LAY OF THE LAND

Buckingham’s Stone – Bilsdale

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Buckingham’s Stone (2020)

Buckingham’s Stone is located in Tarn Hole – a large valley on the edge of East Bilsdale Moor, two miles to the south-east of Chop Gate on the North Yorks Moors. (See end note regarding access.)

 The stone is said to be named after George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, who died at Kirbymoorside in 1687, shortly after hunting in this area. The duke was a flamboyant and controversial character in the royal court, but in later life he retired to Helmsley, and formed the Bilsdale Hunt. Officially he died of Pneumonia after catching a chill while out hunting, however a letter from his friend at that time (lord Arran) indicates that he actually died from an infection and gangrene in his ‘private parts’, after falling from his horse.

 A reference to Buckingham’s Stone was noted in 2012 whilst researching the Buckingham Well near Aberford. The tradition connected with the stone appeared in ‘England’s Oldest Hunt’ (Fairfax Blakeborough, 1907) and mentions that ….

“Some of the old dalesfolk affirm it was rolled into its present position by the followers of the Duke’s hunt by his express wish after a wonderful and very long run, with his hounds, in which some say three horses were killed. His Grace’s horse — a favourite — dropped dead on the very place, and was buried here.”

“Mr. W. S. Dixon, in ” The North Countree,” also refers to the stone,
and says : — About two miles from Chop Gate, a public-house with a black- smith’s shop and two or three cottages to bear it company, is Bucking- ham’s Stone, where tradition tells us that a fox was killed at the end of a severe run of some three hours’ duration. The Duke, and Forster, his huntsman, were the only two who got to the end, and the Duke’s horse died on the place, while Forster’s succumbed at Slapewath, about a couple of miles on the homeward road.”

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illustration from England’s Oldest Hunt

  An Internet search at that time revealed nothing more about the stone, and it was not to be found on any OS maps of the area. The site of the stone appeared to be pretty much lost somewhere within the large, tree covered valley. This area is quite isolated, with no tracks or footpaths leading through it, while aerial views on Google Earth revealed no sign of the rock, with any open areas being covered by dense bracken for much of the year. A few years passed, and then in 2017 a photograph of Buckingham’s stone appeared on Facebook, after it was noted by a local fell runner. No grid reference was given at the time, but a photo of the stone on the Geograph website listed it at SE 589 976. Using this grid ref, along with the photographs, the stone could actually be seen on Google Earth, and was pinpointed at SE 58906 97675.

  A visit to the site was finally made in May 2020, approaching from the higher moorland to the north, which entailed a precarious descent down the valley side to finally reach the stone. After seeing the photos and reading the description of the stone being rolled into position, it was something of a shock to see the size of the actual rock. The boulder is very big – roughly 5ft in height and 6ft wide, and sits on top of a wide, flat topped slab whose sides are two or three feet high. A rough calculation suggests the boulder weighs over 6 tons.

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Old chap used for scale

After seeing the size of the rock, it is hard to imagine anyone going to such an effort to move it into this position just to mark the site where a horse died in the late 1600’s. The shape of the rock would also seem to rule out it being rolled anywhere, never mind lifting it up onto the rock platform. A team of draught horses might have been able to drag the rock on wooden rollers or rails, but the sloping terrain would not have been ideal for that. It should also be noted that the boulder over hangs the edge of the slab, which raises the question – if people were able to move the rock, why was it not placed in a more secure position further onto the slab? There must be a suspicion that this might actually be a glacially deposited boulder, and there are numerous other isolated rocks along the valley side. Alternatively, these boulders may have fallen from the rock faces higher up the valley side, tumbling down and coming to rest on the slopes below. Perhaps in this case a ‘fluke’ landing brought this rock to a final stop on top of the slab?

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A Rocking Stone / Buck Stone?

If this is a natural feature, it could well have been an old local land mark already, which then became a memorial for the hunting horse that died close by. Although the area is now covered by bracken and trees, there are field walls along the valley suggesting that it was used as pasture land in the past. Tracks leading to these fields would have made the area more accessible than it is today.

  Also worth noting are the smaller stones pushed beneath the boulder, which from its shape and position may well have been a ‘Rocking Stone’ before these chocks were put in place. If this was the case then the site may have been known to the local Dales folk long before the Duke’s horse died here. Rocking stones in other parts of the country are known as ‘Buck Stones’, and often have folklore attached to them. In later times they were still visited for recreation, and at this site the flat slab would form a good resting place with a view down the dale. If this was indeed a Rocking Stone, perhaps originally known locally as the ‘Bucking Stone’, it is only a short step to it becoming ‘Buckingham’s Stone’. This also raises the possibility that the Duke and his horse may have been there for reasons other than hunting. (See a future post on the Hob of Tarn Hole).

Buckingham's Stone Beneath the Silver Birch
Buckingham's Stone - Dwarfed
Buckingham's Stone Fields walls in background
Buckingham's Stone Over hanging rock
Buckingham's Stone - The Bucking Stone?
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Buckingham’s Stone Beneath the Silver Birch
Buckingham’s Stone – Dwarfed
Buckingham’s Stone Fields walls in background
Buckingham’s Stone Over hanging rock
Buckingham’s Stone – The Bucking Stone?
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Reference
Fairfax-Blakeborough, J. (1907) England’s Oldest Hunt.

End Note.
It was originally thought that Buckingham’s Stone was within the boundaries of the open access moorland in this area, but on closer inspection of the map, it appears that the open access ends 100m north of the stone. The land owner at Low Cowhelm Farm would like to make it clear that this interesting piece of local history is actually on private land.

The Lay of the Land

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