Fortifying the landscape

Emma Trevarthen – former Monuments for the Future Officer
Emma now works for Historic England carrying out aerial surveys of archaeological sites, so she’ll still be keeping an eye on the moors but this time from the skies

Prehistoric hillforts and promontory forts of the North York Moors

Eight prehistoric fortified sites have been recorded within the North York Moors National Park. These monuments command some of the highest points in the Moors and the ramparts of some can still be clearly seen, their defensive nature apparent.

The earthwork ramparts at Round Hill hillfort. Copyright NYMNPA.

The earthwork ramparts at Round Hill hillfort

With the exception of the hillfort at Round Hill at Westerdale (a mutivallate hillfort with two or more lines of earthwork defences), all are described as Promontory Forts and are located for the most part at the western and northern edges of the Cleveland Hills. Their existence, and that of the long linear earthworks they are associated with, suggests a period of consolidation of settlement and social organisation in the Iron Age, roughly 2,500 years ago.

As the names suggest, hill forts and promontory forts utilise natural topographic features to create defended spaces which would have housed people, animals and various industries. They would have been clearly visible to the surrounding countryside suggesting not only a desire to fortify and protect but also to project the high status of the residents. The defences would have consisted of a series of imposing banks and deep ditches with a break for a well-defended gated entrance. Within the fortified area there were likely to be domestic dwellings, shelters for livestock and storage areas for food and weaponry.

Recent archaeological excavation at Boltby Scar suggests that this site may have been in use from the Late Bronze Age, roughly 3,000 years ago. It is likely to be contemporary with Roulston Scar, the largest Iron Age fort in the north of England, which is immediately to its south with Lake Gormire almost equidistant between the two.

Reconstruction drawing of the defensive banks and ditches at Boltby Scar promontory fort. Copyright NYMNPA.

Reconstruction drawing of the defensive banks and ditches at Boltby Scar promontory fort

Although outside the boundary of the National Park, it is worth noting another promontory fort, Eston Nab, which has also been dated to the Late Bronze Age and with Roulston Scar, Boltby Scar and Knolls End, forms a band of forts from the coast around the western high ground of the Cleveland Hills, overlooking the Tees Valley in the north and the Vale of York to the south.

Place names

The word ‘Scar’ is likely to derive from a Norse word, ‘skera’, meaning a cliff or rocky outcrop with a steep face. It is an element that occurs often in place names throughout the North York Moors, often combined with other descriptive terms, such as in Hagg Scar Wood and Whitestone Scar, or joined with a local place name such as at Boltby Scar.

‘Nab’ has a similar meaning, describing a rocky promontory or outcrop. In the North York Moors there are a number of ‘Nab’ place names including Penny Nab, Highcliffe Nab, lots of Nab Ends and even a Nab Scar.

Folklore

Although the Giants of the North York Moors are credited with a number of landscaping events, there does not appear to have been a connection made between them and the creation of any of the Iron Age forts recorded on the Moors. Nor are there any definite links with horses, white or otherwise, even though Boltby Scar lies adjacent to a historic horse racing track, and Roulston Scar overshadows the (Victorian) Kilburn White Horse.  Themes associated with hillforts in other parts of the country such as buried treasure and slumbering dragons are also absent.

However, the Devil does get a name check at Roulston Scar in the form of the Devil’s Parlour, a natural fissure or cave in the cliff face just below the fort site where apparently the Devil appears at midnight. Also the Devil’s Leap is the space jumped by the Devil when he tried to show off by leaping from Roulston Scar to Hood Hill; a rock from the Scar bearing his footprint is said to reside at the foot of the hill.

The Devil’s Leap: from Roulston Scar to Hood Hill. Copyright NYMNPA.

The Devil’s Leap: from Roulston Scar (on the left) to Hood Hill (on the right)

Any other folk tales or curious place names associated with the forts of the North York Moors would be gratefully received. Remnants of cultural history are always worth collecting.

Access

Of the monuments within the National Park, Knoll’s End (Live Moor), Boltby Scar, Horn Ridge (Farndale), Baysdale and Hasty Bank are accessible via public footpaths, bridleways and areas of open access land; the last, Hasty Bank, is part of the Wainstones Walk

Roulston Scar lies within the grounds of the Yorkshire Gliding Club, a public footpath follows its western edge and forms part of the White Horse Walk

A public bridleway traces the circumference of Birk Bank, near Old Byland.
Round Hill is on private land and landowner permission would be needed to visit it.

Eston Nab can be accessed via public footpaths and bridleways.

Further Reading

Boltby Scar: http://www.landscaperesearchcentre.org/html/boltby_scar.html

Roulston Scar: https://research.historicengland.org.uk/Report.aspx?i=15487

1988 Vyner, B The Hill-fort at Eston Nab, Eston, Cleveland Archaeological Journal 145 p60-98

Last year’s top 6 posts

These were our top 6 posts during 2017, according to the number of views – in reverse order to make it more exciting.

North Yorksire Turtle Dove Project Logo6. Talking about Turtle Doves

The Turtle Doves are currently in western Africa. Work here is now focused on preparing for a new season of surveying starting in May when these migratory birds return to the UK. There is a meeting for volunteer surveyors in the Howardian Hills AONB area organised for 17 January, and another for volunteer surveyors in the National Park area on 4 April. If you’d be interested in becoming a volunteer surveyor – please contact us.

Rosedale Abbey - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

5. Etymological landscapes

Live Moor monument after remedial work. Copyright Solstice Heritage.

4. Deconstructing modern mounds

Our post set out the reasons for taking forward this work to help conserve nationally important historic monuments, through the Monument Management Scheme. It was followed up with a post updating on progress later on in the year – Deconstructing modern mounds: what happened next…

River Rye near Hawnby. Copyright NYMNPA.

3. Ryevitalising the Rye

Since stage one approval was achieved back in January 2017, the development of this Landscape Partnership Scheme has continued apace.

Anne-Louise and Alex (the Ryevitalise Team) are coordinating as fast as they can, working alongside partner organisations and the wider community. Following on from local community consultation exercises in November, a series of taster events are planned for this spring to enable people to experience the kind of events on offer should Ryevitalise move into it’s delivery phase. One such event will be marking World Fish Migration Day on 21 April.

Partners are labouring over the 22 complementary project elements which make up the partnership scheme, around the themes of water quality and environment, reconnecting people and water level management. Alex is liaising with local land managers to build up a mutual understanding of how Ryevitalise could help support practices that deliver specific objectives around water quality and habitat improvements.

The stage two application currently in development is due to be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund at the end of this October. If successful, the four year delivery phase will start in spring 2019.

We’re keen to incorporate as many ideas and aspirations as possible. If you want to get involved please complete our online survey form.

Casten Dyke North - wall to counterscarp bank looking north. Copyright Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.

2. Battle of Byland: considering the evidence

October 2022 will mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Byland. Clear evidence that the battle took place at Roulston Scar remains elusive.

Lidar survey - Holmes Alum Works. 1. Quest for knowledge

Quite a few readers of our Blog have asked for more on LiDAR survey results – so please look out for next week’s post…

Archaeologist at Large: a new beginning

Shannon Fraser – Senior Archaeologist

I recently arrived in the North York Moors to take up the post of Senior Archaeologist with the National Park. It is going to be quite an exciting challenge following in the footsteps of long-serving Graham Lee, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and prehistory of the landscapes within the Park! Having spent the last 16 years researching, conserving, interpreting and promoting the cultural heritage on National Trust for Scotland properties in eastern Scotland, I am used to dealing with a very broad range of archaeological and historic places – from the traces of mesolithic settlement to WWII aircraft crash sites in the Cairngorm mountains, from Pictish symbol stones to Renaissance palaces and gardens in the eastern lowlands. So some things will be familiar, while other elements of the North York Moors heritage will be quite new to me. Happily Graham is taking phased retirement, so he is still around to share with me his knowledge of and great enthusiasm for that heritage.

I have been taking as many opportunities as I can so far to get out into the North York Moors and explore the cultural landscape, meeting the people who work in, study and enjoy it. Recently, I joined a group of our stalwart Historic Environment Volunteers, on a day out exploring archaeological sites on Carlton Moor, Live Moor and Whorlton Moor in the north west of the National Park. The day was organized by our Monument Management Scheme team, as a thank-you to the volunteers for having devoted so much of their time to monitoring how scheduled archaeological sites within the Park are faring and helping to improve their condition.

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

We visited a number of prehistoric sites, in the company of Alan Kitching, one of the landowners in the area who has been extremely supportive of our efforts to remove nationally-important monuments from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register through conservation and beneficial land management.

Among these monuments is a compact hillfort with well-preserved ramparts at Knolls End, at the end of the Live Moor plateau. The Cleveland Way actually cuts right across this monument – how many people realize they are walking through a defended settlement probably dating back to the iron age? The estate here has been working to control bracken on the fort site through an Environmental Stewardship agreement. Apart from the swathes of bracken making monuments very difficult to see, the plant’s extensive network of underground rhizomes can be very damaging to the structure of earthworks, like the hillfort’s ramparts, as well as to the archaeological layers below ground.

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Discussing monument management at a bronze age burial cairn. Copyright NYMNPA.

We were also able to appreciate the efforts of our historic environment volunteers who had helped to remove modern walkers’ cairns from the top of bronze age burial cairns. The adding of lots of new stones to these prehistoric monuments can radically change their appearance. More importantly, if stones are removed from previously undisturbed parts of the original cairn to add to a walkers’ cairn on top, it causes incremental damage. By removing obvious walkers’ cairns, we hope to discourage further ‘rearrangement’ of the stones so these wonderful meaningful monuments survive for yet more millennia.

All in all, it was a very pleasant experience meeting some of the committed people who are working to conserve the precious heritage of the North York Moors, whether landowners or volunteers. And the day ended with tea and cake – what more could you wish for?

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our Historic Environment Volunteers undertake both indoor and outdoor work. If you’re thinking you might like to join the team, and would like to find out more about what’s involved, please get in touch.

Deconstructing modern mounds: what happened next…

Jo Collins – Monument Management Scheme Volunteer Coordinator

As part of our Historic England funded Monument Management Scheme, the project to tackle accidental damage caused to archaeological sites by walkers cairns is continuing. A second walkers cairn has been taken down on Raisdale Moor revealing the shape of the round barrow (burial mound) beneath. Six National Park volunteers helped move the modern cairn stones away, taking great care not to disturb the archaeological remains. A covering of small stones was left to protect the top of the Bronze Age barrow from natural erosion whilst heather and bilberry becomes established.

Raisdale Moor - NPA volunteers removing the walkers cairn from the scheduled barrow. Copyright NYMNPA.

Raisdale Moor - At the end of the task, National Park volunteers and Jo next to the round barrow without the walkers cairn. Copyright NYMNPA.

Now if you’re walking on the Cleveland Way at Live Moor near Whorlton you might notice a new information notice next to a prominent scheduled round barrow. As featured previously on this Blog the modern walkers cairn was removed by our apprentice team earlier this year, revealing the stony ancient burial mound underneath. We hope the information provided will help walkers understand why remedial action was needed and will encourage people to protect the archaeology and help preserve it for future generations.

Quest for knowledge

Graham Lee – Archaeological Officer

We recently commissioned additional high resolution LiDAR data (Light Detection and Ranging) for several areas of the North York Moors in partnership with Durham University who are currently involved in a long term research project on the coast. The data is collected by scanning the ground with beams of laser light. LiDAR data sees through vegetation and tree canopies which otherwise can obscure the view of the ground level to conventional air photography. For this commission we were particularly interested in areas of heather moorland.

Most publically available georeferenced LiDAR data in England comes from the Environment Agency. It is relatively low resolution, with data points collected at 1 metre or 50 centimetre intervals. The collected points enable the ground surface to be accurately mapped – the more points that are collected, the greater amount of detail that is recorded and revealed through 3-D representation. The newly collected data we now have is at 10 centimetre resolution which equates to about 90 data points per square metre. The amount of data means the ground topography can be perceived through relatively dense stands of vegetation, such as gorse.  For large expanses of the North York Moors which are covered in thick protective heather the idea is that this new data will help us to artificially see the archaeological earthworks beneath. It was this upland moorland plateau where prehistoric people lived and farmed and buried their dead.

