Dorchester Cursus, Oxfordshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference – SU 569 958SU 581 948

Also Known as:

  • Dorchester-on-Thames Cursus
  • Overy Cursus

Archaeology & History

Dorchester cursus (after Atkinson)

Nowadays marked on modern Ordnance Survey maps as part of a ‘Neolithic Sacred Complex,’ this linear monument was part and parcel of the Dorchester Big Rings henge complex and was associated with a  number of other important prehistoric sites, many of which have been destroyed by ecological disfigurement projects in recent years.  In Gordon Copley’s (1958) description of the monument, not long after its initial discovery, he said that this “was a cursus which consists of parallel ditches some 4000 feet long with 210 feet between them.”  In more recent times Paul Devereux (1989) described how the cursus here,

“ran for three-quarters of a mile (1.2km) in a northwest to southeast direction on the north side of the Thames and was 210 feet (64 metres) wide. The cursus was part of a complex of crop marks, the most notable being” the henge. “The northwest end of the cursus remains unknown; the southeast end was rounded. The southeast segment…was on a slightly skew alignment compared to the rest of the feature, though it may have been the earliest part of the monument – bones found there were radio-carbon dated to around 3000 BC. The southern ditch of the cursus ran through and connected two earlier sites which shared a different alignment. Deposits of cremated bones, a stone arrowhead, fragments of pottery, a polished flint axe, and a circle of pits, probably the remains of a ‘woodhenge’ structure, were all found with the cursus.”

Dorchester cursus plan 1985

Jean Cook (1985) told that later excavations on the site in 1981, found that the shallow ditch which surrounded the entire cursus, “was interrupted by a central entrance on the southeast side.  The southeastern terminal ditch respected a small prehistoric monument which has been dated to approximately 2000 BC.”  This and other factors has led to the thought that the cursus may not all have been built at the same time.  And indeed excavations at other sites scattering the northwestern ends of the cursus (shown in the plan here, Ed.) proved that a D-shaped enclosure “pre-dates the rest of the structure.”  Other mortuary sites scattered the edges of the cursus that were added in the centuries which followed, but which need excavation work to uncover their secrets.  Although much of this was done in the Atkinson digs, they were summarised well by Jean Cook (1985), who told:

“Site VIII, excavated in 1948, was a monument known as a mortuary enclosure.  Sometimes such structures take the form of long barrows, but this one was a rectangular enclosure bounded on all four sides by a ditch with an internal bank.  There were narrow entrance gaps on the two longer sides and a wider entrance in the centre of the shorter southern side.  It is dated by the substantial sherds of Ebbsfleet ware (pottery) which were found in the upper filling of the ditch; part of a human jaw from within the enclosure helps to confirm the mortuary function.

“Site XI, excavated in 1949, consisted of three or more concentric ditches, of different dates, enclosing an incomplete ring of 14 pits.  The middle ditch seems to have surrounded an oval barrow or enclosure and to have then been converted to a circular plan.  Some of the pits contained animal bones, one contained an antler pick and one contained a complete human cremation, but there were no accompanying grave goods.

“Both these sites were in existence before the cursus was built. (my italics, Ed.)  This is shown by the fact that the southernmost ditch of the cursus cuts through Site VIII and abuts Site XI.  These two earlier sites seem to share the same alignment, but once the cursus was constructed it set a new alignment which may have been of significance until the end of the 3rd millenium BC.  Three monuments built after the construction of the cursus were located inside it, two of them being along the central axis, and two others were just outside the southernmost ditch of the cursus but shared the same general alignment.

“Sites IV, V and VI, which were also excavated in 1949, have a similar overall plan and all of them contained a number of cremation deposits suggesting that amongst other things they acted as cemeteries.  All three sites had a circular plan and consisted of an outer bank, to define the central area, and an inner ditch, the purpose of which seems to have been to provide earth for the bank.  In Site IV the ditch was made up of eight oval pits, enclosing an area of about six metres in diameter.  There was a broad entrance gap on the southeast side.  Inside the enclosed area there were 25 deposits of cremated bones.  An arrowhead was found with one of the cremations.  Site V was very similar in construction, except that the entrance gap was on the northwestern side and contained 21 cremation deposits.  No grave goods were found.  Site VI again had a similar plan with the entrance gap to the north.  There were 49 cremation deposits , one accompanied by a flint fabricator, an arrowhead and burnt flint flakes.

“Site 1 was excavated in 1946 and consisted of a small square ditch, enclosing another more or les circular ditch with an internal bank.  Inside this ditch were 13 holes, forming a ring with an entrance gap on the western side.  There were no entrances in the surrounding ditches.  A crouched burial was found within the entrance to the ring of holes but there were no accompanying grave goods.  Four cremations were found, two accompanied by fragmentary bone pins, in or besides four of the central holes.  At a later stage in the neolithic period, parts of the ditch may have been enlarged to make temporary shelters: it is not clear to which period of use the cremations belong.

“Site II, also excavated in 1946, consisted of a causewayed (interrupted) ring ditch which was enlarged on two occasions.  The third ditch had an internal bank in which were 19 cremation deposits.  Two more cremations were found at the centre of the enclosed area.  There was no evidence for any gap.  Bone pins were found with four of the cremations as were flint fragments.  In addition, antlers and other flint fragments were found, as well as pieces of pottery.

“In 1981 a small semi-circular enclosed ditch was excavated within the southeast terminal of the cursus.  Though sited off-centre, the ditch shared the same alignment with the cursus.  An antler (dated to c.2000 BC) was found close to the bottom of the ditch.  After the ditch had virtually filled up with silt, the surviving low central mound was used for cremation deposits, one of them associated with a heavily burnt flint blade.”

Paul Devereux (1989) pointed out how one of the archaeologists studying this site found that if the axis of the monument was extended southeast, across the river, it lined up perfectly with another set of perfectly straight lines which were thought “likely to be a Roman trackway.”  Unfortunately much of this area has been destroyed through the self-righteous ignorance of modern industrialism.

References:

Atkinson, R.J.C. et al, Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon, Department of Antiquities: Oxford 1951.
Barclay, A., Lambrick, G., Moore, J. & Robinson, M., Lines in the Landscape, OAU: Oxford 2003.
Cook, Jean, “The Earliest Evidence,” in Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
Cook, Jean & Rowley, Trevor (eds.), Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
Copley, Gordon J., An Archaeology of South-East England, Phoenix House: London 1958.
Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Dobrudden Necropolis, Baildon Moor, West Yorkshire

Cairns:  OS Grid Reference – SE 138 402

Getting Here

Easy one this!  Go up thru Baildon, on towards Baildon Moor over the cattle-grid.  Take your first left and go up for several hundred yards past the reservoir until you reach the track on the left which takes you onto the Low Plain, Baildon Moor.

Archaeology & History

1845 plan of Cairns & Earthworks on Baildon Moor (after J.N.M. Colls)

1845 plan of Cairns & Earthworks on Baildon Moor (after J.N.M. Colls)

In the year 1845, on the Low Plain on the western side of Baildon Hill, an intrepid archaeologist and historian, Mr. J.N.M. Colls, came across extensive earthworks and a number of prehistoric tombs in a very small area. Upon excavation, the ‘earthworks’ were found to be what sounds like neolithic walling running parallel to each other in a roughly north-south direction (north is the traditional direction for death).  Scattered amidst these lines he found more than a dozen cairns and barrows, along with remains of “a circle, or ring.”  Although the majority of what Colls wrote about has been destroyed, leaving only scanty remains of a once considerable archaeological arena, his lengthy description deserves being reprinted in full.  He wrote:

“This level (the Low Plain) bears numerous traces of earthworks or other embankments running in many cases parallel with one another, at distances varying from 50 to 80 yards apart, and intersected by other works of similar construction.  These earthworks can be remembered to have been from four to five feet in height; their bases nearly invariably appear to have been eight feet in diameter, composed of loose blocks of calliard, or close-grained sandstone, and earth.  The greater part of the stone has been torn away to make and repair the roads of the neighbouring district; and the surface of the earth has been so nearly levelled that it is only by the scattered and disfigured remains, carefully delineated upon my plan, that any idea can be formed of their original character.

“In connection with these earthworks, and upon the north side of them, immediately above a steep fall to the next lower level (approx SE 1372 4020, Ed.), is a circle, or ring, formed originally of earthworks of precisely similar character, size and construction to those I have just described.  The diameter of this ring is about fifty feet; its interior area is perfectly level; but the earthwork forming its circumference has been defaced and torn up for a considerable extent for the stone it contained.  Circles of this nature have generally been termed druidical, from their presumed use as places of worship or sacrifice.  I therefore opened its centre, in the hope of finding some trace of fire confirmatory of its character; and commenced clearing away a layer of peat earth, of from 10-11 inches in depth.  I then found a layer of calliard boulders one-and-a-half feet in depth, the lower ones slightly burned, and resting upon a deposit of peat-ashes three inches in depth and from 2-3 feet in diameter (see Barrow No.8 in plan, Ed.).  This I should have concluded to be the remains of a beacon fire, but, upon continuing the excavations, I found about three feet SSE of this deposit of ashes (at point b on the plan) a rude urn standing in an upright position, at a depth of two feet from the surface, a layer of calliard stones having been removed from above it, one of which appeared to have covered it.  This urn was 12 inches in diameter and 9-10 inches in depth, of a circular or bowl shape, the upper stage of it being rudely ornamented by incised lines crossing each other at acute angles: it was filled with calcined bones (some remaining tolerably perfect), ashes and charcoal; and I selected some half-dozen of them as specimens, which Mr Keyworth, surgeon and lecturer on anatomy at York, has examined… He is of the opinion that they belonged to a very young subject, perhaps from 9-12 or 13 years of age; he thinks it possible however, that they may all have belonged to the same subject… The urn in which the were placed appears to have been rudely formed by the hand, without the assistance of a lathe; in substance about half-an-inch…it appears pretty evident that this urn has been formed of the black earth of the mountain and coal measures of which Baildon Hill is formed…

“A little to the west by south of the circle…are the almost obliterated remains of another circle (fig.9 on the plan), which I had not an opportunity of thoroughly examining; the slight traces remaining bear strong testimony of its character being similar to that of fig.8.

“Scattered over the surface of the Plain, and at irregular distances, cairns or heaps of stones, composed of bare sandstone and calliards (and not mixed with earth), frequently occur; they are generally about twenty feet in diameter and appear to have been originally 4 or 5 feet in height: these remains still require examination.  In passing over them, I remarked that some of the stones of which they and the earthworks near them were constructed, had marks, or characters, but so rude that a doubt remains whether they may not have been caused by the action of the atmosphere on the softer portions of the stone.”

Urns found near Dobrudden

Urns found near Dobrudden

This final remark seems to be the very first written intimation of the cup-and-ring marked stones which can still be found amidst the grasses in the very area Mr Colls described.  Sadly, much of the other remains shown in the drawing have been all but obliterated, or grown over.  However, the decent concentration of cup-and-ring stones in this small area (see other Baildon Moor entries), highlights once again an associated prevalence of these carvings with our ancestor’s notions of death.

Sadly, year by year, the important neolithic and Bronze Age english heritage remains across this upland ridge are slowly being destroyed.  The lack of attention and concern by regional archaeologists and local councillors, and the gradual encroachment of human erosion are the primary causative factors.  Hopefully there are some sincere archaeologists in the West Yorkshire region who will have the strength to correctly address this issue. Under previous archaeological administrators, Bradford Council have allowed for the complete destruction of giant tombs, stone circles and other important prehistoric remains in their region—a habit that seems not to be curtailed as they maintain a program of footpath “improvements” on local moors without any hands-on assessment of the archaeology on the ground.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Baildon, W. Paley, Baildon and the Baildons – volume 1, St. Catherine Press: Adelphi 1913.
  2. Barnes, Bernard, Man and the Changing Landscape, Eaton Press: Wallasey 1982.
  3. Colls, J.N.M., ‘Letter upon some Early Remains Discovered in Yorkshire,’  in Archaeologia, volume 31, 1846.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Dewbottoms, Arncliffe, North Yorkshire

Settlement:  OS Grid Reference – SD 912 695

Getting Here

From Grassington go north up the B6160, turning left to Arncliffe, and parking up by the pub.  Take the footpath past it and onto the rocky ridge to your SW for a mile-and-half.  Dew Bottoms settlement is on the wide ridge between the two decent streams dropping back into the valley road below.  Look round!

Archaeology & History

The remains of this prehistoric settlement first seem to have been described by Arthur Raistrick and Paul Holmes. (1961)  They told that:

“the principal field is approximately 120 feet square, enclosed by a massive boulder and gravel bank, probably the foundation of a substantial stockade.  The field is now mostly bare limestone pavement.  Four smaller fields adjoin it on the north and west.  Circular huts with drystone walls still about 3 freet 6 inches high before excavation, covered by collapsed material suggesting an original height of 5 feet, are placed, two of them in the course of the field wall and two in the junction of three field walls.  The huts are about 10 feet internal diameter, the walls about 3 feet thick.  A very fine quartzite hone was the only find in the huts.  There are two rectangular stone-built enclosures, 20ft by 10ft, and 15ft by 8ft, and several small rectangular enclosures, probably buildings, with walls of boulders and turf, using one wall of a field as a common back wall.  The whole site suggests a compact family farm.”

A few years later the site was visited and later described by Miss D. Charlesworth at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society in July 1968, and is one of several found on the hills 2-3 miles southwest of Arncliffe village. Miss Charlesworth told:

“This site also faces north and covers an area of about 330 by 280ft, much of it now bare limestone. There are eight rectangular buildings and four circular huts associated with a large enclosure about 120ft square, with five smaller enclosures adjoining it.”

References:

Charlesworth, D., ‘Iron Age Settlements and Field Systems,’ in Proceedings of the Archaeological Journal, 125, 1968.
Raistrick, Arthur & Holmes, Paul F., Archaeology of Malham Moor, Headley Brothers: London 1961.

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The Kirk, Steeton, West Yorkshire

Sacred Rocks:  OS Grid Reference – SE 041 439

Also known as:

  1. Garlic Kirk
The Kirk, Hawkcliffe Woods, Steeton

The Kirk, Hawkcliffe Woods, Steeton

This is a stupendous site!  It looks like some of this may have been quarried, a long time ago, but it also seems that nothing at all has been written about it – even in the simple travelogues beloved by our Victorian historians.  To come across it quite by accident, as I did (only yesterday), was excellent!  When I first got here, by following the wooded ridge betwixt Hollins Lane and the main Keighley-to-Steeton road (A629), the place seemed brilliant; but as time went on and my amblings through the sometimes dense and also very old woodland were overcome by the dream of the place, I couldn’t believe how this place had become forgotten.  Adrenalin rushed through me for a while, but then it was the dream of the place again.  The memories here were ancient – and you could feel them.  In places there was the solace of darkness, beloved of those who know old trees and dangerous places.  For here, walk the wrong place too quickly and Death comes.  Broken limbs await in the curious gorges which just appear in the woods, only a yard wide, but 50-60 foot deep, only to vanish again away from sight a few yards later.  Caves and dark recesses, seemingly unknown, reach out to climb down.  And all round is the aged covering of lichens and mosses that know centuries.

Shown as 'Garlic Kirk' on 1853 map

Shown as ‘Garlic Kirk’ on 1853 map

The Kirk itself – meaning simply, ‘place of worship’, in the old sense – is like something from Lord of the Rings!  If you walk along its top, as I did, the great cliffs below come late to the senses.  A curious ridge of cup-markings, seemingly natural ones, stretch along the very edges of the drop – which stretches on for some distance.  And then as you walk along its edge, you find this great drop which looks north, is now on both sides of your feet!  It’s quite breathtaking!

Cup-markings on the edge (probably natural)

Cup-markings on the edge (probably natural)

Trying to get down into the gorge below can be done, but it’s a bit dodgy!  If you aint agile and crazy, stick to doing it by walking round – a long way round…  Someone a few centuries back either cut into the rock, or laid steps, reaching into the mossy gorge, which runs to nowhere.

You can appreciate how this place would have been a sacred site:  it’s big, it’s old, it takes your breath away, and it looks across to the great Rivock Edge where many fine cup-and-ring stones were cut.  I’ll try and get some images of the place when I call here again in the very near future, but they’ll never capture the experience of being here.

Folklore

The only thing I have come across which seemingly relates to this great edifice, tells of a great cave in the woodland, which legend tells stretches many miles to the north and emerges at Bolton Abbey. (Clough 1886)  I wondered about the potential visibility factor in this legend and found it obviously didn’t work.  However, if you stand on a certain part of The Kirk and look north, a dip in the horizon enables us to see, far away, hills which rise up directly above the swastika-clad Bolton Abbey.  Twouldst be good to work out exactly which hill above the Abbey we can see from here.

On another issue, John Clough (1886) told that “on top of the rock there is a footprint and the initials of one of the Waites, who is said to have leaped over the chasm.”

References:

  1. Clough, John, History of Steeton, S. Billows: Keighley 1886.
  2. Gray, Johnnie, Through Airedale from Goole to Malham, Walker & Laycock: Leeds 1891.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Devil’s Stone, Addlebrough, Bainbridge, North Yorkshire

Sacred Rock:  OS Grid Reference – SD 944 880

Getting Here

From the small town of Bainbridge, head south down the Carpley Green Road. Less than a mile before the end, look to the west-facing slope of Addlebrough Hill and this huge Devil’s Stone can be seen resting halfway up the slope.

Archaeology & History

Devil's Stone, Addlebrough

Devil's Stone, Addlebrough

One of the legends of this place suggested there might be cup-and-ring markings on the stone, but the curious markings on top of the rock seem to be natural.  It’s a superb stone though, dropped here no doubt by some great glacier as it retreated north, in ages truly olde…

There’s a lot of archaeology round here that aint in the books.  We’ve come across some intriguing stuff of late, which you’ll read about soon enough.

Folklore

One legend tells that long ago Addlebrough was the home of a great unnamed giant — but a friendly giant by all acounts.  However, one day the devil turned up and wanted possession of the giant’s hill and so a fierce row broke out between them.  Perched on the top of the crag — which is the rough ridge to the west of here — the giant who lived here hurled huge boulders down at the devil, but they fell short and landed at the side of Lake Semerwater (itself an important spot in local prehistory).  In return, Old Nick himself began throwing boulders back — and one of those which the devil threw landed here, halfway up the western flank of Addlebrough Hill (a couple of the large granite boulders which the giant threw can be seen on the edge of Semerwater and are known as the Carlow and Mermaid stones).  Hence it’s name of the Devil’s Stone!

In Edmund Bogg’s Richmondshire (1908), he told how, “the curious markings on (the Devil’s Stone) are accounted due to the pressure of the devil’s fingers” which were caused when he threw this giant stone from somewhere to here.

This is a theme we find at countless other stone sites, i.e. the Devil burning holes into rock — and in some cases these devil’s “fingerprints” have turned out to be prehistoric cup-markings.  Such tales relate to the pre-christian Creation Myth of a place and would, before the “devil” was supplanted onto a site, have had wider significance in the landscape as a whole, in a manner known to the local people.  Devils usually replaced legendary giants, or hero-figures, who created the land in primordial times according to the myths of our ancient ancestors.  A greater examination of the nearby sites in association with the folklore of the region would no doubt be quite profitable…

References:

Bogg, Edmund, Richmondshire, James Miles: Leeds 1908.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Devil’s Apronful, Appletreewick, North Yorkshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SE 07485 59355

Getting Here

Devils Apronful on 1853 map

Devils Apronful on 1853 map

An excellent spot with fantastic views. There’s many ways to approach the place, but a good one is from the roadside by Howgill, then following the track uphill until you reach the moor, then head towards the spectacular and legendary, Simon’s Seat (which folklore ascribes to be named after the great druid, Simon Magus). You’ll pass an old Grey Stone (two large rocks) from which you can espy the old tomb if you stand on top of ’em. Keep walking uphill and it’s about 100 yards off the footpath to your right. A large boulder is nestled just beneath the tomb itself, which stands out on a ridge.

Archaeology & History

When Harry Speight visited here (1900) he described it as being 40 yards in circumference. He also described “an upright stone below the cairn” with apparent cup-markings on the west-side.  I’m not quite sure where this has got to – but the site has shrunk somewhat since Speight’s day.  It’s only about 20 feet across now, and the middle of it has been hollowed into a grouse-shooting butt for the toffs!

About 100 yards southeast (towards the Truckle Stones) are the remains of some neolithic walling in a straight line.

Folklore

One of many old tombs in our northern hills said to have been created by the devil who, as usual, accidentally dropped some stones he was carrying. The old folklorist Thomas Parkinson (1888) said the following of this place:

“The Apronful of Stones is a group of rocks heaped together in delightful confusion, their disorder and name being thus explained:  Once upon a time—whether when he built the bridge over the valley, or at some other time, the record saith not—the Devil was determined to fill up the ravine, or gill, of the Dibble. For this purpose he was carrying these enormous crags in his apron, when, too intent upon his object to properly observe where he placed his feet, he caught with one foot upon the top of Nursa Knott, and, stumbling, the strings of the apron broke, and the contents were thrown upon the ground as they now appear. It is also said of them that if any of them, even now, were to be removed, they would certainly be brought back to their original place during the succeeding night.”

