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Head out to the moors for a game of stones and crosses
NO walk this month but prospects of many excellent walks for the summer.
Winter is a time when we cannot get out onto the moors as often as we would like to, which gives us the opportunity to begin planning and plotting routes for better days. So let us think about walking to interesting moorland crosses, then I will let you get the maps out and start plotting routes.
The North York Moors were sculpted thousands of years ago when the ice melted to form massive lakes. The water eventually burst out, spilling millions of gallons across the landscape and cutting deep gorges into the earth. Lake Eskdale was 11 miles long and 400ft deep before its waters escaped and cut out the gorge of Newtondale on its way to Pickering lake.
There have been many inhabitants on the moors over the years, from Long Headed Man, the Beaker People and many others, to the Romans, who probably left the greatest impression on our way of life. As the years passed, crosses appeared to mark the way for travellers, some as a commemoration for the poor souls who became lost and perished in the fog or snow. Some crosses have a religious significance and others are simple boundary markers, often with the landowner’s initials and a date inscribed.
As man became more adventurous he used the tracks to carry goods across the moors on ponies and mules. Smuggling became big business and the moors became highways to paradise with all the fine goods that travelled across them hidden from prying eyes as they were guided through valleys and gorges.
Some tracks were paved and bore the name rode, causeway or pannier trod. Many became ridgeways to avoid boggy land, Rudland Rigg being our medieval ridgeway. With all this activity, it leaves us with an abundance of history to explore, so let us get plotting and find some crosses!
The main crosses
Many crosses are now but a former shadow of themselves, being just a stump, a base or both. However, it is always exciting to find a cross you have never visited before. It was a long time before I found Redman Cross on Spaunton Moor, not surprising as it is a simple base and when I was last there it was being used as a feeding station for the grouse. If you haven't been cross hunting you should start now, then you will get the crosses ‘bug’. See how many you can bag – it’s like Munro bagging in Scotland, only easier! Here are some of the easy crosses to have a look at. They will whet your appetite to search out the harder ones.
Lilla Cross, grid ref 889987
Perhaps the best and earliest example of a moorland cross existing on the North York Moors. It is hewn from a single piece of stone and is a memorial to the Saxon nobleman Lilla, who died saving his king’s life. The views from this high vantage point on Lilla Howe are stimulating. There are two fairly easy walks to Lilla Cross. One from the car park at the top of the Beck Hole road and the other, which I prefer, from Jugger Howe adjacent to the A171.
Aine Howe Cross, grid ref 724938
The wilds of Spaunton Moor where Aine Howe Cross stands haven’t changed much over the years, just a few scars as a reminder of mining days long gone. The original top of Aine Howe Cross, or Ana Cross as it is usually called today, is in the crypt of Lastingham church. Several years ago the cross was repaired and today it stands proud and prominent on Spaunton Moor between Rosedale and Lastingham and is the tallest cross on the moors. Plenty of choice to visit the cross, just a short walk from Rosedale Bank top or a longer hike from Lastingham.
Mauley Cross, grid ref 797944
Mauley Cross stands on the edge of Cropton Forest surrounded by trees. Different to the day it was erected when it would probably have been in an open space. It is a large cross hewn from a solid piece of stone and is a boundary stone marking the lands of the De Mauley family of Mulgrave Castle. You can see the stone simply by taking a ride through Stape then turning right at the forest road further along, the cross is on the left.
Malo Cross, grid ref 868040
This is a super cross at the foot of Whinny Nab near Saltersgate. It is a fine example of a 17th century moorland cross. It is marked with the letters, RE,K, which stands for Richard Egerton, Knight. He is said to have placed the cross to try to extend his lands into the royal hunting forest of Pickering. It is also placed on a branch of the Pannierman’s Way from Lilla Cross and would have been a guide stone. In the 19th century the cross disappeared. It was found in a garden in Pickering and re-erected in its rightful place for us all to enjoy. The cross is best approached across the top of Whinny Nab from the Saltersgate car park.
Old Ralph’s Cross, grid ref 675020
Old Ralph is situated at the road side on Westerdale Moor at the Westerdale road junction. It was named after Old Ralph Rosdil, who guided the prioresses of Baysdale Abbey and Rosdedale Abbey to a meeting on a fog-bound day, though there are other tales claiming another Ralph perished in a blizzard there.
Fat Betty, grid ref 682020
Situated at the head of the Rosedale Valley near the roadside is Fat Betty, or White Cross. It is an unusual stone and nothing much like a cross as you might imagine. It is a boundary stone and is painted white. To avoid confusion with White Cross near Castleton it is usually known as Fat Betty.
There are about 40 crosses in various condition across the moors. These include High and Low Crosses on the outskirts of Appleton-le-Moors, Ann’s Cross in a hollow on the way to Lilla Cross from Goathland. The boundary marker Hob Cross is a favourite of mine, standing impressively between Guisborough Moor and Stanghowe Moor. And who could forget the cheeky little face stone on Urra Moor with its enigmatic smile?
Standing stones are another feature of the moors some with unusual names, so here are three interesting ones.
The Cammon Stone on Rudland Rigg was inscribed by an eccentric clergyman. The wording, written in arabic, says Hallelujah.
Blue Man I’the Moss on Wheeldale Howe is a large stone at the junction of three boundaries. And Old Wife’s Neck on Shooting House Rigg is steeped in legend. It is said to be the giant Wade’s wife Bell, turned to stone.
All these and many others are marked on the Ordnance Survey maps. But the object of this article was to make you find some crosses yourselves. Armed with the Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure maps 26 and 27 you will find lots more. To give you a start, take a look at the following grid references. Good hunting!
631992, 734885, 606118, 732936, 704105, 736967, 615076 and 878015
765992, 626000, 675013, 902021, 676012, 830130 and 830146
* Guide books: The Trailblazer guide to Crosses and Stones on the North York Moors; Walking to Crosses on the North York Moors. Both are published by Trailblazer and are available from the Ryedale Rambler Shop at Pickering, tourist information centres, NYMR shops and bookshops priced £2.50.