Not Everything is Black and White on Barningham Moor

How Tallon 2

I DRIVE the rattly van to the top of Barningham Moor and it gets stuck in slithery grass while I’m trying to park. I stall the engine and can’t start it again because the starter motor jams. Mist rolls in and thin rain begins to fall. There is no reception on my mobile phone. Eventually, after lots of click-clicking from the solenoid, the engine coughs into life and the van snakes inelegantly onto the road. I park it in mud but on a downward slope just to be safe. I pull on my boots, but it’s a slow process because I strained a muscle in my back a fortnight ago and it’s still painful. Sheep painted in fluorescent colours watch me from behind a wall. The day has a very deep, dark and melancholy feel about it. I decide I’ve unwittingly strayed into a Leonard Cohen song or perhaps an upbeat episode of Emmerdale . . .

The unnerving rattle of machine-guns drifts across the moor, accompanied by the pop-pop of small arms fire and some dramatic bangs. That’s the army training for mission creep. Forgive my cynicism, but eleven years ago I marched through London with a million people in an attempt to prevent an illegal war. It was the biggest expression of raw democracy ever witnessed in this country and it was totally ignored. Now we’re dropping bombs again – but very quietly because it’s hardly ever on the news. Let me tell you about fluorescent sheep.

How Tallon 3How Tallon 1There was a time when sheep were marked with a bright red substance known as reddle – or raddle or ruddle, depending on where you lived. This was mud that possessed a high haematite content and farmers daubed it on their animals to identify their flocks on the open fell (NOTE: and there are other more intimate reasons, apparently. Please see comments below).

Then coloured sheep dyes became available at about the same time L’Oréal founder Eugène Schueller was doing exactly the same thing for women – while openly supporting violent fascist organisations in France, may I add. But all that’s history. Now the coloured sheep dyes are fluorescent. The sheep adore them. I saw one doing a Vivienne Westwood impersonation. It was the brightest point of the day.

How Tallon 17The army has, very inconsiderately, spoilt my plan. It had been my intention to take a walk over Feldom Ranges and search for Bronze Age rock art on Gayles Moor. But not wishing to get shot I trudge in the opposite direction, taking a path west from Byers Hill Farm across Barningham Moor towards Hope Moor and The Stang.

If you’re not familiar with these names, they can all be found on the hilly but boggy ground to the south of the A66 trans-Pennine road on the border of County Durham and North Yorkshire. The whole area is peppered with antiquities dating from the late-Neolithic to Roman periods. Neolithic and Bronze Age cup and ring carvings and decorated rock panels abound. Mind, they take some finding, but that’s half the attraction.

How Tallon 5 How Tallon 6 How Tallon 7Leonard Cohen. I’ve never been a fan. I once walked into a record shop in Barrow with my mate, Trevor, who went up to the counter and said to the woman: “Excuse me, can I listen to Leonard Cohen’s latest LP on the understanding I have no intention of buying it?” When the woman said “no” he was absolutely outraged. He stormed out of the shop and didn’t utter another word all day. I’ve always taken this to be an indication of the effect Leonard Cohen’s music has on the disposition. I’m willing to concede that this might be an error of judgement on my part if anyone holds any forthright views to the contrary.

I trudge along boggy paths to Osmaril Gill where there is a particularly splendid example of a cup and ring carving – a chiselled hollow in a slab surrounded by four concentric rings. I also spy lots of boulders with cups – either natural or carved – in their upper surfaces.

How Tallon 10 How Tallon 8How Tallon 11How Tallon 14Osmaril Gill is surrounded by natural springs. Water disappears down sink-holes on the crown of the moor and re-emerges in the vicinity of the gill. At the head of the gill, at the very point where it opens onto the moor, stands How Tallon stone circle. This has been a place of some significance in prehistoric times.

That's the trouble with traps . . .

That’s the trouble with traps . . .

How Tallon 18Another part of my plan is to follow moorland tracks south to Kexwith Farm and the exquisitely-named Schoolmaster Pasture – which I haven’t visited for several years – but my back’s hurting and the weather is depressingly dismal. So instead I head back to the van with the intention of going home and playing some Leonard Cohen videos on YouTube to brighten up the day. I might even watch Emmerdale.

