Monday, 25 November 2013

Coney Garth: The Pillow Mounds
Lonely Burials in a Forgotten Landscape?

Marked on the Ordnance Survey map, but miles off the beaten track for most, these mysterious ancient mounds have a strange, enchanting appeal - especially when you visit them alone, as I did today.  It's easy to be alone here.

Turning westwards from the little village of Rathmell, south of Settle - a minor road passes the school before a single track road climbs to the north-west towards Giggleswick.  At SD789609 a car can be left on the rough trackway of Swainstead Raike.  This is the key to some of Yorkshire's finest ancient features, yet some of the most elusive.  Being tucked out of the way - very few know the Pillow Mounds and Harry Speight (1892) wrote: 'they do not appear to have been noticed by any writer.'  As far as I am aware, they have not been photographed or publicised in any book before or since .... so this post is a first.  They certainly exist nowhere else on the internet ... but please correct me if you're already a seasoned 'pillow mounder' ... and know differently ...

Swainstead Raike is an ancient old highway betwen high walls.  You can sense it leading to something special.  Gritsone erratics are scattered around the area, dropped by glaciers some 12,000 years ago as they made their way down onto the Craven Lowlands.

Coney Garth Pasture is marked by the obvious 'hump' in front, with a few scattered trees. Penyghent and Fountains Fell are in the background.  The name literally means 'colonised hill' especially when referring to animals: in this case, rabbits.  The pasture was once an extensive rabbit warren.  Many of the recognised 'pillow mounds' in the country have been found to be artificial rabbit warrens from the Middle Ages.  Yet those in Coney Garth contain tantalising evidence that they were used for other purposes - especially as charcoal and flints were found in the upper mound.  To enter the pasture, head down to the trees on the extreme right, where a gate gives access to a footpath leaing to these very special archaeological sites.

Some of the gritstone erratics are very impressive.  The high country in the background marks the line of the South Craven Fault - and was once a huge shelf  marking the barrier between shallow and deep water in a tropical sea.

Looking to the woodland at the eastern extremity of Coney Garth Pasture, with Settle nestling under the Craven Fault zone in the distance.

Entering the pasture ... and excitement begins to build.  The lush grassland at the highest point of the pasture was chosen for this series of 'burial chambers', which have never been reliably dated.  Speight, (1892) considers them to be 'probably of Celtic origin.'  Are they, as the name suggests, simply man-made warrens?

The first cairns encountered are this series of obvious 'burial mounds' or the 'E' mounds as labelled on a diagram by the Reverend Arthur Cross of Giggleswick School in the19th century.  He was one of the first to explore these intriguing features.

At least four burial mounds, aligned north east - south west - make up this southern complex.  They vary in size with one smaller mound wedged between two larger examples.

View of the southern complex looking north west, with a small mound just visible between a larger pair.  

Strange illusions can happen at places like this.  The ditch surrounding one of the 'burial mounds' is on the left - and at centre, shades of the turf reveal an obvious skull which looked very eerie when viewed through a camera lens.  Squint at the screen or move a few feet backwards and you can't miss it.

For those who lack an eccentric imagination ...

By far the most startling member of the group is this massive square enclosure situated on level ground at the top of the pasture. At the centre, excavations revealed, 10 inches down - a large amount of charcoal, with burnt earth and stones that appeared to have been subjected to intense heat.  Fragments of an urn were also uncovered from this obvious hearth, as well as flints.  Speight writes (1892) ' it appears as if the funeral pyre had been kindled in the centre of the space where the burnt earth and stones were found, and the urn broken and destroyed by some previous explorers.'

The square enclosure on its plateau, clearly visible to the right of the hawthorn, and beneath the rocks of Coney Garth.

Panoramic view of Mound 'B' - the square 'funeral' enclosure, with the ridge of the hearth visible in the centre - and the masssive burial mound 'C' running parallel to the main square on the right.

The square enclosure from the south, looking to the summit of Coney Garth.  It occupied a very prominent position on the outcrop.

The longest and best preserved feature - Mound C - shown in the foreground running parallel to the square funeral enclosure (in the background).  The limestone heights above Settle can be seen in the distance.

The awesome mound C, looking south.  It is over 30 yards long and is surrounded by a low ditch.  Much effort obviously went into its construction.

Mound C from the south - with the ditch clearly visible, though it is now much silted up.

To the north of the square enclosure is this somewhat isolated cairn known as Mound A.  It is 16 yards long and 5 yards wide.  Excavations here revealed flints and scrapers, with evidence that it had been plundered many years before the 19th century.  Charcoal was also present in this mound.  Just above centre can be seen Mound D, with the huge Mound C running diagonally just left of centre.  This is a fascinating complex of ancient features that repays several visits.

Mound D, at the north-west of the group, is split into several distinct 'burial mounds' and surrounded by a shallow but obvious ditch.  

A final view of the spectacular southern complex, showing the small mound sandwiched between two others, and with a great view up the flat expanses of the Craven Lowlands.

Looking from the top of Coney Garth to Giggleswick Scar and the great bulk of Penyghent. The scar is an exposure of the South Craven Fault and the line of the fault can be seen beneath the cliffs.  The limestone along the fault line slipped down hundreds of feet and now lies far below the green fields in the foreground, when it was once a continuation of the clifftops towards the camera.  What an earth movement that must have been!!

The Ingleborough massif from the same position.  You can never escape the master's presence - and no wonder the ancients chose this location.

The summit of Coney Garth, just behind the square enclosure, has this outcrop of gritstone with obvious arrangements of the boulders into a crude circle.  Does this have a connection with the ancient peoples who established the Pillow Mounds?  I like to think so ...

Coney Garth and the Pillow Mounds from the air.  Please respect these ancient mouments and try to disturb the site as little as possible.  Let their secrets lie forever.  Sit - alone .. and feel the past ...

Stephen x

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Join 'A Three Peaks Up and Under' on Facebook

The blog has had nearly 19,000 views in nine months - which is not bad going, I suppose, for a site concentrating on just a tiny part of a small country. It's amazing how many people from the United States are in love with little Penyghent when they have the Grand Canyon and the Rockies! Hopefully I can get that 20, 000th view in before Christmas!  In the meantime - please join my group on Facebook for all the latest videos, adventures and photographs of the Three Peaks: great to browse through when you are too tired for a marathon read.   I am putting the finishing touches to the book on which the blog is based, which I want to be the most detailed and characterful book ever written on Ingleborough, Penyghent and Whernside.  I'm losing sleep over headings .... and the fact that several potholes on the side of Penyghent have not had a mention ... and need to have.  It should keep us all going through the dark winter months: nearly 400 pages of luscious limestone!  More of a duffle coat than an anorak ....

The most popular post?  Well - believe it or not the 'Scars of Feizor' from July is beating all the rest at the moment: not hard to understand when you see the vivid green landscape on a July Sunday. It is closely followed by: 

'The Darling of the Early Tourists' - Weathercote Cave.   Turner's famous subject seems especially popular with viewers from overseas.  Many thanks for visiting and posting comments - and hopefully with your support we can get 20, 000 visits on the clock .

                                                    Keep exploring:  Stephen x

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Ancient Footsteps
Uncovering the past around Ribblehead

Ribblehead has much more than its 24 arch viaduct.  I have visited the area scores of times over the past few years, and, on each occasion, have revealed something new and spectacular.  

Here's the main magnet of course, the great viaduct across Batty Moss - with Whernside dominating the surroundings.  Notice the upland plateau just beneath the summit - the product of a 'niche glacier' during a cold period at the 'melting' stage of the last glaciation.  A prominent landslip can also be seen on the mountain, filled with shadow just left of centre.

History is everywhere here.  These mounds are all that remains of the 'hospital' built to serve those who toiled on the viaduct between 1870 and 1875 - when smallpox and other diseases were rampant (for full details of the construction camps -see my earlier post on the Shanty Towns of Ribblehead).

Harry Speight, in his famous Craven and North West Yorkshire Highlands (1892) provided this serene illustration of a fox sheltering in a double stone circle.  My mission today was to set out and locate this 'lost' antiquity. Speight's directions mention going down the road from Ribblehead and looking over the wall 'on the right.' Mmmmm!  That leaves several options, and many historians today think he actually meant to say the 'left' .... so let's have a closer look!

The field on the left, as the road heads down towards Ingleton, contains a range of features such as this small ring cairn, with just a few stones left in its south west sector.

It is interesting that small boulders of gritstone - remnants of erratics left by the glaciers, have been deliberately chosen for the construction.

This is the same barrow viewed from the west, just visible in the centre of the image, with Penyghent and Park Fell.  These barrows are very close to the Viking settlement at Gauber, located at the top left of the photograph.  However, they are more likely to be Bronze Age.

On the opposite side of the road - the right hand side when moving towards Ingleton, things get even more fascinating.  The field is a mass of small 'clearance cairns' - where Bronze Age peoples cleared fields for cultivation and livestock by piling the boulders into these irregular mounds.  The clearance cairns may well surround prominent burial cairns.  This one is considerably larger than most around it and appears to have been disturbed.

Here's another view of it, forming a horseshoe shape similar to the enclosures on the summit of Ingleborough.  Following Speight's instructions in his classic book, this would appear to be the area he mentions ... but these cairns are small and there is no evidence of the double ring he mentions.

Within this field of 'clearance cairns' - some of the gritstone erratics seem to me to be too strategically placed to be in their original positions when the ice melted.  This one, at north east, appears to be lined up exactly with another at the south west of the enclosure.  Were these placed to coincide with the rising and setting sun?  Notice how this boulder is exactly in line with the dip in the hills above which the sun would have first appeared in June.

A good example of a clearance cairn - a stark example of early farming practice.

This one stands out as something a bit more special.  Those gritstone boulders have definitely been arranged in an arc around a prominent central mound.

The field is full of intrigue.  You can smell and feel the past here.

Limestone is never far away of course, such as here at Ellerbeck Rocks.

