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.