Brimham Rocks

From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
The Idol stone at Brimham Rocks

Brimham Rocks, also known as Brimham Crags, are a moorland area of wind-scoured rocks in the West Riding of Yorkshire, found eight miles north-west of Harrogate, on Brimham Moor above Nidderdale.

An area of 454 acres have been declared a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest[1] and a Geological Conservation Review site, The site is an outcrop of Millstone Grit, with small areas of birch woodland and a large area of wet and dry heath.

The site is known for its water- and weather-eroded rocks, which were formed over 325 million years ago and have assumed fantastic shapes. In the 18th and 19th centuries, antiquarians such as Hayman Rooke wondered whether they could have been at least partly carved by druids,[2] an idea that ran concurrently with the popularity of James Macpherson's outrageous forgery, the Ossian 'ancient' poetry of 1760, and a developing interest in New-Druidism. For up to two hundred years, some stones have carried fanciful names, such as Druid's Idol, Druid's Altar and Druid's Writing Desk.


The heath

Brimham Rocks are found in the West Riding a mile and a half north of Summerbridge and three miles east of Pateley Bridge and the River Nidd. The site is managed by the National Trust along with a visitor's centre, public facilities and a car park.


Turtle Rock

Brimham Rocks are formed from a medium to coarse sandstone known both as the Lower Brimham Grit and also as the Lower Plompton Grit, one of a series of such sandstones laid down in the later part of the Carboniferous period in what is now the Pennine region. In formal terms this particular grit which is between 10 and 30m thick, forms a part of the Hebden Formation, itself a sub-unit of the Millstone Grit Group. It was deposited 318-317 million years ago during the Kinderscoutian substage of the Bashkirian stage.[3] The rock which has traditionally been referred to as Millstone Grit, originated as river-deposited sands in a delta environment and contains both feldspar and quartz pebbles.[4] Deposition from moving water has resulted in the cross-bedding which is very evident in most of the outcrops.[5] Brimham Rocks has been described as "a classic geomorphological site, significant for studies of past and present weathering processes and their contribution to landscape evolution."

Druidic theories

Perforated rock ('the Smartie Tube')

It was not until the early 20th century that it was understood that the rocks were created by natural forces. During the 18th and 19th centuries, some writers theorised that the rock-shaping could have been enhanced by Druidic carving.[6] Their theories coincided with the growth of Neo-Druidism, and followed the 1760 publication of James Macpherson's Ossian poems.[7] After a lecture in 1786,[2] the opinion of the antiquary Hayman Rooke was reported in 1788 with mild scepticism by the Sheffield Register:[8]

"The extraordinary position of these rocks is supposed to have been owing to some violent convulsion of nature, but it is evident, we are told, that art has not been wanting to render their situation yet more remarkable. Fragments of rocks obtained great regard, even veneration, from people of very remote antiquity: here they are found placed one on another, some having plainly the marks of the tool. This writer, though he does not venture to determine, conjectures that they are the work of the Druids. The Britons having had early communication with the Egyptians and Phoenicians, it is probable, he thinks, that the Latter imparted their arts and religious ceremonies to the Druids, who would politically conceal them from the people, that by means of auguries and divinations, the greater submission might be yielded to their decrees. To purposes of this kind Mr Rooke imagines these rocks to have been destined. They are various forms, some are rock-idols, others are rocking-stones, several have been perforated, in one instance, at least, quite through. To these our author assigns the name of the oracular stone, supposing that hence the crafty Druids might contrive to deliver predictions and commands which the credulous people would receive as proceeding from the rock-deity. It is well known, that many, who enjoyed far superior advantages for religious knowledge, have in later times employed such deceitful and scandalous methods to promote their ambitious and tyrannical views. (Whether it was thus in the very remote and uncultured periods to which Mr Rooke alludes, must remain in the uncertainty wherein time has involved this with many other points of historical disquisition)."[8]

In 1844, Druidic theories were strong enough for the Worcester Journal to publish a list of "British monuments, commonly called Druidical," to correct misunderstandings, including those by "antiquarian writers of celebrity." The list included the Rock Idol at Brimham Rocks.[9] By 1849 John Richard Walbran, writing about erosion as the cause of the rocks' shapes, hesitated to support Druidical theories.[10]

Nevertheless, in 1849, Druidic theories were still influential. John Williams, described Brimham Rocks in a poetic manner as if they were partly created by the hand of man: "Brimham Rocks, where amidst great natural acclivities, and on the verge of precipices, ancient architects of the school of the builders of the Tomb of Laius,[11] seem to have derived an intense pleasure in vanquishing and triumphing over the difficulties which nature opposed to their exertions."[12]

By 1890 Druidic theories were dying out, leaving some rock names to bear witness to past ideas. The Pateley Bridge & Nidderdale Herald quoted from Professor Phillips' Geology of Yorkshire:

"The wasting power of the atmosphere is very consipicuous in these rocks; searching out their secret lamination; working perpendicular furrows and horizontal cavities; wearing away the bases, and thus bringing slow but sure destruction on the whole of the exposed masses. Those that remain of the rocks of Brimham are but perishing memorials of what have been destroyed."[13]

Rock names

Great Cannon

Many of the rock names have been used for over a hundred years. Some fanciful names may have been invented by the Rocks House caretakers in their efforts to amuse visitors. Some appear to have been inspired by antiquarians who adhered to Druidical theories about their origins. Just a few names, such as the Noonstone whose shadow indicated midday, and old local names: Great Cannon and Little Cannon (now the Smartie Tube), may come from an earlier tradition. In his 1786 lecture, Some account of the Brimham rocks in Yorkshire, Hayman Rooke mentions the Idol Rock, the Great Cannon, and the Noonstone next to which a fire was lit on Midsummer Eve.[2]

