This giant outcrop of rock rises out from the meadowlands here like a miniature volcano, visible for many miles all round. The history and legends surrounding the aged edifice are prodigious and the view from its tops on a fine day is one to be remembered. It is likely, although there is little corroborative historical evidence, that is was an “omphalos”, or navel centre of the universe for the local people many centuries ago. A great cutting runs through its centre and “runs from nearly north to south, and forms the boundary between the townships of Rigton and Stainburn, so that a portion of the rock is in each township.” On the respective sides of this division are carved the letters “T.F.” and “E.L.”, being the initials of the families who owned the land here in olden days, Thomas Fawkes [of the legendary Guy Fawkes’ family] and Edwin Lascelles, of the ancient Harewood family.
Although Almscliffe Crags have been described in a great many local history books, it almost beggars belief to find it omitted from all the ancient mystery or “sacred sites” books ever written. Curious… Such lesser sites as Alderley Edge, the Cow and Calf rocks, Kilburn’s White Horse, Twelve Apostles stone circle, and many more, whilst having their respective virtues, don’t touch this place for ritual or sacred intent.
First described in the early 13th century records of Fountains Abbey, A.H. Smith (1961) thought the name of Almscliffe itself originally came from a hypothetical lady’s name, which seems an all-too-easy proclamation to make, instead of the humble option of “I don’t know”! But Smith wasn’t the only one to throw some curious ideas up about the etymology of Almscliffe. Said by some local etymologists to derive from the Celtic Al-, a rock or cliff, and mias, an altar, there are other attempts to bring its rocky form into a consensus meaning. The anglo-saxon Ael or El, being fire, and messe, or mass; and the Scandanavian Ormcliff, being the “cliff of the serpent”. In Jones’ History of Harewood (1859), he tells
“it to have derived its name from the distribution of almes, at certain times, agreeably to the tenor of legacies left to the chapel which stood there in the sixteenth century, and was at that time dedicated to the Virgin Mary.”
It’s difficult to say which one tells its true title. Many a druidic tale has also been carved into its form. Such is the nature of this site that Grainge (1871) wrote how,
“it would not be difficult to show, with the exception of the artificial temple or circle of stones, this place possesses all the accessories of that ancient worship as…typical of the worship of the sun.”