A guest feature by Littlestone.
The Three Howes Bronze Age barrows on Murk Mire Moor, North Yorkshire
The Heritage Trust
The Three Howes Bronze Age barrows on Murk Mire Moor can be found approximately three quarters of the way from Egton Bridge, on the old Roman road, and the ford at Wheeldale Gill. The barrows can be approached along a private track-way (no access to private vehicles) from the Roman road. The barrows are aligned roughly southwest-northeast and appear as three long mounds on the skyline. All have flattened tops suggesting that they have been excavated or robbed out in the past.
A curious feature, close to the Three Howes barrows, are a number of tall, thin standing stones dotted along the Roman road that traverses the route over Murk Mire Moor from Egton Bridge to the ford at Wheeldale. The stones are placed at about half-mile intervals, by the side of the road, and are perhaps 16th or 17th century way-markers (though they may have been used in much earlier times). The Roman road is clear enough to follow in good conditions but it would have been difficult when covered with frost or snow – even today there are no clear points to aim for when travelling in either direction.
What’s really intriguing about these standing stones is the square hole cut into some of them. The holes may have served as lines of sight, although others have suggested that they’re for astronomical observations, Ley Indicators or once held lanterns (or possibly held a square post with a lantern hanging from each end). A lantern wouldn’t burn for very long however and why go to the trouble of cutting a square hole in the stone for a square post? Furthermore, who would have lit the lanterns out there on the moor every night – this is still a very desolate part of the country with no houses for miles around. Is the answer in the shape of the hole itself? Why cut a fairly precise square hole? What might a square hole have held? A box perhaps? We’ve heard of one stone, on the North York Moors, where coins were left on its top for travellers to use to buy a meal, or lodging, if they were desperate. Did these square holes once hold a small ‘charity box’ of sorts?
At St Mary’s church in Whitby (the church where Bram Stoker wrote that Dracula, in the shape of a dog, took refuge in an un-consecrated grave) there’s a ‘bread shelf’ where wealthier members of the community would leave loaves of bread for the poor of the town. Perhaps both examples are part of a tradition of providing for the poor or needy – whether town dwellers or travellers across Murk Mire Moor.
One of the Wheeldale Stones that stand along the Roman road between Egton Bridge and the ford at Wheeldale Gill