In 1844 the Worcester Journal mentions the Rock Idol,[9] and in 1843 the Leeds Times mentions the Rocking Stones, Lovers' Leap, Baboon's Head, Pulpit Rock, Parson's Head, Yoke of Oxen, Frog and Tortoise, Serpent's Head, Dancing Bear, Druid's Writing Desk, Druid's Aerial Altar, Druid's Coffin, Sphinx, Oyster Shell, Mushroom, Idol Rock, and Cannon Rocks. In 1849 J.R. Walbran mentions the Rocking Stones and illustrates the Anvil and Porpoise Head.[10] In 1906 the writer Harry Speight mentions the Elephant Rock, the Porpoise Head, the Dancing Bear, the Boat Rock, the Idol and the Rocking Stones. The identity of the Porpoise Head rock has been forgotten, although it appears in a drawing by Walbran.

The mention of Druids appears in Brimham Rocks, the wonder of Nidderdale (c. 1920) by journalist Herbert W. Ogle (1871–1940) of Otley. He lists Druid's Head, Druid's Writing desk, Druid's Castle, Druid's Pulpit, Druid's Parlour, Druid's Kitchen, Druid's Coffin, Druid's telescope "and so on." The Parlour and Kitchen no longer exist.[14] At the far end of the Eye of the Needle were once the Druid's Caves, which included a Parlour and Bedroom, but they have been exposed or obliterated by a rock fall. Other rock names mentioned in 1920 are Oyster Shell, Rocking Stones, Baboon Rock, Mushroom Rock, Wishing Rock, Yoke of Oxen, Boat Rock (also known as the Druid's Altar), Boat Rocking Stone ("first discovered to be movable in 1786"), Dancing Bear, Rhinoceros Head, Anvil Rock, Pivot Rock, Lovers' Leap, Frog and Tortoise, Cannon Rocks, Split Rock, Sphinx Rock, Rabbit Rock, Elephant's Head, Dog Rock (possibly the Watchdog) and Tiger's Head.[14]

In his Guide to Brimham Rocks published in 1863, local historian William Grainge wrote "These names are frequently changed by the innovating, garrulous guide, who has changed the Baboon's Head to the Gorilla's, and the Yoke of Oxen to the Bulls of Babylon, which unsettling of nomenclature he calls keeping pace with the times. Unique as the rocks are amongst the freaks of nature, there is nearly as much originality about the guide but infinitely less grandeur."[15]

In 2020 the National Trust produced Spot the Rocks, a discovery trail sheet for children, listing eleven of the rock names. Some recent rock names in use are Meerkat and Smartie Tube.[16]

Brimham Rocks in popular culture

Maria Edgeworth's novel Belinda uses Brimham Rocks as a setting of metaphorical balance and moral revelation to the 17-year-old protagonist Belinda Portman. The children's television programme Roger and the Rottentrolls was filmed at Brimham Rocks and the site also features in the video for the Bee Gees' song "You Win Again".[17][18] A scene of series six of Knightmare, another children's programme and adventure game show, saw Brimham Rocks used as a location.[19]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Brimham Rocks)


  1. SSSI listing and designation for Brinmham Rocks
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Rooke, Hayman (25 May 1786). Lecture: Some account of the Brimham rocks in Yorkshire (Reproduction from British Library). Society of Antiquaries: Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). ISBN 9781379617075. 
  3. "Lower Plompton Grit". British Geological Survey. 
  4. "Lower Brimham Grit". British Geological Survey. 
  5. Aitkenhead, N. (2002). The Pennines and adjacent areas (Fourth ed.). Nottingham: British Geological Survey. pp. 52–55. ISBN 0852724241. 
  6. Bennett, Paul (21 March 2011). "Brimham Rocks, Hartwith, North Yorkshire". The Northern Antiquarian. 
  7. Ossian (1760). Fragments of Ancient Poetry, collected in the Highlands of Scotland. Scotland: James Macpherson. Retrieved 5 February 2020. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Rooke, Hayman (13 December 1788). "Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire". Sheffield Register, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, & Nottinghamshire Universal Advertiser. British Newspaper Archive: p. 4 col.1. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 "On Druidical remains". Worcester Journal. British Newspaper Archive: p. 4 col.1. 25 April 1844. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Walbran, John Richard (1849). "Brimham Rocks". The pictorial pocket guide to Ripon and Harrogate : with topographical observations on Studley-Royal, Brimham Rocks, Hackfall, and the monastic remains of Fountains and Bolton (via Haithi Trust) (3rd ed.). Ripon: W. Harrison. p. 84. Retrieved 11 February 2020. 
  11. Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885), Richard. "The Tomb of Laius". 
  12. "Cromlech". Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette. British Newspaper Archive: p. 4 col.2. 17 November 1849. 
  13. "Brimham Rocks". Pateley Bridge & Nidderdale Herald. British Newspaper archive: p. 7 col 6. 13 September 1890. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Ogle, Herbert W. (1920). Brimham Rocks, the wonder of Nidderdale. Brimham Rocks: Fred Burn. 
  15. Grainge, William (1865). The Tourist's Guide to Brimham Rocks, Hartwith, Yorkshire, Second Edition. (Extracted from a Larger Work by the Same Author, Entitled, Nidderdale, Etc.). London: Thomas Thorpe. Retrieved 18 April 2021. 
  16. "Spot the rocks". National Trust. 
  17. Clayton, Emma (30 September 2013). "Plenty of excitement to be had at Brimham Rocks for the price of parking your car". Bradford Telegraph and Argus. 
  18. "Brimham Bee Gee memories". Harrogate Advertiser. 17 January 2003. 
  19. "Brimham Rocks – Pateley Bridge".