More Damage on Little Roseberry

Ok I may be jumping to the wrong conclusion here. Less than a month ago the gatepost on the left was toppled along with a section of the dry stone wall reportedly by two or three motorcyclists and a quad biker. The damage then was quickly repaired by the National Trust. This scene awaited me this morning. Too much of a coincidence? It may have been purely accidental. Having stood for two hundred years maybe a sheep tried to scale it. Not as daft as it sounds, I’ve seen sheep atop of walls in the Lake District.

The final climb

A view of the final 60′ of Roseberry Topping passing the Cleveland Way sign. It says Helmsley is 46m and Filey 64m but the Cleveland Way National Trail is officially 109 mile so an extra mile somewhere. Or maybe a rounding error. The Cleveland Way was first mooted in the 1930s but not officially opened until 1969. I do not know the significance of the 1995 year. I guess when the stone was placed. If it indeed was. I don’t remember. Maybe it was carved in situ. I do recall the helicopter carrying bags of stone from Aireyholme up onto Roseberry for the paths. That was in 1999 and all done in a day. 200 ton of stone I believe. If you are so inclined you can now do the Cleveland Way from the comfort of your armchair courtesy of Google.

Roseberry Topping map

Phantom Gate, Ryston Bank

Blocked up gates are not uncommon on the dry stone walls of the North York Moors. I always thought they were created when a gate was redundant and so blocked up permanently. But I recently read that in parts of Ireland phantom gates are traditionally used as a normal method closing a gateway. To move cattle or sheep the wall must be taken down and rebuilt. A lot of work. There is a shortage of wood in the windswept Aran Islands, Connemara or County Clare but this method of blocking up gateways has been adopted principally to prevent the winds from blowing across the exposed fields. I am not convinced however that this explanation is applicable to the North York Moors.

Until recently both sides of this wall on Ryston Bank was heavily forested. It has now been clear felled revealing a grand view of Roseberry Topping. The 1839 Tithe Map of Pinchinthorpe names the field the other side of the wall as “Browns Intake”. A field boundary is shown, most likely this wall. The 1893 Ordnance Survey shows the intake field as wooded. My guess is that the wall dates from the 18th century Enclosure Acts with a (wood) gate to allow stock to pass from the intake field onto the moor for summer grazing. Sometime prior to 1893 Brown’s Intake was set to woodland and the gate blocked up to keep the sheep out.

Phantom Gate map

Curious Pits of Cockle Scar

Cockle Scar is the distinctive escarpment half way up Roseberry.  It extends about the 200m contour from Newton Wood to the promontory at the northern tip of the hill. Along it there are approximately 40 pits of up to 50 feet in diameter and 3 to 6 feet deep. No one has come up with an explanation when and why they were dug. For they are most certainly man made. The pits are in a long line along the edge of the scar with a cluster on the promontory.

No excavations have been formally done but no less a person than Sir Alfred Pease (1857-1939) recounted digging flints and arrowheads out of the pits when he was a young lad.

Various theories have been proposed:

  • Mineral extraction
  • Pre-historic dwellings
  • Temporary shelters for tending summer grazing
  • Defensive
  • Ritual

All these have their problems. With mineral extraction, the geologists tell us that there is no stone of any value at this level. The Staithes sandstone which the scar comprises is too poor a quality for use as a building material and is 35m lower than the ironstone and jet layers. I guess pre-historic man could have been exploring for these rocks but then why dig so many pits so close to each other. As far as habitation is concerned a settlement on the scar would be in a very exposed position subject to the full force of north easterlies sweeping off the North Sea. Temporary summer dwellings seem more believable. Similar perhaps to the Scottish shielings. Defensive just doesn’t gel. What were they defending? I can understand a hill fort surrounding a flattish area that the local folk could retreat to. A lookout I get but again why so many?

Which leaves us with ritual. The archaeologists’ fall back. Maybe the pits had something to do with Roseberry being a holy mountain. The domain of shamans ‘protecting’ the hill. Or maybe the clue lies in the name, Cockle Scar. Cockle is derived from the French word coquille for a shell and we know the strata contains fossils in the form of ammonites. So maybe, just maybe, prehistoric man was looking for ammonites which would probably have had some ceremonial importance. Or have I begun to delve too much into fantasy.

Cockle Scar map



The oak woods of Newton skirting the foot of Roseberry are beginning to wake up from its winter hibernation. This lichen has probably been there all winter but I must admit that only in the spring sunshine have I noticed it. They say that lichens are a sign of clean air which is a good sign close to industrial Teesside. Lichens are notoriously difficult to identify. I think this is Oakmoss or Evernia prunastri by its scientific name. It is still used in the French perfume industry as a fixative where it is known as Mousse de Chêne.

Roseberry’s Landslip

Boulders of Oolite sandstone litter the south west slope of Roseberry, the result of a monumental landslip in 1912. It was said at the time the ironstone miners were to blame but the geologists tell us now that was not so. It would have happened anyway, and it is still happening. The softer mudstone shales are still being eroded weakening the foundations of the crag. A new rockfall will occur. It might be a thousand years but it will occur.

Down below the oakwoods of Newton Wood adorn the escarpment of another sandstone layer, of a much poorer quality to be useful for building stone and in the distance, on the Cleveland Plain, the village of Great Ayton wakes up on this Monday morning.

Roseberry Talus map

Odin’s Hill

Lots of climbers tempted by the early morning spring sunshine reach the summit of Roseberry. By lunch time clouds were darkening but any rain held off.

Walter White spent two hours on the summit in 1858 during his grand tour of Yorkshire. He wrote that the name Roseberry comes from ross, a heath or moor, and burg meaning a fortress. The modern thinking is that the name means the hill of the Viking god Odin.