In the cool of the evening the last of the evening light strikes the disused sandstone quarry at Cockshaw Hill above Gribdale. Stone from the quarry would have been used for the alum works and Ayton Bank Ironstone Mine. The quarry was certainly in use in the 1920s when its stone was used in the construction of the Temple Moore designed St. Mary’s Church at Nunthorpe.
Gorse or furze is one shrub which flowers throughout the winter but at this time of the year it’s yellow flowers are in profusion. Another name is whin on account of its liking for rocky soils such as that in the old whinstone quarry on Cliff Ridge, Great Ayton. Or may it is the rock that is named after the plant.
57 million years ago Europe, North America and Asia were locked together in a great continent called Laurasis. Volcanic activity near what is now the Island of Mull in Scotland cause injections of magma deep underground in what geologists call the Mull Dyke Swarm. The magma cooled and formed a vertical dyke of hard igneous rock known as Whinstone. One such dyke outcrops in Cleveland where it is known as the Cleveland Dyke and on Cliff Ridge whinstone has been extensively quarried for use in road building. It is said that the streets of Leeds are cobbled with Great Ayton stone. In the 1880s Percy Winn took over the quarry from Leeds Corporation and is still referred to locally as Winn’s Quarry.
The photo shows the line of the dyke along Langbaurgh ridge heading towards Mull. Beyond Nunthorpe it goes underground but outcrops again at Preston Park on the north bank of the Tees and Cockfield Fell near Hamsterley. The word whin originates from the Old Scandinavian word for gorse, the prickly yellow flowered scrub which flourishes on the sides of the quarry.
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’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.
The last remains of one of last ruins of the Loftus Alum Quarries. Probably a seeping pit. Soon this will go the way of other buildings and tumble the 300 foot into the North Sea. All that will be left is a sterile moonscape, mostly devoid of vegetation.
Just along the coast is the alum quarries of Boulby, together almost two miles of excavation 200 feet deep. A phenomenal amount of material removed. It took the best part of a hundred tons to produce one ton of alum crystals. Alum was an important chemical used in the fixing of dyes and in the tanning industry. It was a cure all for almost all types of illnesses and ailments. The process was complex, and full of intrigue and secrecy, involving eggs and urine. There was a Papal monopoly in the chemical until Henry VIII fell out with the Pope. Then the race was on to find a home source. Lingberry quarry, as it was known at the time, operated for about two centuries opening in the mid 1650s. Later the quarry took the name of the village of Lofthouse which was shortened to the present Loftus in late Victorian times.
The history is without doubt fascinating. The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest on account of the fossils found in the shales, particularly ammonites. But, although heather and a few shrubs have found a footing higher up below the sandstone cap, the barren shale wasteland is just another fine example of the way man has and is still desecrating the planet.
Another one of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. Ingleborough. Seen from Dub Cote on the southern foothills of Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough is just a blimp on the horizon overshadowed by the great scar of Horton quarry which seems to have taken over half the mountain in its search for limestone.