The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Fat Betty Cross, Danby High Moor, North Yorkshire

NZ6822 0199. The medieval cross known as Fat Betty or White Cross stands beside a trackway on Danby High Moor at the head of the Rosedale Valley to the east of Rosedale Head. It has acted as a wayside cross/marker stone for hundreds of years for travellers going between Rosedale and Westerdale; the nearest village being Botton, a few miles to the north. But it is easy to become lost on these windswept moors and so these crosses and waymarkers would have been a great help to pilgrims and others traversing the North York Moors from medieval times and, indeed, until more recent times, no doubt.

English: White Cross, Rosedale. White Cross is...

Fat Betty or White Cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fat Betty Cross is about 4 foot high, square and squat in shape, with a funny little round-shaped head or wheel-head on top that has four small indentations that almost look like a human face. The whole thing is really a solid block of stone that is painted white from about halfway up, hence the name “White Cross”. It may have originally had a cross-shaft attached. There are some tiny thin carved crosses on either side, and also some more recent Victorian lettering or graffiti within a carved square panel on the main face. The cross is thought to date from the 12th century and, may well have been placed here as a wayside cross for the nuns at nearby Rosedale Abbey; the religious ladies themselves apparently wore a white habit, so could that be where the name is derived from?

But myths and legends seem to be numerous with regard to the history of the old cross. One legend tells us that two nuns and their attendant from Rosedale abbey found themselves lost in thick fog on the moor; they were eventually found dead and the cross was set up to commemorate them. Another legend says it was named after a nun called Margery or Margaret and originally it was called “Margery Cross”. And yet a third says that a local farmer’s wife died here. Her husband found her dead here and set up the cross in her memory – the farmer’s wife was apparently called Margaret or Betty. There could be some truth in these stories and old legends or maybe not; the real truth is now lost in the mists of time. Two more wayside crosses, Ralph Cross and Old Ralph Cross, stand just a short distance to the west.

Dysert O’ Dea, Co.Clare, Southern Ireland

R2841 8484. The monastic site of Dysert O’ Dea is 5 miles north-west of the town of Ennis on the R476 road and then via a country lane heading west to the ruined medieval chapel of Dysert. It stands about 1 mile away from the southern shores of Ballycullinan Lough. The village of Corofin is 3 miles to the north. There is nothing much else here in the way of houses, only a roofless medieval chapel that is built on the site of an 8th century Celtic monastery, founded by St Tola. But, there is a ruined round-tower, a splendid high cross, a holy well and some fantastic medieval stone carvings. A few miles to the north-west Dysert Castle has an Archaeological Centre that traces the history of the area from prehistoric times to the more recent.

doorway at dysert o'dea monastery

Doorway at Dysert O’ Dea monastery (Photo credit: Rob React)

The name Dysert or Disert is Latin for “isolated place” or “hermitage” so here we have the hermitage of Tola that is sometimes given as Cill an Disirt Tola “Cell of Tola”. St Tola founded the monastery here and was first abbot. He died in 735 AD and is commemorated on 30th March. Nothing is left of the Celtic monastery today – the ruined and roofless chapel probably stands upon the site. Essentially, the chapel is 12th century, though a few bits are earlier. Of interest here is the Romanesque doorway, which has 19 carved heads on it’s arch, 12 of these are human, the others are animals and bird heads. The heads seem to look down in a grim fashion with very blank expressions, but that’s what they are supposed to do. There are another three arches inside that also have carvings and the west-window gable has some very fine decoration. The east window is formed by three tall arches, while the doorway has four arches.

In the graveyard to the east of the chapel stands the 12 foot high St Tola’s High Cross (Cross of blessings) that dates from the 12th century, but was restored in the 17th century with pedestal and square base, and is said  to be the finest example of it’s kind. On it’s east face are carvings of Christ crucified and below that a bishop, probably St Tola. On the opposite side there are other carvings with animals and human figures in an interlacing fashion as well as geometric designs, while the pedestal is also decorated.

English: Photo by William Bennett

Tola’s High Cross at Dysert O’ Dea. Photo by William Bennett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the north-west side of the graveyard is the stump of a round-tower dating from the 11th-12th century. This was almost destroyed in the 17th century by the soldiers of Cromwell, but originally it was the tallest tower in Ireland at 33 metres high with a circumference at the base of 18 metres. There is an arched doorway facing east, narrow slits and two windows at the west side, one of which is ogee-headed. The monks of old would have used the tower as a place of safety, and as a place for the storage of valuable books and monastic treasures in times of trouble. Today it is only a 5 metres high stump.

Near the high cross is St Tola’s holy well, once a place of pilgrimage on the saint’s feast-day, 30th March every year. The well had long been visited by the faithful who had been coming here for hundreds of years in the hope of a miraculous cure, but the well was covered over in the last century, only to be restored again recently in 1986. All in all, a lovely peaceful place to visit with much to keep the antiquarians amongst us, happy and enthralled with the many beautiful Romanesque stone carvings.

