Fat Betty

One the best known wayside crosses on the North York Moors. This squat stone stands at the head of Rosedale on Danby Moor and also marks the boundary of the parishes of Rosedale, Danby and Westerdale. It’s traditionally whitewashed hence it’s alternative name of White Cross. Legends abound how it has acquired its rather quaint but not politically incorrect name of Fat Betty. Some say Betty was the mother superior of the nuns at Rosedale Abbey who got lost lost on the moors whilst trying to meet up with her equivalent from Baysdale Abbey.

Rosedale East

The fledgling has returned. ‘Reading week’ he says. Half term by any other name. A suggestion: “do you fancy going to the Lion Inn tomorrow? I’ll go on my bike and meet you there”. So I find myself in Rosedale for the second time in four days. But a different Rosedale with the Inn in cloud; drizzling and cold. Winter has come.

I took the easy option of following the course of the branch railway to the Rosedale East Mines, contouring around the head of the dale. Popular with mountain bikers, it’s slightly downhill, a 1 in 50 gradient. The line closed in 1929. Dead centre in the photo can be seen the New Calcining Kilns and in the far distance the Old Kilns. Far left are High Baring cottages, cheap housing for the miners. Closer, in the foreground are what remains of the Black Houses. A pair of railway workers two storey cottages that were coated in bitumen to improve their weatherproofing. Hence the name. The ruins you see are merely a lean-to wash house.

Rosedale really is an interesting dale, the industrial archaeology is fascinating but it’s a sad reminder of what we humans are doing to our planet. We exhaust the natural resources and desecrate the planet with our industrialisation, leaving nature to pick up the pieces. The ironstone has certainly brought prosperity to the dale and beyond to Teesside and the North East. 80 years on the wealth has now vanished and instead of an idyllic pristine valley we are left with the scars. But we live with the scars of the past however unsightly.

A North York Moors National Park initiative, This Exploited Land, has been created to conserve the ironstone heritage. It has a funding of £3.75 million which sounds a lot but probably won’t go far. Work has begun, repairing a landslip to the railway in front of the Old Kilns and stabilising the culvert at Reeking Gill.


Hallowe’en, and a trip out on the bike in search of a photo relevant to the occasion. Left the Tees Valley under a haze and found blue skies on Blakey Ridge with mists filling the south running dales of Rosedale and Farndale. Magic; who needs a commercial American import.

I can’t remember making a fuss of Halloween when I was a kid. Sure we had knocky nine doors with black cotton tied to the door knocker but I can’t say for sure if it was carried out on 31 October or the evening before Bonfire Night known as Mischief Night in the North of England. We certainly had no ‘trick or treat’ or carved pumpkins.

And what a waste pumpkins are. A chap on the farming programme this morning reckoned they amounted to 18,000 tonnes of food waste. They aren’t even the best tasting of the squashes.

Hallowe’en is said to have originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain which was actually a three day festival of the end of the summer (the Old Irish word for summer is samh and for end is fuin). The Christian celebration of All Saints Day or All Hallows Day, held on 1st November, sometime became merged with Samhain. The next day, 2nd Novermber was All Souls Day, when the dead was honoured. An Irish tradition told of a man named Jack, who tried to trick the devil. He was condemned to wandering about the moors for eternity with only a burning coal inside a hollowed out turnip. A carved out turnip then is said to ward off Jack o’ lanterns and other evil spirits.

19th century Irish immigrants took the traditions with them to America where they discovered that pumpkins were easier to carve than turnips. The traditions were transformed into the modern commercial festival which have now returned across the Atlantic.

Coal Staithes, Rosedale

The end of the line of the Rosedale branch railway. The railway was built by the North East Railway Co. to service the ironstone industry but the railway also brought in goods for the villages of the dale. The Rosedale Goods Station was just 100 feet above the small community of Daleside Road and a couple of miles from the main village of Rosedale Abbey. The goods depot comprised a row of cottages, long since demolished, the goods shed, still standing, and these coal staithes where coal brought in by the railway would be stored until sold. I’ve termed them staithes, normally a nautical word but one I’ve seen used in this context before. It is derived from the Old Norse word for a landing stage ‘stǫth‘. 

High Baring Cottages

Why is it, I thought as I was driving over Rosedale Head, that every time I head into Rosedale it’s damp and it’s foggy. A truly miserable morning. The plan had been to park high on the east side, cross the dale and have a look at the kilns on the west side. Dropping out of the cloud I stumbled on these ruins of High Baring Cottages. A few moments later the rain started.

High Baring Cottages were built in the 1860s for the miners at Rosedale East Mine. They can be seen on this photo of Rosedale just to the left of and level with the kilns. But you’ll need a magnifying glass. Life must have been hard for the families that lived here even in on some days of July. Never mind the winter. Although the mine itself continued operating until the miners strike in 1926 it appears the cottages were abandoned sometime in the 1890s.

