Boggart Crag – Brimham Rocks

The ‘Druid’s Writing Desk’ on the top of Boggart Crag

 Brimham Rocks are a large group of weathered crags and outcrops located near Pateley Bridge, 8 miles to the north-west of Harrogate.

 The rocks are spread across a wide hill top on Brimham Moor, which overlooks the Nidd valley to the south. A series of paths link the numerous crags, rock outcrops, and boulders stacks, which cover about 1 square km of the moorland heath on the hill. Some of the rocks have been shaped by nature to resemble various animals and objects, and these have been given names such as the Dancing Bear, Cannon Rocks, and the Yoke of Oxen, etc. Some of these names date back to at least the mid 1700’s when the site began to attract visitors, and local guides started naming the rocks.

 A line of low cliffs and rock outcrops run along the western edge of the site, and towards its northern end, the first edition OS map (1854) marks one outcrop as the ‘Boggart Crag’. The name does not appear on later maps, or in any of the guides to the site, which suggests that it was an earlier name used locally for that particular crag. The oddly shaped rock known as the Druid’s Writing Desk is also located on the top of Boggart Crag, and this rock stands out on the horizon when viewed from the lower ground to the west. The stones prominent position on the skyline may have led to the belief that there was something uncanny about the misshapen rock and the crag that it stands on.

 King Goblin
Wychwood Brewery’s King Goblin
(A fine beer it is too!)

 In folklore a Boggart is a type of supernatural being found mainly in Lancashire and parts of Yorkshire. These spirits were usually connected with a particular location, sometimes a house or farm, or a natural feature in the landscape. The Boggart shares characteristics with the Boggle and Hob spirits also found in this region, but while Hobs and Boggles could on occasion be mischievous, this was the Boggart’s main occupation, taking pleasure in annoying and frightening people. Folklore records that if a Boggart was given a proper name then it became uncontrollable, and this might suggest that the Boggart was originally a helpful Hob type spirit ‘turned bad’. Some support for this comes from the Boggarts king apparently being called Old Hob. Hobs were also known to take offence and leave when given inappropriate gifts e.g. clothes, while the Boggle of Robin Hoods Bay caused so much trouble that it was banished to a cave further down the coast (see Boggle Hole post). If Boggarts were a type of Hob spirit, then it is no surprise to find them connected with rocky places, as Hobs were also said to dwell in cliffs, rock outcrops, and caves. The Hobs, Boggles, and Boggarts, may have had their origins in much older beliefs brought to the region by Scandinavian settlers whose mythology has the Dvergar or dwarves who lived within the rocks of the earth.

Boggart Crag and one of the dark passages

 Boggart Crag is a vertical cliff, 35 feet high, with the Druid’s Writing Desk stone sat on top. At the southern end of the crag, tall fractures in the rock create narrow connected passages just possible for a small or slim person to squeeze through. These passages disappear into the interior of the crag and may have been regarded as the Boggart’s dwelling place. The old OS map shows a footpath passing alongside the Boggart Crag, as the route from nearby farms heads up over the hill. For those who used the path, the weirdly shaped rock standing above, and the dark passages below, would have only added to the crags haunted reputation. It is also possible that the wind blowing through the passages may have produced an eerie sound at times, which from a distance, might seem to have been emanating from the stone on top of the crag (see “the night winds” at Elbolton Cave).

Boggart Crag
Boggart Crag 1900 (before the modern tree planting)

 It is worth noting in connection with the odd shaped rock standing on the crag, that part of the Boggarts trickery was to assume different shapes. These could be a living thing such a horse, a goose, a small child, or inanimate objects such as a cart wheel, a jug of milk or a stone etc. The Boggart took on these forms with the intention of attracting the curiosity of a passer-by, who they could then terrify by revealing their true form. Is it possible that the odd shaped rock was believed to be a Boggart, or perhaps the Boggart turned to stone.

 Unfortunately the folklore once attached to the Boggart Crag does not appear to have been written down, with only the name being recorded on the early OS map. However, some account of the beliefs connected with Brimham Rocks comes from Edmund Bogg in his Edenvale to the plains of York (Bogg, 1893), where he noted …..
“In bygone days these immense stones were supposed to be the habitation of spirits. The echo given from the rocks was said to be the voice of the spirit who dwelt there, and which the people named the Son of the Rocks. From a conversation we had with the peasantry not far from here, it seems the ancient superstition has not yet fully disappeared.”

 The belief that echoes were produced by spirits dwelling within rocky places is widespread and ancient. The Gaelic word for an echo is Mac-talla, literally meaning ‘son of the rock’. What is also interesting is that The ‘sons of the rock’ was a poetic name for the rock dwelling dwarves of Scandinavian mythology, who perhaps ‘evolved’ into the later belief in Hobs, Boggles, and Boggarts. ‘Sons of the rock’ has also used to describe the Druids, who seem to have become linked with Brimham Rocks during the revival of interest in this ancient priesthood in the 1700’s. At that time the idea of voices coming from the rocks seems to have taken on another variation with the ‘Druid’s Oracle’. Some of the large rocks at Brimham have long, pipe-like holes passing through them e.g. The Cannon Rocks. 18th century writers speculated that a Druid priest could be concealed at one side of the rock, and speak suitable words of wisdom into the pipe, creating the illusion of an echoing god like voice emanating from an opening on the other side of the rock.

The Idol Rock (or Druid’s Idol)

 The northern end of Brimham Rocks generally receives less visitors, as it is furthest away from the car park and the more popular crags in the centre of the site. Those who do venture further north go to see perhaps the most striking rock on the whole site, known as the Idol Rock (or Druid”s Idol) – a large rounded mass of stone raised up off the ground on a very narrow pedestal. The Idol Rock is only 50m to the east of Boggart Crag, where the old footpath passes below one strange rock as it ascends the hill, then within view of the even stranger looking Idol Rock. The path continues on between the towering crags and huge boulders on the moor top, and it is perhaps no surprise to find that locals regarded this area as strange and haunted. This may also explain why no folklore was written down for the Boggart Crag at a time when Brimham Rocks was being promoted as a local attraction. Reports of it being haunted by a malevolent spirit would put off some visitors, as many people still believed in, and were fearful of, these types of supernatural beings.

Boggart Crag, Druid’s Desk and Idol Rock 1854 OS Map  (Map credit NLS)

 Boggart Crag is another folklore site where the old OS map appears to be the only record of its existence. It is also interesting to note that the ‘son of the rocks’ name attached to Brimham Rocks, seems to encapsulate some of the past beliefs connected with this craggy hill top.
A fearful place – the domain of rock dwelling spirits (some perhaps turned to stone like the dwarves of myth and legend?). A place where spirit voices echoed back the sounds of those who dared to venture amongst the crags and weirdly shaped rocks. A place where the Boggart lay in wait, ready to trick and terrify any passers by, and the site of Druid rituals summoning the voice of their gods from the crags.


After thoughts
 It appears that the Boggart was not the only supernatural resident in the area, as the old OS map also marks a ‘Fairy Bank’ alongside Fell Beck, 800m to the north-west of Boggart Crag. An old guide book (Ogle, 1920) also mentions a “good fairy” saving a young couple who, in desperation, had jumped from the Lovers Leap crag.

The site is owned by the National Trust, and while access is free, there is a charge for using the on site carpark. It is also possible to park further away and incorporate a walk to the rocks using the local footpaths.

Bogg, E. (1893) Edenvale to the plains of York
Ogle, H.W. (1920) Brimham Rocks

The Lay of the Land


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