The Burning of Bartle

Last year I ran in the annual West Witton fell race and enjoyed it so much that I resolved to try and run in it whenever I could.  I entered it again on Saturday and, this year, I actually had the dubious honour of coming last in the senior (ie, over 14) men’s race. At least it was a respectable last place – I rolled in a medalminute or two, rather than hours after everybody else. All participants get a rather smart medallion for finishing. (Rather than getting out my camera to reinvent the wheel, I’ve included a picture of last year’s. Who’d know?). Oh well, here’s to next year.

The race is run in the early evening. A couple of hours after the last person rolls in it gets dark and it’s time for the village tradition of The Burning of Bartle. We regretted missing it last year so this year we made a point of going along.

How can one describe it? The simplest and quickest way is as West Witton’s answer to The Wicker Man. If you’ve seen the film you’ll know that as the effigy burns, the locals sing Sumer Is Icumen In. Here, instead, they sing On Ilkley Moor Bar T’At. Also, Bartle is a lot smaller than the dour policeman’s wicker  crematorium. He’s just bigger than lifesize. Before the burning he’s carried round the village. The Bartle rhyme is recited whenever the procession stops, to be followed by three cheers:

On Penhill Crags he tore his rags,
At Hunters Thorn he blew his horn,
At Capplebank Stee he brock his knee,
At Grisgill Beck he brock his neck,
At Wadham’s End he couldn’t fend,
at Grisgill End we’ll mek his end!
– Shout lads Shout.

The procession ends in Grassgill Lane where the effigy is burned on the roadside. The electric eyes and Bartle mask are removed, paraffin and matches are applied and, as he burns, everyone joins in the singing of On Ilkley Moor Bar T’At.

Somebody filmed the event in 2009:



What’s it all about? It’s origins stretch back into antiquity. The local church is a St Bartholomew’s church. Bartle would seem to be a contraction of that saint’s name but just how far back does the ritual go? Was Bartle called anything before he was called Bartle? There is the legend of the Penhill Giant, a sheep-stealing giant who lived on the hill and terrorised the area around it. As I said, I’d not been to the event before but my first impression was that I was witnessing the annual casting of a spell to ward off his evil attentions.

bartle mosaic





4 thoughts on “The Burning of Bartle

  1. Congratulations on your finish and medal, Dominic. Biblically, of course, your are in good stead, for we are told that the last will be first. Perhaps that’s a prophet speaking of next year’s race.

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