Back to Nicholas Rhea home page Back to Yorkshire home page

The Moorland Crosses

The North York Moors National Park, in which Aidensfield and Heartbeat Country are situated, contains what is probably England's largest collection of standing stones. Certainly, it is the largest in such a compact area, and they include parish boundary markers, the remains of stone circles, earthworks, way markers, memorials, religious crosses and probably others whose original purpose has been lost in the passage of time.

On an old map of Glaisdale, for example, I found references to Yoak stones, grey stones, the Rokan Stone, Hart Leap Stones and dozens of others marked simply stones or pile of stones. Running from Ainthorpe to Danby, for example, over Danby Rigg, was the Old Wife's Stones Road which is now a footpath, and it is feasible that the Rokan Stone was an ancient route marker or boundary stone. I've often wondered if it was to guide travellers in foggy conditions because an old dialect word for fog is roke or roak. Yoak stone, on the other hand, probably comes from ye olde oak tree stone, a parish boundary marker of bygone times.

It has long been the custom to mark significant events with memorial stones and the moors contain several, such as those which mark the achievements of Captain James Cook, the great English navigator who discovered Australia, or the life and times of the great moorsman, Frank Elgee. The Elgee Memorial is a flat-topped boulder overlooking Loose Howe on Rosedale Moor.

Photograph of Lilla Cross by Pat O'HalloranThere are many standing stones of great antiquity too. Of major interest is Lilla Cross which is one of the oldest Christian relics in England. It stands literally within the shadows of a very modern structure - the Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station on Fylingdales Moor, but it marks an important event in the history of English Christianity. King Edwin of Northumbria, who was not a Christian, was considered a great ruler because he brought peace to the north of England. He defeated the Picts and the Scots, and built Edwin's Borough, now called Edinburgh. The feeling of security in his time was captured in a phrase which said, A woman and her babe might walk scatheless from sea to sea in Edwin's day.

In AD 625, Edwin married a Christian princess from Kent and promised he would not do anything against the faith she possessed. When she came north to begin her new life, she was accompanied by a priest called Paulinus who tried, in vain, to convert Edwin. But an incident on Fylingdales Moor in AD 626 caused Edwin to change his mind.

An assassin was sent by the King of the West Saxons to murder Edwin with a poisoned sword. As the villain made his attempt, Edwin's chief minister, a Christian called Lilla, leapt forward to save his master, but was killed instead of the sovereign. Edwin was so impressed that he buried Lilla where he fell; that place bears his name to this day and is called Lilla Howe. A cross was erected in memory of Lilla, and it stands to this day. Edwin did become a Christian and was baptised in York at Easter, 627, in a small wooden church built for the occasion. York Minster now stands on the site.

Perhaps the best known of these moorland crosses is that which is wrongly known as Ralph's Cross. Close to the lofty meeting place of moorland roads leading to Westerdale, Hutton-le-Hole, Rosedale and Castleton on the fringes of Heartbeat Country, it is some nine feet tall which carries the scars of recent mindless vandalism. Its correct name is Young Ralph because Old Ralph, a much smaller stone at a height of some five feet, stands a couple of hundred yards away to the south west.

Fat Betty - or White Cross, photographed by Don BurlurauxOld Ralph is accompanied by the white-painted Fat Betty (formally known as White Cross) and the Margery Stone, with the Elgee Memorial Stone not far away. The White Cross is not really a cross, however, being a solid lump of stone, and there is an old legend that if ever Fat Betty joins Old Ralph, they will get married.

A search of the moors will reveal many others with odd names. I can recall the Percy Cross, Jack Cross, John Cross, John o' Man, Cooper Cross, Tom Smith's Cross, Donna Cross, Jenny Bradley, Redman Cross, Anna Ain Howe Cross, Robinson's Cross, Hudson's Cross and the Mauley Cross. The latter is named after the ancient De Mauley family of Mulgrave Castle and stands just inside Cropton Forest. There are three Job Crosses on the moors and in October, 1971, the fifty-three mile long Crosses Walk was inaugurated and includes a dozen of those crosses. It is a tough walk and not for the inexperienced.

Other walks might reveal the odd Face Stone which is known to have occupied its site in 1642; it has a face carved on it, while the Three Lords Stone near Carlton Bank Top marks the meeting point of three lords' estates - Duncombe of Helmsley, Marwood of Busby Hall and Aylesbury of Snilesworth.

And who can miss the lofty eminence of the fifty-foot high Cook Monument on Easby Moor, erected in 1827 to our greatest navigator whose exploits were remembered when the replica Endeavour arrived in Whitby from Australia in May, 1997.




Most of the links on this page refer to two magnificent collections of photographs, Pat's Gallery and North York Moors CAM.

Photograph of Lilla Cross © Pat O'Halloran (used with permission).

Photograph of Fat Betty © Don Burluraux (used with permission).



Back to Yorkshire main page