Mysterious Moorland Carvings

by MJ Wayland

A mysterious moorland carvings of an Egyptian god is the last thing a rambler would expect to come across whilst exploring the bleak South Pennine moorlands near Widdop. And not yet far from a rough path near Gorple reservoir (left) is a chunk of gritty weathered stone on which is carved an authentic likeness of the hawk headed god Horus.

It is a kind of mystery which folklore expert John Billingsley, editor of Northern Earth, the journal of the North Earth Mysteries Group, loves to try and unravel. After hearing of the unlikely prescence of an Egyptian god on the moors John and a group of fellow researchers combed the area. “We didn’t know exactly where the mysterious stone was, but I saw a hawk circling the moor and I said let’s try there – and incredibly enough that was just the spot where we found the stone carving of Horus.”

“After a good deal of research it turned out that the carving maybe related to an occult group, active in Bradford in the early half of the century, called the Temple of Horrors (Or Horus?..MJ) Despite its name it was a serious minded group of middle class people interested in the occult and it is thought they included architects, particularly concerned with reservoir design, so carving the might have been intended as a guardian or even as an altar.”

Even harder to find on Boulsworth Hill are carvings of a running bull and a bull’s head, deep inside a rocky cave. According to Lancashire Folklore, they might be the work of American Indians who were members of Wild Bill Hickock’s wild west show which toured the area in the 19th century. “In fact, they do look more like American steers – but why anyone would carve them in such a secret place is a mystery.

Although he enjoys rambling just to be out of doors, John Billingsley, who lives in Mytholmroyd, always keeps a sharp look out for mysteries and curiosities – such as archaic stone heads, heart shaped carvings and ancient causeway markers. In the first issue of “Yorkshire History”, a bi-monthly magazine exploring the county’s history, he wrote about his passion for archaic stone heads and the mysteries which surround them. One afternoon, when he took a walk between Mytholmroyd and Sowerby and found no fewer than eleven stone heads tucked away over doorways, in gables and on troughing ends he knew that he was hooked. “Crude stone faces often embedded in old farm houses have been noticed for generations but too often disregarded as minor architectural features. But in fact they are an important and overlooked part of our region’s historical and folk heritage.” Although hundreds of archiac heads have been recorded all over the British Isles, the Upper Calder Valley has an abundance of them – and in the last seventeen years John has recorded more than 100 in this area and he is completing a book “A Stoney Gaze” on the tradition of archiac heads.

His work on archaic heads has earned him a masters award in local history, literature and cultural tradition at Sheffield University. In the 1960’s when crudely featured carved heads first came under the spotlight in the North of England and especially in Yorkshire and the Calder Valley, they were thought of as a hitherto unnoticed treasure trove of Roman – Celtic artifacts and became known as “Celtic heads”. But because so many of the heads were associated with dry stone walls or Halifax houses of the 17th Century, John could not believe that they were Celtic, although he admits they are difficult to date because of the weathering of millstone grit. “The strongest clue to these stone heads comes from the more common explanation – that they were intended to keep evil away from the house. “But removing much of their claim to antiquity did not remove their mystery – rather it enhanced it. Archaic heads in later centuries as much as in the Celtic period, show in their typical locations, the traditional regard for thresholds and access points. Surviving folklore underscores the supernatural meaning in a simplified form by deeming them a protective charm.”

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