OS grid reference: SD 8669 5340. Sadly next-to-nothing is known about the oval-shaped earth-work or enclosure near to Cobers Laithe farm on Swinden Moor, which is also known as Swinden Earthwork and Swinden Roman Camp, just 1 mile east of Nappa, North Yorkshire. Was it a Roman camp, as a few have suggested, or was it perhaps a Brigantian settlement – at the time of the Roman invasion? Or was it a more typical Iron Age settlement or enclosure? We don’t know with any certainty. And also it is a bit of an odd sort of earthwork-enclosure as it is intersected through the middle by a stream, and there are a numble of circular pits (bell pits), especially at the N side. The earthwork lies on private land. It is located in a field close to Mill Lane at Swinden – between Bank Newton and Nappa, just 380m to the west of Swinden Moor Head farm. On the earthwork side of the lane Ash Tree Farm is about 530m up the fields to the east.
It is quite a large earthwork measuring roughly 107m x 87m and it used to have a smaller inner earthwork with a circular bank but this seems to have disappeared altogether, maybe due to farming and the stream. At the time of my visit the outer bank and ditch of the earthwork were deep in grass and reeds in several places, but despite that they are quite pronounced at the SE and SW sides. And at the N, NW and NE sides the bank and its associated ditch are still quite well-defined, and there is a possible entrance at the NW. But as to whether they were ramparts designed for warfare or security, we don’t know, but in my opinion I would think they were non-defensive.
The oval-shaped layout of the earthwork or camp does ‘not’ look particularly Roman to me. We know the Romans always built square-shaped fortifications. Although it could have been a ‘temporary’ Romano-British camp. However, there does not appear to have been much, if any, Roman activity in the area; and the theory that there was a temporary Roman fort or camp at Long Preston, in the field near St Mary’s church, seems to have all but died a death. In all probability the earthwork here at Swinden was a Brigantian camp, settlement, or enclosure. But another distinct possibility being that this was a more typical Romano-British farmstead.
The relatively flat part of the earthwork, nearest the lane and fence, is on the south-side of the little stream while the northern and, by far the largest part of the earthwork, lies just beyond the stream and up the slight slope of the field beyond. But unfortunately the stream in between the two sections has made for some very muddy and boggy conditions, and so it is not easy to reach that ‘northern’ section unless you have wellies! Its quite obvious that the steam is a ‘more recent’ feature, having gouged out the channel through the centre of the ancient earthwork. To put it another way: the stream was not here when the earthwork was constructed. It was formed from a spring further up the field over hundreds of years, but certainly ‘not’ thousands of years.
The northern part of the earthwork is pock-marked by holes or depressions (bell pits) in the ground, which are probably the result of quarrying for coal a few hundred years or so back. This poor or cheap coal substitute being used by local farms. Some of the holes have now become ponds.
The Pastscape website has the site of an alleged Roman camp (monument no. 45530) about a ¼ of a mile to the north-west at Swinden (OS grid ref: SD 8617 5440), though this is perhaps an error? See the website link below.
Sources and related websites:-
Click on this Geograph link for a good photo of the enclosure on Swinden Moor:- http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2837370
© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities.