Rooted in the Land – Lifecycle

Nick Birds SE Ilkley 2015 uffington avebury cropton Helmsley 125Sunday morning we had watched the dawn before breakfast then cleared our rooms and loaded the cars before setting off once more to explore the moors above Ilkley. This time we headed for the ancient carvings of the Haystack, climbing up through the bracken and heather to the first edge of the moor. We passed a furry caterpillar striped with School colours, grouse blending in to the bilberries and small birds almost invisible against the stone. The one thing you have to be on the moors is aware … there is too much to miss.

Nick Birds SE Ilkley 2015 uffington avebury cropton Helmsley 103You could be forgiven for thinking this was the high moor… if you look up from the road it is all you can see, and many visitors to the Cow and Calf will go no further than the path which passes by the huge, couch-shaped stone. Many more will stop and lean against it or perch upon it without ever knowing its significance or seeing the ancient carvings.

Nick Birds SE Ilkley 2015 uffington avebury cropton Helmsley 095The stone reflects the shape of the moor, a ridge rising on its crest almost as if to mirror the land beyond. Along the ridge, a line of carved cups. There are more cup markings on the stone than I have ever been able to count personally, but the tally stands at around sixty, with yet more cup and ring markings and carved grooves. Some may well be natural, others have weathered beyond any possibility of determining how many marks originally graced the altar stone or how complex the design may have been.

X ilkley weekend 1401The most striking carving is that where the cup and ring marking have been extended to form what looks like a child’s stick-figure. The limbs are extended… god, man or woman? The stone stands at the edge of the great necropolis of Green Crag Slack, separated from the cairn fields by the remnants of what my grandfather told me was a circle of stones, but which may simply be a dividing wall.

moors 030What might the Haystack have been used for? The child remembers the gruesome tales of sacrifice with blood flowing from the stone into the moor. The adult smiles… while the stone is certainly the right shape for a sacrificial altar… perhaps the couch is a little too high to be practical and, as far as I know, no trace of such practices has been found. On the other hand, this area of the moor would have seen the rituals of death and the couch would make a perfect resting place on the journey between the lands of the living and those where the dead joined the ancestors. Was the transition seen as a parting or a birthing into a new state of being? I wonder if the departed may have simply rested here a while, or were they perhaps left until flesh became bone? There is ample archaeological evidence that this process was an important part of the rites of passing in many areas.

Nick Birds SE Ilkley 2015 uffington avebury cropton Helmsley 126Not everyone shares my curiosity about the rites of the Old Ones… but I cannot help wondering if our modern fear of death would not benefit from an approach that relates so closely to the seasonal and cyclical nature of the earth of which we are a part.

Nick Birds SE Ilkley 2015 uffington avebury cropton Helmsley 123

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
This entry was posted in adventure, Ancient sites, earth, England, History, nature, Photography, Rooted in the Land, Sacred sites and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Rooted in the Land – Lifecycle

  1. A very interesting travel blog. I love history and discover new things both of culture and old religion. Who knows what lies behind the true story of that slab stone. Sacrifical stone or not, it is part of the old history itself.
    Do you know who or what race originally connected to this place in the first place?


  2. Looked a good day for it 🙂


  3. A nice post Sue – it has always intrigued me the old Haystack stone 🙂


  4. Beautifully written and photographed, with a final apt philosophical question.


  5. jenanita01 says:

    Literally within seconds of looking at your caterpillar, I was summoned to the top of the house, with the instruction to ‘bring my camera’. More than a little curious, I made my way up. Sitting on the lace curtain in the bedroom was a butterfly. Not sure if it was a peacock or a red admiral, I will have to look closely at the picture. How it got up there is another mystery, as the weather being what it was, no windows had been opened for days.
    How about this for a coincidence?


  6. ‘…a furry caterpillar striped with School colours…’ Love it! 😀


  7. Dalo 2013 says:

    You make it feel as though I am walking these lands alone, beautiful scenery and the history and wondering what it all could have been so long ago. Your first shot of the caterpillar is great…I looks so strange being there, cool shot!


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I love this place, so I am glad I can share it this way 🙂 We saw a number of these caterpillars… I think they are Fox Moth and they feed on the heather and bilberries of the moors.


  8. Great piece and beautiful images, Sue. Thanks.😊


  9. Mary Smith says:

    I so enjoyed this post, Sue, though the furry caterpillar brought back bad memories. I lived on Islay when I was a child and we were out cutting peats (well dad and mum were) and I found the most beautiful, enormous hairly caterpillar. I ran round showing it to everyone but later my hands were on fire and puffed up from an allergic reaction. I’ve admired hairy caterpillars from a distance since then.
    Regarding butterflies which come inside. I remember my mum preparing a solution of sugar dissolved in water in a shallow saucer and offering it to a buttefly in the house. It was fascinating to see it land on the edge of the saucer and watch it extend its proboscis and drink the sweet water.
    Love the photos.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      Some of the furry caterpillars are pretty awesomely defended… I don’t touch any more either, though I would still like to!
      I keep my bedroom unheated except in the very worst weather and always a window ajar, so the butterflies that come in have a chance… and sugar water when they wake 🙂


  10. Eliza Waters says:

    Nature has definitely helped me acknowledge my own part of the circle and face the fact that death is a part of it. No one wants to leave this amazing party, but we all do. It just propels me to appreciate the journey all the more.


  11. An interesting piece on the ancient practices on the moors, with great pictures, Sue. I enjoyed it. 🙂


  12. macjam47 says:

    Another fabulous post, Sue. Haystack is amazing.


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