OS grid reference: SD 9866 4170. At the western side of Keighley Moor, between Cowling and Keighley, stands a huge gritstone boulder called ‘Hitching Stone’. The stone stands on the Lancashire—Yorkshire border and also parish boundaries. Hitching Stone is in fact an erratic boulder which was deposited here many thousands of years ago by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age. There are some in-teresting myths and legends associated with this huge boulder, not all of them being plausible. The stone can be reached from Buckstone Lane to the east of Cowling. There is a small carpark for Wainman’s Pinnacle. Take either of the two footpaths opposite this carpark and head south onto the moor for around 880m; the footpaths cross some quite boggy land and a couple of streams, but keep close to the wall all the way to Hitching Stone. You can’t really miss it as the huge boulder stands out on the landscape for several miles!
Hitching Stone is a huge, almost square-shaped block of gritstone that is probably as large as a small house, well it is 21 feet high, and is almost 30 feet long and 25 feet wide, and is said to weigh well over 1,000 tonnes. It probably originally came from Earl Crag up above Cowling, which is just over a mile to the north. At the last Ice Age 12,000-14,000 years ago the great boulder was scooped up by a retreating glacier, and as it moved southwards the ‘object’ was deposited in its current location – rather like it was ‘hitching a lift’, and that might be where the name “Hitching” comes from, or a giant carried the stone from Rombald’s Moor – though that giant could have been the retreating glacier! Another legend says a witch from Ilkley pushed or threw the stone across the moor to its current position! It is reputed to be Yorkshire’s largest boulder.
About half-way up the west face of the stone is a large rectangular-shaped dark hole (recess)which seems to go quite along way into the stone, similar perhaps to a tiny cave, but it would seem that a large stone of a ‘different type’ was originally embedded into it; this eventually eroded away leaving the large, natural hole. This has sometimes been called ‘The Druid’s Chair’- harking back to more ancient, magical times, perhaps. Just above that is a long fissure (tube) that runs through the whole of the N and W faces. This fissure was originally filled by a fossilized tree which eroded away leaving the massive crack across the stone, almost cutting the top half in two. On the top of the stone there is a hollowed-out basin that is 3 foot deep and usually filled with rainwater; indeed this natural pool of water is never said to dry-up even in hot, dry conditions.
Paul Bennett in his highly acclaimed work ‘The Old Stones of Elmet’, says of Hitching Stone: “It is a likely contender as a British omphalos, or ‘culture of the universe’ stone. Our other omphalos contender, the Ashlar Chair ten miles to the east, is just visible on the distant horizon. Its geomantic virtues represent the forces of life, death, rebirth and Illumination.” Bennett goes on to say that: “As a centre-point to the many regions it is little surprise the Hitching Stone was used as the meeting place of ancient councils and local parliaments. This tradition only stopped in the eighteenth century. Prior to this, folklore tells us it was used as a council moot by the pre-christian priests (druids). In similar tradi-tion this giant boulder was also the site of markets and Lammas fairs held in early August—the last of which was held in 1870. Such gatherings originated in pre-Christian times and it is likely that the gatherings here were part of a tradition which went back several thousand years.”
In the book “The Pendle Zodiac’ by Thomas Sharpe, we are told more about the solstice alignment and sighting point with regard to ‘Hitching Stone’. The authors says: “The Hitching Stone is a glacial erratic, which seems to have been guided through this recursive field to its present position at the centre of the innermost polygon (vortex effect). This may have happened because even up until the end of the last glaciation, the Earth would have been relatively ethereal and less physically dense than it is today. It partly explains why the calibration curves of radiometric dating, using the half-lives of radioactive isotopes, are generally inconsistent. Then of course, the subtle fields may likewise guide migratory birds shown to have a magnetic sense. For instance, over the West Sussex migratory wetlands of Pulborough Brooks is centred a replica polygon. The Hitching Stone, then, as well as marking an old county boundary, has become an entelechy in itself, and nesting within its attractor field it really exists between two worlds.”
Sharpe goes on to say that: “Local tradition claims that the Winter Solstice sunrise is from behind the Hitching Stone, when viewed from the cup-marked and aptly named ‘Winter Hill Stone’. In the same fashion…..the Vernal Equinox sunrise (from) behind the Hitching Stone is in alignment with Pendle Hill.” The Winter Hill Stone is roughly 500 yards to the north-west of Hitching Stone.
Sources and related web-sites:-
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann Publishing, Milverton, Somerset, 2001.
Sharpe, Thomas, The Pendle Zodiac, Spirit Of Pendle Publishing, 2012.