A bitterly cold morning, clumst as they say in the North East, the heather white with hoar frost crystals and the sun straining to break through the low lying cloud. Hoar is an Old English word meaning showing signs of old age but the moors are magic on these mornings, eerily quit, paths and bogs solid to run over.
The stone is on the Ernaldsti, the ancient track south across the moors from Guisborough to Westerdale and it’s likely to be a guide stone rather than a boundary stone. But that’s just my feeling. Behind is Kempswithin Fields, a reference perhaps to the 18th century agricultural experiment to improve the moor to grow corn, wheat and barley, rising to Pike Howe at 294m asl.
Obvious on the stone is a bench mark cut by the Ordnance Survey to record the height above Ordnance Datum. Although no longer maintained the Ordnance Survey have published their complete listing of half a million bench marks which tells me this one was cut in 1953, is at NZ64750820 and is precisely 283.019m above sea level. Unless of course it’s slowly sinking into the peat under its own weight.
Above Hob Hole in Baysdale and beside a shallow marshy patch of moor ominously called Black Sike is the ruins of a building and walled enclosure. On the 1853 6″ map it is named as Jane Frank Garth and has acquired a history involving the brewing and smuggling of illicit liquor. Tom Scott Burns in his 1987 book in “Round and About the North York Moors” refers to its local name of Gin Garth and suggests the building was used as a storehouse for contraband alcohol.
Across Baysdale is the Westerdale Road dropping down to the ford at Hob Hole. This is the ancient packhorse route from Guisborough to Westerdale, known as Ernaldsti, and would have been a well used route throughout the ages. If I was looking for a hideaway I wouldn’t pick one so clearly visible. I would be looking for somewhere a bit more discrete so as to avoid the attentions of any passing customs officers. Even today near such a tourist honeypot as Hob Hole there are places just a few hundred yards upstream that are rarely visited except by sheep and the occasional gamekeeper.
Smuggling was certainly rife in the 18th century and Gin Garth is a name used elsewhere for storehouses. There is one as in Danby. Silks, tobacco, wines, and spirits would come ashore at secluded bays along the Yorkshire coast to avoid customs duties and be dispersed to secret locations across the moors. Most would eventually end up in the towns and cities, perhaps even as far south as London.
There I was, on the hottest day of the year yet, running across Great Hograh Moor on the footpath known as Skinner Howe Cross Road, the ancient packhorse route to Baysdale Abbey, when something dashed across a patch of burnt heather in front of me. A flighty little thing, and when it eventually settled down, I recognised it as a common lizard. They may be quite widespread but are certainly elusive and it made my day. It has another name, the viviparous lizard, on account of it giving birth to live young rather than by laying eggs, which sounds much better.
A precarious cairn overlooking the isolated Baysdale. I’m told by a resident of the dale that the cairn was built by Roland Close, estate worker and archaeologist, who also lived in the dale. Roland Close has been mentioned before in these posts. Firstly as the builder of this bridge over Great Hograh Beck and secondly as the archaeologist of the iron age village on Percy Rigg.
Baysdale has also been featured before. In fact the location where I took that photo can be seen in this one: look right from the top of the cairn and I was standing just below the forestry on the spur.
A Grade II listed bridge across Black Beck is the only visible remains of the Cistercian nunnery which was established in the 13th century in this most secluded of the North York Moors dales. It’s a uphill drive out along a narrow road which is frequently closed in snowy winters. According to Pevsner the long house in the photo has date stones of 1633 and 1812.
At the time of the Dissolution there were nine nuns living in Basedale as it was called then. They all came from wealthy families and seemed to have been quite a rum lot. It is recorded that they were disobedient with one prioress reprimanded for her “excess and perpetual misdeeds”. Baysdale was actually the third site for the nunnery. Originally it was established in Hutton Lowcross but soon the nuns were in disgrace and in dispute with their neighbours. A new Priory and mill was built on land at Nunthorpe near Great Ayton but apparently their behaviour did not improve and before long the ecclesiastical authorities moved them again, this time to isolated Baysdale. This would have been around 1189. A case of out of sight … I wonder what the nuns actually got up to.
Finally, woke up to clear blue skies so a trip over to the head of Baysdale where there is a ruin by the name of Armouth Wath which means, I understand, the ford at the meeting of the streams, wath being the local name for a ford. The ruin was most likely accommodation for coal miners working several pits nearby.
The North York Moors are not usually associated with coal mining. There is some archaeological evidence of coal being burnt in Eboracum (Roman York) but there is no mention of coal mining in Yorkshire in the Domesday Book. The earliest documentary mention of coal mining on the NYM is in Farndale, just to the south, in a document dated 1715 although this refers to “new pits” implying coal mining was already in existence. The coal seams were thin, 40-50 inches recorded at Bilsdale, deep, 150 feet at Fryup Dale Head and of poor quality. The method of ming the coal was primitive. It seems likely that the method used here at Armouth Wath would have been similar to elsewhere on the moors. That would be by bell pits, a vertical shaft sunk until the coal seam was met, then expanded horizontally in all directions until it became unsafe to continue. The pit would then be abandoned and a new shaft sunk. Coal and spoil would have been raised to the surface by windlass and transported away by packhorse along bridle roads bearing names which are recorded on old versions of the Ordnance Survey maps such as ‘Ingleby Coal Road’.
The coal was probably intended for domestic use although there is evidence of it being used in the alum industry and in lime kilns. By the end of 19c coal pits on the NYM had not been worked for a number of years but there was a short lived resurgence in 1926 at Harland during the coal miners’ strike
Great Hograh Beck drains the moor of the same name and is a tributary of Baysdale Beck which in turns flows into the River Esk. This neat little bridge carries the Skinner Howe Cross Road across the beck. The Skinner Howe Cross Road is not really a road in the modern sense of the word, nowadays it is just a Public Bridleway but probably follows the old packhorse route from Whitby to Baysdale Abbey.
The bridge was built by local estate worker and resident of Baysdale and amateur archaeologist Roland Close (1908 – 1978) and has a keystone with the date 1938 on it. Mr Close had a intimate knowledge of the moors and carried out numerous archaeological excavations.
The memorial bench on the left appeared overnight a few years ago much to the annoyance of the gamekeeper and landowner. Permission had not been obtained. Quite a task to carry it the 2 km. from the nearest road including cement. Memorials of all types represent a difficult problem for landowners and authorities. Even with proper authorisation, how many can an area sustain before the natural beauty is destroyed? Only last week Bradford Council announced that no new benches will be allowed on Ilkley Moor and it’s been the policy on Ben Nevis for some time to remove all plaques and memorials.
Link to map.