QUERN stones have been used for grinding corn for more than 10,000 years.
The earliest stones were saddle and trough querns which were used on the banks of the River Euphrates in Syria around 9,000BC.
This type of quern simply crushed the grain by rolling a stone on top of the saddle-shaped stone but would have made a poor job of producing flour.
A technological advance for grinding corn came with the invention of the rotary quern which used two circular stones. The one on the ground was stationary, while the other stone sat on top with a handle to rotate it with to grind the grain into flour as the hard, rough stones scrubbed together.
The rotary quern became popular during the Iron Age making flour easier and quicker to produce.
The end came for domestic corn grinding when they were prohibited in medieval Britain and a law was passed which required all corn to be ground at the mill run by the lord of the manor, who, of course charged a fee.
There was another use for quern stones, however, as there is evidence that they were used in the Shetland Isles for grinding tobacco leaves into snuff.
There are lots of quern stones on the North York Moors in places where settlements existed hundreds of years ago.
Keep a sharp eye open for these as you climb onto Levisham Moor where there are many stones of all shapes and sizes lying around. One or two show evidence of being used as bottom stones. You will be able to see channels cut into the stone and the hole in the centre where a shaft would have been inserted to carry the top stone.
Don’t spend too much time prowling around old stones, though, or you won’t have time for a refreshment stop at the Horseshoe Inn.
LEAVE the North Yorkshire Moors Railway car park, turning left at the road over the level crossing which leads onto the forest road.
In less than one mile turn right onto a descending path through the trees which takes you across the beck on a wooden footbridge. (There is a signpost on the left on the forest road meant to guide you onto this path which was broken when I researched the route. If you reach the cottage you have missed the turning).
After crossing the footbridge, bear left, then right through a small gate to carefully cross the railway line.
Head for a small gate opposite to leave the railway then bear right to follow a rather muddy path up the hill. Soon you reach a fence. At the corner post go left to ascend on a path through the bracken following the waymarks to the top. Enjoy the grand views from here across Newtondale.
Bear left now to follow the path onto the moor, on your right is where you could find relics from a long gone settlement. Before continuing, take a look around the stones and see if you can find a quern stone – there is more than one.
After completing your search, continue along the line of the path towards Skelton Tower which you will soon see in the distance.
Where the path dips through a small ditch, turn right onto uncharted moorland towards a large stone, continue along this line to another stone until you meet the main path heading towards Skelton Tower then turn left towards it. Enjoy the view from the ruin of Skelton Tower and wait until you see the grand spectacle of a train steaming along Newtondale before you depart.
When you can tear yourself away from the view over Newtondale, leave on the track you came on for about 250 paces to reach the wide track, but this time keep straight ahead onto a grassy track to climb up the steep hill onto the moor. At the top of the climb bear slightly left to follow a well worn track. At the stone wall keep straight ahead through a gate onto a lane. At the road junction either keep straight ahead to Levisham and the Horseshoe Inn or turn right to follow the road back to Levisham Station.
Distance – 5 miles (8km) Time – Two hours, depending how much time you spend at The Horseshoe Inn
Grading – Moderate with two ascents Start/grid ref – Levisham Station, grid ref. 818910
Best map – OS Outdoor Leisure 27
Parking – North York Moors Railway car park at Levisham Station. Please leave a donation in the box.
Refreshments – Horseshoe Inn at Levisham is highly recommended
Public toilets – On the platform at Levisham Station