Medusa

A local name for this ancient oak surviving in a split rock. The Woodland Trust records its girth as 6 metres. A trees girth is usually used as an estimate of a tree’s age. However when competing with other trees around a tree is likely to be taller with a narrower trunk. It is not know what the surrounding vegetation was like when the tree was in its prime but Medusa has been estimated to be at least 240 years old although I have read one report which gives a figure twice that. Nevertheless we can be sure that in 1777 this tree was at least a sapling, and George III was on the throne and Captain James Cook was on his third and final voyage.

Medusa map

Smoot Hole

Dry stone walls, ubiquitous throughout upland Britain or where rock outcrops and is easily quarried, often have holes at the base to allow sheep to pass. These are cripple or sheep holes or smeuses, although this name is often used in lowland Britain where hares or rabbits habitually pass through a hedge. Every region has its own name: sheep creeps, sheep smoose, thawl, lunky hole, hogg hole. And in Cleveland: smoot hole which possibly derives from the Old Norse word smátta meaning a narrow lane. A typical smoot is sheep sized so cattle can not pass and when passage is not wanted the hole is easily blocked by a board or large stone. Some smoots are specifically built for rabbits to discourage burrowing which would undermine the stability of the wall. On very old walls some may have been included purposely to catch or trap rabbits.

Smeuse map

Prehistoric boundary, High Bride Stones

Earthworks are very interesting but I find them frustratingly difficult to photograph and this prehistoric earthbank is no exception. It’s a Scheduled Ancient Monument, or S.A.M. and it forms the boundary between the National Trust’s property of Bridestones and the Forestry Commission’s Dalby Forest. Almost a kilometre long with other Bronze Age features notably round funerary cairns. Over the decades since the forestry was planted it has encroached on the monument potentially damaging it. Historic England, the public body protecting ancient monuments, demanded that the trees are removed within a corridor of five metres either side. So work is progressing in clear felling this ten metre strip and erecting new fencing. Bridestones Moor is a rare example of moorland which has not been extensively managed for the sole purpose of producing the highest density of grouse. The result is a very biodiverse habitat.

It is not entirely clear what this boundary was actually for. A tribe or clan marking the boundaries of their land. Containment of stock. Protection from wild animals. To keep people out, or in. There is no evidence what, if any, form of structure was on top of the bank. A physically uncrossable barrier or one similar to the low palisade fencing frequently erected by residents on a modern open plan housing estate. Easy to step over but etiquette prevents us doing so. It could have identified sacred land. Indeed it could have had a multiple of  functions.

Prehistoric linear boundary map

Highcliff Nab

​From Bousdale Wood, near Pinchinthorp. A sandstone crag overlooking the town of Guisborough. On the northern edge of the North York Moors and a popular  climbing venue, first ‘discovered’ for climbing in the 1930s. There is a Mesolithic site just beyond the summit. The Nab must have made a fine lookout for the hunters over the wooded plain below.

Parasol Mushroom, Roseberry

I love mushrooms. Sautéed in butter with a hint of garlic. And if this is a Parasol Mushroom, Macrolepiota procera, it is reputed to be one of the best to eat. But if it’s a False Parasol, Chlorophyllum molybdites, I would be in trouble as it’s poisonous. Although native to North America it has been found in Scotland. Or then it could be a Shaggy parasol, Chlorophyllum rhacodes, but I may still end up with bad stomach ache. So am I confident? Absolutely not.

Hagg’s Gate

I didn’t realise it at the time but this is an almost opposite view to a photo I took earlier in the summer. I am on Hasty Bank, one of the bumps of the Cleveland Hills, and looking down onto the col at the top of Clay Bank on a contrasty early evening with bright skies and the moors in shadow. Hidden by the trees, the road from Stokesley to Bilsdale passes over the col which is named as Hagg’s Gate on older Ordnance Survey maps. Gate here means a road and hagg a wooded slope. Haggesgate is first mentioned in a 12th century document relating to the grant of land to Rievaulx Abbey. On reaching the col from Stokesley, Haggesgate climbed up Carr Ridge onto Urra Moor where it joined another ancient road, Thurkilsti heading south.

Roseberry in the distance

A nice view of Roseberry Topping across the vale of Cleveland. But it is the jumbled collection of rocks below the Wain Stones that has long intrigued me. Dumped there by the last glacier that passed by on its way southwards it must have provided ideal temporary shelter with good views for mesolithic man as he began the occupation of the land. And judging by the amount of 21st century detritus folks still do bivvy there.

Group of Rocks, Wain StonesAlthough difficult to see from the photograph the large rock slab bottom left is angled at 45º. Brown and Chappel in their book of Prehistoric Rock Art in the North York Moors describe some prehistoric rock art on this slab.

I’ve added a second photo. Ignore the modern graffiti and look for the long grove towards the right side side of the slab ending in a small, shallow cup. According to Brown and Chappel this grove is has been pecked indicating it’s man made although how they can be sure it was made by prehistoric man and not a Viking or Medieval or Victorian man I don’t know.