Maiden Castle


I went for a run over Harkerside Fell in Swaledale the other day. I took a camera with me, as my route took in Maiden Castle – an Iron Age structure I’d not explored before. I’ve often seen it on the Ordnance Survey map and, since it’s  not far from here, I’ve often thought of visiting it, but never got round to it – I’m not sure why.

I set off from a lay-by not far from Grinton Youth Hostel and took a route across the moor to Grinton Gill, a stream that runs through a ravine. The path zigs and zags across the ravine’s steep sides before returning to the open expanse of the moor. I checked the map carefully from this point  on, as it wasn’t an area I knew well. The moor is criss-crossed with paths, some marked on the map and others not.  One thing that was obvious from the map was that I had to neither climb nor descend but keep contouring round the hill until the castle came in sight. Trouble was, I’d not seen it before and wasn’t sure how obvious it would be when I did find it.

It’s thought Maiden Castle was created about 600BC, perhaps falling out of use after the Roman Invasion. I was surprised to find how little was known about it. I’ve searched the internet and for every known fact there is quite a lot of speculation. A ditch surrounds a pear-shaped enclosure, big enough to accommodate a small village. Unusually, the entrance is flanked by an avenue of piled rocks about 100 yards long.

I needn’t have worried. The avenue was distinctive and as soon as it came into sight I dropped down the hillside to the start of it, as I wanted to make my first approach to the monument by walking along it. Was this the site of a settlement or place of religious significance? Some of the uncertainty about the place revolves around this. As you walk along the avenue you certainly experience  a sense of awe, but then the most prosaic things can have this effect when they are this old.

I stood in the central area, trying to take it all in. I wandered around the ditch. I took a few photos (see the slideshow, below) although I was very much aware that it was impossible to capture the scale of the place with a camera.

I’d intended to run on to the top of Harkerside but I was thirsty. Stupidly, I’d left my water-bottle in the car. I didn’t want to struggle on feeling parched so I headed back, leaving the top of the hill to another day.

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This morning, as I usually do, I woke early. I went downstairs, opened the back door, and -not for the first time- sat my sound recorder on a garden wall, opposite the tall trees that stand behind our house.

This goes on for about three-quarters of an hour every morning. Jackdaws, Rooks, Carrion Crows. Crow City. I can’t get enough of it.  With regard to intelligence, they say corvids are the “big apes” of the bird-world. If so, we are extraordinarily lucky to have this crowd living almost literally on our doorstep. People travel to remote parts of Africa to see big apes living in the wild. All we have to do to enjoy these critters is open the window and listen.

Konrad Lorenz wrote about Jackdaw behaviour in his book, King Solomon’s Ring. He identified “kia” as Jackdaw-speak for “fly away with me” and “kiaw” as “fly back home”. I’ve not read the book but I have read about it. Apparently all but one of his jackdaw colony were slaughtered by a mink. The survivor sat alone for a long time calling kiaw, kiaw.



The Road to Saltburn Pier

The last couple of months have been quite interesting. After a few weeks of taking it easy it became clear that my eye was deteriorating again – the operation I wrote about in my previous post hadn’t worked. The operation was promptly repeated, this time with success. I can now see with my right eye. It’s not uncommon, apparently, for two operations to be needed and, as before, the care I received was fantastic.

It has been an interesting time. For weeks I’ve not wanted to read for pleasure or use my eyes for anything apart from day to day necessity. I’ve had to fall back on my ears. I have listened to a lot of music I’ve wanted to listen to for a long time, only I was too busy reading and watching. The big discovery was Debussy. Being a musician, I knew some of his pieces but I had never listened to so many before. I should have done. For a start,  I didn’t know his Suite Bergamasque for piano. It  includes his “big hit”, Claire de Lune. However, the movement I kept going back to was the Minuet (it starts at 6:06):

One night we went to a hotel. Fed up with doing not a lot at home I thought it would be good to go and do not a lot somewhere else. I needed a change of scene. We booked one night at a hotel  by the sea in Saltburn. The drive there was a bit of an ordeal. My sight has been good enough for me to be able to drive safely but the journey was a bit too far for comfort. Once there, though,  it was great: if one good thing has come out of all this it is that I have learned more about the pleasure of doing nothing.

Not that I did nothing all of the time. We had a great meal in the dining room which overlooked the sea. It didn’t matter that it was dark – you knew it was there and that was enough.Before turning in I got the urge to walk down to the beach. K didn’t fancy it, so I went alone. Saltburn is famous for its pier. Walking along the front I felt the urge to go onto it and walk to the end of it. It was a clear,  moonlit night and the view from the end of the pier was bound to be sensational, I thought. My only concern was that a walk on the pier at night  sounded such fun that it would be someone’s job, surely, to come out soon after sunset and lock the gate.

My mild paranoia proved unfounded. The gate was open and I was free to walk the full length. Others were there, too – not enough to make their presence felt, though. Now and again I became dimly aware of a voice, a laugh or of wraith-like figures glimpsed in the darkness.

At the end of the pier I stood for a few minutes, taking it all in. The moon was high overhead. Ships lay at anchor, close to the horizon, their lights blazing. Below, I could just make out grey, silent  pulses moving across the surface of the sea. The closer each pulse got to the beach the more it looked and sounded like a breaking  wave.

Such magical moments come to an end. You think they don’t need to, that by simply staying put you can experience the moment for as long as you like. But it doesn’t work like that. The magic is beyond your control. Before you know it, it’s time to go.