Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Stones of Stone Lane in, er, Stone (near Todmorden)

These standing stones are almost unheard of, but one of them must be amongst the tallest of menhirs yet to be discovered by the masses.
We began our search on a fresh and bright Sunday in September. Heading for Todmorden with our trusty battered old O.S. map and Paul Bennett’s inspirational guide to the stoney goodies of West Yorkshire - 'The Old Stones of Elmet', we had little idea of the beauties that awaited us!

The map doesn’t actually show the position of the stones, but the settlement of ‘Stones’ has a ‘Stones Lane’, so we reckoned that they couldn't be too hard to locate!

Thinking we’d worked out a short-cut through Gauxholme, we soon found ourselves heading up the precipitous valley-side at an alarming angle, on an unfeasibly narrow lane! The tiny road petered out and became a rough, rubble track. With my car’s exhaust scraping the uneven surface and my suspension taking a severe pounding, we finally reached a dead-end. About to attempt to turn round and begin our descent we caught sight of something on the near horizon.

‘Is that a standing stone?’

We couldn’t tell what it was from where we were. It looked like it could’ve just been a dead tree-trunk in the hedgerow, so we decided to re-read the directions given in the guidebook. We barely noticed the tiny flock of sheep that approached, hastily followed by an old farmer, who eyed us up suspiciously. I asked him if he knew of any standing stones nearby and he said that the thing we'd seen was one. He graciously gave us permission to cross his field to photograph the monolith.

It was a curious thing! Standing maybe twelve feet high, rather slim, with what looked like holes bored into it for attaching gate hinges. Maybe it was just an old gatepost that had been moved there? It sat on a large circular stone too, like a mill-stone. Not very 'natural looking' at all...
According to the 1912 geological survey map of the area, there was no stone here, it’s reckoned to have ‘appeared’ there sometime between 1912 and 1921. Perhaps it was moved there to replace a missing stone? The mound on which it stands is called Centre Hill, but is also known as Beacon Hill, showing it’s use in times past.

After taking a few photographs we returned to the car to get a grid reference for the other stones. We didn’t have to bother though, as a friendly resident of the neighbouring house came out and told us where the others lay.

Just to the west of Centre Hill, in the adjacent field, stood the tallest and most impressive of the group. Again, a good twelve feet high.

This one had a ‘prescence’ that it's spindly colleague lacked. A much more ‘self-assured’ stone! I noticed faint markings at head height and wondered if they could be old, weathered letters. They were far too indistinct to make out for sure though.

Walking north-west up Stones Lane we found the next monolith. Sitting in a field to the left, only four-and-a-half-feet tall, it would have been easy to miss it, camaflouged as it squats near the dry-stone wall.

Bennett wrote that this stone once had a brother, which was still standing during the early 1950s, but isn’t today. However, at the point where the older maps show where it used to be, there now lies a spring. A trough of stones had been arranged around the opening and there lays a stone, about five feet long, said to be the lost brother-menhir. Today it forms part of the ‘basin’ that holds the spring water for the livestock.

Livestock that needs to be extra alert these days! According to reports in the Northern Earth journal, a 'large, black feline' was spotted wandering around the West Yorks/Lancashire border shortly before our visit...
Reported to be 'about half the size of a sheep, with a thick rounded tail', it was sighted 'near the standing stone, at Stones'.

The story prompted another sighting from 3 weeks before at Walsden, another 'long-tailed' black feline, '3 or 4 times bigger than a domestic cat'. Following this were 2 sightings near an animal sanctuary at Blackstone Edge (both by the same woman). Luckily for us, the beast didn’t make an appearance during our visit…


Alien Big Cats notwithstanding, we made a return visit, mob-handed, and found a rather cool 'celtic' carved stone head adorning a nearby house:-

And one of our party pointed out an 'anti-witch' device on the top of an old farmhouse. According to local lore, these embellishments are useful for preventing 'witches' from landing on your roof!

I think it's likely this area holds many more secrets and oddities and is worthy of additional exploration... watch this space!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The great Grey Stone of Harewood

A magnificent boulder, must be 10 feet high!

We parked in the layby at the junction of the A61 and the tiny road from Wike village. A place occasionally frequented by car thieves so lock up your valuables if you leave your vehicle there!
A dash across the dicey A61 (it's a game of 'Chicken' crossing the road here, trying to find a gap in the speeding traffic), and we entered through an ornate gateway into the Harewood estate…

A grand tranquil vista of rolling parkland, designed by the great Capability Brown, spread out before us! We followed the well-trod bridleway through rolling meadows and eventually found ourselves in a wider expanse of pasture that stretched southwards. Evergreen woodland surrounded the fields and in the distance, near the edge of the conifer plantations, we spied the stone.

The rock itself is unmissable, standing alone in a north facing field, bounded by woodland.

The views northwards from here were far-reaching; the unmistakable gritstone lump of Almscliffe Crag could easily be seen in the distance. On the north-western face of the rock is an ancient carving. It seems to be seven concentric rings, though they're now very indistinct…
The rock art expert Graeme Chappell tells us that if you stood here sometime around 1800 BC, you could watch the midwinter full moon set behind Almscliffe Crag at the major lunar standstill!

Whilst taking photographs I noticed several huge birds circling above us – the Red Kites! The Harewood estate is home to several breeding pairs. Massive things they were, soaring across the sky like pterodactyls!

A solitary old oak tree stood above the stone. Out of curiosity I walked over to check it out. It was gnarled and partly rotten, hollow with age. Walking around to the opposite side I glanced up into the crown above and something caught my eye. Pinned to the tree trunk, just within reach, was a small colourfully-decorated piece of card, showing spiral designs, eyes and moons. On the reverse was a poem, written in ink. Above this, and to the right was a wooden stick with a teasel head fastened to one end (phallic eh?!). This had coloured cord, a feather and turquoise coloured stones tied around it. To the left, partly concealed under the bark, was a rolled up scroll of paper, again tied with coloured cord. Through the thin paper I could make out symbols on it's other side, didn’t recognise any of them though.

A spell or an offering of some sort?
Feeling that it would be an invasion of someones privacy to take them down or read the scroll, I left the objects alone to do their thing…

After taking in the peaceful panorama for a while we headed back to the car. Halfway along the bridleway I turned back for a last look at the stone. A monster 4x4 shot out from the wood at the bottom of the slope and burned it's way up the hill. It came to a stop by the rock. Probably the estate security staff?

Maybe they thought we were the vandals that had scrawled the mindless graffiti that we'd seen on parts of the stone. Or the people that had left the 'spells' in the tree? Or poachers, after the Red Kites? We decided not to hang around to find out...

Friday, 15 January 2010

The Druid's Temple

The name of this place conjures up images of a vast megalithic site, perhaps equalling Stonehenge in grandeur and mystery. The site is impressive, but it’s not some ancient prehistoric construction. It was built in the 1820’s by a wealthy landowner, Mr William Danby, a squire of nearby Swinton. An enlightened industrialist, he created this folly to give local men an income during a time of high unemployment.

The day I visited the weather was beautiful, right up until we left Masham and started to climb the twisting narrow roads into the hills. As we neared the Temple grim clouds raced in (right on cue!), it became eerily dark and the wind began to howl through the pine woods!

Parking up in the tiny carpark, we grabbed our waterproofs and entered the gloomy interior of the forest. Following a woodland path through the swaying spruce and larch it wasn’t long before the menhirs loomed up ahead.

The trilithons and a solid ‘wall’ of boulders encircled the site. Within the perimeter were guard stones and uprights, an altar and a tomb.

There were the recent remains of several fires within the Temple itself, and candle wax on the rock 'altar' by the cave-like tomb at the end.
This dank hole in the hillside was once home to a hermit, according to local lore. Apparently, William Danby made the offer that any man who could live there for seven years would receive an annuity. One man managed almost five years, but went insane in the process…

Dotted throughout the plantation are more single menhirs, dolmens and other curious arrangements of stone. Around one such dolmen nearby was a raging bonfire and hordes of well-wrapped-up kids careering around. Barbecues were arranged around the fire and balloons were pinned to the trees. They were having a party!

The site is a popular destination for neo-pagans and there are many stories of it’s ritual use in recent times.
It also has a reputation for inducing fear in visitors! Baroness Masham of Ilton (quoted in Hansard) said:-

"A few miles from Masham, on the estate, is a realistic copy of a druid temple, with all the stones, including the sacrificial stone, in the correct positions. One Sunday afternoon, my secretary was going for a walk with a friend when she found a pig's head sitting on the altar, which gave her a terrific shock. It is thought that there has been devil worship there. "On another occasion, I had to leave home early one morning. Just outside Masham, I found a small group of Leeds University students who had spent the night at the druids temple. They were cold and frightened. With the night shadows and the country noises, such as owls hooting, they had fled. As I was going towards Leeds, I gave them a lift. They told me that they had had a terrible experience. "Another incident at the druid temple was a large gathering of people from Manchester who took over the place for the whole night in order to have a rave. They tore gates off their hinges and broke down trees to make a huge bonfire. The police were called and with the gamekeepers, could only watch at a distance. It was only after a fight had taken place within the group and one of the people had been taken to hospital with severe injuries that the rave subsided. When my nephew visited the site the next day to inspect the damage, he found half-burnt probation orders and such discarded documents."