Another legend tells that the Devil’s Apronful is also the grave of some local unnamed hero.

References:

  1. Parkinson, Thomas, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions – volume 1, Elliott Stock: London 1888.
  2. Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Dalineun Isle, Loch Nell, Argyll

Crannog:  OS Grid Reference – NM 883 266

Getting Here

Take the A816 south from Oban and after 2 miles at the hamlet of Kilmore, turn left.  Follow the road for nearly a mile and as the loch appears ahead of you, stop!  The small island crannog is close by the bottom of the loch in front of you.

Archaeology & History

Curiously omitted from the Scottish Royal Commission inventory for Lorn (1974), when R. Angus Smith and his friends explored this artificial island in the 1860s and ’70s, he told:

“it is nearly round, not much larger than a good-sized cottage. It is surrounded by stoneslarge enough to be difficult to lift, and in some places showing themselves to have been put together by art. It would appear as if there had been a pretty firm wall all round – very firm it could not be without mortar or heavier stones. Three or four feet within the range of stones is a raised turf-mound, as if this had been the wall of a house; the centre of the space was rather higher than the rest, and there we expected a fire-place to be found.”

Once they got onto the artificial island, Smith and his associates started digging, saying,

“by digging about three feet and a half, the ashes of peat were obtained, bones, charcoal and nuts. A very small hole was made, as we had not then received liberty to dig. We were satisfied that this had been a lake-dwelling, and that it had been defended by a wall. Advantage seems to have been taken of a shallow place, and stones must have been carried to it. It may turn out that there is a wooden foundation. It is not easy to see by what means the covering of earth now over the floor was so much raised. The water of the lake forms little or no deposit in summer; art rather than natural circumstances may have raised the soil. The bones here were split, as at the lake-dwelling in the moss.”

References:

Smith, R. Angus, Loch Etive and the Sons of Uisneach, Alexander Gardner: London 1885.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Yoni Stone, Utley, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Standing Stone:  OS grid reference – SE 0390 4333

Also known as:

  1. Cunt Stone

Getting Here

From Keighley town centre, head north towards Cliffe Castle, but turn left beforehand and along Hollins Lane.  Go past Hollins Hall for a few hundred yards and then through the gate on your left, then straight up the steep hill to the small woodland at the top.  On the OS-map it’s shown as ‘Great Snowden.’  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

A standing stone found recently by Lindsay Lockwood to the west of Keighley, albeit on supposedly private—ahem!—land (a number of old locals tell you, quite rightly, to ignore this selfishness; but be careful of the land-owners here, who can be quite miserable).  Tis less than four-feet tall but with a very noticeable female genital carving on its top western face.  This carving however, is perhaps 200 years old at the very most.  It’s in a quite beautiful setting aswell…

The Yoni or Cunt Stone, Utley

Buddhist scholar Steve Hart fondling the stone

What may be the remains of an old hut circle, or an old  drained-out pond (a big difference, I know!), can be found about 100 yards northwest, and one – possibly two – ‘cairns’ can also be found in the scattered trees immediately to the northeast. An old ‘druid’s bowl’ (natural cup-marking into which rain-water collects) can also be seen on an adjacent earthfast boulder.  Some folk might wanna allege a bullaun, but it’d be pushing it a bit I think. More recent walling and what appears to be stonework from more recent centuries (medieval) appears evident close by.  Whilst below the hill we have the recently discovered Dragon Stone cup-and-ring carving just a few hundred yards away.

The setting is not unlike the beautiful little standing stone of Tirai on the slopes of Glen Lochay, where amidst the recently deserted village the short squat standing stone is found. You get the same sorta feeling of more recent going-on with this site aswell.

The carved ‘cunt’ gives an even more intriguing thought as to what the stone was used for, around Beltane perhaps, by folk like misself and other straightforward doods!

