Cup-and-Ring Stone: OS Grid Reference – SE 17978 51161
Also Known as:
- Carving no.598 (Boughey & Vickerman)
From Askwith village go up the Moor Lane and at the crossroads go straight across (Snowden Moor is to your left). Go down and along Snowden Carr Road until the road levels out and, watch carefully, about 500 yards on from the crossroads on your left you’ll see a small crag of rocks in the fields above. Stop and go through the gate walking up the field. At the top is a gate: go thru this and turn right, up the footpath for 100 yards, keeping your eyes peeled! You’re damn close!
Archaeology & History
The most well-known and perhaps most decorative of all the carvings in and around the Snowden Moor region is our Tree of Life Stone. In the 1930s, Eric Cowling first reported how, “this fine marking is the only one which appears to be known to the people of the district,” due in part to it being a site of local social activities (though nothing is said of this place in William Grainge’s  survey). Cowling (1937) described the carving thus:
“This stone lies alongside the bridle path which skirts the southwest corner of the enclosed moorland above the hamlet of Low Snowden. A large flat rock surface at ground level has a number of cups joined together by a series of curved grooves, which in their turn are connected to a central straight groove. Immediately above the design, a broad groove has been cut across a raised central area as though to isolate the markings from several scattered cups which are to be found on the remaining surface.”
The modern surveyors Boughey & Vickerman (2003) tell us that this highly ornate stone comprises of,
“about 25 cups, with a group at the highest…end and a few isolated, but most in complex design with enclosing grooves suggesting a tree in fruit: hence the name ‘Tree of Life Rock.'”
The Coped Stone carving is just a few yards away and, on the slopes below here — as well as on the moor stretching above you — there is an excess of prehistoric remains: enclosures, hut circles, lengths of walling, cairns, other cup-and-ring stones — the vast majority of which has yet to be excavated in any formal sense (are any rich doods out there reading this who might wanna get things going…?). It appears that both the Coped Stone and the Tree of Life carving may have been linked by some ancient walling that appears to run between them.
Another possible variant on the Tree of Life Stone has recently been uncovered on the outskirts of Ilkley; but on this newly-discovered example we find the central ‘trunk’ of the ‘tree’ is a natural crack that runs up the middle of the rock. Up the ‘trunk’ are several short branches with cup-marks on either side, not unlike apples on a tree. Altogether there are at least 12 cups and one ring, with several curious lines, some of which seem geophysical in nature. After several visits to the site, it’s obvious that the ‘tree’ design is more obvious and there are additional faint carved sections on the stone which weren’t visible when it was discovered in heavy rain and poor light.
This is one of very few cup-and-ring stones with folklore attached. Cowling (1937; 1946) reported it to be site of early morning Beltane (May 1) gatherings. The title of the stone, the Tree of Life, was one he heard local people call this site, but “no reason is offered”, he said. About 100 yards below this we find a curious erectile, fertility image on the impressive carving 612, which (he says tenuously!) may (and that’s a dodgy “may”!) relate to the Beltane rites at the Tree of Life.
In more modern folklore, the old folklore writer Guy Ragland Phillips (1976) suggested the Tree of Life Stone to be an important focal point along one helluva highly speculative ley line: running from the Irish Sea, across land and the Tree of Life stone, continuing way east until hitting the North Sea! If this old ley did have any validity (it doesn’t!), the Tree of Life’s carved partners east and west of here — the Coped Stone and carving no.597 — would have also been on the same line.
- Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS 2003.
- Cowling, Eric T., “Cup and Ring Markings to the North of Otley,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 131, 33:3, 1937.
- Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way: A Prehistory of Mid-Wharfedale, William Walker: Otley 1946.
- Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia — A Mysteriography, RKP: London 1976.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian