Following on from our last post – if you’ve got access to Google Chrome or something similar, you can click on the image below to see a really interesting model from the Roulston Scar investigations (2013) constructed by Professor Powlesland of the Landscape Research Centre.
Graham Lee – Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer
This story of mounting evidence starts in 1996 when a survey was commissioned of the east end of a boundary earthwork known as the Casten Dyke North, to the east of the Hambleton Inn at the top of Sutton Bank. Long thought to be prehistoric, probably Iron Age, in date, the Casten Dyke North runs from the escarpment edge above Sutton Bank (north east) into the head of Flassen Gill, a classic cross-ridge type boundary well known for dividing up areas of prehistoric landscape.
The survey results show that the line of the dyke at the eastern end appears to be marked by two shallow ditches and a relatively gentle north-facing break of slope, cut by numerous later hollow-ways. However, running into the steep sides of Flassen Gill itself, is recorded a much more prominent ditch c.4m wide and about 1m deep, flanked by a pair of banks. This latter earthwork boundary, some 100m in length, appears too sharply defined to be prehistoric in origin – it seems much more likely to be historic in date. Defensively, if defence was its purpose, this eastern end of the dyke appears to be facing north, but why had it been added to the line of the earlier boundary?
It was subsequently recorded that the ditch of the main section of the Casten Dyke North (between the escarpment edge and the Hambleton Inn) is also noticeably steep-sided (c.3.5m wide and c.1m deep – with a bank to the north c.6m wide and 1m high – and with a shallow counter-scarp bank to the south). This suggests it was recut in the historic period. The position of the banks and ditch suggest that this south-western half of the dyke faces south.
This raises the question of what could be the reason for adding to or reinforcing this (presumed) prehistoric boundary during the historic period?
The main historic event recorded in this vicinity is the Battle of Byland between the English and Scottish forces on 14 October 1322. Local historian, John McDonnell summarised that Edward II‘s English forces, pursued by the Scottish army, took up a defensive position ‘on a nearby hilltop’, awaiting reinforcements while King Edward rested at the closeby Byland or Rievaulx Abbey. This English force was then routed when the Scots found a way onto the escarpment behind the English, the suggested route still being known today as Scotch Corner.
Could the opposing armies have used existing but presumably modified prehistoric defences to secure their positions, before the English force was eventually routed by a surprise Scottish attack from the rear from the area of Oldstead Bank/Scotch Corner?
The next piece of the puzzle was defined in 2001 by an English Heritage survey of Roulston Scar hillfort, which included part of the Casten Dyke South. This latter earthwork boundary runs from Boar’s Gill in the west to Hell Hole in the east, defining the northern side of a steep-sided promontory of land, c. 28ha in area and with a perimeter of over 2km. The boundary is a flat-topped bank up to 0.9m high with a steep-sided ditch to the north, c.6m wide and up to 1.1m deep. Long thought to be prehistoric in origin, the survey of the adjacent Roulston Scar hillfort recorded the form of the Casten Dyke South as relatively crisp in appearance, suggestive of an origin of historic date, and very similar to the Casten Dyke North – but in this case facing to the north.
Then, in autumn 2013 there was a small-scale research excavation of the defences of
Roulston Scar hillfort. The excavation was looking for environmental and other dating evidence to help identify a putative relationship with the small nearby promontory fort at Boltby Scar, 4km to the north, where excavations had taken place between 2009 and 2012. The trench across the defences of the Roulston Scar hillfort, carried out by the Landscape Research Centre, indicated that the latest phase of activity represented was a linear trench cut into and along the back of the Iron Age (prehistoric) rampart with associated postholes, probably representing some form of palisade.
Unfortunately, no dating evidence was secured from the trench or postholes but the position of the trench cut (high up at the back of the rampart), the sharpness of remains, and the increased organic nature of the fills, again suggest a short period of use and an historic rather than prehistoric date.
Further work is clearly required to attempt to secure additional dating evidence from all the potential parts of this battlefield landscape but, at present, we have:
- the northern rampart of Roulston Scar hillfort, reinforced with a sizeable palisade;
- the Casten Dyke South, perhaps specifically constructed for this encounter;,
- both these features with their defensive faces to the north, protecting two promontories of land respectively 24 and 28 hectares in extent;
- and facing south across a gap of between 880 to 1300 metres we have the Casten Dyke North.
Are these 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?
Only further research will be able to tell.
Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant
Back one Sunday in August, Alex and I took part in a drystone walling workshop for the general public led by National Park Ranger (West), Carl Cockerill.
The heavens opened just after we arrived at the Sutton Bank National Park Centre, but thankfully we were indoors for the first half-hour to watch a short film about drystone walling…set in India. It was interesting to discover the technique of drystone walling was devised because of a lack of skilled people to provide dressed stone, so the careful interlocking and balancing of stone of all shapes and sizes, known here as drystone walling, meant stock-proof boundaries could be built without dressed stone. There are examples of these types of boundaries all over the world.
Next it was outside for some hands-on effort as the sun came out, and our first job was easy – dismantle the training wall!
We carefully brought the wall down to the foundations. Then Carl set up the A-frames to ensure we would be working to the correct width and height as we began the rebuild. Some boulders were so heavy I was unable to move them, but with a bit of teamwork the wall slowly came together, layer by layer. The foundations consisted of the largest stones, and in this style of wall, stuck out from the first layer by about 5cm. The base of the wall was roughly half the height in order to provide stability. Throughstones ran from one side of the double-skinned wall to the other at regular intervals to steady the layers. Small stones were packed into the middle of the wall, filling in gaps and strengthening the structure. The upper layers included coverbands (creating a flat layer beneath the coverstones) and finally there was a topmost layer of flat, slanted coverstones.
There is a huge amount of skill behind a good drystone wall, and a wall repaired by a skilled waller can be expected to last around 100-150 years! Whilst it would have been nice to be able to see how well we did in the long term (I’m thinking potentially 5 – 20 years at most!), unfortunately the next workshop will enjoy dismantling all our hard work! Keep an eye out for events in the North York Moors and in our ‘Out and About in the North York Moors’ free magazine for future workshops and events such as another Drystone Walling workshop.
Wildlife within the walls….drystone walls provide shelter and habitats for all kinds of creatures, such as slow worms, lizards and adders, attracted to the warmth absorbed by the stones from the sun. So walls can be as much use to biodiversity as other traditional boundaries such as hedgerows and ditches.
Hares, voles, mice, stoats, frogs and toads, and bird life such as wrens also make good use of these boundaries, weaving in and out and sheltering within the stonework. Birds of prey such as kestrels often perch upon the walls, keeping an eye out for movement from these small creatures.
Various beautiful lichens and mosses live on the rock faces, often preferring the cooler north-facing stones.
All kinds of invertebrates live within the nooks and crannies like beetles, snails and springtails.
Livestock frequently use walls for shelter against strong winds, rain and snow, and these boundaries hinder soil erosion.
In some cases, people have deliberately created structures within walls for particular animals, such as bee boles and sheep creeps (a sheep creep is a purpose built gap in the wall which sheep can get through to graze the next door field but other bigger farm animals can’t). The Dry Stone Walling Association has informative leaflets on both walls and wildlife, and bee boles.
Drystone walls are an important landscape and cultural feature of the North York Moors, across farmland, past and present, and along the edge of the moorland. In many cases a stock proof drystone wall is still an important management tool. If you have a field boundary drystone wall in the North York Moors that could do with being repaired, have a look at our Traditional Boundary Scheme grant information. You could potentially receive up to £2,000 per financial year towards your wall repairs.