By Edna Whelan.
When living in Skipton some years ago, I became aware of a certain cup-marked stone (SD 9962 5055 set on a sloping hillside where there is a shelf of level ground; the gradual fall of the land beneath it is covered by a semi-circular area of small boulders which radiate from the stone itself. This was reported by E.T.Cowling in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal to be a pile of clearance stones, but I wonder if anyone has ever dug beneath them to find out what is really there. Why were these clearance stones set in a semi-circle, curving in front of the cup-marked stone, instead of being simply dumped in a pile against the wall of a field? The reason why I ask this is because of certain experiences which I had in association with the stone.
The site is not a great distance from the house I lived in some ten years ago, and I visited it often. In order to get there I had to walk a mile or so; first of all along a road skirting a housing estate, then over a wooden stile into a field, through another field and then, via a second stile, down into a small cutting made by a beck. The way to the stones leads across the beck and then up a steeply sloping field of grazing and through an opening in a dry-stone wall beside a wood. To one side there is a gatepost which looks remarkably like a standing stone.
Across another field and through yet another gap in a wall and along a vaguely defined grassy terrace, there sits the stone. It is not very big, roughly 3 x 2 feet, with 18″ rising above the earth, and it slopes into the grass on the side away from the falling level of the field. On it are 23 cup-marks, some more pronounced than others.
I took my friend, Ian Taylor, there in the summer of 1984 and when we decided to dowse there we found a strong line running over the site, and also earth energies around the stone. There were five aquastats, four waterlines and also a number of track-lines [Eds’ note: readers unfamiliar with these terms are referred to Guy Underwood’s ‘Patterns of the Past’], but we presumed that these last must have been made by the usual animals which seem to frequent this kind of stone, as we were quite a distance from any kind of footpath.
We found then that both the aquastats and the water-line energies flowed in a certain direction and this was outwards from the stone in each case. we returned to the site some five days later and discovered that the energies were now flowing in the opposite direction, inwards towards the stone. As a consequence of this, I was given the task of visiting the site at different times in order to dowse the flow of energy and try to define, if possible, just when it changed direction.
I enjoyed doing this, as I felt a strange attachment to the place and I always walked barefoot in the grass. The view from the stone is something to wonder at, as it stretches all around in a panorama. In front, the land dipped into the valley where the town of Skipton stands and then beyond it lifted up through closely wooded slopes to the high moorlands of Crookrise, the hills of Sharplaw and Roughaw. Somewhere in the forest is a stone circle. Away to the right the hills around Bolton Abbey were faintly discernible and to the left the land rose once more to the heights of Carlton Moor and UFO country. This particular stone is therefore set in a very commanding position.
I dowsed each energy separately and walked deosil (sunwise) around the stone nine times, and there seemed to be a regular pattern to the flow of energy as it moved along the lines, sometimes away from and sometimes towards the rock, but I never managed to be at the site when the direction of the current actually changed. It was obvious, however, that there was a blind spring beneath the stone.
Over the weeks, my rapport with the stone and its surroundings grew. Each time I left, walked across the field and began to descend the hill, I felt a desire to sit down in the grass just below the ‘standing stone’ gatepost; why, I do not know, unless it was a kind of ‘earthing myself’.
There was definitely some power in the cup-marked stone, as I believe I discovered one very warm sunny day when I was at home and stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. I looked up the hill to the edge of the moors and the sloping horizon where I knew the stone to be, and suddenly I was amazed to see a kind of blip of something with a strange fluidity, which appeared for a fraction of a second above the skyline and then disappeared back to the ground. I thought at first that this was an optical illusion, but it showed again and continued to do so at varying intervals. I can only describe it as a kind of bulging bubble which rose into the air and fell back to the ground without bursting. It was not solid, but seemed to be faintly opaque. I would not describe it as a tourbillion, as it did not spiral, nor did it zoom off into the sky. Neither was it a form of shimmering heat haze.
Looking further along the edge of the horizon I saw another blip, and then another, and altogether I counted four of them. I watched for this phenomenon again the next day, which was equally hot and humid, but since then I have never again experienced it. I believe it was an actual sighting of the energy arising from the stone and I have since discovered that there are four more cup-marked rocks on the hilltop behind the one which I visited so often. Also on the rise of ground behind the field in which the stone is sited are the remains of an early Iron Age settlement, but whether or not this has any relevance to my experience I do not know; yet I feel it must be in some way connected to the stone. I did, however, have more strange experiences at the stone. One may have been an illusion, but, as I looked at the rock and its cup-marks, it almost seemed to be, not throbbing, but breathing; and on another occasion here was definitely no doubt about the actual happening.
One evening I had spent some time there and, realising that the daylight was beginning to fade, I gathered myself together and walked away. Just as I got to the wide gap in the first wall, I was stopped by a message within my head which said ‘Please don’t go, don’t leave me alone, come back again’ – I was not imagining this. I turned and looked back at the stone and could see no-one there or in the surrounding field, just the stone alone. No other persons ever seemed to frequent the spot and in all the times I visited it I never met a single soul.
For a moment I felt like returning to the stone, but I thought of the walk home over the beck and the stiles, of the gathering darkness and the chance of falling and maybe twisting my ankle, and I answered the strange call by conjuring up a reply in my mind, ‘I’m sorry, but I must go; I am only human and I am afraid of injuring myself in the dark’. Standing there alone in the twilight, I felt very strongly, coming from the area of the stone, a reluctant acceptance of my departure. I turned and went away and the feeling of my desertion of some-one or some-thing went with me, and was there also a dampness in the corner of my eye?
When I got home, switched on the light and looked at my material possessions, I asked myself, was I going crazy, listening and talking to a stone? And yet Rupert Sheldrake tells us that our definition of ‘living’ may have to be expanded to include such apparently inanimate things as rock, and Don Robins writes about ‘The Secret Language of Stone’. Looking back I know that I have never felt anything so strange and strong since that day, and I am normally a very cool and undemonstrative person.
I had to leave Skipton the following year, but before I left I visited the stone to say goodbye. I also painted a picture of it and of the apron of stones around it, and this hangs on my wall even now. I still wonder if there is something else hidden beneath the stone’s accompanying cairn-like boulder-strewn slope. Could there be a small burial chamber connected with the nearby Iron Age settlement, or maybe from an earlier date – perhaps a skeleton curled up in the foetal position, a ceremonial polished stone axe beside it, a circlet of small faience beads on its head and the remains of wild flowers at its feet? Who knows?
Over a year later, I found Tom Graves had made some relevant remarks in Needles of Stone. He noted that a sensation that a standing stone is rocking or moving is frequently encountered -“this is a subjective feeling since the stones are usually firmly rooted in the ground” (p.36); he also recalled that T.C.Lethbridge had suggested that ‘earth-fields’ or energy discharges such as I suppose my experience to have been, were only active on warm, muggy days (p.105). Graves also comments on the impressions associated with place memory – “In themselves they are harmless; it’s their suddenness and unexpectedness and also the heavy emotional overtones that are a necessary part of them. They take you by surprise because you’re not ready for them, not aware of them…” (p.109).
There is, as we all know, some inexplicable power within the old stones of our landscape, and it is possible to become very close to the earth spirit if we frequent any of these sacred sources regularly and often. I am glad and honoured to have experienced this.
Published in NE64 (Winter 1995), pp.18-21
Edna Whelan was a familiar name to friends of NE and holy wells, as well to many others with whom her enthusiasms brought her into contact. We regret that she passed on June 15 2015, at the age of 95.