Map Ref: SE03118604
Latitude: 54.270006N Longitude: 1.953748W
High on the bleak Burton moors above the small village of West Burton where Bishopsdale meets Wensleydale can be found the remains of an ancient settlement. Though the walls are now nothing more than rubble you can still see the layout of the huts and enclosures which made up this extensive settlement.
There are many such settlements around Wensleydale, 15 in total all situated high on the moors above what would have been the natural tree line of the wooded dales. One of these being on the moorland on ? Hill which rises on the other side of Bishopsdale opposite Pennhill where the Burton Moor settlement is and both would have been visible to each other. The Burton moor settlement is situated at 1500 feet, the open land would have allowed the inhabitants to see any danger approaching whether human or from the wild animals which would have roamed the wooded valleys. There are several springs in and around the immediate area for water and the open land would have provided grazing for livestock.
Although these are classified as protected historical monuments there has been no serious archaeological investigation of them, in fact the burton moor settlement was only officially discovered (though I suspect locals were aware of it) in 1979 when it appeared in an article on aerial photography which showed some striking photos of the site.
Due to this lack of investigation of the site details about them has been difficult to get, I have only found two sources and these both contradict each other in parts so I have done my best to summarise them within this post.
Burton Moor Ancient Settelment in a larger map
There is some discrepancy on the number of dwellings and enclosures which make up the site. There is between 14 and 18 roughly circular stone huts and between 9 and 14 curvilinear enclosures all built into one another forming an almost honeycomb effect. The extent of the site is about 250 meters across and situated on a natural terrace on the hill side. The population of the settlement would have been between 39 and 52 adults.
The discrepancy in hut numbers possibly comes from varying opinions on which were dwelling which were lived in and other which might just have been stores. The discrepancy about the enclosures is likely down to the source which cites 18 enclosures also including a cluster of enclosures situated not to far away but which has no associated huts, these most likely would have been livestock pens.
Also there is no evidence of any field system associated with the site so the general opinion is that the inhabitants primarily had a pastoral living with there livestock pastured on the hillside and brought into enclosures at times (likely those enclosures which are separate from the main settlement and with no associated dwellings). Each family unit would have likely grown a small amount of crops within the enclosure that was associated with their dwelling.
Finally no one for certain knows the age of the site, the feeling is that it is Iron Age or possibly Bronze Age though no dating evidence has been found to say for sure. There are sound arguments for it to be from the Roman era the inhabitants possibly rearing horses for the Roman army or even later from the Dark Ages. Until a full archaeological excavation is undertaken we can’t possibly know.
West Burton – An Historical Guide (1987) by Julian Bharier and Marianne V. Thompson
Burton Moor Settlement by Kenneth J Fairless (In Archaeology and Historic Landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales )
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