Troding carefully

Nick Mason – Archaeology Officer

Welcome to the first MOTM blog, a regular feature we will be publishing in conjunction with the Monuments for the Future project. Each month we’ll take a look at a type of Scheduled Monument that we have in the Park: we’ll let you know how to spot monuments when out and about, what different monuments tell us about the people who once lived and worked here, and why these monuments are protected.

This month it’s the Kirby Bank Trod, SM1405913. My computer has immediately told me I have made a spelling error, and if you’re not familiar with the local dialects or the Moors you might not have come across the word before either. ‘Trod’ is a term for a trackway laid with flagstones, and there is a network of historic examples criss-crossing the North York Moors. There are other ancient flagged paths around the UK, but this National Park has the most known surviving trods in one place, and they are seen as characteristic of the area. Sometimes they follow the same routes as ‘Pannierways’, long routes traversed by trains of pack horses loaded with goods. A ‘Pannierman’ was a person who transported fish from ports to inland fishmongers, a primary use of some trods.

A trod is a deceptively simple construction. Flagstones, sometimes carved, sometimes rough, are laid end to end in single file between two points. They are frequently made of stone from nearby quarries, and are usually no more than 0.5 metres (20 inches) wide. Surviving examples today often have a wide concave groove worn along the centre of the path, indicating how much traffic they have supported over the years.

'Tom Bell Lane', Ugglebarnby - copyright NYMNPA

We think the earliest examples were probably built by the local monastic communities, who would likely be the only organisations with the resources to lay them in the medieval period. Trods would have been efficient ways of transporting goods (especially wool) between the many abbeys and priories and granges (outlying properties). As their usefulness became apparent, more and more were laid, linking market towns, villages and farms across the moors.

Further trods were built in the 18th century, and there may have been a bit of a renaissance due to smuggling enterprises on the coast. Although they slowly declined as better road surface technologies appeared which were then followed by railways, as late as 1890 pack horses could still be seen filing through Rosedale.

We hold about 220 records for trods: many of these are fragments, just a few flags left in place, but others can still be seen stretching for miles across the landscape.

'Quaker's Causeway' on High Moor, damaged by vehicles crossing - copyright NYMNPAOne 400 metre (1/4 mile) section of trod has been designated as a Scheduled Monument, protecting it as an archaeological feature of national significance. This is thanks to the continued efforts of the Kirby, Great Broughton and Ingleby Greenhow Local History Group – Grant Frew and Jackie Cove-Smith from the Group explain the Kirby Bank Trod’s special significance:

Paved causeways are a familiar feature on our Moors, yet surviving ones in good condition are becoming increasingly rare. It has been estimated that around 80% of our trods known in the 19th Century have now gone. With this in mind, ten years ago our local history group ‘adopted’ one – the Kirby Bank Trod.

Trods are notoriously difficult to date, but we know this one was constructed on a man-made embankment in the late 12th or early 13th Century for the Cistercian monks at Rievaulx to link their monastery with their granges, their fisheries and their salt pans on the Tees. Centuries later it was used to transport building stone down from the quarries on the Bank: later still alum for the dyeing industry, jet for jewellery, and today by local and long-distance walkers.

We’ve worked really hard to maintain a high profile for the Trod: holding a Festival of British Archaeology event, producing a Heritage Trail leaflet, publishing articles in the Dalesman, the Voice of the Moors and the local press. On the ground we’ve also germinated and planted replacement hawthorn ‘waymarkers’, arranged geophysical surveys and organised guided walks.

We also carry our spades, edgers and brooms up the Bank twice a year to help keep the Trod from disappearing under grass and gorse!

As a Green Road, Kirby Bank and its Trod suffered from frequent use by trail bikes and 4×4 leisure vehicles, causing serious damage to the stones and sandstone waymarkers and degrading the embankment the causeway rests on. We needed legal protection.

In 2012 Historic England granted Scheduled Monument status to the Trod, in large part because of the man-made embankment (there’s no other parallel in England) and its historical context. Even with this significant status, vehicle abuse continued. Finally this November, after years of lobbying by our history group and by Kirkby Parish Council and with the support of the MP, district and county councillors and a variety of interested organisations (including the National Park Historic Environment staff), the County published a Traffic Regulation Order prohibiting motorised leisure vehicle access.  All is not yet over! Any objectors have until just before Christmas to file for a judicial review of the Order in the High Court. We can but just wait and see!’

Luckily the Kirby Bank Trod is in good hands, allowing locals and visitors to continue engaging with the past by walking in the footsteps of Cistercian monks. But as the Group states, about 80% of known trods have already been lost. Given their location on obvious routes linking settlements, they can often come under threat from modern roadworks. They also represented a very handy source of stone for builders over the past few centuries. The few remaining sections need to be taken care of to ensure our local cultural character and heritage is maintained.

Uncovering a trod at Goathland - copyright NYMNPA

As ever, you can find out more about the fascinating archaeology of the North York Moors using our interactive Historic Environment Record map – you could look up your nearest trod and go and have a look. We’re always keen to hear what you find, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think a trod needs some attention.