How Tallon 21A LITTLE BIT EXTRA . . .

FOR the past couple of weeks I’ve been hobbling around the footpaths surrounding the village where I live, full of ibuprofen and little nameless pills my wife gives me. I always take my camera on these occasions, working on the principal that if I don’t then I’ll see something that would have been worth photographing. Here’s a few snaps with explanatory captions.

If you were hoping to park a car or camp for the night and spied these two signs hovering above the grass verge, and you were feeling bolshie and fancied yourself as what people used to call a barrack-room lawyer, you might fancy taking a risk and challenging the authorities. NRCC stands for North Riding County Council, which disappeared in the local government reorganisation of 1974. Further along there’s a sign written in Latin banning chariot racing. Just kidding.

If you were hoping to park a car or camp for the night and spied these two signs hovering above the grass verge, and you were feeling bolshie and fancied yourself as what people used to call a barrack-room lawyer, you might fancy taking a risk and challenging the authorities. NRCC stands for North Riding County Council, which disappeared in the local government reorganisation of 1974. Further along there’s a sign written in Latin banning chariot racing. Just kidding.

walkabout 2

Crossing a field on a public right of way, I notice someone has placed a stone on top of a fence post. Closer inspection reveals the stone to be full of crinoid fossils. I’m not sure, but I think they were the stems of plants which inhabited this part of the world during the Carboniferous era.

Crossing a field on a public right of way, I notice someone has placed a stone on top of a fence post. Closer inspection reveals the stone to be full of crinoid fossils. I’m not sure, but I think they were the stems of plants which inhabited this part of the world during the Carboniferous era.

walkabout 4

The A1 is always good for a photograph. We’re right on Scotch Corner here, which along with Viking, Forties, Dogger, Sole, Fitzroy, Bailey and Hotton is famous for being one of those places that everyone has heard of – but has no presence in the physical world.

The A1 Great North Road is always good for a photograph. We’re right on Scotch Corner here, which along with Viking, Forties, Dogger, Sole, Fitzroy, Bailey, Ambridge and Hotton is famous for being one of those places that everyone has heard of – but which has no presence in the physical world.

This looks like it might be an Iron Age earthwork of the type incorporated into the nearby Brigantian fortress and Stanwick, but it’s the spoilheap of a 19th Century copper mine at Low Merrybent Farm. This part of the country is famous for its lead mines, but the copper-mining industry is very much a forgotten chapter.

This looks like it might be an Iron Age earthwork of the type incorporated into the nearby Brigantian fortress at Stanwick, but it’s the spoilheap of a 19th Century copper mine at Low Merrybent Farm. This part of the country is famous for its lead mines, but the copper-mining industry is very much a forgotten chapter.

Diesel pump at Low Merrybent Farm

Diesel pump at Low Merrybent Farm

walkabout 8

Just in case you were considering straying from the footpath . . .

Just in case you were considering straying from the footpath . . .

This is a section of Dere Street, the Roman road that runs from York to the end of the empire. Hadrian wouldn’t have approved.

This is a section of Dere Street, the Roman road that runs from York to the end of the empire. Hadrian wouldn’t have approved.

These terraces in the fields beneath the village of Middleton Tyas are the remnants of a mediaeval farming system

These terraces in the fields beneath the village of Middleton Tyas are the remnants of a mediaeval farming system

We are still out in the country, but this wall surrounding a cottage garden has been capped with what appears to be furnace slag. More remnants of the Middleton Tyas and Merrybent copper-mining industry?

We are still out in the country, but this wall surrounding a cottage garden has been capped with what appears to be furnace slag. More remnants of the Middleton Tyas and Merrybent copper-mining industry?

And finally. Back to the allotment for a sit-down at the close of another dank and dismal November day . . .

And finally. Back to the allotment for a sit-down at the close of another dank and dismal November day . . .

