“How far is it?”
We were heading across Harland Sick below Harland Edge, following the path marked for Hob Hurst’s House, a unique burial site with a square central cyst. And of course, it was still uphill and had been for quite some time… With the threat of rain and overcast sky we had come well dressed and were hot now the sun had decided to breakthrough. We sat on a rock with the pungent scent of bracken-like incense in the air; tiny white blooms of heath bedstraw star the grass, foxgloves flower in the lee of the wall, and toadflax tumbles over the old stone. There is utter silence up here, so far from the roads… few birds sing, only the hum of the bees punctuates the stillness.
The map is little help… a walkers’ diagram, no more than placement with no distances. We had found the packhorse trail above Bunkers Hill Wood and were facing out onto Gibbet Moor. There seem to be a lot of gibbets lately… my mind wanders back to the gibbeted moles and quickly turns away. Not a pleasant image. I concentrate instead on looking for the promised fence, spotting the tops of the posts breaching the sea of bracken.
The lush green growth makes it difficult to see the outline of the site clearly, but the deep ditches and banks are nonetheless visible. The central, rectangular cyst stands open and overgrown with grasses and flowers… it doesn’t seem inappropriate somehow. It is a peaceful place, in spite of the legends that attribute its name to Hob Hurst… ‘hob’ is a name for a goblin, a sprite and ‘hurst’ is a hill… Stories tell of the goblin that haunted the nearby wood and, as so often, later brought in the idea of demons.
The site was excavated in 1853 by Thomas Bateman who found cremation remains and human bones, as well as fragments of iron ore. Today it stands open to the winds and is oddly welcoming. We find this so often at these ancient places of the dead. There is no fear here… just peace and, though it may seem odd on these bleak heights, a sense of warmth and welcome. We stayed a good while, just enjoying the moment on the empty moor. Voices carry a long way in these places, but there were only whisperings sighs of what might have been.
Eventually, we headed back down the track and took the fork that led towards a small, sleepy circle hiding entirely successfully in the bracken and heather. The area has several cairns and an enclosure too… but a winter trip would have to be made in order to see them properly; the vegetation in summer is their cloak and we saw no more than the contours in the green and the spectacular view across the valley to the sunlit hills beyond.
It was, by this time, late afternoon and all we had done was climb… we hadn’t even started the walk back towards the car and the ‘lost’ stone. So we followed the path down towards Chatsworth, crossing from light to green shade beneath the trees.