With low cloud shrouding the North York Moors I had to dig into my bank of “bad weather” ideas. Earlier this year I recalled seeing a large new sandstone “PRIVATE NO ACCESS” sign which I thought a bit over the top. So I headed for Kempswithen, the site of a 18th-century agricultural experiment but now under intensive management for grouse shooting. But the stone had disappeared, or had my navigation let me down. A hardcore base suggests it could have been here. Instead, there was a new small sign:
Now, no bikes I can understand, no dogs too but no footpath! Technically it’s probably correct but this is Open Access Land over which we have the freedom to roam. Clearly, it is intended to intimidate walkers into keeping away.
On the way back I took in Percy Rigg over Kildale Moor and came across the missing sandstone “PRIVATE NO ACCESS” sign. Or its twin. Maybe I’m not going doolally after all. I just had to take a photo in case it moves again. Way over the top. The siting of this stone is actually on the boundary of Open Access Land which is to the right in the photo below. To its left is a small area of heather moorland which somehow escaped Open Access designation. An anomaly. Either way, the intention is clearly to discourage walkers from enjoying their freedom to roam. They’re a red rag to a bull to me.
Ernaldsti, the medieval track named after Ernald de Percy, Lord of Kildale, cuts across Hutton Moor on Percy Rigg. Hutton Moor is part of the SSSI which covers most of the North York Moors‘ heather moorland. I do find it hard to understand why a landscape managed by man to maximise the production of one species at the expense of others should be designated as a SSSI.
I have posted a photo of this iron age settlement before. On an overcast winter’s morning with patches of snow on the ground. The overgrown heather smothered any hope of making sense of the earthworks. Today in bright sunshine I cycled past and was surprised to see that the heather has recently been cut back so that the ditches and hut circles can clearly be made out although perhaps not so obvious on a two dimensional photograph. There are five circles and interpretation of this one in particular is helped by an exposed section of sandstone foundation blocks. Can I see an entrance? My phenomenological mind runs wild. Women grinding wheat using a quern stone. Children playing. Beyond the site along the ridge the ancient oak woodlands have been cleared. Cattle graze, crops are tended, Down in the valley Sleddale is wet and boggy, still dominated by tree cover.
Well worth a visit before the heather grows tall again.
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.
A plot thwarted, our Sovereign Parliament is safe, poor old Guy, hung, drawn and quartered, a celebration, bonfires, oohs and aahs as the rockets, Roman candles and sapphire crown jewels zoom high into the night sky.
But what happens to the launch tubes that are left back on earth and to the rocket sticks and tubes that fall back to earth when the colours and flashes are dead, just like Guy?
Let’s drive up to Percy Rigg to set them off. Don’t have to walk at all. Only £70 for 98 pops, bargain, we’ll can buy a couple, and after a few beers who will care. What a laugh. Someone else can tidy the mess.
The heather is just about past its sell by date. A view east from Percy Rigg towards Highcliffe or Codhill Farm and Highcliff Nab.
This track, across Hutton Moor and along the ridge Percy Cross Rigg, was an ancient route from Guisborough to Westerdale. The rigg is named after a cross erected in the 13th century of which only the base remains, the cross having disappeared in the 1960s. The Percys were the lords of Kildale and the route became known as Ernaldsti after Ernaldus de Percy. But the route would have been well used much further into antiquity. It passes the site of an iron age settlement, the ridge being an obvious easy route away from the marshy and wooded valley bottoms. During that period of course there wouldn’t have been the large expanse of heather that we know today, pollen analysis has shown that the vegetation would have been more semi open pasture.
The local name for the forest track up from Hutton Lowcross up onto Percy Cross Rigg. In the distance on the right is Highcliff Nab overlooking Guisborough. The track follows an ancient route from Guisborough to Baysdale. It was until fairly recently a Byway Open to All Traffic or BOAT. A sign at the bottom warned drivers that the track was unsuitable for vehicles; hence the name. I can remember the post office landrover trundling up it on the delivery round to Sleddale Farm. In those days Guisborough was a main sorting office. I think it’s Whitby now.
In the 90s or so the track was regraded. Rumour had it that the council were fearful of being sued by adventurous 4×4 drivers tackling the route and damaging their vehicles but it has now been downgraded to a Public Bridleway because of the erosion. On a bike though it’s still a bone shaking descent even with modern suspension.
An enclosure off the Percy Cross Rigg road is the site of an Iron Age village. It was excavated in the 1960s by the renown local amateur archaeologist Roland Close and found to contain five circular hut bases with paved floors and walls still standing to a height of three courses of stone. It was in use 2,400 years ago. Artefacts found included nine saddle querns and the base of a rotary quern, evidence that wheat was grown.
By the 4th century BC, the local tribe was the Gabrantovices. The climate was improving after a mini cold age but still comparatively worse than today. The moors would have been largely tree covered with ‘fields’ along the drier ridges cleared for crops. This site would have been contemporary with the iron age fort on Eston Nab.
Roland Close lived close by in Baysdale and has been mentioned in this blog before; see here.
More rain overnight and a damp morning. Met up with a group of walkers struggling to negotiate the track down from Percy Cross Rigg into Lounsdale. The track is marked on the map with green dots which gives free reign for off road enthusiasts to practice their skills. The trouble is vehicular use on these “green lanes” is just not sustainable. Deep ruts and clogging mud make it almost impossible for the average walker or cyclist. On other similarly eroded tracks on the North York Moors the National Park Authority have prohibited off road vehicles. I’m not sure why this one has escaped.