Rock Art and the Ilkley Style – Part 1

This was a walk with a difference, unlike any other, navigation was as basic as any, the distance wasn’t in any way challenging, and, as for isolation, that too was a complete no, but, as for escapism, they certainly don’t come any better. The music I selected for the blog was historically inaccurate, but, the sound, the mood, the language, the aura it creates, well, from my point of view, was perfect. (Then again, we are in the land of Trolls, paganism, sacrifice and neolithic carved stone symbols, an area so spiritual, the most heathen of pagans can taste it, Stonehenge eat your heart out, so, there is a connection to the wonderful Swedish folk song and from my location, only a few miles north stands an isolated, hidden and secretive valley, Trollers Ghyll, thus, any time difference the historians of whichever ology, choose to curse me with, I challenge them to do it).

What are Cup and Ring carvings? – They are basically symbols (petroglyphs) which have been carved into rocks. Although they appear in other countries, in Britain they are found mainly in the north and Scotland. They are believed to be between 4000 and 5000 years old which places them in the same time period as the construction of Stonehenge, the Neolithic and Bronze Age period.

Wonderful example of cups, cup and ring and channels, carved stone, Ilkley Moor

What to look for:- Cupmarks, these are hollows cut into the surfaces of rocks which can be singular or in groups.
Cup and Ring Marks, A central singular cup surrounded by singular or multiple rings.
Cups, Rings and Channels, These can be cups and rings with ladders or channel joining them together.

These 3 are the most common in Britain although there are many more designs such as, spiral chambers, cups in rosette patterns, chevron channels, ladders, grid and curl like motifs.
After close examination of uneroded carvings, it was deducted that the carvings were pecked into the stone using tools with about a 5mm point with metal, flint or deer antler been the most likely tool used. The only real facts about the carvings meanings are, and will probably remain the only known facts, are, there is no clear picture of their real purpose.
There are some clues:-
* The carvings are situated close to or incorporated within burial mounds and cairns, there may be a link with burial practices, ancestral connections or the after life.
* They are also found on standing stones and close to stone circles, locations believed to have both ritual and religious purposes.
* They frequently appear on outcrop rock where there is an uninterupted view over the surrounding terrain, indicating, their locations had been specifically chosen, bearing in mind, at this period of time, most of the terrain was heavily wooded.

This outing was the first of three on this, an area I consider, one of the least understood and most metaphysical locations on the planet. I’m not alone thinking that, I know two people whose ashes are scattered on the moor, both parents of friends who, for whatever reason, asked for their remains to be shed there, so, it makes me wonder, how many others have done the same, what is the attraction and why?

Located in Panorama Woods, Opposite St. Margarets’ Church, Queens’ Road, Ilkley (GR SE 11475 47288) – The Panorama Stones

The route was simplicity itself, nothing technical or difficult, about 6km in total with a return journey being the reverse of the outward, on a very well-defined, ancient footpath, there are many testing and far more difficult walks in the area, but, on this occasion, that wasn’t the purpose of my visit. I’d come in search of neolithic stone carvings and there became the challenge, finding them. On this occasion, they were all adjacent to the footpath, for reasons I will explain later, but, they’re not all obvious, and, if I was a gambling man, I’d place good money that the majority of walkers are oblivious to the carvings and stroll past unaware of their existence, just as I used to.

From the church I followed the road west for a couple of minutes till I saw the entrance to the moor at Hetchell Ghyll, ascending this overgrown, wild and picturesque ghyll to the, westerly bound, required footpath is a pleasure in itself.

Originally, The Panorama Stones were located half a mile away, on the moorland edge, in the woodland at the rear of the small Intake reservoir, but, they had to be moved to be saved, as 19th century development in their surroundings would have vandalised and destroyed them. Fortunately, in 1890, a Dr. Fletcher Little, purchased them for £10 and, in 1892, in order to save them, had them moved from their natural location to the present one, sadly, during their transportation, the largest stone was broken in two places, fortunately, better them broken and saved, than lost forever. Still, over the years, the combination of weather and vandalism have taken their toll and the carvings are now quite difficult to discern. In total there are 25 cups on the Panorama, 16 surrounded by between 1 and 5 rings, some incomplete, some linked by ladders and parallel grooves joined by perpendicular lines, the ladders are believed to be unique to this and the Barmishaw stone. The smaller stone has about 40 cups with 3 incomplete or eroded rings and some linking grooves. The smallest stone has 12 cups, one of which may have been a partial ring and stone.

Hetchell Ghyll and the ascent from Queens Road to Woodhouse Ridge and the wonderful, carve riddled, required footpath.

Emerging from the woods onto the westward bound footpath, which is also part of the long distance routes of the Millenium Way and the relatively new Dales High Way, it’s like leaving a jungle for a bleak moonscape, maybe an unfair comparison, but the change really is that immediate and instant, there’s no gradual gradient. Bear right, and onward, the second and probably, the most famous stone carving on Ilkley Moor, the world-famous Swastika Stone.

Left to Right:- The fenced and protected Swastika Stone from its high vantage point overlooking Lower Wharfedale, then, the original 4000-5000 year old and severely worn and weathered stone above the Victorian duplicate carved beneath. GR SE 09557 49697.

By far the most famous carved rock in the moor and, still the most mysterious in age, origin and understanding. Completely unique to the British Isles but almost identical to the Camonica Rose in Val Camonica, (Bresica, Italy), which suggests to some, there may be a connection to Roman troops situated at the outpost in Ilkley, which, would cancel the believed date of the original carving. There are enough suggestions to its meaning to drive anybody to the verge of insanity, the bottom line was, and remains, nobody knows. There are 9 cups within and around the 4 curves, with an additional and random curve to the top right with its own cup within. (Well, I’m not going to start to add all the random and wild suggestions to their representation, instead, I’m going to offer my own, the 9 cups are there to represent the 9 worlds of Viking Norse mythology with the 10th and outside one representing an expanding outlook! It was carved by the maverick, Soren the Norse as he roamed these lands in search of wild boar and continued his never ending battles against the Trolls from their homeland a few miles away close to Appletreewick, let’s face it, during winter, these parts certainly have the feel of Nifhelm). One there for the many ….ologists to contend with.

Only a few yards away, on the opposite side of the footpath, laid there like dormant stone coffin lids are 2 fallen stone gateposts, not that their carved structures would immediately strike the average passer-by to their original purpose, that is, if the average passer-by should actually observe them, I never had, and, I’m quite a fine representative of the average passer by, one of the gateposts plays host to 2 cup carvings. In my humble

One of 2 gateposts close to each other, this one containing 2 cup carvings, I wonder if they were overturned, would they reveal more?

opinion, these are more confusing than any other carving I’d yet discovered, there is no visible evidence to why the stones are there, there is no visible boundary for the posts to represent, nor are there any visible signs to where they formally stood, but, the carved cups are very visible within one of them.

The 2 cup carvings are clearly visible although any sign of surrounding rings has either eroded away or never existed.

Onward and westerly I continued, next stop, the Anvil Stone, this one, did cause a little self-inflicted confusion. The GPS I was using, is, in my opinion, the best thing since sliced bread, but, it does have a single fault, man, or in my case, me! As long as the GR number is correctly added, it will find a needle in a haystack, or in this case, any stone required, the thing is, you have to ensure the figures added are correct, one error and you could be miles away, and, in this instance, I placed 03 where I should have inserted 30, and, I was about 100 yards out, on a hillside with hundreds of stones scattered around, but, after appearing a complete eccentric loonatic to the young couple sat above me on the hillside, I eventually found the temporarily illusive stone.

The Anvil Stone (SE 0928 4700), no prizes for guessing how it gained its name. It’s a triangular flat slab which perches on the top of other rocks with its point facing north-east. Like others, it’s sat close to the track following the northern edge of Rombald’s Moor above the River Wharfe.

