Yockenthwaite Stone Circle – ceremonial site, burial mound or medieval sheep pen?
I regularly take visitors into Yockenthwaite on my All Creatures Great and Small tours, to show them Yockenthwaite Farm which plays Heston Grange -Helen’ Alderson’s farm house in the TV series. But a bit further down the road next to the River Wharfe is another interesting location which dates back much further than the old farmhouse.
I first passed this whilst walking the Dalesway in May 2021, as the path from Yockenthwaite between Yockenthwaite Moor and Horse Head Moor runs right past the circle.
There is a mysterious ring of stones, sitting in a field with wonderful views down the valley of Langstrothdale.
Originally antiquarians believed the ring was a small stone circle dating back to the Bronze age which rather like the 12 Apostles on Ilkley Moor was used for interpreting the seasons. But latter day thinking is that it is all that remains of a Ring Circle.
The circle consists of 24 small stones set in a near perfect circle. The diameter of the circle is approx. 7 meters and there is one outlying boulder about 6 meters away which could be part of the structure. None of the stones are more than half a meter in height and they all seem to have flattened tops. This is the reason many seem to think the stones are the kerb stones of a ring cairn (or ring bank enclosure).
Ring cairns do date back to the Bronze age and would have enclosed a small mound. It is thought that many of these were burial mounds or barrows, but they may have had other ceremonial purposes too.
The latest thinking is that it is the site of the burial of a local bronze age chieftan. The mound has eroded away over time and there is no evidence left of a burial left here sadly.
Antiquarian Arthur Rastrick drew a plan of the circle in 1929 and detailed in his book:
“The circle is slightly raised above the surrounding ground-level, and the stones, standing edge to edge, can be seen from a considerable distance on either fell side. The circle is 25 feet diameter, very nearly a true circle, there being only about 6 inches variation in diameter. The stones number 20, placed on edge to edge to edge…with only two small gaps, which would accommodate three or perhaps four more stones.
These stones were probably removed some years ago to repair the stile in the neighbouring wall. Outside this circle of 20 stones, on the northwest side, there are four others placed concentrically, and very close to the circle, but there is no evidence that the circle was ever double, or that there were ever more than these extra four stones. There is a slight mound at the centre, and probing with a rod proved a small circle of stones, about 9 feet diameter at the centre, indicating probably a burial. Several large boulders lie on the level ground around the circle, but these are all rolled down from the fell-side above, and not placed in any connection with the circle. All the stones of the circle are of limestone…”
There is another theory that was being floated about in the early 1900’s. As the land around Yockenthwaite had been gifted to the monks at Fountains Abbey after the Norman conquest, the historian Harry Speight believed that he circle could be much later and was just a simple sheep pen used by the lay brothers to keep sheep between their grange farms. Whilst this is now seen as unlikely, we will never actually know
You can find it at OS grid reference: SD 8997 7938 if you want to check it out. It is well worth a visit and on a sunny day is also the perfect place for a picnic!
Yorkshire has so many bronze age and Neolithic sites to explore – if you are interested I have written another article about the 12 Apostles Stone circle on Ilkley Moor you can find on this link - https://www.realyorkshireblog.com/post/yorkshire-s-stonehenge-pre-history-on-ilkley-moor