons going to market and passing from village to village, feared and avoided the unhallowed spot, until the feeling increased to one of insupportable terror; and, in the night time, a multitude collected with torches to disinter the body. This was speedily effected and violence was even offered to the dead. A man named Mark Sutcliffe, and others, who attempted to prevent the exhumation, were stoned* by the mob, and the body was hurried to the cairn on Midgley Moor, where it was hastily interred. Here however, it was not allowed to rest; the isolation of the body, though buried in a lonely spot, was yet apart from the common cemetery where the dead lie together in their special domain; and this invested the surrounding district with a superstitious awe difficult to describe. The body was still too near the haunts of the living; and, to the perturbed imagination of the inhabitants, the unquiet ghost of the suicide constantly brooded over the hills. As this was not to be endured, the body was at last removed from the cairn, and finally buried in the churchyard of St. Thomas a’ Beckett’s, Heptonstall. Although the interment of Lee, at the cairn, has conferred upon the spot the name of the Miller’s Grave, it cannot be doubted that the large quantity of heavy stones which we find heaped together at this place…was piled up in distant times…”

Modern pagan folklore ascribes the name of this site to relate to Much, the Miller’s Son: acquaintance of the legendary Robin Hood, whose ‘Penny Stone’ boulder is just 100 yards west of here.

References:

Abraham, John Harris, Hidden Prehistory around the North West, Kindle 2012.
Leyland, F.A. (ed.), The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax by the Rev. John Watson, R. Leyland: Halifax n.d. (c.1869)

* Nothing too unusual there for the people of Hebden Bridge!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Smoo Cave, Durness, Sutherland

Sacred Nature:  OS Grid Reference – NC 419 672

Getting Here

From Durness take the road east for a couple of miles till you see the signpost which takes you on the left-hand side of the road, down to the coast.  You can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

Findings here allege to take the history of the place into the mesolithic period, but we don’t know this for sure.  An excavation here by a Mr Donald Macdonald of Sangobeg in 1904 uncovered the presence of several small bone pins, which seem consistent with Mesolithic finds elsewhere.  When archaeo-excavations were done here in 1982, human remains going back to at least Iron Age were found in the simple deposit of many shells.  A further analysis by the Glasgow Archaeology Unit in 1996 was prevented of some excavation by (get this!) those screwy Health & Safety regulations.  Here’s a definite case for an independent group to undertake work here, as we could ignore such preventative measures (and if we drown it’s our fault!).  Smoo Cave’s primary function is pretty obvious: it would have been used for both shelter and ritual. 

Folklore

The folklore here tells of magick and occultism and possible remnants of rites of passage lore. For herein, many centuries ago, a powerful land-owner called Lord Reay — reputed as a master in the black arts — battled with the devil in the Smoo Cave.

The devil was keeping watch on Lord Reay following a previous dispute between the two of them, and espied him as he entered the cave. As Alexander Polson told it, the cave

“consists of three caverns, one within the other. Lord Reay had got as far as the second, and his dog, which had gone on in advance, returned howling and hairless. By this, Lord Reay knew that Satan was there before him, and bravely waited the attack, which was soon made, and his lordship fought lustily. Happily at the opportune moment a cock crew. This frightened the devil and his attendant witches, but Lord Reay stood between them and the exit. In their fright they blew holes through the roof of the cave, and this is the origin of the two openings through which the Smoo burns fall.”

Pitch black cave; protective spirit animal; encountering one’s psychological nemesis; unconscious battles with Underworld forces; rebirth of the sun at cock-crowing time; the conquering of the dark forces and renewal of Lord Reay.  These are typical hallmarks probably signifying folk-remnants of rites of passage for which this cave may once have been used.

References:

Polson, Alexander, Scottish Witchcraft Lore, W. Alexander: Inverness 1932.

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Pitchfork Stone, Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1150 4604

Also Known as:

  • Carving no. 102 (Hedges)
  • Carving no. 256 (Boughey & Vickerman)

Pitchfork Stone

Getting Here

Follow the directions for getting to the great Badger Stone carving.  From here, walk eastwards on the footpath for about 400 yards.  Hereabouts walk off the path and down the slope just a few yards and amble back and forth, checking the various stones. Keep doing this until you find it! (luckily, this stone’s marked on the OS-map)  There are several other reasonable carvings nearby on the same plain…the Green Gates Stone (or carving no.257) for one!