No question about it, cup and rings on the top of the Anvil Stone

I climbed onto it and looked carefully for any carvings, and, although there were many indents into the surface, if they were originally cups, or cup and rings, then in this case, time, weather and erosion had delivered a particularly harsh blow upon them and it was particularly difficult for me, with my untrained eye, to decipher if they were or had been natural or man-made. Still, a magnificent stone with, space beneath for shelter or, as has been suggested, burial.

Continuing along the footpath, for maybe another couple of hundred yards, I wasn’t counting my footsteps, delivered me to the next famous stone on my journey, The Sepulchre Stone, (SE 0907 4700). Easily recognised by its unusual shape and strata, plus, it’s smaller adjoining stone, this too is home to carvings and a potential shelter beneath, and, as the name suggests, a possible ancient grave, so too does it dominate a prominent view over the valley below.

The local Trolls named this Soren’s Stone, after their leader, made a solo bid to kill Soren the Norse, King Troll had single-handedly pursued Soren close to this spot, when, after realising the rest of the Trolls had given up the chase, and, it was a one to one, Soren hurled this stone at the defiant Troll, landing it directly on top of it, so, the King of the Trolls remains, to this day, buried beneath, is there a man brave enough to raise the stone and confirm this story, knowing full well, King Troll’s have been known to rise from the dead with the first hint of daylight, well, I for one, have no intention of finding out!

There’s no disputing I wasn’t feeling very pleased with myself, the route took no working out, but the stones, well, they aren’t sign posted so it’s still a pleasant feeling individually identifying them.

Unusual and unknown (to me), stone, a distinct cup on the surface and a strange seat like structure to its front. I’ve decided, once Soren the Norse, the maverick wanderer, wild boar hunter and Troll destroyer, used this spot to rest and dine after a day’s hunting and, of course, he could keep an eye out over the valley for any trespassing Trolls should they venture from their hidden valley close to Appletreewick.

Five done, (including the gate post), two to do, that meant, continuing along to the Noon Stone and the famous and prominent Doubler Stones, they all seem to have unusual and interesting names, who named them and why were the selected names chosen? Maybe I’d find an answer for the next one, the Noon Stone, another few hundred yards along the track to find it.

The Noon Stone from each compass point, and, a view of the cupped summit, it’s a natural stone and mentioned in Paul Bennetts ‘Old Stones of Elmet. Initially described as the Noon Stone in 1579. It’s been suggested that it may have been used for some form of time keeping, or, as it’s been described as the stone over which the noon-day sun appears. I wonder how well it keeps the time?

The day had been wonderful, not a great distance covered, but, slow due to the interest and discoveries, now came a little more effort, the footpath needed maybe another mile completing prior to reaching my final destination, there was a left turn at the junction known as Windgate Nick prior to about half a mile’s walk to the famous Doublers’.

The Doubler Stones are 2 naturally shaped rocks on the western edge of Rombalds’ Moor above Silsden. Their peculiar shapes are due to the top stone been gritstone standing above the softer and easier eroded sandstone. Both tops have cup carvings with the eastern one has 2 whilst the western one has several cups and 3 deep basins with grooves.

The western Doubler stone with its 3 deep basins and grooves

So, after spending half an hour or so climbing around and on top of the unusual and quite incredible Doublers, it was time to return on my outward route back to the car. My canine companion, the never tiring Mountain Meg, didn’t seem to mind which way we went, so, after a little self appraisal at achieving my target on the first attempt, the hour or so return walk to the car began. Another successful day in the hills.


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Dave Witt

My interests are mountaineering, buschcraft and leathercraft, not necessarily in that order. Being outdoors is the real buzz. I'm not trying to set any records or achieve any real targets, simply taking every opportunity to go out there and see what happens, this, is hopefully, a catalogue of the aforesaid pursuits.

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