Almscliffe Crag – literally a magical place whether you believe in fairies or not!
This distinctive rock out crop or Tor of Almscliffe Crag can be seen for miles around and is well known by the residents of Lower Wharfedale and people driving between Otley and Harrogate.
Sitting on a small hill near North Rigton the crag is made up of local millstone grit rock laid down during the carboniferous about 300 million years ago. The rock is a very coarse sandstone and being harder than the surrounding rocks means that it hasn’t eroded as quickly as the other softer rocks around. During the last ice age when a huge glacier carved out the U-shaped valley of Wharfedale these rocks withstood this erosion and now form this iconic landmark.
From Almscliffe Crag there are some great views down both ways, with prime agricultural land and lots of cows & sheep!
The Crag has a reputation of being one of the best climbing locations in the area and there are always climbers practicing on the rocks and on climbs which have been given creative names such as the Parsons Chimney, the Black Wall Eliminate and the Wall of Horrors!
The site has also been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) being one of the largest millstone grit outcrops in the Pennines and because of its modification during the last ice age.
It also turns out that Almscliffe Crag has been used many times as a location in TV series and was featured in the opening titles of Emmerdale Farm between 1998 and 2005. (In one episode it was also revealed the site was where Debbie Dingle was conceived!) But perhaps the strangest use as a location was when it featured as Planet Obsidian in an episode of the BBC TV Sci Fi series Blakes 7!
It is interesting to find out that there are a couple of theories about the name. The first is that the Celtic word Al means fire and Mias meaning Altar have been combined. Some of the stones do look like altar stones and the location being visible from a distance would suggest that it could have had a ceremonial use in past times?
In his book The Place Names of the West Riding, A H Smith notes that the rocks are documented as far back as the 13th Century when they were recorded as Almusclyve. Almus was a female name in early English so perhaps the rocks were named after a local maiden?
There is also some strange folklore associated with the place as detailed in Yorkshire Legends and Traditions – a book dating back to 1889 by Rev Thomas Parkinson and also referred to in Julian Cope’s Modern Antiquarian. It is claimed that the location has always been associated with “the little people” and by that I mean fairies!
It is recorded that people believed in the past that the rocks contained a Fairy Parlour – with an entrance being a crack in the rock 18 inches wide. Another ancient historian Grainge stated in his book…
“ 'It has always been associated with the fairy people, who were formerly believed to be all-powerful on this hill, and exchanged their imps for the children of the farmers around. With the exception of the entrance to the fairy parlour, all the openings, in the rocks, are carefully walled up to prevent foxes from earthing in the dens and caverns within; and the fairies, being either walled in, or finding themselves walled out, have left the country, as they have not been seen lately in the neighbourhood.'
So next time you visit Almscliffe Craggs whether you believe in fairies or not – I am sure you will still find it a truly magical place!