IN the course of research for books and articles, I make regular use of maps, both old and new. Most were produced by the nation’s official map-makers, Ordnance Survey, whilst others are published by private map-makers.

I make regular use of one such private map, published in 1636 which was a couple of centuries or so before Ordnance Survey began its work. It depicts the Lordship of Egton as it was at that time and it is remarkable how many features of the landscape have not changed. Perhaps the most significant fact about this old map is that it has been printed with north at the foot, not the top as in modern maps. In other words, it needs to be read or studied when it is upside down.

One of the curiosities on modern maps of the North York Moors is the number of references to standing stones, piles of stones or merely stones. I think some were the remains of ancient tumuli which usually indicated an ancient burial site but I noticed alongside some of the most ancient tracks the word “stone” or “pile of stones” or in some cases, “standing stone.”

Because I grew up in the North York Moors I am familiar with its history, scenery and landscape, consequently the following observations should not be associated with either the Yorkshire Wolds or the Yorkshire Dales.

What is curious is the large number of standing stones within the North York Moors, some of which show no indication of their purpose whilst others bear names. This odd collection is said to be the largest in England, totalling around 1,300 and including the remains of stone circles with others being way-markers, boundary markers, religious crosses, memorials and some being the result of ancient earthworks along with others that have no apparent purpose.

On one of my maps which had been surveyed between 1848 and 1853, I found Yoak Stones, Grey Stones, the Rokan Stone, Hart Leap Stones with dozens marked simply stones or pile of stones. Significantly, many are alongside ancient tracks across the moors, some still in use.

For example, running from Ainthorpe to Fryup over Danby Rigg was the Old Wife’s Stones Road which eventually became a footpath. The Rokan Stone mentioned above may have been a route marker or possibly a boundary stone and it may have had a special role in guiding wayfarers through fog. Roak or roke is an old dialect word for fog.

Among all those stones are a great number of stone crosses, many marking significant events either on or associated with the moors.

Many of those crosses or stones bear names. They include the Margery Stone, Percy Cross, Jack Cross, Margery Stone, Fat Betty, John Cross, John o’ Man, Cooper Cross, Tom Smith’s Cross, Donna Cross, Jenny Bradley, Redman Cross, Anna Ain Howe Cross, Robinson’s Cross, Hudson’s Cross, three Job Crosses, the Mauley Cross and possibly others.

In many cases, the reason for the names is a puzzle because the date of arrival or purpose of some of these stones is not recorded. However, some do mark significant events of the past. Tom Smith’s Cross on the moors above Ampleforth is said to mark the site of the execution of a highwayman of that name and although the cross vanished long ago – sometime after 1642 - it was said the footstone of the gibbet remains, buried somewhere under the crossroads at that location.

The Mauley Cross stands just inside Cropton Forest on a track that emerges near Stape and it commemorates the de Mauley family formerly of Mulgrave Castle. The Elgee Stone is a flat-topped boulder overlooking Loose Howe on Rosedale Moor. It commemorates the life of Frank Elgee, a naturalist and archaeologist whose writings about the moors earned him the accolade - Man Of The Moors. He wrote a classic book in 1912 – it was The Moorlands of North East Yorkshire.

Not far away from the Elgee Stone is perhaps the best known of the moorland’s collection of stone crosses. It is widely but erroneously known as Ralph’s Cross – it’s correct name is Young Ralph.

It stands about nine feet high overlooking the view of Castleton and upper Eskdale from the Hutton-le-Hole to Castleton road. Old Ralph, only five feet tall and Fat Betty, a bulky white-painted boulder, are not far away. The cross known as Young Ralph was damaged by vandals in October 1984 when it was hauled down and its slender shaft snapped, but it was repaired and stands there today, still showing evidence of that senseless attack.

The stones named Old Ralph, Young Ralph and Fat Betty are thought to be reminders of a trio of people who supported some nuns known as White Ladies. They tried to establish a convent in Rosedale. The plan aroused great antagonism and deep suspicion from the local people but the story tells us that an elderly man known as Ralph became the devoted servant of The White Ladies.

One of his duties was to accompany them on missions across the moors, and on one occasion the nuns were to meet representatives of nearby Baysdale Abbey to discuss a mutual problem. Their meeting place was the site of Young Ralph, the stone cross, but a dense fog developed and the nuns could not find the Baysdale nun called Margery. Old Ralph saved the day by shouting all their names in the fog and so the nuns did not stray far from the stone cross. When the fog lifted, they were within sight of each other.

Ralph commemorated the occasion by positioning some stones – the Margery Stone that still marks a route for hikers, Fat Betty, a white boulder that represented Sister Elizabeth who was not fat (but the stone was large!) and the silent standing stone called Old Ralph who watches from a discreet distance.

There is an old legend that if Old Ralph and Fat Betty ever meet, they will get married. To date, that has not happened!

Cuckoo is calling

APRIL 14 has long been regarded in this country as Cuckoo Day, said to be the first occasion this unwelcome bird is heard during the present spring. Most of us will hear its distinctive call long before we see the bird itself and when we do catch sight of one, it can be easily mistaken for a bird of prey such as the sparrow hawk.

The cuckoo, whose numbers have fallen, is not welcome in some areas because it removes a single egg from the nests of smaller species, and lays its own egg in the empty space. When the baby cuckoo hatches, it levers the other eggs out of the nest and the foster parents feed it as if it was their own. For those reasons, the cuckoo does not endear itself to many bird-lovers – but we do love to hear its distinctive sound. end