Also known as Slack’s Gill and until recently buried inside the commercial forestry of Black Bank. It’s my ‘secret’ way up onto Great Ayton Moor. Mine and the mountain bikers who created a downhill course through the wood. But the clear felling has put paid to their activities. I am sure the sandstone crags have been quarried but there is no evidence of the route the stones would have been hauled down the slope. The large boulder in the gill does have an anchor bolt on the top but I guess that could be modern, placed as a protection for rock climbers. I’ve rendered the photo into black and white as the carnage left by the clear felling is hidden.
In search of the chambered cairn on Great Ayton Moor. These stones, one adorned with modern graffiti ‘Bela Vista’, looked a likely candidate but after studying the archaeological sketches from a 1950s excavation I am now not so sure. Chambered cairns are rare, unique on the North York Moors. Eight large flat stones leaning together with a headstone to form a chamber. No skeletal remains were found but given the acid conditions that is not surprising. Pottery shards and various flint and stone objects were found. Pollen analysis helped dating the site to the Neolithic.
Last week I visited Nunthorpe Church, built in the 1920s from sandstone quarried at Great Ayton. I have since not only learnt that the actual quarry was Cockshaw but there was in fact twelve sites along the escarpment between Captain Cook’s Monument and Roseberry where sandstone or freestone, as it was also referred to, was quarried such as here on Ayton Bank on the edge of Great Ayton Moor.
I thought I would head for Captain Cook’s Monument on Easby Moor this morning as on this day in 1778 Cook became the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands naming them the Sandwich Islands, after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich and the First Lord of the Admiralty.
On the way back I cut across Great Ayton Moor to look at the Iron Age Enclosure. This is a rectilinear ditch and earth bank about 24m across that looks very impressive on Google Earth. It was excavated in the 1950s when the remains of a oval roundhouse, hearth and pottery fragments were discovered, dating to about 100 BC. For the photo I’ve only managed to capture the north western corner of the earthworks which are just about discernible without the summer’s lush growth of bracken. At the time of construction the moor was open grassland. Nearby was an arable field system. The climate was warmer and drier than today.
Appropriately for this day, in the far distance standing proud on Easby Moor is the 51 feet high monument to Capt. James Cook RN.
I am quite opportunistic with my photography. I don’t usually have much of a plan, sometimes just a vague idea of a potential subject. Today overcast with very strong winds and rain threatening I wasn’t very hopeful. But as I skirted around Great Ayton Moor a break in the clouds threw Lonsdale below me in bright winter sunshine. Ahead is Percy Rigg with its Iron Age Village and Ernaldsti, perhaps the oldest track over the moors. On the right if you look closely are the lumps and bumps of Lonsdale Quarry where I was just four days ago under completely different conditions.
I’ve learnt a new word this week: coddiwomple, a verb meaning to travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination. That just about sums me up to a tee. Ninety per cent of the time the only plan I have is to get to the next decision point. That may be 100 yards or five miles away. And when I get there it’ll be a random decision to turn left or right. En route I’m apt to go off piste to chase a shaft of sunlight or to investigate a feature I’ve spotted on the map (I invariably run with a map in my hand even if a know the area, a map gives you so much information.)
A duvet of cloud covered the moors this morning. Even Roseberry kept its head under the covers for most of the morning. So there would be no chasing of shafts of sunlight today. I crested the escarpment in deepening gloom and it was only then I remembered this birch tree in an old quarry overlooking Lonsdale. A tree I had thought would make a good subject. Decision made, I headed into the mist across Great Ayton Moor.
Birch is a graceful, resilient tree, equally at home on the Russian steppes as growing out of a vertical sandstone rock face. Its bark has been used as water resistant paper and in tanning and birch leaf tea is an antiseptic. In mythology it is believed to drive out evil. Perhaps that’s why birching was a corporal punishment. More pleasant is the tradition of birch cradles to protect new-born babies from evil spirits and if a barren cow was herded with a birch stick the calf would be fertile; and if she was pregnant the calf would be healthy.
Astute readers will notice I’ve changed the colour scheme for this blog. A new year, a new theme.
Winter 1942. A platoon of RAF personnel prepare for a long night in a brick and concrete bunker by the side of Percy Rigg on Great Ayton Moor. During the day they have been maintaining an extensive system of ditches and tanks on the moor below filling them with oily rags and fuel. Covering an area of about four acres, when lit they would resemble a burning town that would hopefully attract the attention of German bombers.
The industries of Teesside were a target for German bombing raids as were other towns and cities throughout the country. In August Middlesbrough Railway station had been hit. With the increased use of incendiary bombs a network of decoy sites was established around each town. They were called Special Fires, or ‘SF’, later to become Operation Starfish. When the first bombs were dropped on area the decoys were electrically ignited to trick subsequent bomber waves into dropping their load on the unpopulated moors. The recipe was quite sophisticated. As well as simple oily rags, diesel and paraffin were released onto coke or coal followed by water. This caused a virtual explosion of fire and steam, looking like a burning town. Other sites within the Teesside Starfish were at Osmotherley, Errington, Sneaton and Newton Bewley.
Once alight the men on Great Ayton Moor, would retire to the bunker and hope that if the German planes were indeed tricked into dropping their bombs their aim was good. The fires a mere few hundred yards away. I don’t suppose the bunker would take a direct hit. Nationwide it is said the decoy sites saved 2,500 lives although there is no evidence of any bombs actually being dropped on Great Ayton Moor. But if you do come across a tubular shaped metal object take care, it could be an unexploded bomb.