 

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Allotments, Archaeology, Bronze Age, Camping, Cup and ring carvings, Environment, Footpaths, Geology, Great North Road, Hiking, History, Industrial archaeology, Iron Age, Mountains, Shipping Forecast, Stone Circles, Teesdale, The Romans, Walking, Weather, York and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Not Everything is Black and White on Barningham Moor

  1. Alastair Lings says:

    Another great article and more excellent photos. Many thanks for brightening up my morning.

    Like

  2. andywham says:

    Ah, you see Alen, what you need is a Syncro (4WD) version of the van… I can highly recommend them for just the scenario you describe at the beginning of your (as usual) excellent post.

    Andy W

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    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. I bought the old VW T4 about four months ago and I’ve replaced nearly every part on it (even the rear bumper) so I might as well have bought a newer Syncro model to start with and saved myself a load of money. But it’s good fun and I really enjoy rattling around in it.
      Cheers, Alen

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  3. I was interested in buying an old camper van based on your exploits, but dodgy starter motors on dank hillsides are the last things I need. Does the old trick with a hammer (or a two day old Melton Mowbray pie) really work with jammed starter motors?

    Fluorescent sheep remind me of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Maybe they’re fluorescent so the army can see them in the mist and not mistake them for adversaries. ie the rest of us.

    Great photos and being able to read the landscape adds another dimension to walks. Seeing that photo of the diesel pump inspires me to watch out for old petrol pumps from the days when they had a visible fuel float and a spinning counter to show you how many gallons you were getting for 50p.

    Chris

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    • McEff says:

      Hiya Chris. One of the unexpected pleasures of buying an old camper van is that it forces your brain to churn over all the things you used to know about fixing cars in the days before computers invaded the repair business – doing oil changes; wiping distributor caps on damp days; testing thermostats. Last Sunday I surprised myself by making a special trip to Catterick market with the sole intention of buying a full set of metric ring spanners (£8.95), when only four months ago I would have sworn I would never use another tool again. And as for the starter motor, I’ve cleaned all the terminals and it seems to be okay at the moment, though I remember using the hammer trick on an old Land-Rover I had many years ago.
      I like the theory for the fluorescent sheep. In fact, I wish I’d thought of it and incorporated it into the post.
      Cheers, Alen

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      • andywham says:

        Running older vehicles is certainly different but at least you have some control rather than being totally at the mercy of garages (or whatever they call them now). They needn’t be unreliable either, if well-maintained.

        My van is eaven older than yours Alen – it’s a Type 25 (T3) from 1987. I’ve spent quite a bit on it but now it’s great and I’ve never heard of depreciation.. mine is appreciating in value! 🙂

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        • McEff says:

          We very nearly bought a T25 high-top off a bloke in Windsor but it was 6cm too high to go through the gate of the place we rent in Orgiva. The T4 should, hopefully, just scrape through because it’s a shade lower. What has taken me by complete surprise (and you will already know this Andy) is that there is a cyber universe of VW anoraks out there who have all the answers to all the technical questions and problems. I am fast becoming a VW anorak myself and enjoying every minute of it!

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  4. Will Montgomery says:

    Thank you for another enjoyable article and interesting photos to brighten up a dank day in east Cheshire. Hope your back improves soon.

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  5. rthepotter says:

    Imagine the people patiently pecking out those cup-and-ring patterns – are those rocks granite? I expect it was raining then, too. Commiserations on the back – I found painkillers almost useless when I did mine a few years ago, and sadly I don’t like vodka, but perpetual movement helped a bit – mind you I looked pretty silly walking round and round the living room, and knitting while marching on the spot!

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    • McEff says:

      Hello Mrs P. The area is composed of limestone and a bit of gritstone, so it’s not as hard as granite fortunately. Still, if you had to carve it in the rain that wouldn’t be much consolation.
      Thanks for the back tip. I shall try to keep moving. Getting up from a lying down position is agony.
      Cheers, Alen

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      • rthepotter says:

        I expect you knew the moving about thing – unfortunately one has to lie down to sleep. At my worst point, it took about 25 minutes to get up from the bed – literally. Each increment was like being hit with a cricket bat. (And yes, I do know what it feels like to be hit with a cricket bat.) So sympathies – hope it is easing up.

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  6. qdant says:

    only speaking from my 2-1/4 lightweight Landrover days if you can hear the solenoid click it’s the ‘bendix’ stuck (worm gear that throws forward to engage starter ring) WD40 and tap with hammer – jobs a ‘gud un’ I thought the tup woolly’s wore a different coloured ruddle pad on a chest harness so the farmer could tell which tup mated which ewe and when it was due ? I went to a L. Cohen concert at Preston Guild Hall in the 70’s Superb ! I’d only bought a cheap ticket, 20 rows up at the back behind a pillar, there was a 20 minute start delay then the back 3 rows were told to move to the empty front 3 rows and the concert started 30 minutes later a crowd of ‘dignitary’s’ mayor, councillors ?? turn up and started a fuss that we were in their seats, Leonard stopped mid song and told them to ‘Fuck Off’ and sit at the back I’ve several of his albums and a couple of poetry books since. I’ll put the rock art on a to visit list, as once you’ve got your eye in your led to them. Crinoids were sea Lilly’s and looking at some of the limestone depth there must have been allot of them. How’s your Brassicas ?

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Danny. I’ve cleaned and coated the starter and battery terminals with petroleum jelly and it seems to be okay at the moment. I’ve a hammer in the back so I can always resort to knocking it if required. The ruddle business seems less straightforward than I thought, so I shall bow to your superior knowledge. I like the Leonard Cohen tale. He sounds like the sort of bloke you shouldn’t mess with when he’s armed with a microphone and a stage. Bob Geldof told me to F- off once when I was on the front row at one of his concerts. It’s an intimidating experience.
      The rock art is concentrated on Barningham Moor, but apparently it extends eastwards across Gayles Moor, which is where Feldom Ranges are situated. Unlike other army ranges they don’t post public access days on the internet – or if they do I haven’t found them despite some considerable searching. So you have to wait until there are no red flags flying or dodge the bullets. It’s a bit hit and miss.
      Cheers, Alen
      PS Brassicas have done well this year. I’ve some splendid curly kale but nobody will eat it except me.

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    • Yep, that’s why the sheep’s BUMS are yellow this week. It does tell the farmer when they’re due – and also whether the tup’s working…
      Carol.

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  7. Of course, you know why the lady sheep’s BUMS are yellow don’t you? 😉 A lot of the farmers seem to have been using yellow for the first week (they were in the Lakes this week too) – wonder what colour the rams are wearing next week?

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  8. EchoohcE says:

    Nice post Alen, I’ve never been on the North side of those moors before; Osmaril Gill looks like a nice spot to visit sometime. Mind you it will be a little while before I can get there…
    Funny you should bring up the subject of starter motors. A week last sunday (16th Nov) I was visiting my mum in the Lakes and her car wouldn’t start. I spent an hour underneath, cleaning the terminals, but still got nothing but clicking. Tried hammering on it. Then thought I would try rocking the car forward while it was in gear, this sometimes makes a difference. It certainly did!
    I tore the main calf muscle in my right leg! I actually heard it snap – made me feel queasy I can tell you – in fact I passed out with the shock. Don’t think it’s completely gone, and my achilles tendon seems ok, but I won’t be going back to work in a hurry!
    Remember folks, do your warm-ups and stretches before pushing cars. 😦
    Mike

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Mike. That’s a story everyone should take heed of. I did exactly the same thing with a calf muscle in the Howgill Fells. Heard it tear as well, though thankfully I didn’t pass out. I think the surprise of hearing it overcame everything else, but it certainly put an end to the walk and meant a painful hobble back to the car.
      Isn’t it funny that starter motors never cause any bother until the long nights and bad weather come in? I’m working on the principle that all the moisture in the air and extra strain on the battery is one of the causes. So far it’s paid off. I’ll give the rocking a miss, thanks. If you can tear a muscle rocking a car, then rocking a camper van will probably be the end of me.
      Hope the leg gets better soon. At least you’re not missing any decent weather.
      All the best, Alen

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  9. JonJo says:

    Cracking read again Alen.
    This sentence, ‘ I’m willing to concede that this might be an error of judgement on my part if anyone holds any forthright views to the contrary.’, is perfectly crafted for the civil service. I’ll be adding it to my email signature as soon as I get back to work. I’ll include an acknowledgement if you insist but I think that would spoil the effect. ;^)

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    • McEff says:

      Hi JonJo. Be my guest. And don’t put an acknowledgement on it just in case I’ve subconsciously pinched it off somebody else.
      I’m reading former Sunderland MP Chris Mullin’s A View From the Foothills at the moment – his diaries from when he was a junior minister in the Blair government. He touches on the civil service speak a lot, to the point where he totally discards complete speeches that have been written for him because they are full of words but say absolutely nothing.
      It comes in very handy for writing stuff like this.
      Cheers, Alen

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  10. john arnison says:

    Always look forward to your posts Alen. But I am willing to concede that I might be wrong. Olny joking as JonJo says a cracking read. Now where is the Wensleydale? oh no Grommits eaten it!

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  11. Hanna says:

    Hi Alen. I think it’s interesting that your car is starting to sound like a bus. Buses always squeaks and rattles. In Denmark, at any rate. But maybe your car don’t approve to muddy roads with incidental roadblocks?
    Do you think Hadrian had accepted a striking motor or a fluorescent sheep?
    Hadrian would have hung the car mechanic up on the fence and he would have used the fluorescent sheep as ammunition in trebuchets.
    All the best,
    Hanna

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    • McEff says:

      Hiya Hanna. I’ve been told that all VW vans rattle and the only cure is to turn up the CD player. I’m quite happy to do that. Cars have become too comfortable and disposable in recent years so it’s good to have a few rattles and worries about not getting home again.
      I think Hadrian was an interesting character and I would like to learn more about him. I’ve been meaning to walk the Wall for many years but not got round to it. Perhaps this spring, when all the new lambs have been born to their fluorescent mothers.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  12. My favourite time of year. I can stand on the doorstep and shout “HUMBUG!” From across the fields comes the chorus of replies…..”Bah” “Bah” etc.

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  13. Jo Woolf says:

    Hi, Alen! I LOVE those cup and rink markings and the wonderful cup-shaped rock!! Fantastic. I would have sat and looked at them for hours! Such a great mix of old and new – the Great North Road, Roman camps and some medieval field systems. That’s why I love the British countryside. There’s a site along the M8 called the Pyramids (next to Livingstone) where the sheep are regularly dyed different colours, presumably to entertain motorists. I think that’s exploitation of sheep, myself. But I’m guessing that’s a topic best avoided! Great photos, despite the dreary weather. I always think you’re more likely to stumble across a time warp, maybe with some Roman centurions or Celtic warriors, in such weather. Leonard Cohen was a bit before my time but I’ve heard a small taste of his music and I can see why he was never on Eurovision. Great goodness. I hope that your back gets better soon!

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Jo. I thought for one anxious moment that you were going to introduce another argument about coloured sheep. I’m so glad you didn’t because I’m about worn out. Now you mention the sheep dyed purely for entertainment, I’ve seen that too but I don’t recall where. I don’t suppose the sheep were consulted. And I’m sure that if people started dying their dogs different colours there would be a huge outcry.
      What fascinates me about this country is that it is immersed in history. And I don’t necessarily mean the obvious stuff such as Edinburgh Castle or York city walls, I mean the stuff you stumble across unexpectedly that catches the eye – an old milestone in a hedgerow; burial cairns on empty moors; the stub of a mediaeval cross on a village green. There is so much of it. And I have nothing but admiration for the people who have the expertise to piece it together and add to our knowledge.
      And thank you for your concern regarding the back. Today is the first day in more than a month I haven’t resorted to painkillers.
      Cheers, Alen

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      • Jo Woolf says:

        I totally agree with you about those forgotten old places. All of them – that pretty much sums up what I love about history. Glad to hear that your back is a bit better. If it’s ‘structural’ I would say you could benefit from seeing a good osteopath. Colin is a living testament to what they can do, as he suffered with a bad back for years.

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