As an archaeologist I am looking for human-made patterns in the landscape which represent different forms of earthworks created by human activity – either upstanding banks or ditches/hollows –which are visible in the data. Once noted, experience with data collected from aerial photographic survey allows these features to be interpreted. The interpretation is not necessarily conclusive – some more complex features will require a ground visit to collect further information before an interpretation can be firmed up. The features identified can then be incorporated within the National Park Authority’s Historic Environment Record (HER) which is the catalogue of our current archaeological knowledge. New and enhanced information which increases our understanding of archaeological landscapes is also very important for the protection and future management of archaeological sites.

Gallows Dyke, Levisham Moor. Copyright NYMNPA.

Initial examination of the LiDAR data for Levisham Moor has greatly increased our knowledge of the complexity and extent of the prehistoric and medieval field systems as well as other sites that survive here. This means that individual sites – such as possible prehistoric hut circles, as well as the extent of field system remains – can be precisely located and mapped rather than just using a general area. This is a considerable advance in our knowledge which greatly simplifies the locating of sites on the ground within extensive areas of what can seem like featureless heather moorland.

Fig 1: Dundale Rigg, Levisham Moor – The LiDAR imagery shows up the subtle remains of earthwork banks of an earlier (?Prehistoric or ?Medieval) field system overlain by later ridge and furrow cultivation. Also visible is a Bronze Age round barrow (mapped as a tumulus) with a central disturbance from the 1930s and a trial excavation from 1962, and the faint curvilinear traces of what is thought to be a prehistoric hut circle towards the top left of the photo.

Fig 2: Horness Rigg, Levisham Moor – Remains of a probable Prehistoric field system. The enclosed platform at the southern end, which sits within rather than being overlain by the fields, has been dated by excavation to the Late Iron Age or Roman periods.

In the future new information supplied by the LiDAR survey will be used to aid and stimulate research into the history and development of Levisham Moor and other areas in the North York Moors, as well as informing management, presentation and interpretation. LiDAR does not remove the need to confirm details on the ground and there is always work to do to look for associated features that may not be visible on the LiDAR, but it is enormously helpful in the quest for increased archaeological knowledge.

Deconstructing modern mounds

Linda Smith, Archaeological Consultant

You may be familiar with the Cleveland Way as it winds its way across the top of Greenhow Bank and you might have been tempted off your route at Burton Howe to head over towards Baysdale. You may have stopped to take in the view from the mound with the boundary stone stuck on top and perhaps, whilst eating your sandwiches or resting your legs, you might have moved a few stones around or brought up another couple from the track to add to the heap.

What harm could there be in that?

Piles of loose stones can be the remains of something built in prehistory. During the Bronze Age (3-4,000 years ago) it was the custom to bury people in mounds called barrows (sometimes marked as tumuli or tumulus and labelled in gothic lettering on maps). Barrows were often built from stones and located on hill tops or ridges of higher land. The dead may have been buried with pots or flint tools and disturbing these structures also disturbs the archaeological story contained inside. Archaeologists could have used this varied information to build up a picture of what happened in the past, much as a detective would today except there is no one alive from whom to take a statement and corroborate the evidence.

Barrows are located in prominent places in the landscape. They can be found on the skyline or forming a focal point for a modern path or they may have had trees planted on them in the past to highlight a hill or a view. Historically they have often been used as route markers by pedlars or when moving animals over long distances in otherwise featureless terrain, or to mark a property boundary by inserting a boundary stone into the mound. They are often important features in the landscape even today, because of their visibility, or maybe because they have a local legend associated with them. As a very numerous and distinctive feature of the North York Moors landscape, barrows constitute a significant proportion (about 65%) of the 842 protected sites or Scheduled Monuments, within the National Park.

Why people build cairns today

Cairns, simply piles of stone, are often built today by walkers to help mark a route which is difficult to see on the ground and this is especially true in the North York Moors where there are few prominent landscape features such as trees or hilltops, where fog and bad weather can divert the walker from the right route or where the heather is deep and makes the path hard to locate. Or where the top of a hill has a great view but it’s often windy so a wind break has gradually been built up to provide welcome shelter. Or maybe there’s a place people always stop for a breather after climbing a steep hill and look down, perhaps on their home village. A handy nearby pile of loose stone can easily be used as a quarry for creating a new heap or cairn in a better place and it may become the custom to add a stone or two to a modern cairn when anyone passes, or even to deliberately take up another stone each time a place is visited. In this way, cairns are created, and enlarged and become important markers.

What’s the damage?

The problem with building cairns today is that by using stones from existing archaeological features like barrows the information contained within them is disturbed, the clues that archaeologists use to build up a picture of what happened in the past are destroyed – how the structure was built and used, how it was developed for different burials, perhaps over several generations, or what objects were buried with the dead. This does not mean that every archaeological feature will one day be excavated by archaeologists but it does mean that the features are so important that they deserve to be left undisturbed for future generations and new techniques and understanding: if something 4,000 years old is disturbed, that unique information is lost for ever. Many of these barrows have been recognised as being nationally important and so are protected as Scheduled Monuments.

'Codhill Heights' - walkers' cairn and shelter built up on round barrow on Gisborough Moor. You can see a hole next to the scale pole where a stone has been pulled out of the burial mound. Copyright M Johnson.

Some artefacts moved during modern cairn building will not be recognised as such and simply be thrown away, including small fragments of bone which might have revealed a lot about the person buried there. Moving stones may disturb post holes or remains of other structures. Inserting a commemorative plaque adds a modern intrusion, or it may be fixed to a stone with prehistoric carvings or which is part of a prehistoric feature. Modern graffiti are sometimes carved into the stones on a prehistoric monument. Sometimes gamekeepers use archaeological features for siting grouse grit stations; if the ground is not disturbed and no stones are moved this might not start as a problem, but then if passing walkers are tempted to start building a cairn on the same spot a problem forms.

Beyond the obvious problems, these activities can have other impacts. Making a feature more prominent means that more visitors may be attracted to it, creating deepening erosion by following a single line to the summit. In some cases a new cairn might even bury or obscure the historic monument altogether.

Large walkers’ cairn on Drake Howe which draws visitors off the Cleveland Way. Copyright M Johnson.

An even larger walkers’ cairn on a round barrow above Bilsdale. Copyright S Robson.What we can do?

To put things right, work is under way as part of the National Park Authority’s Monument Management Scheme (MMS) which is funded by Historic England. This involves a group of volunteers monitoring the condition of barrows with identified walkers’ cairns, and carrying out remedial work to repair the worst damage. The first of these repair projects has recently transformed a round barrow next to the Cleveland Way on Live Moor. The barrow will be monitored to ensure a modern cairn appendage doesn’t re-appear.

A volunteer monitors the walkers’ cairn on Pike Howe. Copyright S Bassett.

Barrow on Live Moor before remedial work to remove the cairn. Copyright Solstice Heritage.

NPA apprentices help to remove the modern cairn from a burial monument on Live Moor. Copyright M Johnson.Live Moor monument after remedial work. Some loose stones have been left around the centre of the mound to protect the bare ground on the top until the vegetation can re-establish itself. Copyright Solstice Heritage.We want to raise awareness of this issue of accidental damage to archaeological features amongst walkers. When in the countryside, it is best to leave things alone and not disturb anything you find. Be aware of the Countryside Code which includes “Our heritage matters to all of us – be careful not to disturb ruins and historic sites.”

You can find out if a feature or site is protected by visiting the Historic England website where you can search by a name or on a map.

So the next time you find a nice sheltered spot for a rest on top of a hill, enjoy the view and your lunch and by leaving the site as you found it you could be helping to preserve an important feature for another 4,000 years!

Battle of Byland: considering the evidence

Graham Lee, Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer and Ed Dennison, Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd  

Roulston Scar Iron Age Hillfort is a scheduled site in the south west corner of the National Park. Previous investigations by the Landscape Research Centre (in 2013 and 2015) on the north-eastern rampart of the hillfort located a substantial palisade trench cut into the top of the back of this prehistoric rampart. The sharpness of the buried remains and the increased organic nature of the fills suggested a short period of re-use and a date within the historic period for this – it was clearly much later than the established prehistoric use of the site. But no material evidence was recovered which could provide even an approximate scientific date for this significant addition to the defences of the hillfort.