Archaeology & History

The Pitchfork Stone (after Hedges, 1986)

The Pitchfork Stone (after Hedges, 1986)

First found (or rather, recorded) by our old friend Stuart Feather and described in Bradford’s Cartwright Hall Archaeology Group’s Bulletin in 1961.  It’s status was all-but-secret until Hedges edited the Ilkley Archaeology Group’s Carved Rocks work in 1986.  The stone’s a simple design as the illustration shows: an urn-like vessel with a cup in the middle; but the attached groove at the bottom gave one anonymous chap (who dared to use the modern name of RombaldII!) the idea of it looking like a pitchfork – so the name sticks!

The enclosing “lines” that make up the pitchfork aspect of the carving are pretty enhanced (as we can see in the photograph here) and may, just may, be the result of a more recent petroglyphic artist.

References:

Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS 2003.
Feather, Stuart, ‘Mid-Wharfedale Cup-and-Ring Markings – Nos. 2 & 3, Ilkley Moor,’ in Bradford Cartwright Hall Archaeology Group Bulletin, 6, 1961.
Hedges, John (ed.), The Carved Rocks on Rombalds Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Danes Hills, Riccall, North Yorkshire

Barrows:  OS Grid Reference – SE 645 377

Getting Here

Travelling up (north) the A19, just as you get to Riccal village, there’s a small road to your right: take this!  A mile along there’s a parking place just where the track veers into the woods.  That’s where you’re heading.  The remains of the tombs hereabouts can be hard to discern – but if your lucky you’ll either meet a local, or the virtue of patience will bring these overgrown tombs into focus!  There are other tumuli a few hundred yards east and north of here aswell.  If you wanna get a clear picture of them all, a full day would be a good bet!

Archaeology & History

Sketch map of the Danes Hill tombs, 1849

Sketch map of the Danes Hill tombs, 1849

Not to be confused with the other Danes Hills tombs a couple of miles northeast of here (as done on some other sites), the early Victorian geologist and explorer John Phillips (1853) was one of several early writers who described what, today, are known to be Iron Age tombs, scattered about a short distance east of Riccall village, saying:

“On Skipwith Common are many tumuli, old banks, and the slightly-marked foundations of ancient (turf or log?) houses or wigwams. These, by some error of tradition, are called ‘Danes’ Hills/ but, on opening the tumuli, no confirmation of so modern a date appeared. The tumuli are set in square fosses; the sides of the fossae range north and south and east and west (true). Similar facts appear in connexion with the tumuli on Thorganby Common adjacent. Burnt ashes and bones occur in the mounds; facts which suffice to overthrow the supposition of these hills being funeral heaps of the Danes of the llth century, for they then buried their dead. No instruments of metal, bone, or stone, or pottery were found.”

There were dozens of tombs that could be seen here in the past, but today many have been destroyed or are hidden by the cover of trees.  A sketch-map (above) showing the rough location of many of the graves was made by the Yorkshire Antiquarian Club after a visit here in 1849 (Proctor 1855), who opened several of the barrows.  Archaeologist Ian Stead (1961; 1979) defined these remains as being of the famous La Tene burials — though I’m unsure as to whether any of the tombs here had the great horse-chariots found in them, as found in the more famous Danes Graves tombs close to Driffield.

Folklore

The name of these small hills acquired their Danish title via a mix of real history and folklore.  History tells of the old Danish King Harald Hardrada, who moored his fleet of ships a few miles away from here before going into battle against the armies of Northumbria and Mercia. “Dane’s Hill,” said Bogg (c.1895), “still marks the spot where the fight took place.”  As John Burton (1758) told us:

“Ever since the aforesaid battle, it is by tradition to this day said, that the Danes were permitted to encamp here till they had buried their dead, and their ships at Riccal should be ready for their re-embarking for Norway.”

Local folk used to tell of the tradition of the local swamp — called Riccal Towdyke — being choked with the bodies of many slain in the battle hereabouts.  Many pieces of red cloth were found all around in the neighbourhood of these tombs.  However, despite this mix of fact and folklore, the tumuli were see marked on the modern OS-maps have been found to be Iron Age in origin.

…to be continued…

References:

Bogg, Edmund, From Eden Vale to the Plains of York, James Miles: Leeds n.d.
Burton, John, Monasticon Eboracense, N. Nickson: York 1758.
Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
Morrell, W. Wilberforce, The History and Antiquities of Selby, W.B. Bellerby: Selby 1867.
Phillips, John, The Rivers, Mountains and Sea-Coast of Yorkshire, John Murray: London 1853.
Proctor, W., ‘Report of the Proceedings of the Yorkshire Antiquarian Club, in the Excavation of Barrows from the Year 1849,’ in Proceedings of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, 1855.
Stead, I.M., ‘A Distinctive Form of La Tene Barrow in Eastern Yorkshire,’ in Antiquaries Journal, volume 41, 1961.
Stead, I.M., The Arras Culture, Yorkshire Philosophical Society: York 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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