The Aire Gap has been an important travel route over the Pennines since Neolithic times, with the Aire and Ribble Valleys allowing a sheltered crossing of the Pennine Hills that doesn’t rise higher than 170 metres – the nearest crossing at a lower altitude is in the Midlands. One of the most familiar landmarks with travellers heading down the Aire into West Yorkshire is the escarpment of Earl Crag, with its two follies decorating the skyline. It’s just begging to be walked – So we did.
Earl Crag rises above the A 6068 road, about one kilometre from Cowling, and is easily identified by the follies of Wainman’s Pinnacle and Lund’s Tower high on the ridge. One kilometre isn’t much to hang a decent walk on though, so we decided to visit our old friend the Pennine Way to make a longer trip – Although I’ve never walked the whole trail, I’m slowly (and unintentionally) doing the route in sections, and should be finished in about another hundred or so years at the present rate.
Where the Pennine Way drops into a valley, it often follows ancient drove roads. We did the same in reverse, following Green Hill Lane to gain the higher ground of Ickornshaw Moor and Cat Stone Hill. This is typical Pennine country, of little commercial use other than for rough grazing for sheep or cover for grouse shooting, and it’s quite common to come across shelters on otherwise deserted moors.
Beyond the shooting hut a stone ‘causeway path’ took us dry-footed to the 440 metre contour. We were heading for Great Wolf Stones, about 300 metres off the Pennine Way. You have as much chance of seeing a wolf here as you would have seeing the ‘Black Hunting Dog’ in last week’s blog (#77) but you do get a view into Lancashire.
Unfortunately for this Lancastrian the view to the west was looking dull on this trip, but heading back into West Yorkshire it was looking brighter. Just as well really, as that was the way we were going. The moor was trackless but thankfully dry underfoot, as we made our way to one of the strangest gritstone outcrops I have seen, the curious-looking, flat ‘Maw Stones’.
The ‘Maw Stones’ is probably the only gritstone outcrop that Chris will ever climb, but at a height of one metre it wasn’t too challenging and she survived the experience OK. Having done that it was time to see what the witch had been up to.
The Hitching Stone weighs about 1060 tons and is the size of a small house. The experts say that the ‘stone’ was part of nearby Earl Crag, and that it was carried to its present position by glacial action. The local story is that the stone used to lie on Ilkley Moor, until the local witch became fed up with it getting in the way – she solved the problem by driving her broomstick into the rock, and ‘hitching’ it ten kilometres to its present location, possibly a world record for stone hitching at the time, and certainly a personal best.
If this seems rather unlikely, there is a hole running through the rock where the witch stuck her broomstick, although the experts (again) say that the hole is all that remains of a fossilised tree. The Stone has a long history as a boundary marker of the townships of Cowling, Sutton and Keighley, and was also the site of a Lammas fair that took place every 1st August until 1870. Lammas, or “loaf-mass” day, was a Christian festival with links to the ancient Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, named after Lugh, the sun god.
As with the trip up Pen Llithrig y Wrach, there was no witch in evidence, and the chances of Lugh turning up were looking equally slim. So, time to visit the follies. Readers outside the UK might find the typically British concept of a ‘folly’ somewhat bizarre. It basically involves someone with more money than sense building something that is more or less useless!
First on the route was Wainman’s Pinnacle, built in 1816 by local landowner Richard Wainman to celebrate the British victory at Waterloo and to commemorate the death of his son in the Napoleonic wars. 800 metres further on is Lund’s Tower, built in 1897 by James Lund of nearby Malsis Hall to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It doesn’t appear to have gained him a knighthood, but a (precarious) staircase inside the tower does at least give a good view of his former home in the valley below.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock