Monday, 22 March 2010

The Chevin over Otley - Cups, Crags and Bulls

With the joy of almost completely mutually appreciative company we bore on high upon the Chevin. The wind up here is always high to a breathless degree, whipping spirits up despite the fact you nearly always seem to be walking against the blow. The cloud broke often to give us heady spring rays and the view over Otley was so perfectly presented you could pick out shop fronts, possibly the Prince tribute shop if you are in the right mood. We decided to firstly locate Knotties stone, the best known megalithic feature upon the chevin. The track east towards the quarry on suprise view leads alongside the Yorkgate road, just as you reach a point parallel with plantations of trees on both sides of the path you should see a fairly wide stone with a large carving on your left.

Knotties stone has a striking similarity to the Grey Stone at Harewood. The rings and four central cups with a channel drawn out over to the east of the rise of Almscliffe did seem to me to be a deliberate directive act.

Image from Rombolds Way by E.T. Cowling

I can imagine beltane fires being lit here, maybe on beacon house farm, and on the horizon at almscliffe crag and in turn from there north east at harewood. The stone itself was low and unmovable, heavily worn and warm from the sun. We all bowed in turn around it to take angled shots of the shallow grooves and marvelled at the view from the spot. I guess this would be called the 'common' cup and ring as it follows a similar pattern to many in the UK and certainly the majority of local petroglyphs, but I tried on the spot to find some kind of physical relevance to the locality. The classic question in regards to cup and rings, and therefore what you decide when on location what to look for, is undoubtably as to whether they are ornament or amulet, as probed by H. J. Dukinfield Astley in Cup-and Ring-Markings: Their Origin and Significance and many others since . My feeling (greatly influenced by the writings of Alexander Thom and Aubrey Burl) has been that they had a double use as tools to determine astronomical events which had a great significance to the religion of a people who depended upon planning their survival through winters, and also coming together at times of fertility such as May day. If Aubrey Burls interpretation of the evidence from funereal customs in the Rites of the Gods is accurate, the communication between local settlements in times of often dire need were vital for their survival. Therefore beacon points like Almscliffe, the Chevin and Harewood were too essential to the communities and these carvings could have some use in such customs, which I think probably explains the remote hilly locations a lot of cup and rings exist in.

Taking into account the physical design of the carving, four cups within a set of 5 concentric rings with a strong line drawn from the centre outwards pointing north east. I wanted to consider the ornamental possibilities of the stone, because although our prehistoric forebearers must have been extremely hardy, practical people in order to survive, the poetry and artistic slant that many megalithic remains possess is undeniable: just look at the carvings at Bryn Celli Du in Anglesey or Newgrange in Ireland, and the poetic acts discovered in funereal rites at places like the barrow at Aldro in the Yorkshire wolds where an arrow head was found deliberately broken and placed pointing directly at the smashed skull of a infant burial. I was interested by the ideas put forth by Gyrus on the dreamflesh blog that suggested the patterns found in rock carvings related to shamanic practices. The river Wharfe lies directly below snaking through the landscape quite spectacularly, truly Gyrus' Verbeia serpent goddess in form. The concept of visionary experiences at these points seems entirely feasible, the altitude definitely lends itself to altered mindscapes, the wind high on the hill creating a kind of roaring isolation of sound. I thought the sites of some carvings could bear comparison to the Taoist shrines atop Mount Tai, supposedly channeling some kind of inherent power from the mountain itself but also its location offering the solitude, peace and altered air pressure to achieve a certain state of mind. Dobrudden necropolis in nearby Baildon moor was also home to a beacon fire, is high up on the landscape and obviously had sacred significance to the people buried there, and again we can see heavy concentrations of cup and rings nearby. The vortex like circles on knotties stone could very well be symbolic of some act of visionary questing, the carving possibly traced in some act of ritual devotion as a labyrinth is. One cannot help but trace these circles on first inspection, it is a compulsion to follow the curve and spiral on its path.

Southward we then headed down the footpath behind the Royalty pub. There was some slight confusion with directions but you can see the Bull stone from the pub if you look carefully from the added height of the style, and from there its just straight across two fields and hopefully avoiding whatever frisky cattle lays in wait that day. The Bull stone, so called because of a whetstone reference, a bull baiting past or a roman fertility remenant from the old road that runs along side it. Eitherway an impressive monolith, deeply weathered from a long upright stance. Just shy of six foot high and with a few possible companions hiding in the dry stone walls nearby. We hesitated to run across the field to meet the stone because of various animal guards, and as I walked up to the stone some horses were bucking alongside the fence a few feet away. The stone stands in private farmland so its probably better to skip along to the farm and ask permission, we didnt for our trip but in hindsight it seems polite with animals in the field. A mysterious stone, not on any of our OS maps but seems to be known locally at least. The rites of spring are often connected to the ancient Mithraic practice of sacrificing a bull, and it seems a strong coincidence to have the Mayday beacon gathering spot atop the chevin so convieniently positioned next to the bull stone, possible location of a bovine sacrifice. Also its interesting to consider that one of the more prominant stones in the Dobrudden necropolis has a carving which has been likened to the constallation of pleiades, which is in the zodiac sign of Taurus, the bull. These Beltane fires seem obvious meeting points at boundary lines between seperate communities where spring festivities and rituals could occur. Almscliffe, the Chevin and Dobrudden on Bailden moor all directly overlook ancient boundary lines, and Harewood, the Township Boundary.

we departed along the path of the roman road, realising that the stone was indeed visible from the road and looked much taller from this perspective than standing next to it. I was struck with the idea of arranging to light small fires at the Greystone, Almscliffe and Chevin on Beltane eve to see the effect.