The main reason for my visit was to check out the surfaces of the stones in the circle. Tony Liddell of the Otherworld North East Research Society had told me that he'd previously noticed strange esoteric symbols that had been scratched on the rocks. He described how he'd taken some photographs several years ago and had the symbols looked at by an occultist, who identified some as being reminiscent of ‘Travelling Magic’, or of ‘Summoning’.

I’ve yet to discover the exact nature of ‘Travelling Magic’. Discussions with friends have come up with; symbols that you concentrate on and 'enter' to reach another plane/place, symbols that act as 'beacons' or place-markers for spirit travel (either 'ghostly' or shamanic?), symbols similar to the ones Romany people and 'tramps' used to leave to show if households were sympathetic to travellers and might provide a meal etc., and symbols like 'Yantras' that are geometrical designs to illustrate the essence of a particular thing (or realm)...

The idea that I tend to think most likely is that the occultist was referring to something like ‘trance’ work, which some people call Journeying, or Travelling. The ‘Summoning’ could be for invoking a guide for that sort of travel?

Unfortunately, on this occasion I could find no trace of any carved occult symbols (apart from a small pentagram drawn in charcoal), just the usual graffiti - football team allegiances, peoples' initials, who-loves-who and who-was-'ere.
I’m planning on returning in the near future however, hopefully with better luck and a companion who can point out the curious carvings…

It’s definately an atmospheric and impressive place, just don’t go on your own when it’s dark!

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Black Horse Of Bush Howe

The first time that I came across the almost mythical 'Black Horse of Bush Howe' was at the impressionable age of fourteen, in a book entitled 'Brigantia' written by Guy Ragland Phillips. In the book he tells of an ancient and forgotten hill figure, cut into the inhospitable slopes of a remote valley in the Howgill Fells. The figure, reminiscent of the horses carved aeons ago in French and Spanish caves was, he said, evidence of a surviving 'Dobbie Cult'.

A 'Dobbie' doesn't seem to be a horse though. He describes it as a 'big, black horrible misshapen thing that slips about', which if glimpsed at all it's more likely seen out of the corner of your eye, before it vanishes. They are usually to be found by bridges or fords, waiting to accost the hapless traveller. Some of the older houses around the nearby village of Sedbergh, such as Bleaze Hall and Copplethwaite Hall have their own 'dobbies'.

For me the strangest part of the tale was it's inconclusiveness. Apparently, the locals can't decide if it exists or not! Philips asserts that not one mention of it is made in any of the guidebooks describing the Howgills and surrounding region.

The comedian, writer, folk singer and keen walker Mike Harding lives in the area and I emailed him to see if he knew anything about the hill figure. He told me that it's called 'The Black Horse of Busha' locally. He had heard of it's existence and gave us an idea of it's whereabouts, but said he'd never seen it himself.

The only likeness of the figure we could find was a sketch in 'Brigantia’:-

Guy Ragland Phillips made five visits to photograph the black horse. All failed. Mists that descended as he tried to take a suitable shot scuppered his first trip. On the second occasion he used up a whole reel of film in hazy sunshine. Not a single picture came out. His third attempt yielded just 'three very misty' pictures; the fourth was a 'complete washout'. His fifth try was along the valley bottom, following Long Rigg Beck then climbing White Fell. The instant he tried to take a photograph the slopes clouded over. From that point onwards the weather was against him. He walked over to the top of Bush Howe and made a descent to where he thought it might be. After a slide down the hill on his rear he found himself on the Horses 'head'.

'There was nothing whatever to see except a waste of black stones, the dark Silurian shale of which the Howgills consist. No shape at all could be distinguished. The horse had slipped from my grasp at the last second ' he wrote.

He paced out the extent of the stone, finding it to be 140 yards long and 120 yards high.

He also wrote also of a thwarted Inspector from the Ministry of the Environment who, try as he might, couldn't get a decent photograph of the Horse.

So, with curiosity aroused a trip to find it was planned...

An unusually warm spring day, and an old friend with an interest in all things weird had volunteered his company for a hike around the hills.

The fog burnt off in no time making the ascent of 'Winder' a sweaty slog, not helped by the previous nights excesses of beer and take-aways! Once on the tops a chilling breeze had us putting layers back on, but made the next two summits less demanding to reach.

On reaching the 'trig' point on the top of 'The Calf' the smooth grassy slopes spread out all around us, like a vast parched wilderness. No cars, no kids, no airplanes, no man-made noise at all! Just the wind through the grass. The summit of Bush Howe was clearly visible in the distance. After a hasty snack we set off at a run; rain clouds and fog had begun to appear on the horizon in the west, moving up the valleys towards us.

We knew that the conditions could change in seconds up there, leaving no chance of finding anything. We rushed along the indistinct path to the peak of Bush Howe...

And found nothing!

Wandering the hill aimlessly it would've taken an age to cover all the ground. We needed to view the slopes from the west, like Phillips had. The ridge went north before continuing around to the west, over Breaks Head to Fell Head. We ran as well as our packs would allow, all the time watching the fog and cloud creep slowly up the valley. We couldn't see anything that even vaguely resembled the sketch in 'Brigantia'.

The mist and cloud seemed to be stuck momentarily at the bottom of the valley. We had almost reached the end of the ridge when we spotted a large indistinct grey patch on the slopes of 'The Height of Bush Howe' (the hill adjacent to Bush Howe)...

It was the Black Horse!

Unfortunately the slope was at such an angle that it prevented us from getting a clear photograph. We needed to get back to the other side of the valley where we had been originally. We consulted the map to plot it's location - the appropriately named 'Stranger Gill'! The clouds were now dark and ominous. We didn't think we'd make it in time...

The trek back seemed to take forever. As we neared the top of White Fell Head I could see the shape clearly and I started to take shots at a frantic rate, hoping the rain would hold off. Reaching the summit we collapsed, threw off our rucksacks and took as many photographs as we could. Some of them had to come out!

Unsure if we had long before an imminent cloudburst, I volunteered to climb down the sides of 'Stranger Gill' to the figure, so that my friend Bill could get a few shots with me in them for a sense of scale.

The closer I got to the figure, the harder it was to discern where it was! Before I knew it, I was standing on the Horse's 'back'.
The shape didn't seem to be cut from the thin moorland turf. It appeared to be a layer of evenly sized rocks placed on the surface. Thinking back, I don't quite know what I'd expected to find. Something more clearly defined perhaps? 
Was it just naturally occurring scree or was it man made?

That tiny vertical line on the figure's back is me; waving!

It's origins weren't the only things I found fascinating. Phillips said that the fact it was almost unrecorded was like a 'conspiracy of silence'. However local tradition tells of it's use as a landmark for navigation by smugglers on Morecambe Bay some 20 miles away. From where I sat on the Horse's back I could see the still waters of the bay shimmering in the sun.

Phillips also quoted an old poem reputedly from the Celtic kingdom of Rheged, the frontier of which lay somewhere near the hills in which the figure is found. The poem contained details of 'Du y Moroedd', or 'Black Moro' ('the black one of the sea') one of the three horses of Britain. He goes on to refer to the Welsh Triads describing an invasion of north Wales from the north, probably Cumbria, connected with this horse. The beast carried seven men from 'the Benllech of the North' to a place on the coast of Anglesey also called Benllech! He proposed this 'Benllech of the North' to be Bush Howe. He reckoned that a line could be followed, like a 'ley' right down the Long Rigg Beck valley and across the sea to very near Benllech in Anglesey! Hmmm! I couldn't quite see that far...

So, it does seem as if it was known about in times past.

Enjoying the solitude of the empty valley and the warmth of the afternoon sun, I sat awhile before climbing the steep track-less hillside back to my colleague. As I passed the 'head' of the Horse I stopped, picking up three small stones as a small keepsake. Placing them in a pocket I turned to go. I took a dozen steps and stopped. It didn't feel right somehow. I threw them back.

Down on the slopes of Whin's End, three wild black Fell ponies watched as I made my way back to the summit of White Fell Head.

Back in Sedbergh, enjoying a pint in a pub beer garden, relaxing in the last of the days sunshine, I recalled the sense of wonder I had felt reading of the Black Horse as a teenager. Over half my lifetime ago.

It's there. It is real. I still don't have a clue what it is, but I found it, eventually...

Since our trip I've received an email from Joyce Scobie; the Chairperson of the Sedbergh and District History Society. She wrote:-

"... school children in Howgill in the 1930's and 40's were given a day off every summer to go up and trim it to maintain the shape of a horse."

To me this lends some credence to the idea that the figure could be an artificially constructed hill figure, or more likely, a modified patch of scree that has been sporadically managed. Ms Scobie also told me that she was given this information by an old lady in the village (now sadly deceased) who remembered doing this in her childhood.

