According to the little map in the book, if we parked in the layby it should be no more than a few minutes’ walk to the stone that was marked there. Now this was, we hoped, the elusive standing stone that had already seen me mud-sliding a year before, had us walking the length of the moor in vain one weird weekend and poring over maps, books and anything else that came to hand in a vain attempt to locate it. We were, by now, beginning to wonder if the original encounter with the biggest standing stone ever had been little more than a dream… You would think there would be reference to it somewhere.
However, the book said that if we followed the path we would, at least, find a standing stone… and a monument. No more than a few minutes away in the bitter biting cold, it said. So, we parked the car, donned the boots and off we went. The puddles had not even attempted to defrost themselves. The path stretched as far as the horizon with no sign of stones… except, I the path was more of a stream through which we squelched, hopped and splashed our way up the hill.
It really wasn’t a day for a pleasant stroll across the moors, but then, to be fair, I will walk them in any weather without the slightest excuse given half a chance, so I wasn’t complaining. We located landmarks on the map… or so we thought. Bear in mind this isn’t a proper map, with elevations, grid references and such… no, this is three or four wiggly lines scattered with dots and no sense of scale whatsoever. It is an excellent little book, and the maps always prove to be accurate… but usually not until you fall over what you are looking for so you have at least one point of reference to work from. More of a retrospective map than a guide.
There was, it seemed, only one path and after we had followed the cliff edge, locating a monument on its crest. Was it the monument my friend remembered from that initial discovery of the standing stone? No. And by this time we had walked way too far to be on the right path. We retreated to a huge boulder set below the edge… a good vantage point to see the landscape… and decided maybe this bit wasn’t the bit with the stone. Maybe Gardrom’s Edge was the next escarpment… So off we went merrily through last year’s heather, the bronze of bracken and rushes and the squelching of mud.
This ‘felt’ better though, and as we came down onto the small plateau we just knew we were in the right area. It felt ‘lived in’… not now, of course… but you could just tell somehow. My companion made the discovery once more. I really must go to the optician’s. Or wear my glasses. We headed on over. There are a number of Iron Age sites on the Edge; the remains of roundhouses, cairns and hut circles. The standing stone, however, was not the one we had been looking for… but neither of us were disappointed at the strange finger of stone that pointed skywards through the birches.
Whichever way you looked at it, it was different. From one angle it is a great triangular slab… from another a slender pillar. One side shows a face in the rock… and you have to wonder about that. These stones were not chosen at random… a totem? A spirit stone… watcher… or guardian? From that angle too a convenient boulder lifts the eye to the weathered notch that seems like a sighting line to the distant hills, now hidden behind the silver birches. We know there is a stone circle there after all.
We stood and pondered for a while before wandering off through the trees. There was, said the book, also an enclosure and a carved stone. The ruined walls of the enclosure were easy enough to spot, in spite of their ruinous age. We had, however, about as much chance of finding a weathered carving as we did the proverbial needle in a haystack. These prehistoric carvings are faded, eroded and almost impossible to spot unless you know what you are looking for. Which we didn’t. The entire plateau is strewn with stone… one amongst thousands we were not going to find. Except, we did.
Then we simply stood in awe for a while at the complexity of the symbols. We have theories about those, especially given our acquaintance with the enigmatic wood-stone in the city and my own long familiarity with the carvings of Rombald’s Moor. This one, however is quite unique, both with the spirals and lines and with something else too. It isn’t the real stone. The real one was discovered back in the 1960s, the stone itself dates back to the dawn of man. Erosion was destroying the carvings, and it was agreed something had to be done to preserve them.
It has long been a practise to hoik such things from the ground and place them in museums, but taking these stones out of the context of their surroundings is like trying to read the hieroglyphs without the help of the Rosetta Stone. Similar carved stones have been shown to have complex alignments with other sites, both near and distant as part of their design. Here, however, the stone was left in place, but covered with an exact resin replica, indistinguishable from the stone beneath, thus protecting the original carvings for posterity.
Replica or not, the groups of ten ‘cups’, the spiral and pathways between them make for fascinating speculation. I clicked away at the camera, as always as we spoke and it was agreed we would have to come back and explore some more on a warmer day. Anyway, the pubs would shortly be open. We made our way back towards the car, following the non-existent path. We were almost back before my companion checked the time… and noticed something very, very strange. But that is another story for another time…