Guisecliff Wood – Bronze Age Cup & Ring Rock Carving

South of Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
OS Map Ref SE16416356

OS Maps – Landranger 99 (Northallerton & Ripon), Explorer 298 (Nidderdale)

A view over Guisewood from the top of the cliffs

A view over Guisewood from the top of the cliffs

One of the most intriguing legacies left to us by our ancestors are the enigmatic carving of patterns and symbols which has become known as ‘Cup & Ring’ rock art. These designs created by the Neolithic and Bronze Age people that are our forbears could be as simple as a circular hollow known as a cup through to a complicated combination of cups, rings, spirals, chevrons and grooves. They are thousands of years old and no one knows their original purpose or meaning.

The interest in the rock art of the British Isles has grown over the past few years through the work of volunteers, amateur archaeologists and antiquarians and one such project is ‘The England Rock Art (ERA)’ website and database along with other websites such as The British Rock Art Blog, The Megalithic Portal and The Modern Antiquarian website these important sites are being recorded for these carvings for future generations and are now even being brought to the attention of professional archaeologists. Even though the carvings are in stone those that survive today are often much worn from both natural and human damage and will need our protection if they are to be enjoyed and learnt from in years to come.

These particular ‘Cup and Ring’ rock carvings that I’m writing about today can be found in Guisecliff wood which is just south east of Patley Bridge on the steep woodland at the base of Guise Cliff overlooking the Nidd valley, North Yorkshire.

It had been a miserable few days camping with overcast skies and rain most days, in fact it was more reminiscent of late October than early August and on this particular day I had set out early to look for what I was hoping to be my first in-situe ‘Cup & Ring’ rock carving. The reason for the early start! All I had to guide me was an OS Explorer map which despite indicating roughly where the rock carving might be found the text covered an area on the map of about thirty acres of rough, heavily wooded terrain and I had little information describing what the rock looked like. Needle in a haystack didn’t come close.


Cup & Ring Carved Stones (Guisecliff Wood) in a larger map

After many hours traipsing round the woodland in the mist and rain the only rock carving that I had been able to find had been the graffiti made by workers at one of the many quarries from the 19th century which can be found all around the region and though interesting weren’t what I was here to find.

I had all but resigned myself to the fact I wasn’t going to be able to find this rock and so turned to begin my return journey, for some reason I decided not to take the more direct rout back to the main path and opted for a more roundabout route. It was then that I noticed amongst the trees a little further up the hillside a most striking rock. It was large weighing I guess several tonnes but from my vantage point it had the appearance of a giant rock boomerang, it certainly didn’t look like a natural rock formation.

A view down Guise Cliff

A view down Guise Cliff

Heartened by this I began my assent again up to the rock which as I got closer I noticed was part of a cluster of boulders the largest being a great flat roughly rectangular bolder just beyond the ‘Boomerang’ bolder and initially out of site. Having reached the ‘Boomerang’ bolder it did looked more like natural rock than one that had been worked and shaped by man (I certainly could see any tool marks on it), but it was the large flat topped bolder just beyond this one that now caught my attention. On that flat moss covered surface could clearly be seen a series of classic cup and ring carvings. Whether it was the excitement of finding the carvings, the relief of not having just led myself on a cold wet wild goose chase or a real sense of connection with the past I don’t know but standing there in the mist, with nothing but the gentle dripping of rain to interrupt the deep quite of this ancient woodland I laid my hand on the rock and genuinely felt moved by the experience.

The carvings consist of a rough square shape groove of approximately 50cm across which encloses a well defined central cup surrounded by six smaller less well defined cups all linked together in what is known as a ‘Tree of Life’ motif. There are also other less defined cup and ring markings on other parts of the surface make an additional three cup and ring motifs.

Drawing of the Guisecliff wood rock carving

Representation of the Guisecliff wood 'Cup & Ring' rock carving

Although it’s just a thought, but I found this rock because of the distinctive ‘Boomerang’ shaped bolder which could be seen for some distance even through the trees maybe the reason why the carving were placed here were for that very reason a stranger to the area could find them by just looking out for the ‘Boomerang’ bolder (or whatever it reminded our ancient ancestors of). If we take this premise then that would suggest the use of the site was more about information rather than religious. It may just be the workings of a dyslexics mind but I’ve always thought that these markings look like maps possibly indicating the location of springs, settlements or safe places to camp. It’s just a theory but one that this site does help to support.

I’m intrigued by Cup & Ring rock carvings and have already begun looking at other sites for future posts. I would certainly be very interested in any that others have come across (there are many undocumented ones) and hearing about the thoughts and experienced of others who look into these enigmatic links to our past.

 

Other Useful Links

The England Rock Art (ERA) Project Brochure (PDF)

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