I also spoke on the phone to Jack Dawson, village elder and former JP, a man of excellent reputation in the local community. He told me of a local legend that he first heard 80-odd years ago, that described how the Roman legions used the horse as a landmark as they travelled up the Lune valley, from Lancaster to Penrith and Carlisle.

He recalled the pre-war practice undertaken by local farmers of what he called an annual 'Boon Day'. A day off from work to meet at the hill-figure and redefine it's shape. If the hard-working hill-farmers thereabouts were bothered enough to have a day off to do this, surely this is an indication that the figure used to have a degree of importance to the people in the area?

Mr. Dawson also spoke of his concerns for the continuing care of the hill figure. Given it's obscurity and the fact that it's relatively unknown, even by many local people, it's future appears uncertain...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Holy Handgrenades Batman! It's Orgonite!

On a recent walk across Ilkley Moor, drifting along with no definite destination in mind, we stumbled across a rather curious object...

We'd been meandering aimlessly around the central and highest part of the moor, when I decided to stop for a snack and perched myself on a convenient boulder. On one side of the rock was a small pool of water, which spread underneath it into a murky hollow. Glancing into the gap something caught my eye. I peered into the gloom but couldn’t quite make out what it was, so I reached in and pulled it out...

It was a cone, less than six inches high, constructed from some sort of waxy material. Within the cone were particles that looked like 'slivers' or 'parings' of a shiny metallic substance. I took a few photographs and put it back, thinking that someone else may have put it there for a reason that was important to them, and I continued on my way.

Back home I searched the Internet to try to discover what the curious artefact was. I posted images of it on various online discussion groups where several people suggested that it could be a substance called called ‘Orgonite’. A little intrigued, and wondering if I’d discovered something that might be the only weakness of an obscure super-hero, I trawled the web for more information.

It soon became apparent that the object was an example of an ‘HHG’; a ‘Holy Hand Grenade’. Made of a fibreglass resin, containing metal shavings and one or more quartz crystals, the materials can apparently change any harmful ‘negative etheric energy’ in it’s locality, into beneficial ‘positive etheric energy’. According to the website; these devices have many desirable effects on the environment, including purifying the atmosphere, helping plants to grow, awakening one’s psychic senses and reducing the affects of EMF radiation. Quite some material in anyone’s book!

The website also said: -
“We have found that tactical deployment of orgonite (e.g., "gifting") by throwing, hiding or burying it near sources of electromagnetic radiation or other pollution or in polluted areas, such as near cellphone/TV/radio towers, power plants, in lakes, rivers and ocean harbors, has a powerful and noticeable effect on the area. The skies get clearer and return to the deep blue color you remember from your childhood, complete with normal puffy white clouds.” Which could explain why we found the object in the vicinity of the huge aerial masts at Whetstone Gate.

“The general mood or 'vibe' in the area improves dramatically as people are kinder, happier and more easy-going. Neighbours either become friendlier or suddenly leave town. A renewed sense of hope begins to pervade the community. We have seen this effect in our own communities as a direct result of tactical orgonite gifting, and have found it truly self-empowering, but don't take our word for it. Try it yourself and see what happens!”

Well, I’ve not noticed the good people that live and work in the nearby towns of Ilkley and Keighley acting any differently the last time I was there, maybe others have?

Interestingly, the members of the Fortean Times forum where I posted the original request for information were mostly interested in whether these things actually work, and the concept of Orgone energies and related phenomena e.g. ‘Cloud-busting’. Whereas the members of a Pagan forum soon began debating the effect that the object would have on the local Genius Loci, and questioned the dubious legitimacy of dumping "some plastic bit of tat, filled with crystals that were raped from the earth and totally alien to the geology and energy of the place, into a nook or cranny where it can leech goodness knows what into the ground."
I was advised by one pagan to remove the offending article the next time I was in the area.
At the time I decided to put it back because I thought it may have some important significance for someone, and I didn’t feel that it was any of my business to meddle with someone else’s intentions. Now I’m not so sure…

I revisited the site recently and the cone is still there. Should I remove it? After all, according to the information provided on the orgonite websites, the objects are not merely created for one person's gain, but for more altruistic reasons.

And what if it actually works?

Or, is it just another example of ‘New Age’ naïveté, this time littering the countryside with silly homemade devices that are believed to alter the cosmic energies, albeit on a local level...?
As that famous magickian bloke Aleister Crowley probably didn't say on his death-bed; 'I am perplexed'.
Me too, mate...