THREE weeks ago, Tony Hutchinson of Askrigg got in touch, knowing our strange fascination with odd stones. What, he asked, were the elaborately carved gateposts he had encountered while out walking in upper Wensleydale. Each stone has four or five square or rectangular holes chiselled out of them, presumably for the horizontal wooden slats of the gate to slip into.

Or perhaps not.

“They are not gateposts but they have been recycled to form wall ends,” says Anne Guy in Bishopdale. “Their original function was to form the base of the buskins (dividers) in the stone field barns which separated young stock which overwintered in the barns.

“The stone was on the floor and the cut out holes held upright posts in place. The posts were then attached to the beams of the loft floor above.

A carved post in Coverdale

A carved post in Coverdale

“Planks were nailed to the upright post to a height of about three feet and formed a division between the cattle.

“Cattle were let out of the barn twice a day to go for water, either in troughs or streams, and then they were enticed back into the barn after it was mucked out by placing hay in their feed racks from the loft above.

“Getting them back in was not always straight forward and patience was needed – or a good dog!

“Similar small square stones, which were originally for door posts, are also sometimes found recycled.”

This is fabulous, and it must mean that it is centuries since the “gateposts” that Tony has spotted standing vertically in the fields were first hollowed out for their horizontal purpose.