The known event in the locality that could best explain such a major re-fortification of the defences is the Battle of Byland, which took place on 14th October 1322 between the forces of Edward II and Robert the Bruce, resulting in a victory for the Scottish army.

So as a follow-up to these initial investigations, the National Park commissioned archaeological surveyors (Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd), during the first part of 2016, to record the form of the supposed prehistoric earthworks in close proximity to Roulston Scar in the hope that further relevant information would be revealed. Both these earthwork dykes, the Casten Dyke South and the Casten Dyke North, have anomalous features which suggest that they have been remodelled since they were originally built. Parts of their ditch profiles are far too steep and sharp to be prehistoric since earthworks tend to slump and soften with age. It has also been previously suggested that the Casten Dyke South may have been mediaeval rather than prehistoric in origin and could have been specifically constructed for the battle.

Both the Roulston Scar Hillfort and Casten Dyke South have their defences facing north, protecting two large steep-sided promontories of land respectively 24 and 28 hectares in extent which could have served as seemingly strong positions for use as encampments for the English army. Facing south towards them, across a gap of between 880 to 1300 metres, is the Casten Dyke North. So might these earthworks mark the respective positions of the English and Scottish armies in October 1322, before a part of the Scottish army managed to outflank and rout the English forces? 

Casten Dyke North and South - survey areas. Copyright Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.

Putative plan of earthwork area - annotated. NYMNPA.The surveyors concluded that both dykes lack firm dating evidence but do show evidence of substantial later modifications. The Casten Dyke North more convincingly fits the pattern of a later prehistoric cross-ridge dyke, whilst the Casten Dyke South is clearly unconnected with the prehistoric defences at Roulston Scar and would work better as a medieval or post-medieval boundary, which could – perhaps – either have been first constructed or re-fortified in the early 14th century.

By sealing off the north side of a plateau, and with very steep slopes on all other sides, any English force encamped within would have felt they held a reasonably secure position, particularly if they were augmented by another force close by to the west behind the modified northern rampart of Roulston Scar. The plateau site overlooks Boar’s Gill and Hell Hole, both steep-sided small valleys which would have provided routes up the natural escarpment for the Scots forces seeking to outflank the English army which they ultimately did. If this was the case, then some re-assessment of the battle itself might be required. The traditional narrative suggests that the battle was a hastily organised action, but the use of earthworks would perhaps indicate that it involved more preparation on both sides.

Later warfare

One factor that all previous surveys have largely underestimated is the impact of Second World War activity affecting both earthwork dykes. The 2016 survey found evidence of significant amounts of re-cutting of the dyke ditches, in sections up to 70 metres in length, to provide a very steep (i.e. good defensive) profile together with breaks for access, slit trenches and weapons pits. This has obvious implications for the evidence of a mediaeval battle, as extensive WWII wartime alterations may have obscured earlier alterations undertaken in 1322, particularly if these were done somewhat hastily and piecemeal prior to the battle.

Casten Dyke North and South - areas of 2WW activity. Copyright Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.The recent survey has greatly increased our knowledge of local activity in the 1940s in addition to that revealed by previous surveys of slit trenches in the area of Kilburn Moor Plantation, around the perimeter of Roulston Scar gliding field owned by the Yorkshire Gliding Club, and those visible on RAF aerial photographs from May 1940 where the slit trenches are revealed by pale lines of upcast from the ditches that were dug or re-cut.

Casten Dyke North and South - 1940 aerial photography of Casten Dyke North. Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.

Taken together the evidence demonstrates that there is a significant area of WWII military earthworks in this area. They appear to be grouped and so are unlikely to all be exactly contemporary or to serve the same purpose. Some of these earthworks may relate to troop training, but those closer to the gliding field may be a defence against potential enemy landings. So far, only a proportion of the trenches visible on the old aerial photographs have been located and confirmed on the ground, whereas those within Kilburn Moor Plantation have already been subject to detailed survey (by Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd).

Survey detail of Kilburn Moor Plantation trenches. Copyright Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.

Conclusion

Unfortunately it is still not yet possible to conclusively confirm the site of the Battle of Byland despite the tantalising information we’ve collected so far. Further work would be needed to acquire more information that could attest to this location. With the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Byland coming up in 6 years’ time it could be very timely.

End of an era

Our Senior Archaeologist is taking phased retirement, so before he goes he has been asked to reflect on his time with the North York Moors National Park.

Graham Lee – Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer

graham-leeHow do I sum up a career lasting over a quarter of a century in a few paragraphs? It is a strange feeling to have 26 years seemingly flash by so fast.

I started work for the North York Moors National Park in April 1990, having previously worked in the archaeology section of North Yorkshire County Council since the summer of 1983. I had decided many years before that I loved the north of England and had no desire to return to my southern ‘roots’.

Graham had decided many years before that he loved the north of England, whatever the weather ... Copyright - NYMNPA.One of my first tasks with the National Park was the completion of a management survey of one of our large estates, encompassing moorland and large blocks of forestry. This quickly whetted my appetite for the excitement of making new archaeological discoveries – often very subtle earthworks, no more than a handful of centimetres in depth or relief – despite an exceptional tradition of previous high quality archaeological fieldwork in the region. Working solo in large blocks of conifers was a good test of dedication – crawling under the branches of dense stands of conifers searching for vague earthworks mapped in the 1890s – and the steadiness of nerve, when yet another wretched pheasant exploded out of the leafy vegetation where I was just about to step! In recent years the delights of discovery have been broadening thanks to new technology and techniques, especially LiDAR which provides an aerial view through tree and ground-cover vegetation of archaeological remains that were previously hidden or obscured.

If you have a passion for the past, the North York Moors have something for pretty much everyone – enigmatic Neolithic rock art; surviving prehistoric pitted boundaries and avenues; upstanding Bronze Age funerary monuments and field systems; Roman encampments; medieval castles and monasteries…

Human industry is also well represented – from the earliest iron industry through the search for alum into the full-blown “iron rush” of the mid 19th century, the exploitation of coal and jet, and the plentiful local rivers managed to provide motive power for a range of watermills. Research and conservation priorities relating to these local industries finally led to our new HLF Landscape Partnership Scheme, This Exploited Land of Iron. Some 15 or so years in gestation, it is very rewarding to see new generations captured by the excitement of the important remains of our 19th century ironstone industry and the associated development of early railways – although the original scheme for a canal link between Whitby and Pickering would have been a sight to behold and a major tourist attraction if it had ever been built.

Into the 20th century, remains survive here from both world wars – in the form of coastal defences, army camps as well as troop training and target practice areas. Finds are still occasionally made of 2nd World War unexploded ordnance in former training areas across the North York Moors, in particular after the wildfire on Fylingdales Moor in 2003 which affected two square kilometres of heather moorland.

Fylingdales Moor after teh wildfire in 2003. Copyright - NYMNPA.

Although an environmental disaster – the severity of the fire in reducing the shallow peat cover to ash, this event was an archaeological revelation. Virtually everywhere you looked, subtle archaeological remains became visible, including the drip gulleys around former prehistoric round houses, low stony prehistoric boundaries and cairns, large numbers of previously unrecorded examples of Neolithic rock art and occasional shallow trenches which resembled grave cuts with a subsiding infill. As numbers of the latter quickly increased their interpretation became clear – slit trenches from 2nd World War troop training. I remember my first visit to the site after the fire when the ground was reddened and blackened, covered in ash and still smouldering; few trees had survived and many had toppled after the peat holding their roots in place had been burnt away. Flashes of colour were very noticeable, such as an adder emerging from its underground refuge having survived the conflagration. A major project ensued, both to protect and restore the moorland habitat and to record and investigate the breath-taking remains of surviving archaeology.

Rosedale Calcining Kilns in a perilous state. Copyright - NYMNPA.There have always been new specialisms to get to grips with. A visit to the Scheduled Rosedale iron calcining kilns with the Park’s Conservation Director at the time revealed that a portion of one of the kilns’ firebrick linings had collapsed the previous winter. This led to a major conservation project to stabilise these huge monuments which ran for three years in the mid 1990s, a forerunner of This Exploited Land which will continue the efforts to conserve these monumental sites 20 years on.

Conservation project to stabalise the Calcining Kilns in the 1990s. Copyright - NYMNPA.

It has been such a pleasure working with like-minded and dedicated professionals, both in my own National Park, but also with colleagues throughout the family of British National Parks, and Historic England and Natural England. We’ve shared experiences and ideas to the betterment of our discipline from research to management, and also shared the excitement of attempting to bring our subject, which we love, to life for anyone who cares to see and to get involved.

Graham at work - examining finds at an archaeological excavation - Coxwold Creative Minds Project, March 2006. Copyright - NYMNPA.

The National Park Authority is currently looking for a new Senior Archaeologist to lead on archaeology in the North York Moors. The closing date for applications is 26 January 2017.

Historical curios and curious patterns

Beth Davies – Building Conservation Officer

We visit a huge number of sites throughout the North York Moors during the course of our work and occasionally we’re lucky enough to come across something on the more unusual side.

Like this stone noticed on a farm in Danby – we think it was used as an egg cooler.

Egg cooler? carved stone on farm in Danby - copyright NYMNPA.

This stone (below) is in a field in Glaisdale and the owner advised me it was an apple press. There certainly appears to be a drain on the near side which would suggest it was used to collect some form of liquid.

Apple press? Glaisdale - copyright NYMNPA.It’s noticeable that the cross shape is very similar to those found on ‘witches posts’ in vernacular long houses, especially those in recusant Catholic outposts like Glaisdale. Did the cross have a purely functional purpose in getting the juice to run out in channels? … did it help protect the juice from evil misdoings by witches? … did the cross shape signify covert faithfulness to the old religion after the Reformation?

'Witch post' - Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton le Hole. From Hidden Teesside http://www.hidden-teesside.co.uk/2014/08/06/witch-post-hutton-le-hole/

This (above) is a picture of a ‘witch post’ trans-located along with the rest of Stang End Cottage from Danby to the Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton le Hole. The post is supporting the bressumar beam above and there is the heck (draught proof screen) behind. It’s called a ‘witch post’ because of the pattern carved at the top which is thought to be there to protect the house and the hearth. Similar carved posts in houses seem to be a particular feature of the North York Moors, but it’s not clear when they were first associated with witches.

The North York Moors contains a number of ‘cup and ring’ stones (see below). These are usually in-situ rocks which have been engraved in prehistoric times with patterns – the ‘cup’ markings are concave shapes and the ‘ring’ markings are concentric circles. These types of engraving are found in a number of places in Europe and beyond and it is this similarity of the ‘cup and ring’ patterns in different places that makes them particularly significant. There are various explanations of how and why involving semiotics, cryptography and mythology, as well as archaeology.

Cup and Ring stone near Roxby - more cup than ring - copyright NYMNPA.

Cup and Ring Stone near Fylingdales - copyright Blaise Vyner.

Cup and Ring Stone near Goathland - copyright NYMNPA.People like to leave their mark. Below is an example of 19th century rock art (graffiti) at an ironstone industrial railway site in the North York Moors – it shows a man in a top hat, and a bird. I don’t suppose there is any meaning behind it other than someone passing the time and representing what they were seeing around them.

Carved picture stone - copyright NYMNPA.

We’re always keen to hear about odd cultural remnants in the North York Moors and different interpretations of their functions. Please let us know if you can help.

Large engraved stone within drystone wall - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

 

Discovered by Disaster

Aside

Prehistoric ‘cup and ring’ rock on Fylingdales Moor - photo by Jen Heathcote.

Fylingdales Moor on the eastern edge of the North York Moors features in an Historic England blog post from July on archaeological discoveries that came to light due to environmental change. In the case of Fylingdales Moor it was a severe wild fire which was devastating to the natural environment at the time – but from an archaeological point of view every cloud has a silver lining …

via Discovered by Disaster: 6 Astounding Archaeological Finds from Environmental Change — Heritage Calling