I wasn’t sure exactly what to call the stone after Lindsay had found it.  However, due to the carved minge near the top, it seemed right to give the stone a name relative to the carving — and as we have a Devil’s Cunt in the Netherlands, I opted to call it something similar.*  Although ‘cunt’ is an old European word for ladies’ lovely parts, the word ‘Yoni’ is an eastern title, which has become very acceptable in Western parlance.  In recent years there has emerged a distinct aversion to using our own, old word for female genitals (indicating how detached people have become from even their own roots).

* of the name ‘cunt stone’: the word cunt itself, as explored eloquently in the fine study by Peter Fryer, Mrs Grundy: Studies in English Prudery (Corgi: London 1965), was the acceptable term for ladies’ genitals in the days when this carving was evidently done, so thought it a most applicable title.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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Cuckoo Stones, Haworth Moor, West Yorkshire

Standing Stones:  OS grid reference – SD 9902 3573

Getting Here

 

The Cuckoo Stones - looking north

The Cuckoo Stones - looking north

Best approached from Haworth and then walking along the Bronte Way footpath onto the moors (ask at the local Tourist Info if you aint sure).  A few hundred yards along, cross the ‘Bronte Bridge’ and keep following the footpath up until you get past the trees and get onto the moors. Once on the heathland, a few hundred yards on keep your eyes to the right and at least one of the two stones here will appear!

Archaeology & History

The <i>original</i> Cuckoo Stone

The original Cuckoo Stone

This is a fascinating little site that has been mentioned in a few old local history guides, including John Lock’s Guide to Haworth (c.1965).  First described in 1852 and only briefly noted in passing by Horsfall Turner (1879), the place was previously thought to have comprised just one standing stone, but in recent years explorations by Mark Davey and I found there to be two standing stones close to each other. They are not marked on any maps and are unknown even to many local people. However, the place once had a bit of a reputation (see folklore) and seemed to be well known in the region when the cult of the Church was at its height!

Both of the stones are between three and four feet tall, but the westernmost of the two was probably much taller in bygone days – that’s because the top of the stone was vandalised in centuries past, presumably by some christians if the folktale is anything to go by! On the north-facing side of the western stone is the faint carved outline of an old cross, first described by local historians in the 1960s.  It’s faint, but you can work it out if your eyes work properly!  The newly-recovered (July 2005) easternmost stone is in two sections, with the very top of it having been hacked off in centuries gone by, as seen in the photos.

The second Cuckoo Stone, resurrected!

The second Cuckoo Stone, resurrected!

When we unearthed the previously unknown Cuckoo Stone (which was laid in the earth and covered with heather and peat), a small deposit of quartz crystals was found beneath it when we came to stand the stone back in position.  Question is: who put the quartz there?  The original builders, or the nutters who knocked it down?  And then we might ask: what was the reason behind placing a large handful of quartz beneath the standing stone?

In the heather beyond, about thirty yards to the north, we also find what looks like the remains of an old prehistoric tomb. If we make sense of the Cuckoo Stone’s folklore, we can safely assert that these monoliths were the spirit-home of the old dood/s buried in the tomb behind…

Tis a lovely little place…

There’s also something from that strange electromagnetic-anomaly region attached to this site, well-known to students exploring the more subjective interactions of megalithic places.  When my lovely friend Mark – “grope me baby! grope me!” – Davey and I rediscovered the second Cuckoo Stone, Mark brought with him a device that measures fluctuations in electromagnetic radiation. The readings taken were fine just about everywhere (background, with minor fluctuations), apart from two very curious straight lines which ran either side of the burial mound down towards the two Cuckoo Stones, with radiation readings being between 10 and more than 60 times above background. The highest readings came from those closest to the burial mound, with levels dropping as we approached the standing stones. Such magnetic anomalies have been found at a number of megalithic sites in the UK, as described in Paul Devereux’s Place of Power (1989) and other books.  But the fact that the anomaly lines here seemed to run in lines would be something that those ley enthusiasts would no doubt be intrigued by!

Folklore

The creation myth of this site tells that once, long ago, a great giant lived upon these old moors. He wasn’t a good giant though, from all acounts: robbing and persecuting those who would venture onto the hills hereabouts. The local people wouldn’t dare venture onto the moors and they long sought for a hero who’d be able to sort him out! This eventually happened and in a great fight, our unnamed hero caught and killed the old giant. But just as the giant was about to die, he used his ancient magick powers and, “with a magical groan, he did transform before them and became the Cuckoo Stone.”

