Of barrows, hollow hills, standing stones and sacred streams.

Of barrows, hollow hills, standing stones and sacred streams.
This is a slightly random post. It meanders, but then so does the stream which is its inspiration, the gypsey race, like an ancient thread through the hills of the Yorkshire Wolds.

The Great Wolds Valley Sacred Landscape.
The Yorkshire Wolds is a plateau of chalk / limestone hills a few miles south of Scarborough. Bordered to the west by the vale of York and to the east by the north sea, with steep sided valleys, and some dramatic cliffs at the seas edge. It is an area with many well preserved archaeological remains from the Neolithic period and the bronze age, and particularly rich in ritual monuments and their folklore and legends, which make up the Yorkshire Wolds sacred landscape. Hundreds of bronze age round barrows are known in the area, as well as the Rudston monolith, which is the tallest standing stone in Britain , Duggleby Howe, which is one of the largest round barrows in Britain and is thought to date from the late Neolithic (about 4000 yrs old), no less than 4 Neolithic cursus monuments, Willy Howe barrow, and many others.
Probably the best known feature of this ritual landscape is the Rudston monolith . This huge bronze age standing stone towers 25 feet above ground, and legend says it is as long again under the ground. The ground level was raised in 1861 by 5 feet, so the monolith prior to that was presumably 5 feet taller (30 ft). It stands in the cemetery surrounding Rudston church and there is another smaller stone in the north east corner of the churchyard which, supposedly, originally stood nearer to the monolith. Excavations in the 1700's are said to have found a quantity of skulls around the base of the monolith. The stone itself is siliceous sandstone (gritstone) and was reportedly brought from Cayton Bay, which is about 10 miles away across the Wolds, on the north sea coast, just south of Scarborough (though the Rudston village website says that the stone was brought from Whitby, 40 miles to the north). Rudston was obviously a ritual site of great importance to the people who raised the stone and built the numerous other monuments here, as was the whole landscape for miles around.
The legend of how the monolith came to be in the church yard says that the devil tried to destroy the church by throwing the huge stone at it, but he missed and the stone has been there ever since. Nonsense of course as the stone has been there about 3,600 years.  Far longer than the church, but it's a nice story.
There are also reputedly fossil dinosaur footprints on the stone, though i've personally never noticed these.
There are plenty of other interesting ancient sites around the Wolds Ritual Landscape, such as Willy Howe Barrow, Duggleby Howe Barrow, Ba'l Hill, and the whole area is rich in folklore and fairie legends.  This whole antiquarian magical landscape seems to be centred around the sacred stream known as the Gypsey Race, which winds for miles across the Wolds. This great complex of barrows, old stones and huge cursus monuments seems to follow the Gypsey Race from its source at the village of Wharram-le-Street,  past Duggleby Howe Barrow, Willy Howe and Ba'l hill, right through Rudstons four great cursus monuments, around the monolith and away to the east, before reaching the sea at Bridlington, forming one huge ceremonial centre.
Gypsey streams (there are more than one on the Yorkshire wolds ) are streams which flow intermittently, sometimes being dry for long periods then springing back into life unexpectedly, presumably because of variations in the water table.

The Gypsey Race too has its legends, including one that says when the race flows it is a sign of impending disaster, and the most interesting (to me) says that people who drink from the stream are granted the ability to foretell the future.
The Gypsey Race flows east past Duggleby Howe, a large Neolithic barrow, one of the largest in Britain, surrounded by a ditched enclosure covering about 25 acres.




Ba'l hill

Beyond Rudston the Gypsey Race passes Southside Mount, another Neolithic or possibly bronze age barrow, and the 'barrow cemetery' at Rudston beacon.
Then it flows on past a variety of ancient sacred sites / monuments, including Willy Howe (which ive written about here....    http://earthworks-m.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/of-fairy-cups-and-hollow-hills.html), Ba'l Hill, which is another neolithic barrow, Maidens Grave Henge, Argham dykes, and the group of 4 cursus monuments which cluster around Rudston itself.

The amount of work, energy, time, planning etc that must have been put into this huge ritual complex is staggering and shows that it was obviously of huge importance in ancient times, much more than is obvious from this now relatively quiet and peaceful rural landscape.
The landscape bordering the Yorkshire Wolds is also steeped in legends and folklore.  Filey, a small town on the coast, is home to its own dragon legend.  
Filey Brigg is a strip of land which juts out from the northern end of Filey Bay into the North Sea.

One legend says that a dragon once lived in the area, and the local people decided to do away with it. They baked a huge sticky cake (known locally as parkin) and fed it to the dragon. It was so sticky that the dragon had to go to the seas edge to wash its mouth, and was drowned. It's bones remain visible as Filey Brigg.
On february 28th, 1934 a local coastguard named Wilkinson Herbert saw a 'dragon' in the sea at Filey, with an 8 ft long neck, a 30ft long body, and two huge humps. It had four legs with flippers. He described it as "a most gruesome and thrilling experience". Maybe it was a relation of the dragon that drowned, or maybe it wasnt a dragon at all but something else entirely.





  Whether or not the dragon has something to do with the local peoples pagan beliefs is not known, but apparently filey people were only converted to christianity as late as the early nineteenth century, by a preacher named John Oxtoby. But dragons are very difficult to kill..........










Whilst on the subject of flying fiery things, the story of the 'Wolds meteorite' comes to mind.....On December 13th 1795, during a tremendous thunderstorm, a meteorite fell to earth near the village of Wold Newton. People heard a hissing noise overhead and the meteorite crashed into a field belonging to one Edward Topham, the local magistrate.  It was duly dug up while still warm and smelling of sulphur, and weighed approx 55 lb.  It was later exhibited in London and i believe it is now on display in the Natural History Museum in London.

                                                                        The Wold Newton meteorite.

Duggleby howe

The Yorkshire Wolds sacred landscape was clearly a very important place over a very long period of prehistory, both to the people who lived here and probably to people far beyond the local area too. But the Wolds do not exist in isolation, there are many other ancient monuments and places which have a magic of their own close by. The famous Folkton 'drums' were found in a barrow nearby, the world famous Mesolithic site of Star Carr is right on the edge of the wolds, The North York Moors with its own sacred landscapes (such as Brow Moor, with its wealth of prehistoric rock art ), and its many stone circles, standing stones and barrows etc is just a few miles to the north. All these combine with the many ancient legends and stories to give an insight into ancient beliefs and cultures of the people of prehistory in this area.







The Folkton 'drums'.

Yorkshire wolds


1 comment:

  1. A truly sacred and magical landscape indeed. Thankyou for such an interesting post!

    ReplyDelete

welcome and thank you for visiting.