The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Samson’s Toe, Langcliffe, North Yorkshire.

Samson's Toe Glacial Erratic Boulder, Langcliffe, North Yorks.

Samson’s Toe Glacial Erratic Boulder, Langcliffe, North Yorks.

Os grid reference SD 8321 6565. About 1 mile to the east of Langcliffe village, near Langcliffe High Mill, in The Yorkshire Dales National Park, stands a huge glacial erratic boulder that is locally called Samson’s Toe. It is located in an area of limestone ridges and scars known as ‘Whinskill’, which is probably a Scandinavian name. Here, in this barren, rocky land, there are a number of large boulders known as “rocking stones”. To the north the great bulk of Pen-y-Ghent can be seen as can the flat-topped Ingleborough further to the north-west – when the weather is fine and sunny that is! The town of Settle is 2 miles to the south-west.

The great boulder can be found in a limestone-strewn area called ‘Whinskill Rocks’ just west of Henside Lane and close by a wooded area. Lower Whinskill Farm can be seen a bit further to the west. The glacial boulder called Samson’s Toe is approx 8 foot high and it stands (pivots) upon little limestone stilts that, because they have been protected have not eroded away, at the edge of a ridge of limestone. It is said to be possible to “rock the stone” but you would need many strong men to do this! The boulder has, however, suffered from graffiti some of which could date from the Victorian age.

The boulder is apparently shaped like a giant’s toe – the giant in question being Samson. According to legend, he lost his footing when jumping across from Langcliffe Scar or Ribblesdale, breaking off his toe whilst attempting this. But, in fact, the boulder was deposited here at the last Ice-Age 12,000-13,000 years ago or more by retreating glacial flows moving from north to south – the boulder being picked up by the glacier somewhere to the north, perhaps the Lake District, or a bit closer to home. The great boulder is made from something called “greywacke”, a grey-black hard sandstone made up of fine pebbles, quartz, feldspar and other rock fragments. There are two other boulders nearby, just to the east over on the opposite side of Henside Lane, that make up the Whinskill Rocks –  these are also referred to as “rocking stones” on ordnance survery maps of this area.


Cook, David & Kirk, Wendy., Pocket Guide Rocks & Minerals, Larousse, London, 1995.

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Roughting Linn, Bar Moor, Ford, Northumberland

Roughting Linn Cup-Marked Rocks, Northumberland (photo credit: Ronald Sheridan).

Roughting Linn Cup-Marked Rocks, Northumberland (photo credit: Ronald Sheridan).

Os grid Reference TN 9839 3672. About 2 miles east of the village of Ford is the prehistoric, sacred site of Roughting Linn or Rowtin Linn, on Bar Moor, where there are many cup-and-ring markings or petroglyphs on a long, sloping slab of fell sandstone beside a quarry that was in use pre 1950. The site can reached to the north of the B6525, beside a lane between Milfield and Lowton near Roughting Linn farm. Walk a short distance into Linn woods where there is a waterfall on the Broomridgean Burn and also an Iron-Age hillfort (the rock carvings lay at the east-side of the hillfort). The coastal town of Berwick-on-Tweed lies 12 miles to the north-east and the town of Coldstream is 13 miles to the west.

The long, domed-shaped slab of light grey sandstone forming the rocky outcrop with some very impressive rock-art is approx 20 metres in length and, thankfully the rock carvings have not been much disturbed by the adjacent quarrying. These prehistoric carvings are “thought” to date back over 4,000 years to the Neolithic to Early Bronze-Age periods. Luckily recent quarrywork activity has not caused too much damage to the cup-and-ring marked rock, apart from the western section, and the site remains the best known in the county of Northumberland and is the largest carved rock in northern England. There are “said” to be 160  or so rock carvings ranging from ordinary single cups, cups-and-rings with well-defined grooves, linked grooves, radiating lines, inverted arcs, maze-like carvings and keyhole-type motifs all spread out across this huge, long slab of fell sandstone that at first sight has the look of limestone – but it is not!

Counting the carvings is difficult, but there are apparently 60 or more lesser-known ones (ordinary cup-marks) and 100 or so carvings that are much more interesting and more stunning to the eye. Many of the cup-and-rings are similar to rosette patterns with a small hollow in the middle and concentric rings running around that, and other carvings that are often seen on mazes. We don’t know what the radiating lines were for but maybe they were a way of connecting up each carving, or as a pointer system for directional usage, like the solar system with stars in alignment, which the ancient people would have known about at the time. The place was probably associated with spirituality, birth, death, magic and ritual. And there was undoubtedly a prehistoric community of beaker people living here that saw the rock and its growing number of carvings as very sacred.

The site was first discovered back in 1852 by Canon William Greenwell who wrote about the carvings in two pamphlets for the Archaeological Institute at Newcastle, but unfortunately these were never published. Then later in 1865 Mr George Tate did the first drawings of the site. There are two more cup-and-ring marked rocks about 1 mile to the west just below Goatscrag Hill.

Just beside the rock carvings stands an Iron-Age promontory fort with some very impressive ramparts at the south-eastern side, and there are the ditches of an ancient enclosure between the fort and the rock outcrop. But what connection this fort has to the rock-art we do not know. Maybe the Neolithic beaker community and, later Bronze-Age settlement were taken over by Iron-Age people who strengthened and built-up the place for their own security, but they too would have been well aware of the sacredness of the place, just as we are today!


Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books, 1991.

Greenwell, William Revd., On the rock carvings at Roughtin Linn (un-published pamphlets 2 vols), The Archaeological Institute of Newcastle, 1852.

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Newbery, Elizabeth & Fecher, Sarah., Ford And Etal – A companion guide, Ford and Etal Estate, Ford, Berwick-on-Tweed, 1995.

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Ilam Churchyard Crosses, Staffordshire

Ilam Churchyard Cross, Staffordshire

Ilam Churchyard Cross, Staffordshire

Os grid reference: SK 1325 5069. The very pretty little village of Ilam in north-east Staffordshire stands beside the River Manifold, 4 miles north-west of Ashbourne and 2 miles north of the A52. It is situated just a few miles from the border with Derbyshire. Beside Ilam Hall, an early 19th century Gothic building, stands Holy Cross church, originally a Saxon foundation and, in the churchyard near the porch and at either side of a more modern churchyard cross, are two Anglo-Saxon preaching crosses; one being a typical Mercian-style cross, although both are now without their cross-heads. In the church there is the medieval shrine and tomb of the local hermit saint, Bertelin, and close by are two holy wells associated with the saint – which were credited with miraculous healing powers.

The smaller of the two crosses is decribed as traditionally Mercian in style. It stands at 4 feet 3 inches high and is a cyllindrically-shaped pillar with very little of it’s round cross-head surviving, having suffered from vandalism, although a small boss can still be seen. A raised collar runs around the middle with some raised links running downwards forming a square. The rest is now well-worn and difficult to identify. When it was examined just below ground in 1890 by Rev G.F.Browne it was found to be standing in a rude-stone socket. The second cross over 5 foot high is the more normal Anglo-Saxon thin pillar-shaped cross that has been restored in two places – again due to vandalism. The cross-head has long since gone. However, this cross still displays some interesting carvings including a scroll or circle, knotwork interlacing and, at the bottom, what could be the top part of a human figure is portrayed in a rounded panel. Both crosses date from between the 8th-11th centuries AD.

A third rather battered cross shaft stands on Paradise Walk beside the River Manifold in Hinkley Woods half a mile to the south-west of the church. This one was rescued in 1840 from the foundations of a cottage close by and was said to have originally marked the site of a battle between the Saxons and Danes. It is referred to as ‘The Battle Stone’. The well-worn carvings are similar to those on the two Ilam churchyard crosses, and of a similar date.

Ilam Churchyard Crosses, Staffordshire.

Ilam Churchyard Crosses, Staffordshire.

In Holy Cross church is the medieval shrine tomb of the local Saxon saint, Bertram, Bertelin or Bettelin, an 8th century prince of Mercia who lived here as a hermit. According to the Legend, St. Bertram visited Ireland where he married an Irish princess, but soon returned to his father’s kingdom of Stafford (his father may have been King Ethelbald?) along with his pregnant wife, but on  the way both his wife and new-born baby son were killed by wolves. Later, he became a Christian and studied under St. Guthlac at Crowland, Lincolnshire, but as a penence for what had happened to his family he decided to withdraw from the world and became a hermit beside a well (St. Bertram’s Well) at Ilam. The well is still there today beneath an ash tree, locally called St. Bertram’s Ash, which can be found on Bunster Hill near Townend farm to the north of the village. This healing well is located on a strong ley-line that links the prehistoric sites of Foolow and Arbor Low in Derbyshire, a distance of over 16 miles.

But there is another well associated with the saint just a little south of the church beside Paradise Walk. This is a rectangular walled construction with a holy water basin (baptismal pool) in the middle. St. Bertram supposedly died here at Ilam in the early 8th century AD and his tomb and medieval shrine were built over his resting place within Holy Cross church to which pilgrims came, and still do, in the hope of a miraculous cure. However, some historians are of the opinion, whether right or wrong, that the saint died at Stafford, of which he is now the patron saint with his feast-day on 10th of August.


Sharpe, Neville T., Crosses Of The Peak District, Landmark Publishing Ltd., Ashbourne, Derbyshire, 2002.

Pickford, Doug., Staffordshire – Its Magic & Mystery, Sigma Press, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1994.

Browne, G.F. Rev., On The Pre-Norman Sculptured Stones Of Derbyshire, [thesis], 1890.