Friday, 12 July 2013

The Scars of Feizor: A Celtic Wander
Following Ancient Footsteps on a Limestone Upland

The undulating countryside around the hidden village of Feizor, between Settle and Clapham, offers some of the finest views and richest historical landscapes in the Three Peaks.  Virtually every step is exciting: every few yards offering another breathtaking panorama - and there are many unsolved mysteries ...

Feizor is an ancient place that has only recently found any form of modern civilisation.  There is now a charming tea room and accomodation for those who wish to linger in this quite idyllic spot.  In 1970, Wainwright was worried that the old village pump might be plucked away and placed in a museum.  Well ... good news for you, Alfred ... it's still there!

In fact, it's likely to remain there and is still, as AW described it: shiny as a new pin.  With a little imagination it is Feizor's 'elephant bobby' - casting a judging glance on all mortals that pass ..

'Good morning to you, Sir.'

A lane climbs out of Feizor and the drama of the karst landscape is there from the word 'go.' The gateway leads to the scars of Feizor Nick - a shy little rock garden hiding a cluster of caves in the thick foliage.

Aprons of limestone scree make any access to the slope of Feizor Nick quite tricky - which is not a bad thing considering the wildlife and cave environments.  A buzzard followed my every move with intense interest.

Looking across from Feizor Nick to the steeper eastern slope, with scree aprons typical of the Great Scar Limestone.

Feizor Nick Cave Number 1: hidden behind branches and nasty nettles - and never easy to find.  

Inside is this remarkable narrow slab of rock, covered in slippery algae making it a formidable obstacle.  It struck me that there was no way this had fallen from the ceiling.  Was this placed to guard something important beyond?  I wasn't prepared to risk the climb - nor did I want to disturb the sediment floor.

From this vicinity, in recent times, the ancient skeleton of a woman was uncovered with tell-tale signs of a violent death.  Could it be that many cave burials around Settle were of people who were killed deliberately, rather than of natural causes?

The huge upper slab is wedged on a lower boulder to clearly divide the cavern in two.

The far reaches of Feizor Nick Cave, showing a small chamber. 

Some things are perfectly at home here: this was one of the biggest cave spiders I have ever encountered.

Feizor Nick Cave number 2 has a shallower entrance and is soon choked with boulders.

The view out is very impressive and indicates the tree cover making these caves very well hidden from passers-by.

Feizor Nick Cave Number 1 can just be seen at centre, just to the left of the prominent limestone 'pillar.'

The upper reaches of Feizor Nick - with a natural ancient ash woodland clinging to the limestone slopes.

There's a really ancient feel to the place: when walking around Feizor it is often very lonely - but yet there is a presence ... something from the past ... and I feel it often ..

From the head of Feizor Nick, Penyghent is seen at its most impressive - a great slumbering lion dominating Ribblesdale.

I clambered up onto the steeper and more open, eastern flank of Feizor Nick to allow access to the ridge above, and the views became ever more impressive.

View from the east flank of Feizor Nick to Oxenber Wood beyond, with Ingleborough in the distance, capped by cloud.

Spectacular view across the eastern escarpment of Feizor Nick, showing the scree slopes and the old lane down to Feizor - the craven lowlands beyond the South Craven Fault in the background.

All that is typical of limestone country:  ash trees, gleaming white scars and distant mountains.  I love this view.  The upland plateau of Moughton, flanking Crummackdale, can be seen at top right.  The dark, upper Yoredale slopes of Ingleborough are in shadow.

Lonely hawthorns always present great opportunities for the camera, especially with the majesty of Penyghent peeping into the picture.

In direct contrast to the pavements of Scales Moor and Scar Close, in Chapel-le-Dale, these pavements, lying close to the movements of the Craven Fault, are particularly shattered and weathered.  There are no huge, smooth, slabs here.  All is on a smaller scale - as more damage has been done to the limestone.

This can be seen equally clearly on this photograph, where the pavement is a mass of loose rocks, very difficult to walk upon.

Looking beyond the upper branches of a customary ash to the delightfully situated village of Feizor. The light green fields of the limestone to the north of the Craven Fault dominate the picture, with the more sombre tones of the Craven lowlands beyond.  Pendle Hill, in Lancashire, can just be made out in the left distance.

Ancient hawthorns clinging, with character, to the wind-swept scars above Feizor.  

An obvious Silurian 'erratic', deposited on the limestone by the Ribblesdale glacier. Penyghent and the great mass of Fountains Fell, on the right, are dominant.

The same erratic, viewed from the opposite direction and looking over to a prominent ash and gnarled hawthorns.   Note again the shattered nature of the pavements, a result of the South Craven Fault and of the exposure to weather from the west.

The exposure was very evident on this adventure, as can be seen from the wild movements of the ash tree.  The pavements have been shattered and eroded, with sections filled in by a layer of glacial till.

Bird's-eye view of Feizor, with a distinct 'ridge' cutting across the field beyond the village, possibly linked to ancient farming practices.  Again the line of the South Craven Fault is clear, running along a line roughly from just below top left to just above centre right, and following roughly a distinctive line of trees.    Note how the landscape changes either side of this line.

Approaching the impressive, walled summit of Pot Scar - the cairn's size indicating the site of a former watch tower or beacon.

The summit of Pot Scar is a mass of shattered stone, but the cairn itself offers a splendid windbreak, and the 360 degree view is amazing indeed.  The trees on the right cling to the raised limesone escarpment of the South Craven Fault.  The fault caused land here to rise up relative to that to the south, where rock strata has slipped hundreds of feet below its former level.  Anyone digging deep into the flat green fields in the centre of the picture would eventually hit the same limestone that once lay level with the position of the cairn on this picture!!  The Craven Faults were clearly dramatic movements ....

Panorama from a very windy Pot Scar.

A view down from the ridge allows the remains of a settlement to be made out in the fields below - believed, though not proven, to be Roman.    Whether or not this settlement is actually contemporary with the nearby 'Celtic' Wall (see later photographs) is another mystery.  At top left of the photograph can be seen 'The Field of the Dead' (see my post of the same name) where a number of ancient cairns and burial chambers can be found.

The splendid ridge between Pot Scar and Smearsett is one of the finest in the Yorkshire Dales.  Prominent in the picture is the glaciated 'trough' of the Happy Valley - a mysterious place with an almost surreal 'echo'.  It was another of Wainwright's favourites.  In the distance lie the uplands of Warrendale Knots, dominating the landscape above Settle.

Smearsett Scar has the appearance of an alpine giant, despite being about 1400 feet above the sea.  The sides are sheer and the exposure is terrific.

Peeping over a section of drystone wall, on the Smearsett ridge, to the Happy Valley and Warrendale Knots.  

The beautiful, glaciated trough of the Happy Valley - where Victorian picnics would be held in plenty - and where generations have tested the acoustics of the amazing echo.  The gap between an initial shout and the voice 'bouncing back' is of such a length as to make one feel that the ancients are returning your voice from another age.  On the plateau, up to the right, can be seen an isolated section of stonework - the 'Celtic Wall' - one of the unsolved mysteries of the Feizor area.

Glancing back along the delightful ridge to the cairn on Pot Scar, now in the distance.

Moody skies dominate the view acorss to the Celtic Wall, above the scars at the upper end of the Happy Valley.  Pendle sits in the distance on the left.

Approaching the summit of Smearsett: at this point I felt as if I was going to be blown off!

As you can see from this little clip ...

The panorama from Smearsett Scar is magnificent.  This view looks  across Ribblesdale to Penyghent and Fountains Fell - and the entire route of the Ribblesdale glacier - from left to right across the picture, can be seen.  

The ancient 'watch-tower' of Smearsett - sometimes called 'Smearside' - with the stark intrusion of the ordnance survey column.

The true inhabitants of the undulating landscape - just before 'legging it.' !!

Climbing the scar on the opposite side of Smearsett reveals the first section of the mysterious 'Celtic Wall'. 

The main section of The Celtic Wall, just beyond, is a superb construction: 65 feet in length, 5 feet thick and over 5 feet in height.  It is built of huge and weathered limestone blocks, suggesting it is of considerable age, but exactly how old it is, no-one is certain. 

Was it an elaborate wind shelter for sheep?  I doubt it, as its position offers no protection whatsoever from the prevailing winds.  Why build it so thick, for such a simple purpose?

Three wonders of the limestone country in one image: Penyghent, Smearsett Scar and the enigmatic Celtic Wall.

A close up of the impressive structure.  Whoever built it knew what he was doing - and it must have taken considerable effort, even to lift stones of such dimensions.  Some archaeologists have suggested it covers a major burial chamber.

The two sections of wall are separated by about twenty yards.  The smaller section, visible just below the tree in the right background appears never to have been connected to the larger section.  Was this part of a massive defence structure from Celtic tribes that was abandoned before being put to use?

The Celtic Wall: a panoramic view of the larger section, showing how it remains remarkably compact.

A short distance to the east, across the plateau containing the Celtic Wall, is the curious 'Dead Man's Cave': a perfect shelter on a rainy day.

'There are no dead men in it,' wrote Wainwright, in Walks in Limestone Country. At least, there weren't on 2nd September, 1968.'    There was no change today - thankfully!

The signatures in this cave make fascinating reading.  This one dates from 1822 but there are others, far older.  They indicate a romantic, pre-Victorian time when roaming on the fells began to be popular ...

Looking out of the rather snug little entrance to Dead Man's Cave.

Thomas 'Tot' Lord (1899-1965) was the most famous explorer of the Settle 'bone caves' during the last century, and was in this region often.  I searched for his signature or initials and after a minute or so - in a prominent position, was the obvious ....

At the back of the cave is evidence of digging into a small chamber.

Plenty of light penetrates through the large entrance of Dead Man's Cave, so ferns and mosses can grow on the back wall.  Visitors have carried in stone seats of varying dimensions.

Heading back along springy green turf to Feizor, with Ingleborough for company.

It's a wonderful world.

A peaceful scene as we return to Feizor, with the outward journey into Feizor Nick visible just left of centre.

Feizor is the village left of centre, reached quickly from the A65 between Settle and Clapham.  Limited parking is available free of charge in the village and there are lovely tea rooms!!  The lane to the north of the village swings into Feizor Nick, with the caves hidden away on the wooded slopes to the left.  The route then climbs onto the limestone plateau, reaching Pot Scar (centre) with great views down to the village, and Smearsett (right centre).  If the image is viewed full size, the Celtic Wall will be obvious as a detached section of stonework in the field above the 'Google earth' label.  Dead Man's Cave is more or less at the exact position of the capital 'G' itself.  The lovely route back to Feizor, completing the circlular adventure, runs along the green lane from bottom centre to the village.


  1. Love this area - been up Feizor Nick countless times, and never knew about the caves. You have inspired me to go and take a more careful look around up there, and I still have your Giggleswick Scar Caves walk on my to do list! Always enjoy your blogs Stephen, you are a truly talented writer (and explorer!) - Hope we can go walking together some time.

  2. Many thanks indeed. Yes the caves are well worth seeking out. It's nice to know my work is appreciated and means a lot. I hope you enjoy my book when it comes out later this year. Yes we will definitely have to meet up one day :) My idea is to eventually cover more or less every square mile of the Dales in great detail - so when I get old I can be there at the touch of a button!! :)

    1. Lucky to live at Highbark, at Feizor Nick

  3. Really enjoyed your blog Stephen. Only a few weeks ago I did very much the same walk (from Stainforth) which was brilliant but didn't visit the cave(s) or the Celtic wall. I think I'm going to have to go back!
    I've just ordered your book so that when I do other walks in the area I'll know better what to look out for and understand better what I'm seeing. Many thanks, Graham Hewitt.
    PS when is your next book likely to be out?