The Spiral Stone and the Abbot’s Hand – Braithwaite Moor

Spiral Stone area – OS map (1854) (Image credit NLS)

  Braithwaite Moor is located to the north of Thruscross Reservoir, 10 miles north west of Harrogate.

  The Spiral Stone is mentioned as a point on the Hampsthwaite parish boundary in the early 1800’s. The Revd. Joseph Wilson (vicar of Hampsthwaite) noted the stone in his diary, after taking part in the 1801 boundary perambulation …

  “Beginning at a forest boundary stone, situate on Hayshaw Moor, proceeding thence N. west about two hundred yards to a Spiral Stone, a few yards on the south of several crags; from thence S.W. across the fence which divides Hayshaw Moor and Mr. Stockdale’s allotment, to another forest boundary stone; from thence on the west side of the said fence (including a house on the east side of the boundary line, occupied by one King) to a little rivulet that divides Redlish and Bewerley Moor, turning westward on the north side of the said rivulet to an old ditch leading from the said rivulet, S. west, on to the turnpike road, near Greenhow Hill, ….” (Grainge 1871).

This description seems to place the Spiral Stone to the south of Palleys Crags on Braithwaite Moor. Although now called Braithwaite Moor, in the past it seems to have been regarded as the southern end of Heyshaw Moor. What the Spiral Stone was is unclear, but the name might suggest either a spiral shaped stone or a spiral marking of some sort. This could be something natural like strata lines in the rock or a fossil, but it is also worth noting that there are Cup and Ring marked rocks less than two miles to the north. So the Spiral Stone could perhaps be a rare type of prehistoric carving.

A visit to Braithwaite Moor in Aug 2023 found the area covered by deep heather, and Rush grass in the wetter areas. Moorland boundary stones are usually large enough to be visible amongst vegetation, but there were no obvious stones in the area noted by Revd. Wilson. The nearest rock visible above the heather was further to the north, but it had no markings on it.

  The Revd. Wilson noted the boundary perambulation in his diary, so this was not an official record. As a general description of the day, he would be estimating distances and directions, which might explain why his description does not quite fit with the existing Forest of Knaresborough boundary stones. The parish boundary follows the forest boundary in this area, but the Spiral Stone seems to have been an extra point on the Hampsthwaite boundary.

Plumpton Stoop or the ‘Abbot’s Hand’

  300 metres further north from the location of the Spiral Stone (as noted by the Revd. Wilson) there is a 6ft high standing stone known as the Plumpton Stoop or the ‘Abbot’s Hand’. This stone is now 50m east of the current Forest of Knaresborough boundary line, but in 1767 it was listed as being a point on that boundary, which shows that the line has moved slightly over the years. The Abbot’s Hand Stone is quite prominent, and The Revd. Wilson must have passed by it, so it is curious that he did not mention it. It is tempting to suggest that what he called the Spiral Stone was actually the Abbots Hand stone, and that his estimated distances and directions were off. Equally, it is possible that an error could have been made in the transcribing or printing of his diary, mixing up the directions and name of the stone.

  The Abbot’s Hand stone has been suggested as marking the boundary of land belonging to Fountains Abbey, with the pillar resembling an arm with eroded fingers pointing sky ward. The north side of the stone has a small cross carved on it, along with the letter R, and above the cross there are traces of a possible date 16xx (?). This would be after the time of Fountains abbey, and more likely an early perambulation of the boundary.

The alternative name of Plumpton Stoop connects the stone pillar with a nearby trackway called Plumpton Gate, which heads north across the moors. This Plumpton name is something of a mystery as the hamlet of Plumpton is 14 miles away on the other side of Harrogate, so unlikely be connected with this old moorland road. The hamlet was the property of the Plumpton family, but there is no record of them owning land in this area.

Plumpton Gate track

  Plumpton gate heads across the moors to a part of Nidderdale where lead mining took place for well over a thousand years. It is known that lead was mined and exported from this area during the Roman period, and in the mid 1700’s two Roman ‘pigs’ of lead were found on Heyshaw Bank – this being part of the same moorland area crossed by the Plumpton Gate track. A thousand years after the Romans, the monks of Fountains Abbey were also mining lead here, so it and interesting to note that the Latin word for lead is ‘plumbum’ – could this be the origin of the Plumpton Gate name? A route to the plumbum-tun – the lead town or settlement. Old documents were often written in Latin, so perhaps the name originated from this lead connection.

One of the Roman lead ingots from Heyshaw Bank

  A second visit was made to Heyshaw Moor to double check the area for the Spiral stone, but again nothing was found. The stones around the Palleys Crags were also checked, but no carvings were found there either. It is possible that the Spiral Stone is still there – overgrown and hidden by the moorland vegetation, so it’s maybe not quite time to write it off.

One of the Palleys Crags rocks

Grainge, W. (1871) The History and Topography of Harrogate, and the Forest of Knaresborough. p451
Commonplace book of Revd Joseph Wilson c1774–1821.

The Lay of the Land


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