Speight mentions a broken limestone pavement with a massive detached boulder of gritstone at the north-east corner and its long axis pointing down the dale.  Could this be it?  If so, we are in the vicinity of his great double circle.  This is one beautiful erratic.

I took a wander further south where evidence of cairns was even more prolific.

Immediately obvious in this field is a prominent tongue of land on a raised plateau, containing the fabulous Haws House Pasture Ring Cairn, easily seen on aerial photographs like this one.  A range of barrows and cairns can be found towards the tapering north east section of the plateau.  Was this Harry Speight's circle, and has it been robbed of stones since the latter part of the 19th century?  It is certainly on the left, and close to a limestone pavement as he describes ...

Here I am approaching the plateau from the south.  The Ring Cairn is up there somewhere - very well hidden.

Got it at last - and yes - you can see evidence of a double ring here.  No doubt about that.

This is an amazing place.  The banking of the Haws House Ring Cairn is about five feet thick with just a few stones present.  A gritstone boulder is again placed at north east as an 'outlier' and standing in the centre of the circle it is exactly in line with the rising sun.  The boulder can be seen at top left.

Another superb view of the Ring Cairn.  

Close up of the banking structure of the Haws House Ring Cairn.

Now I'm lined up due north at noon.  Notice the boulder placed in line with the sunrise position?  I might be wrong - but it looks a definite strategic placement to me. Either that, or the circle was placed with the boulder's natural position in mind.

Here's the stone itself - and it contains a series of grooves in its surface.

The stone - looking west towards the lower slopes of Whernside.

Panoramic view of the Haws House Ring Cairn, possibly 3000 years old.

The cairns along the plateau have smooth profiles and appear to be associated with the main Ring Cairn, rather than being the result of clearance.  This is a lovely example.

The same cairn, looking west.

Looking back along the Haws House Pasture with the Ring Cairn visible just above centre and the outlying stone to the right.  

A closer inspection of the cairn and its outlier, with a great view of Whernside with a touch of snow on its northern slopes. (SD752782)

Across the road is what many consider to be Speight's 'lost circle' - the massive Neolithic Cairn in Sleight's Pasture.

This splendid cairn fits with Speight's description, but did he mix up right and left in his writings??  This lies on the left hand side of the road, and not the right, as Speight stated.  It has a raised banking  and has been obviously disturbed, with an open end facing Whernside. Possibly the mountain had symbolic significance to the builders.

The Sleight's Pasture Cairn, looking west.

Evidence of a definite double ring structure.

Is this a possible excavated barrow incorporated into the banking? 

The superb Sleight's Pasture cairn looking north east, with some of the large gritstone boulders on the left.

A good view of the northern section and the remains of the 'double ring', with Park Fell in shadow.

Overall, this is still a very impressive structure, despite the amount of destruction over the years.

Whernside and the Sleight's Pasture Neolithic Cairn.  I still can't decide which was the Harry Speight circle!

The search for the 'Lost Circle' as seen from the air ...

Beyond, at Fell Close Rocks, the natural architecture is superb.

This limestone duo have real character.  Note the prominent landslip on Whernside.

Looking north west from Fell Close Rocks.

The boulders in a wider panorama.

Whernside from the limestone pavement at Fell Close Rocks.  The slopes of the Yoredale Series can be seen plunging down to meet the Great Scar Limestone.

Whernside framed by lonely trees.  

Whernside's upper slopes contained a dusting of snow today.

A weathered limestone boulder dropped by the melting ice 12,000 years ago.

Man versus nature.  The Ribblehead Viaduct and a cracking boulder, left by melting ice.

A dominant presence!

Looking towards Gearstones, the wooded ravine of Thorns Gill - and the abandoned hamlet of Thorns itself, in trees on the right.  

View of Whernside from the path to Colt Park Wood.

Gorgeous view of Whernside's snowy northern slopes - above the upland plateau carved by the niche glacier.  The barn sets off the scene to perfection.

Colt Park Wood is sheep-free, and a perfect example of what limestone might have looked like before farming.  The Frog Prince has been guarding the perilous foliage-covered grykes for thousands of years.  He was dumped by the great Ribblesdale glacier.

And he's been grinning  cunningly, ever since.

'Read it? Read it?' ... Well you nearly have ....

But he looks great from all angles.

As does the living symbol of the Yorkshire Dales ...

The glaciers have left their handiwork everywhere, such as here at New Close Rocks.

The vivid oranges of autumn bracken contrast beautifully with the limestone.

Pointing to a blue heaven, with Penyghent competing.

New Close Rocks - a sea of colour.

And completing our ancient tour with a visit to the fabulous Viking Longhouse at Gauber.

The kitchen is equally impressive.  Not exactly 'fitted'!

A quick pop into the Blacksmith's ....

And a last peep through the door of the Longhouse - with the light beginning to fade.

Enjoy wandering in this marvellous ancient landscape ... but respect all monuments, tread with care and be sensitive to the age of these special sites.  You'll love the adventure!

Stephen x