Albion, ancient sites, Art, Don and Wen

Rooted in the land – Off piste

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From the Haystack we walked along the edge of the moor, following the path to the Pancake Stone where Giant Rombald watches over the dale. The great slab is covered in cup and ring markings and at first glance, seems perched and ready to be once more a rocking stone. Closer inspection shows that too much rubble now rests between the stones to allow them to move. Nevertheless, I have tried many a time… though the legend says  it will only be moved by an honest man, which is why no Yorkshireman ever will…

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From here we walked a little further to the ‘scrying bowls’ and the odd rock formation there. We pondered their purpose and sought the faces carved by older forces than man upon its surface; if we could recognise the twin expressions of the stones, our ancestors would have done so too.

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Our companions headed off towards a pointy stone in the heather, remembering that here they walked amongst many excavated tombs. The Ubiquitous Pointy Stone Theory takes a bit of a bashing every time we come up onto the moors, yet the alignments at Ilkley tend to prove at least my basic premise, even if the edges get a little blurred. There was also an exhortation to keep their eyes on the rocks… many of them here are carved with cups. Two of us trailed behind, still debating the purpose of the stones and were thus lucky enough to come across a recumbent boulder covered with cup marks.

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An old exhibit at the Ilkley museum in the Manor house, now sadly closed, showed how these things may have been carved… not by chiselling, but by pecking at the stone. A recreation made with a deer-antler pick proved how clearly the fresh carving would have stood out against the weathered rocks all those thousands of years ago. The moor, covered in such carvings, must have been incredible to see when all was new.

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We rejoined our companions and headed out across the necropolis of Green Crag Slack, amid the innumerable cairns that housed our ancestral dead. Although the heather looks  like a carpet from a distance, don’t be fooled into thinking it makes for easy walking. As soon as you leave the paths you are knee-deep in woody stems.

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Anything may be under the heather, from wildlife to rocks and holes. It was well after the breeding season for the ground nesting birds, but it is always better to stick to the paths, particularly if you are up there on your own and just thinking. I recall one memorable occasion near the Crags where a false step saw me wedged by the elbows, dangling above a rocky void…

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Here, however, there would be no deep dark holes into which we could tumble, even if the faint path had disappeared and we were now wading through the heather and bracken, surrounded by the cairns. In summer it is impossible to appreciate the extent of the necropolis as so much is buried beneath a green and purple pall, but even in winter the outlines are blurred, the rocks displaced and it would take an expert to make true sense of what is seen over much of the area.

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Some features are clear, however… too big, or simply too complex to be missed. The two large boulders, for example, one undeniably pointy and the recumbent carved with a multitude of cups, lead the eye to the Haystack on the edge of the moor, whilst beside the worn track lies the Idol Stone.

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Whilst some carvings may be open to the debate as to whether carved by man or weather, being now so weathered, the Idol Stone leaves no doubt at all. We wondered about its possible uses… all speculation, of course… but the sharing of ideas is an important part of such weekends.  Just beside the stone lies another, perhaps a broken fragment of the original, whilst in the heather lie so many more I would like to see…

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We rested a while on the boulders at the top of this level before we climbed a little higher, heading towards the Lanshaw reservoir further up the moor. We were still nowhere near the highest point. The rocks tell so many stories… not just those of our human ancestors, but those of the sea creatures, even more ancient than our kin, and the birth pangs of the earth itself ripple through the rocks.

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Small birds watched our progress and grouse fluttered at our passing. There are grouse butts around here… always have been for as long as I can remember, though they used to be of turf and stone and blended well with the landscape. I am not a fan of killing for sport alone, nor are the modern stations my favourite features. But as we neared the water at Lanshaw, a kestrel was hovering over the moor.

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The clouds were rolling in as we followed the path that runs beside the dam and could finally see our destination, rather higher on the horizon than you would expect, having already climbed so far. The cluster of stones and the famous shed were all I could remember of the way to reach the Grubstones…

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