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Copt Howe, Great Langdale, Cumbria

OS grid reference: NY 3140 0583. Copt Howe is 1 mile north-west of Chapel Stile village on the B5343 Langdale fell road and 250 metres south of Harry Place farm. The town of Ambleside is 4 miles to the east. Close to the road and opposite Langdale beck, a huge glacial erratic boulder has cup-markings and other forms of rock-art carved onto it that could well date back to the Early Neolithic age. The large rock is quite accessible from a footpath and stile beside the main road. There are other boulders close by that have cup-markings, but whether these were more recently carved, is open to conjecture. But for certain those on the large boulder are made by the hands of prehistoric people.

Copt Howe boulders

Copt Howe boulders (Photo credit: Je_roen_D)

The large glacial boulder has a smooth, flat surface that displays numerous rock carvings near it’s base. There are some tiny cup-markings, but also concentric circles, strange half-moon shapes, strong lines and very thin lines going off in different directions, at least 11 larger cups with many rings, triple grooves and what could be a chevron-like symbol. One cup marking, in particular, has at least 11 rings around it and lines going off from it in a strange sort of way and terminating suddenly further down the rock face. These prehistoric carvings are said to date from the Early Neolithic age upto 6,000 years ago. They could, in fact, represent a sort of Stone Age map of the Langdale fells, the stone itself sited at a strategic point on the approach to where the rock-outcrops and crags can be visibly seen on the horizon; something akin to ley-lines, perhaps. Nearby there is the site of the Langdale axe factory where there have been some superb finds.

However, some sceptics think the carvings were done in the Victorian age. True, possibly some of the cup-marks on other boulders, may have been carved in recent times by some copy-cat or hoaxer, but the carvings on the large glacial boulder were almost certainly done by the hands of Neolithic people, rather like some of us draw graffiti on walls. They were leaving their mark as it were. Other rock carvings may well lie still undetected on the rocks around the Copt Howe area – just waiting for some intrepid rock-art enthusiast to come along and find them.


Rivington Cup-Marked Stone, Anderton, Lancashire

Rivington Cup-Marked Stone (Photo courtesy of Simon Mortimer)

Rivington Cup-Marked Stone (Photo courtesy of Simon Mortimer)

OS grid reference: SD 6153 1400. The small cup-marked boulder used to stand in a rock garden in the carpark of Anderton Hall Lodge on New Road just to the east of the village of Anderton, about halfway between the M61 motorway and Rivington reservoir. It had stood forlornly in front of a modern-day standing stone and a collection of non-discript rocks, and could have almost been overlooked. But the little boulder displays prehistoric cups and cup-and-ring markings, dating back thousands of years. Anderton village is a tiny suburb of Adlington, 1 mile to the west, while the town/city of Bolton is 5 miles to the north-west. The stone has recently been taken to the Anderton Leisure Centre further along New Road, close to the shores of Rivington Reservoir, I am now reliably informed.

Rivington Cup-Marked Stone, Lancashire (photo credit Mary Chester-Kadwell)

The small cup-marked boulder was found in the bank of Rivinton Lower Reservoir in 1999 when the water level was quite low; it seems that it had been used in the actual building of the reservoir back in 1850, but no one had noticed the significance of it at the time. It is said to date from the Neolithic age 2,000-3,000 BC. There are 14 tiny cup-marks and 1 larger cup-and-ring that forms an almost perfect curve, though now rather worn. The small boulder is roughly 1 foot 7 inches high and 2 foot 7 inches in length.

But one must ask the question, what is it doing in the the Anderton Leisure Centre – why is it not in a museum where it can be properly protected and examined by specialists in the field of rock art. Really this ancient carved stone should be in the Bolton Museum. But, it seems this very fine prehistoric artefact has been forgotten or, perhaps, just ignored. For the time being it looks as if it will have to remain where it is inside the local leisure centre!

[Thanks to my good friend Simon Mortimer for the excellent photo).


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Wulfruna’s Well, Wolverhampton, West Midlands

English: Lady Wulfruna's Well This memorial da...

Lady Wulfruna’s Well, Wolverhampton, by John M. Geograph & Wikimedia Commons

OS grid ref: SJ 9111 0050. The well called Wulfruna’s fountain stands near the top end of Gorsebrook road, just after the railway bridge and beside what used to be the race-course (it is now a trading estate). A little further along and you come to the A449 flyover roundabout. Also called Lady Wulfruna’s Well, today it is more of a fountain; it used to have a tap and drinking cup, but these are now gone and no water flows here. The fountain, which was set up in 1901, was restored back in 1980 by the local Civic society after falling into disrepair at the hands of “mother nature”.

Originally the well stood close by St Peter’s collegiate church where, in 994 AD St Wulfruna as she was later known, founded a convent dedicated to St Mary and endowed the first church. This place was later called Wulfrun’s Heanton (High Town) from which is derived the name of Wulfrun Hanton or, as we know it today, Wolverhampton. According to legend, Wulfruna was a noblewoman of the house of Mercia, possibly the grand-daughter of King Aethelred I. In 943 AD she was imprisoned by the Viking chieftain, Olaf, at Tamworth, but eventually she was released and in 985 King Aethelred II granted her land at a place then called Peoleshale (Pelsall). Her two sons Aelhelm and Wulfric became key-players in the royal houses of Northumbria and Mercia. Wulfric went on to found the abbey of Burton-on-Trent. A statue of Lady Wulfruna can be seen in the square close to St Peter’s Church in the town. A Roman column carved in the 9th century with Anglo-Saxon decoration stands by the south porch of St Peter’s. Lady Wulfruna (St Wulfruna) died at Tamworth in 995 or 996 and was buried there.

The well water originally had healing qualities that were said to be very therapeutic with strong medicinal values. In the Middle Ages and, indeed, upto the Victorian age, faithful pilgrims came here in the hope of a miraculous cure. And no doubt they did receive a miraculous cure because the well continued to be in use for many centuries after.

Photo of Lady Wulfruna’s Well is by John M.



Kirkcarrion, Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham

NY9391 2380. Some 2 miles to the south-west of Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham, is the Lunedale Ridge close by Harter Fell. On top of the ridge, that can be seen for miles around, there is a tree-covered burial mound or round barrow, locally known as Kirkcarrion or Caryn’s Castle. It stands some 380 feet high. Access is by footpath from the B6276 Brough road.

English: Kirkcarrion A clump of trees surmount...

Kirkcarrion, near Middleton. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The prehistoric barrow is located in the middle of a clump of pine trees at the top of a rock-strewn hill known as Lunedale Ridge and, locally Kirkcarrion or Caryn’s Castle, after a Brigantean prince who was buried here in pre-Roman times, but it is much more likely that a Bronze-Age tribal chieftain was buried in the barrow. His or someone else’s ghost is still said to haunt the ancient citadel. In 1804 a local farm labourer removed some stones from the mound and uncovered a cist burial or sepulcharal grave, but not realising what he was doing he calmly took the stones away to build some walls on Crossthwaite Common. A funery urn with charried bones inside was found at the same time.

The antiquities from the cist burial eventually came into the hands of the landowner, Lord Strathmore, who promptly took them to his castle at Streatlam near Barnard Castle, County Durham, where the artefacts were put on display. Another excavation was carried out in 1849 but there does not appear to be any record of what, if anything, was found at that time. Lord Strathmore built walls around the burial mound and planted pine trees as a mark of his respect for the ancient burial site. Today, the place is an atmospheric, mystical place; no doubt this was something that the ancient people found very much to their liking, a place where they could bury the chief of their tribe, a high place that was, perhaps, for them nearer to “their” god or gods.

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Ribchester Roman Fort, Lancashire

Roman Museum, Ribchester

Roman Museum, Ribchester

    OS grid reference SD 6500 3504. The pretty village of Ribchester, in the Ribble Valley, stands beside the banks of the river Ribble, 6 miles to the north-west of Blackburn. Ribchester’s Roman remains (the exca-vated granaries block) can be seen behind the Roman Museum, just off Church Street. The name Ribchester means ‘fort beside the Ribble’; and the Roman name for the fort is Bremetennacum Veteranorum.

Roman granaries block at Ribchester.

Roman granaries block at Ribchester.

    The first infantry fort was built in 72-73 AD by the XXth legion from timber and turf, but in c120 AD the southern defenses of the fort were strengthened, then in the late 2nd century AD a stone fort was built within the original structure and garrisoned by cavalry. It was finally abandoned in the late 4th century AD. The fort would have had a garrison of up to 500 auxiliary soldiers. The foundations of the stone fort, including remains of the granaries and defenses are located at the back of the museum, while some earthworks can still be made-out behind the parish church and at the south-east side of the church in a field beside a footpath.

Roman Columns, Ribchester

Roman columns at Ribchester public house

    Ribchester Roman museum, dating from 1914, has a replica of a decorated parade helmet, two Celtic stone-heads and many other interesting artefacts, including other finds from the Ribchester hoard discovered in 1796. At the back of the White Bull public house in Church Street, at the east-side of the village, are the remains of the Roman bath-house and, at least two of the stone columns (out of the four) that support the porch of the White Bull Inn, are thought to have come from the Roman fort – the other two are probably replicas. More than likely the columns came from the bath-house.