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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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




An Evening on Pen Hill

A while ago I posted a series of photos I’d taken in the course of a run. I’ve been meaning to do it again and, well, yesterday I got round to it. I’ve written about Pen Hill before: it’s our local “big hill”, a high plateau that dominates the South side of Wensleydale round here.

I took the photos with a compact camera. They’re not great but the sum of them, I hope, is a bit greater than the parts. I hope they convey something of the feeling of the place – and the great feeling you can get running round it. I started running on hills years ago when my children were small. Having very little time to myself, running on hills was far more practical than spending all day walking over them. I don’t bust a gut trying to run fast – one can run on the flat and on the descents, and be content to stagger up the steep slopes. In my experience, a non-competitive fell run can actually feel easier than running a similar distance on the road.

Yesterday’s run began on a farm-track that contours the lower slopes of the hill for a mile or so. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them)…


…before turning off the track.


It steepens. Black Scar looms up ahead. It’s a case of crawling up a bilberry covered slope to the left of it (I think they were bilberries – I had a good look as they were six inches from my nose, but I’m no plant expert).


I stowed the camera away before the crawl but not before I caught a group of cattle.


Once at the top, I followed the path along the cliff edge.



The dry stone walls drop away down the hillside. They must have taken some building. I always think of drystone walls as Yorkshire’s answer to the pyramids.


It’s soon time to drop down back to the starting-point. At first it’s steep and exhilarating.


Then the slope turns more gentle…


…dropping down through a couple of fields back to the starting-point.



The Mystery of the Octagon

The other day I posted photographs of a run I’d been on. One of the shots included the ruin of a wartime observation post. From what locals had told me, I assumed it had been used in WWII to spot approaching bombers.

Blogger The Benevolent Vegan was intrigued, and asked if I could take more photographs of the structure. I’m pleased she did, because when I went to take a closer look the other day I discovered a lot more about it.

It’s a pretty decrepit, two-storey structure, built of brick and concrete. Presumably there was once a ladder on the outside leading to the upper floor.


Oddly, there’s an octagonal hole in the concrete roof:


After a little online research, I discovered references to “type 14” radar installations being fitted into such octagonal holes. “Type 14” radar was invented in 1944, so if this was some sort of observation post built in WWII it would have been built quite near the end of the war.

A few yards from the ruin, a raised mound attracted my attention. I think I’d noticed this before, but assumed it was something to do with water or sewage. This time I paid it closer attention and discovered a concrete hatch…


OK, so the words “curiosity”, “cat” and “killed” occur to me now, in no particular order, but I couldn’t resist…


A doorway at the foot of the ladder opened into an oblong room. There’s about a foot of water in it these days. Fortunately, I was wearing my wellingtons. It was pitch dark and I had no torch with me but the camera has a flash…


By this time, I was beginning to question the WWII theory. I’m no expert but the fact that this structure was built in this way in this location made me think it was probably intended to withstand a nuclear rather than a conventional explosion. It seems far more likely that, in its present form,  it’s all that’s left of a Cold War radar station, probably designed to provide early warning of any nuclear attack on an air base that lies about 12 miles away. Improvements in radar in the 50s meant it probably fell into disuse soon after it was built. What’s left stands as a reminder that, whatever Bert the Turtle might say, in a nuclear war it pays to be fifteen feet underground in a concrete box – even if you live in the depths of the countryside.



Taking the Back Road

Just been out for a run. I took my camera as it’s a run I do as much for the views as the exercise. Although you can’t tell from the photographs – it was unusually busy. I passed a steady stream of cyclists, birdwatchers, horse-riders and dog-walkers. The fact it’s a Bank Holiday probably had something to do with it. Everybody needs a break…

Anyway, back to the run. Part of it is on an A road…



…but it soon turns off down a road that’s been closed for years due to the risk of subsidence – further on, the edge of an old old quarry comes almost right up to the verge.



At the top of the hill there’s the ruin of a look-out post from WWII – used to spot bombers heading for the cities in the East. Now all you can see from it are airliners heading out from Leeds Bradford airport and sheep…


There’s still May blossom to be seen in the hedges – a good excuse to quote link to my favourite poem, by Basil Bunting.


And so to the quarry. It’s a great haven for wildlife – especially for birds. The road, which runs along the cliff edge, is hidden in the trees and bushes on the right.