But that wasn’t the end of the matter because, as our unnamed hero realised, knowing that the head was the seat of the soul, even in his petrified stoney state the giant may one day recover his life, and so he chopped off the top of the Cuckoo Stone and rolled it into the valley below, dismembering the ‘head’ from the giant, seemingly forever…

It is said that the winnings of this old giant, stolen from his countless victims, are hidden somewhere high upon these hills, awaiting the shovel of some fortunate treasure hunter!

The motif of this tale is universal and archaic, echoing traditional or aboriginal lore from elsewhere in the world.  The tale is a simple one: originally the ‘giant’ was a local hero, chief or medicine man who lived on these hills and the Cuckoo Stones his petrified body, and with the incoming christian cult, the giant became demonised.  It seems that the ingredient of the giant’s death may infer a burial of sorts and, a hundred yards behind the Cuckoo Stones (both of whom have had their ‘heads’ hacked off), is a mound of earth which, when seen after all the heather’s been burnt away, has all the hallmarks of a prehistoric tomb (it is seen in the top photo above, as the mound in the background behind the standing stones).

…to be continued…

References:

Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2003.
Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1989.
Dodd, Gerald, Ghosts and Legends of Bronte-Land, Bobtail Press: Haworth 1986.
Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
Eliade, Mircea, A History of Religious Ideas – Volume 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusianian Mysteries, Chicago University Press 1978.
Evans, E.E., Prehistoric and Early Christian Ireland, Batsford: London 1966.
Lock, John, Guide to Haworth, Haworth n.d. (c.1965).
Turner, J. Horsfall, Haworth Past and Present, J.S. Jowett: Brighouse 1879.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Crow Well Circle, Denton Moor, North Yorkshire

Settlement:  OS grid reference – SE 1417 5199

Getting Here

Crow Well settlement (Cowling 1946)

Using the OS-map as a guide, from Denton village head up the road northwest, past Moorside Farm and onto the moor.  Before you reach the rise of Lippersley Pike you’ll reach the Crow Well itself (completely covered over by Yorkshire Water’s handiwork, stopping anyone from drinking the previously fresh waters here).  In the middle of nowhere, just above the completely ruined well, is the old shooter’s cottage and from here, Eric Cowling (1946) told us to look in the heather immediately east. When Richard Stroud and I ventured here a few years back (2.8.5) we couldn’t find a thing — though a vaguely reminiscent structure seemed possible 300 yards away.

Archaeology & History

If the heather’s deep, you’ll have little chance of seeing the site as Eric Cowling (1946) obviously did!  He described and illustrated this place — so was fortunate enough to have ventured here following the heather-burning.

The site is not a stone circle, but what Cowling thought to be an Iron Age settlement: ellipsoid in shape and nearly 400 feet across; it’s obviously an  impressive archaeological site when visible (akin to the Snowden Carr settlement a couple of miles east).  In all probability the site is much earlier than Iron Age.

An aerial image of the site indicates its size to be very close to Cowling’s initial measurements.  The ‘settlement’ is quite huge, with the walling or defining edges being between 4 and 6 yards across in places, with double-walled sections akin to that found at the Brackenhall circle on Shipley Glen, just over 8 miles (13km) to the south.  However, it’s probably much older than its Brackenhall compatriot.  Its maximum diameters measure 130.5 yards (119.3m) roughly east-west and 98.5 yards (90m) roughly north-south, with an external circumference of about 345 yards (315m).  This is a big fella!  Near its centre is a well-defined ring, or ellipse, measuring approximately 20 yards (18.3m) north-south and 18 yards (17.5m) east-west.

It’s difficult to say what this might be without a site analysis, and we need the heather burning back at this site to enable a good inspection of the place!  We may be looking at Denton Moor’s equivalent of the Woofa Bank Enclosure just over 4 miles (6.5km) to the south, above Ilkley, with its host of cup-and-rings and surrounding cairns.  A good inspection of this site is long long overdue…

Hereabouts Cowling also found other remains dating from the neolithic period, including walling, cairns, hut circles and cup-and-ring stones.  He thought that “the name Crow-well appears to be the modern equivalent of ‘the circle of the well'” — and although I doubted this in my Old Stones of Elmet, I have since come to realise the truth of his words!

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way: A Prehistory of Mid-Wharfedale, William Walker: Otley 1946.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Brigantia (Northern England), Settlement/Enclosures, Yorkshire, North | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment