Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Malham Many Moons Ago
Man's Impact on a Limestone Landscape

Malham is world famous for its geological masterpieces, but it doesn't fall far short in ancient historical wonders either.  In fact, if you know where to look, you can spend hours away from the crowds in places where you might not see a soul - but can imagine many.

Malham Raikes, just outside the village on the slopes of the Cawden reef knoll, are curiously small, walled enclosures dating back to the 13th century or even earlier.  Back then, an agreement was made between the dominating Fountains Abbey and Bolton Priory stating 'that the walls raised by the Abbot and Convent in Caluedon shall remain in the state that they were at Easter 1257.'  This is an early form of the name of this former coral reef, stemming from 'calf-don.' The raikes positively reek of history!

Another view of the ancient structure and quaint scale of the Malham Raikes.

A misty view westwards from the Raikes across the line of the Mid Craven Fault to Pikedaw Hill, with Kirkby Fell in mist.  High Barn, in the centre, with its impressive arched porch, is one of the highlights of the village, dominating the view for miles around.

Cawden is composed of reef limestone.  This was actually a living coral reef- similar to the Great Barrier Reef - separating the shallow lagoons of the Craven uplands from the deeper waters of the lowlands after the movements of the Craven Faults.  Hunting around the scree reveals a rock made up of hundreds of corals, brachiopods, crinoids and fossilised algal colonies.  

A sample of rock from Cawden.  It has no real structure and is basically hardened 'mud' made from the remains of algae, corals and crinoids.  Good examples can be seen at the bottom of the image - daunting to think that they were alive and kicking over 300 million years ago in a warm, tropical sea!  The Great Scar Limestone of Malham Cove contains very few fossils in comparison.  

Climbing the steep road, this view down the lower reaches of the Gordale Valley opens up, with superb examples of 'lynchets' - terraced field systems to make easier ploughing, believed to date back to Angl0-Saxon times.  On Wedber, opposite, another reef knoll, further ancient settlements can be made out.

Over the wall is the fascinating Iron Age settlement of Stridebut Edge.  This view shows one of the main enclosures, looking west towards Pikedaw Hill.  A distinctive example of a 'walled passage' can be seen in the foreground - a narrow gap between the walls (following the line of the nettles).  Their purpose remains a mystery, though it is thought they may have been covered with turf and acted as useful storage spaces.  They crop up on several Iron Age settlements in the Malham area. In total, the south wall including the passage is about ten feet thick.

A view of the curving 'walled passage' looking east.  It terminates at two huge boulders which may have some significance to the site's location.

The main enclosure of Stridebut Edge.  It is well sheltered from the north by the crag of limestone, and in fact, utilises this as the north wall of the settlement.  The 'walled passage' runs between the two large boulders in the image.  The whole complex is believed to be a series of small Iron Age Farms of the second or third century A.D.  To the left side, a wall of gravel, covered by turf, leads towards the camera and connects the southern part of the settlement, just out of the picture.

View of the main Stridebut Edge enclosure from the north bank.  The two dominating boulders can be seen at top left, with the 'walled passage' running across the image.  The gravel bank connecting the southern complex can just be made out running down the fields at the top right section of the picture.  

The main enclosure viewed from the west.  The post in the centre no doubt had an information board many moons ago.  Two small hut circles were found, side by side at the northern end of the enclosure.

One of two small hut circles to the west of the main enclosure.  An iron knife and fragments of Iron Age pottery were found in this vicinity.

Remains of the gravel bank leading down to a circular enclosure, 60 feet in diameter - possibly the main meeting point for the community and  clearly the central feature of the whole complex. The circle is clearly seen on this picture.

The circular enclosure, part of which, at bottom right, is made of a double row of raised boulders, like half a stone circle.  This could be another example of a walled passage but differs in structure.  The lovely reef knoll of Cawden lies in the background.

Smaller hut enclosures within the main complex of Stridebut Edge.  The large 6o ft. diameter circle is at top right, difficult to make out from this angle.

The isolated knoll of Shorkley Hill, cross the road from Stridebut Edge, is rumoured to be the place where the gallows once stood, and where many public hangings took place.  Imagine, in the twilight, a silhouetted body swinging up there! In the foreground are yet more remains, that of an Iron Age Settlement that needs a few days to explore.  This site is only a short distance from the lip of Malham Cove itself.  

Raised earthworks and a multitude of huts and enclosures make for a whole day's exploration.

Glancing back at Shorkley Hill, with the ridge of an ancient settlement crossing the path of an explorer.  This is one fascinating place.

Turf-covered walls of an ancient enclosure.  Both Bronze and Iron Age remains have been found here.  By the way, that's Lancashire, and Pendle Hill on the horizon.

You can, in fact, have great fun playing 'who can find the best house?'  How about this one?

The main attraction, however, is the massive Bronze Age cairn of Sheriff Hill.  So massive, in fact, that early farmers used it for walling stone during the enclosures around 1845. There is still much to be seen though, and this is one of those places where you can feel the people of the past as you sit listening to the wind.  The cattle here seem more nosey than usual, as if wondering what you are doing peeping at this secret spot which, for them, I suppose, is an elaborate toilet.  Or is it?  They seem to guard Sheriff Hill in a very determined way.  Don't under-estimate what they know ...

I wondered if this young bull had been around before?  He seemed very suspicious!

Very suspicious indeed!  Actually, he was a big softie.  I could have taken him home by the end of the evening.  What a charming animal he was ...

Once I'd befriended him, I was able to pop over the fence without fear of death to the superb cairn.  Just look at the amount of stone that went into making this!  Sheriff Hill produced human remains but is most famous for its pottery, in particular a red and blue 'incense cup' which is one of only two or three examples ever found in Britain.  In previous centuries, the mound was known as 'Friar's Heap' as it was believed to have been associated with the monks - though that was just a popular myth of the time.  It certainly dates back to the Middle Bronze Age ... and that's a long, long time ago ..

Take a look at this stunning ancient monument.

These are wonderful sites but I have been deliberately coy about giving exact details so that they can remain undisturbed as much as possible.  However, many well-meaning people will want to see these great places.  Most are marked on the Ordnance Survey Map of the region, and when this is combined with Arthur Raistrick's classic 'Malham and Malham Moor' (Dalesman) any interested explorer will have hours of fun delving into the past.  Combine all that with Google Earth and the job is made much easier.  Just remember to respect the sites and leave them as you found them.  They are irreplaceable and deserve the greatest respect from us all.

Stephen x


  1. enjoyed the read and photo' tour thank you
    you might like this ?

  2. Thank-you. Love your site - it has a great mix of eccentricity and out of the way places and is really different. In a way, it inspired me to get 'Jacko' back to Malham for his camping memories. I will check out your link and cheers. Keep up the Teddy Tours!
    Stephen :)