Country diary: round the rugged rocks of an ancient place

Country diary: round the rugged rocks of an ancient place

Airedale, West Yorkshire: The heather here hides bronze age settlements and late Palaeolithic ‘cup and ring’ rock art

The stones seem to hum in the heat. There’s something about this sweep of grass, boulder, beech and self-seeding oak that makes it seem a little closer to the sun than the places around it. Perhaps it’s to do with being at eye level with the treetops: beyond the outcropping boulders on the south shoulder of the hill, the land falls so steeply down towards Loadpit Beck that the topmost leaves of the tall beeches on the slope flicker in the wind no more than 20 yards from where we stand. A chiffchaff high in the rigging sings its needling seesaw song. I feel as if I could reach across and take it in my hand.

Just across the road to the north is the hump of moorland that keeps apart the dales of the Aire and the Wharfe – an ancient place. Ancient in the way that all rock is ancient (Carboniferous sandstone and mudstone, seamed with coal, laid down around 310 million years ago), and ancient in terms of its human occupancy, the human traces: the resilient heather here hides bronze age settlements and rocks marked with the “cup and ring” art of the late Palaeolithic.

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