The ironstone mines of Rosedale are included in the North York Moors National Park’s This Exploited Land initiative. Using Heritage Lottery funding this will aim at preserving the remains of the industries as well as protecting the natural habitats where they are located.

Calcining Kilns, Rosedale East Mines

A bit of a dilemma. Parked at the Lion Inn and went for a circuit of Rosedale with visibility less than the width of the road and the temperature below 10ºc. And so it remained until tea time when the mist finally cleared and the sun came out. But by that time I was comfortably back home.

Rosedale was once alive with the noise, smoke and smells of ironstone mining. In 1853 ironstone was discovered by Matthew Snowdon of Whitby and William Thompson of Staithes on the west side of Rosedale and gained by open cast quarrying. The stone was of exceptionally high iron content and within three years drift mining had begun. By 1861 a railway had been built over the moors to Battersby linking the mines with the blast furnaces at Ferryhill and Consett.

So far all mining activity had happened on the west side of Rosedale. A mine on the east side opened in 1864 and included a railway branch line around the head of the dale. Before loading onto the wagons the ore was roasted in calcining kilns which has the effect of a reduction in weight and volume and hence transport costs and royalties. There was some local coal available for this process but eventually coal had to be imported to the workings.

The photo shows the old kilns. There were four of then each served by four of the arches. Ore would have been tipped in at the top and the roasted ore loaded by hand from the bottom.

As I write this the sun has set and there are pink patches in the sky. Ah well. the wrong decision. A sunset will have to wait for another day.

Ruins of Sheriff’s Pit

A solitary corner of the manager’s house is all that remains of Sheriff’s Pit one of the several ironstone mines working the rich ironstone seams of Rosedale. It originally started in 1857 as a drift mine cut into the hillside 270′ below just above Medd’s Farm and any ore extracted had to be transported by horse and cart south to Pickering from where there was a rail connection to ironworks at Consett. After two years operation working at Sheriffs Pit ceased in preference to other mines in Rosedale.

By 1875 with a railway having been constructed over the moors linking Rosedale with the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Railway at Kildale, Sheriff’s Pit began a new lease of life. A shaft was sunk next to the railway and down to ironstone seam, connecting with the drift. This provided a means of hoisting the ore out of the mine. The drift continued to be used for access for men and pit ponies. The shaft is still there, uncapped but fenced off.

Sheriff’s Pit continued in operation until 1911. The railway continued to service other mines in Rosedale until 1928 when it too closed.

Young Ralph Cross

The iconic cross of the North York Moors; used in the National Park’s logo. It is sited at Rosedale Head and although this current cross dates from the eighteenth century, a cross has stood here as a guidepost since the thirteen century.

It is not surprising that the cross is the subject of much folklore. In one story it was erected by the nuns of Rosedale Priory. Sometime in the thirteenth century, the nuns needed to settle a dispute with their sisters from Baysdale Priory and so the two prioresses agreed to meet up at Rosedale Head, roughly mid-way between the two priories. Elizabeth, from Rosedale set off guided by a lay man called Ralph; the Baysdale prioress, Margery, set off alone.

Approaching the head of the dale a roak came down. A roak is the mist or low cloud that often clings to the summit ridges. Elizabeth and Ralph arrived first. Margery arrived at what she thought was the right spot and waited. After some time Ralph went to look for Margery leaving Elizabeth alone.

Now you may think that I’m leading up to a tragic ending but eventually the roak cleared and all three found each other safe and well. Elizabeth had Ralph Cross erected as a guide post and and herself is remembered in a squat standing stone not too far away called Fat Betty.

A nun from Rosedale also features in another legend but this time in a romantic liaison with a monk from Farndale. It was as this spot that they frequently met until their superiors found out, when they both came to tragic ends. Quite un-Christian.

A third story comes from Danby. Another dale, another story. Ralph, a farmer from Danby, found a penniless traveller’s body at this spot. It so upset him that he erected this cross and had a hollow carved out at the top for wealthy travellers to leave coins for those less fortunate. The hollow is still there but nowadays any coins left are quickly pocketed.

And finally it is said that if three kings ever meet at Old Ralph Cross then the world will end.

There is another cross close by which is also named as Ralph so to distinguish it is referred to as Old Ralph Cross. This cross is smaller, just 5 feet high and also dates from the thirteenth century. It is said to be a memorial to another Ralph, the bishop of Guisborough.


A delightful dale, considered to be at the heart of the North York Moors. Quiet now, but 150 years ago this dale echoed with the sound of the ironstone mining activities. The principle village is Rosedale Abbey, a misnomer since it was a Cistercian Priory that was founded there in the 12th century not an abbey. The population of the dale today is about 300, half what it was before the mining days when it peaked at 5000.

Tour de Yorkshire

The first day of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire cycle race. Caught the action at Rosedale Head. A 70 minute bike ride, 2 hours of waiting around for a couple of minutes of action and then the ride back. A grand day out.

Wasn’t very impressed with the ITV4 coverage. No aerial views of the moors.