Friday, 22 November 2013


Towser the mouser
A fine bronze of Towser a long haired tortoise shell female cat, can be seen at the Glenturret Distillery near Crieff in Scotland. Towser was the distillery cat for 24 years between 1963 and 1987 and lived in the still house where its job was to catch mice. Each morning the stillman would find that Towser had laid out an average of three mice each day for his inspection.
The Guinness Book of Records entry gives the figure of 28,899 mice which it is estimated that Towser caught in those 24 years.
A special cat flat and ramp is still used by Towser's successors




Cat’s monument


This fine monument stands on a small island in the Grounds of Shugborough House in Staffordshire the home of the Anson family who became Earl’s of Lichfield.  Admiral George Anson  circumnavigated the  world in the 18th century and it is thought that this monument was to commemorate the cat that accompanied him.



The cat's memorial


A medieval cat flap


Cat flaps are a common feature in many a household door.   If you look below the 14th century clock in Exeter Cathedral, you will see a small door with a hole in it, a medieval cat flap.   The story goes that mice were constantly responsible for nibbling away the ropes holding the clock weights hanging behind the small door.  Apparently the sexton was given a special allowance for a cat to attend to the matter and he cut the hole in the door to allow the cat unlimited access.


Medieval cat flap

A wild cat


Back in the 15th century. Sir Percival Cresacre was Lord of the Manor at Barnburgh in South Yorkshire.   Legend has it that one moonlit night, Sir Percival was returning home on his horse Winifred, when a wild cat sprang onto the horses back.  The horse bolted unseating its rider and the cat then attacked Sir Percival who fought back strongly.   Their struggle raged towards St Peter’s church at Barnburgh and ended up in the church porch where, although severely wounded, the knight used his last ounce of strength to push the cat with his feet.  He actually managed to crush the cat against the church wall finally killing it.   When the alarm was raised, a local man called Woodford found Sir Percival dying in the church porch and heard the story of his fight with the wild cat before he died.   A worn family crest can be seen on the church tower at Barnburgh.   The arms of the Cresacres is three purple lions rampart on a golden shield and has a crest of a cat on a mountain.   A crest is usually an additional grant of arms which indicates that at a later date a cat played some part in the history of the family, adding some authentication to the story.


Barnburgh Church

The Dun Cow


A fine sculpture of a cow to be seen on the river bank reminds us of Durham's origins and the legend of the Dun Cow.
St Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne (Holy Island), died in 687 and was buried in Lindisfarne Priory.  In 875, in danger from Danish raiders, the Lindisfarne Congregation left the island and began their ‘wanderings’ through the north of England, taking with them St Cuthbert’s body and other treasures including the Lindisfarne Gospels.  They eventually settled at Chester-le-Street in 882.  Some two hundred years later following further danger the congregation resumed their wanderings and in 995 whilst near to Hetton to the east of Durham, the coffin transport came to a standstill and would not move any further.   After intense meditation the monks prayers were answered when St Cuthbert appeared in the vision of a monk called Eadmer who told them to take the coffin to a place called Dun Holm.  Dun Holm meant Hill Island, later called Duresme and finally Durham.   The monks were then able to continue but nobody seemed to know where Dun Holm was.  Luckily the monks heard a milkmaid asking another milkmaid if she had seen her dun cow and was told that it had been seen grazing near Dun Holm.   The monks followed the milkmaid in her search for her cow and thus arrived at the appointed place on a promontory of a peninsular in the River Wear.   Here they built a ‘White Church’ as a shrine for St Cuthbert’s relics, and so the Cathedral and the City of Durham was founded.
Sculptures portraying the Dun Cow and the Milkmaids are set in the north-west turret of a gable on the north front of Durham Cathedral.
 The Dun Cow




The  Old  Dun  Cow


An old cottage in Halfpenny Lane, just outside Longridge in Lancashire, bears the date 1616 above the door, together with the rib bone of a cow  The story goes that during a severe drought in the 17th century,  the old dun cow  provided enough milk for all,  long after the wells had run dry.  Legend has it that a local witch was caught milking the cow into a sieve and the cow died.

 The Old Dun Cow 

The  Ketton  Ox 


The old North Riding of Yorkshire town of Yarm, now in the modern county of Cleveland, was an important coaching stop and in 1848 this tiny town had no less than 16 inns, half of which are still in use today. 

The imposing  Ketton  Ox,  dating from the 17th century,  now the oldest inn in the town,  gains its name from a huge cow.  This famous shorthorn was reared by Charles Colling of Ketton Hall in 1796 and grew to the huge size of 220 stones and was valued at the enormous sum in those days of £250.

This inn was also a popular venue for  cockfighting  and a special room was set aside in the attic for that purpose.   When the ‘sport’ became illegal in 1849, cockfighting continued and a ‘decoy’ room was constructed alongside the original in case the place was raided.   Curious oval shaped windows, now covered up, gave good light into the arena.

The Ketton Ox
Bull baiting


The Bull and Dog Inn in the main street of Sleaford in Lincolnshire reminds us of the cruel ‘sport’ of Bull Baiting which was prevalent in former times.   A fine old plaque on the pub wall, dated 1689, depicts a bull being baited by a dog.  


The Bull and Dog

The bull would have been tethered to a metal ring, either in the ground or on a wall. and would have been baited by a bulldog, one of the oldest breeds of British dog.    This 'sport' was abolished in 1835.    A remaining example can be seen at Eyam in Derbyshire

Moffat Ram
The Colvin Fountain, Moffat, Scotland.
 Situated at the top of the High Street at Moffat is the Colvin Fountain with its ram, which signifies the importance of the local sheep farming industry. It was sculptured by William Brodie R.S.A who also sculptured Edinburgh's 'Greyfriars Bobby'. A curious thing about this sculpture is that the ram is missing its ears and has been since it was presented to the town in 1875 by William Colvin. "It has nae lugs" was the cry at the unveiling ceremony much to the embarrassment of the sculptor. A sheep racing event has been established in the town centre in August each year.

Pickering in North Yorkshire is a delightful small market town at the foot of the North York Moors and the southern terminus of the North York Moors Railway.

The name of this town apparently derives from pike and ring. Alongside the A170 road on the western outskirts of the town is a large pond known as Keld Head Spring and legend has it that it was a favourite haunt and bathing place for the young King Pereduras whose palace was nearby. The story goes that the king lost a ring, a heirloom passed from father to son to ensure the continuation of the royal line. Apparently he accused a young servant girl of stealing the ring, but sometime later the King was dining on a huge pike which had been caught in the pond and as he cut it open Pereduras found the lost ring inside the fish. The triumphal discovery prompted him to call the town Pike-a-ring. In the truest tradition of fairy tales, he married the servant girl and they all lived happily ever after.

Keld Head spring
Fish Ladder
This fish ladder, completed in 1951, is alongside the Pitlochry Power Station on the River Tummel. It was constructed as a result of a 1943 Act of Parliament which laid a duty of care on the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board to preserved fish stocks in waterway power schemes. The first of its kind in Scotland, the ladder consists of 34 separate pools, each rising 1.6 feet higher than the last over 339 yards to enable fish, especially migrating salmon, to reach the upper part of the river beyond the dam. A fish counter records the number of fish making the journey and they can be observed at a special glass walled viewing area.

The Snake Catcher

Brockehurst is a village in the heart of the New Forest in Hampshire.
A very fine marble stone in the old churchyard marks the grave of an unusual New Forest character, Harry Mills, who died in 1905 aged 67 years.   Better known as Brusher Mills’ he had lived in an illegal shack in the forest for almost 30 years.   Actually the shack was burned down just one day before the 30 years required to claim the home and land upon which it stood under ancient forest law.         He was known as ‘Brusher’ simply because of the meticulous way he brushed the village cricket pitch.   His main occupation however was that of ‘snakecatcher’ and he is credited with having killed a total of 3186 New Forest adders which he sold to London Zoo as live feed for the larger snakes.   The gravestone depicts a carving of Mills near to his shack and several snakes.    The local pub is called ‘The Snake Catcher.’


Thursday, 21 November 2013




William Henry Erskine, 18th Laird of Dun, thought a lot about his horse.   Captain Erskine served with the 17th Lancers and was a survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade.   His horse, Timekeeper, is buried in the grounds of the Erskine ancestral home, Dun House, near Montrose in Scotland, where a stone marks the grave.   One of the horse’s hooves is preserved and can be seen in the library at Dun House – now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.


Timekeeper's stone

Equestrian   statue


What is said to be the only equestrian statue  in an English church can be seen in St Luke’s church at Gaddesby in Leicestershire.   The 1848 statue, by Joseph Gott, of Colonel Edward Hawkins Cheney and his horse, is a life size sculptured monument depicting Col. Cheney of the Royal Scots Greys, who fought in the battle of Waterloo on June 18th 1815.   He had four horses killed under him and rode off on a fifth horse when command of the regiment devolved upon him.   At the base a panel shows Col. Cheney in hand to hand combat with a French officer who was trying to recapture a lost Napoleonic eagle.    The story goes that Gott, on completing the statue, realized that he had left out the tongue of the ‘in extremis’ horse and in despair he committed suicide.
Equestrian statute 


John Wesley’s horse

It is said that on one of his visits to Otley, his horse died and was buried in the churchyard.   In his journal for Sunday 5th May 1782, Wesley wrote:
‘One of my horses having been so thoroughly lamed at Otley that he died in three or four days. They buried him in the Churchyard there being no other place. So Robert rests.  Purchased another, but, it was his way to stand still when he pleased, and set out as soon as possible.’

Wesley visited  Otley on  about 20 occasions.    First on 17th July 1759.
Otley churchyard

The Baron of Bucklyvie
The Baron of Buchlyvie was a stallion which sired many Clydesdale horses and was highly prized in America.
He was born at Buchlyvie in Stirlingshire in 1900 and was sold to William Dunlop and James Kilpatrick but because of some confusion regarding the ownership a lawsuit was heard in the House of Lords. The result was that in 1911 the men were forced to sell the horse at auction. Dunlop paid £9,000, a record for any horse at that time, and became sold owner. Sadly in 1914 an irate mare kicked The Baron and broke his leg. He had to be destroyed and Dunlop buried him in his garden. The skeleton of the horse was later recovered and put on display at Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. The broken leg is clearly seen.

Horse  Doctor
Back in 1606, Robert Willance was out riding his horse high on Whitcliffe Crag at Marske near Richmond in North Yorkshire, when the horse fell some 200feet down the crag. Although the horse was kiilled, Willance only suffered a brokens leg.   He managed to survive by cutting open the belly of the dead horse and putting his leg inside,before being rescued.  His leg had to be amputated and he had the leg buried in Richmond churchyard, where his body joined it 10 years later. 
Willance put a memorial stone at the place of his accident. His stone was renewed in 1815 and again in 1863.
A pillar monument also marks the spot.
Willance's Leap
© Copyright Joe Regan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
I am grateful to Joe Regan for the use of his three Geograph photographs.

The White Horse


When approaching the Hambleton Hills from the west through the Vale of York in North Yorkshire, the outline of a huge white horse appears on the hillside near to the beauty spot of Sutton Bank.   The White Horse, which overlooks the tiny village of Kilburn, was the idea of local business man Thomas Taylor and was cut in 1857.   The plans were drawn up by the village schoolmaster, John Hodgson, using a racehorse as a model, and the shape was cut out of the turf by Hodgson and his pupils.   Tons of lime were dragged up the hillside on a sledge to complete the ‘horse’ which is 228ft high and 314ft from nose to tail.   Every so often the ‘horse’ is given a spring clean to keep it in pristine condition.
 The White Horse of Kilburn


Wednesday, 20 November 2013


The swan’s bell


A small bell, with a rope hanging from it, hangs below the gatehouse window of the Bishop’s Palace in Wells, Somerset.   Swans on the moat actually ring this bell when they want to be fed!    This custom goes back to 1869 when the then Bishop’s daughter taught the swans to ring the bell.





Lord Byron’s Dog


It is said that man’s best friends is his dog.   Lord Byron certainly thought that about his dog Boatswain, and he made sure that the dog would not be forgotten by erecting an unusual monument outside his ancestral home, Newstead  Abbey in Nottinghamshire.    An urn, which contains the dogs remains, surmounts the fine monument and an inscription reads :


“ Beauty without vanity, strength without insolence,

Courage without ferocity and all the virtues of man without his vices.”


Byron also wrote a lengthy ode to his dog which is portrayed on the monument and finishes as follows :

“ Ye! Who perchance behold this simple urn,

Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.

To mark a Friend’s remains these stones arise.

I never knew but one – and here he lies. “


In his will of 1811, Byron directed that he should be buried in the vault below the monument near to his dog, but his wish was not fulfilled.


Monday, 18 November 2013


The Maiden Stone

The Maiden Stone at Pitcaple near Inverurie in Scotland, of pink granite stands 10 feet tall and is one of the finest examples of a Pictish cross slab in Aberdeenshire. It dates from about the 9th century.  
The creation of the stone is subject of a local legend when The Maiden of Drumdurno made a wager with a stranger that she could bake a firlot of meal before he could build a road to the top of the local Benachie hill.  The stranger was the Devil and of course he finished the road before the bread was baked.  The maiden fled and as the Devil caught up with her she uttered a prayer to God.  At once she was turned to stone and the place where the Devil touched her shoulder is still marked by the cleft in the stone.


Sueno’s stone


This huge sandstone pictish cross slab stands on the eastern side of Forres in Scotland. Standing some 21 feet in height the stone has a Celtic cross on one side and a large battle scene on the other. Although the origin is uncertain, it may be that the stone commemorates the defeat of Malcolm 11 by Norse warriors led by Sueno in 1008.

Local legend says that it stands at the cross roads where Macbeth originally met with the three witches who were eventually imprisoned inside the stone.

The Eagle Stone

The Eagle Stone is a Pictish Symbol Stone which stands on a grassy hill in Nutwood Lane, overlooking the Scottish village of Strathpeffer in Easter Ross. Dating to the 7th century, the Clach an Tiompain or standing stone stands 32” high, 24” wide and 10” thick has two symbols carved on its face – an eagle (which gives the stone its name) and what may be a horse shoe or an arch. There are various legends about the stone but it is thought that it may have been used in marriage ceremonies or indeed may have commemorated a particular marriage. Originally the stone was sited lower down the valley and was moved to its present position in 1411 to commemorate a battle between the Munro’s and the MacDonald’s on the site of today’s village. Apparently this stone was the subject of a prophecy by Coinneach Odhar, known as the Brahan Seer,(see seperate pic), who, in the 17th century predicted that “ when the Eagle Stone falls three times, the waters will come so far that ships will be moored to the stone ”. It is said that the stone has been moved twice but is now firmly cemented in place.

The Eagle Stone

The Verbeia Altar
The iconic Verbeia Altar is a well weathered stone which is now finally preserved in the Old Manor House alongside the church at Ilkley, on the site of the Roman Fort of Olicana, an important crossing of the River Wharfe (Roman Trajectus). The altar bears a worn Roman inscription which translates to " To holy Verbeia, Clodius Fronto, Prefect of the 2nd Cohort of Ligones, dedicated this." It is thought that Verbeia was Godess of the River Wharfe. Legend has it that Clodius Fronto survived when he fell into the turbulent water at this deep ford in the river and dedicated this altar to the Godess.




The  Rudston  Monolith


Close to the east end of the parish church of All Saints at Rudston near Bridlington in East Yorkshire is Rudston Monolith  said to be the tallest of all Britain’s standing stones.  This huge, roughly cut, block of grit-stone, measures some 50 feet, with half of it above and half  below the ground, with a girth of some 16 feet.

So what is it doing at this location?  Local tradition says that the devil, angered by the building of a monument to his adversary, hurled this stone javelin at the church.  By divine intervention his aim was deflected and the stone landed in its present position deeply embedded in the ground.

On the other hand it may have been left there by glacial action, it certainly was not local but is thought to have originated several miles away on the coast at Cayton Bay near Scarborough.  Another theory is that it was erected by Bronze Age men for some ritualistic purpose, being later adapted by early Christians as a cross or ruud,  thus giving the village its name.

The Ruud Stone






The Barmby Wart Stone


Another curious standing stone can be seen opposite the church porch at Barmby Moor near Pocklington in East Yorkshire.  Just under five feet in height this stone is known locally as ‘The Wart Stone’.  Rain water sometimes gathers on the top of the stone and local legend has it that this water is a certain cure for warts.  Although very little is known about the stone, it would seem to be a prehistoric monolith, probably of some religious or Pagan significance.
The Wart Stone

The Long Stoop


The Long Stoop is a wayside marker stone alongside the roundabout at the entrance to Leeds & Bradford Airport at Yeadon, Leeds. An information plaque reads :

‘This marker stone (Long Stoop) erected hundreds of years ago to guide travellers towards an ancient settlement at Dene Head to the east, was moved from its earlier site 186 yards to the south west in the year 1984 for runway extensions.’
 The Long Stoop



Ralph  Cross


Many large stone crosses can be seen on the North York Moors where they were used as waymarkers over this once inhospitable area.  The 17th century  Ralph  Cross, which  is situated at the junction of ancient pathways on Blakey Ridge, has a hollow on top where money could be left for needy travellers.   It is now the symbol of the National Park.

Ralph Cross

The Drummer Boy

It has always been thought that there is an underground passage connecting Richmond Castle with Easby Abbey just one mile away on the Banks of the River Swale. The story goes that towards the end of the 18th century, soldiers at the castle found the entrance to the tunnel under the keep. It was so small that they had to use a small regimental drummer by to gain access. He was told to follow the tunnel, beating his drum as he went, to enable the soldiers to follow the route from above. Apparently the plan was successful in that the drum was clearly heard for half a mile in the direction of Easby Abbey, but then ceased and the drummer boy was never seen again. The supposed tunnel has never been found, but The Drummer Boy Stone marks the exact spot where the drumming was said to have ceased near to Easby Wood on the east bank of Swale.

 The Drummer Boy Stone


Petrified  stone

The Dropping Well at Knaresborough in North Yorkshire is a unique geological phenomenon.   Situated at the side of the River Nidd close to Mother Shipton’s cave. The cascading water drips from the overhanging edge of the well onto everyday porous objects, which over a period of time are turned to stone.   Items such as gloves, shoes, hats, teddy bears and the like are hung up for tourists to see them being petrified by the limestone content of the water.   Such items are usually on sale at the souvenir shop.

The Dropping Well
This is the Dropping Well adjacent to Old Mother Shipton's cave on the southwestern bank of the River Nidd in Knaresborough. This famous well petrifies (i.e. turns to stone) items that are hung underneath it. The calcite in the water being deposited on the suspended article in a surprisingly (and unusually) short time. The effect is particularly quick for porous objects (such as teddy bears) but considerably slower for such things as firemen's helmets, though even these will succumb eventually. The two hemispherical bumps higher up the fall were two hats left well over a hundred years ago - and never collected ! Various petrified examples are to be found in the little museum at the southern end of the park, mostly things left by famous people. Visitors used to be able to leave their own items to be petrified, but demand was such that this facility has had to be - er - suspended !

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Rob Farrow and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons
I am grateful to Rob Farrow for the use of his Geograph photograph and text.
© Copyright Chris Gunns and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
I am grateful to Chris Gunns for the use of his Geograph photograph.




A slate quarry

Delabole  slate  quarry  in Cornwall,  11/2 miles in circumference and 500 feet deep, is the largest man made hole in Britain.   Quarrying has been carried out here for some 600 years and once employed 500 men.
Delabole Quarry
The Falling Stone
On a Sunday in December 1795, a stone weighing 56 pounds fell from the atmosphere and hit the earth a few hundred yards from Wold Cottage just on the outskirts of the tiny Wolds village of Wold Newton in East Yorkshire. It caused an indenture about a yard across and 19 inches deep.
The meteorite is now preserved in the Natural History Museum in London.
A stone pillar marks the exact spot and an inscription tells the story:
Here on this spot
December 13th 1795, fell from the atmosphere
An extraordinary stone!
In breadth 28 inches. In length 30 inches.
And the weight of which was fifty-six pounds!
This column erected by
Edward Topham
1799 ’
The Falling Stone pillar
The Stone of Scone
The Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny or Coronation Stone, is an oblong block of red sandstone 26” x 16” x 10 1/2” with 2 iron rings on the top face for ease of transportation.  Historically it was kept at Scone Abbey near Perth in  Scotland and used for centuries as the coronation seat for Scottish Monarchs, certainly since the time of Kenneth McAlpin in 847.  Tradition has it that the stone was originally Jacob’s pillow stone and after being transported to Ireland, it was probably used as a travelling altar by St Columba before ending up at Scone.
In 1296, Edward 1 removed the stone to Westminster Abbey where it was fitted to St Edward’s coronation chair and used in coronations since that time.
In 1950, four Scottish students removed the stone and subsequently returned it to Scotland in a damaged condition.  It was repaired and in 1951 was traced the Arbroath Abbey in Scotland and returned to Westminster. 
In 1996, the British Government decided that the stone should be kept in Scotland when not required for coronations and it was transported to Edinburgh Castle where it is now on display with the rest of the Scottish regalia.
A replica of the stone is on display on Moot Hill at Scone Palace.
Proclamation stone

A well worn stone situated outside the Town Hall at Kendal in Cumbria known locally as the Ca Steean has been used to make proclamations for at least three centuries.     It was originally part of the old market cross.




Plague  stone's

In the 17th century fear of spreading the plague was very real and many precautions were taken to stop the spread of this horrific disease.  Quite often trades people would actually refuse to enter a  community where there was any suspicion of the plague being present, and would  leave goods on the outskirts.  Many places had a plaque stone near the boundary, which had a hollow on top containing vinegar.  Local people left money in the vinegar as payment for goods, to prevent any contamination.    A good example of such a stone can be seen on the eastern outskirts of Ackworth near Wakefield in West Yorkshire.

Ackworth plague stone 


Another one is preserved at the south east end of Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria. An inscription thereon reads : ‘Fear God Honor the King 1633.’

 Kirkby Lonsdale

A third stone is preserved in the entrance to Kirkstall Abbey Museum, Abbey Road. Leeds.  In the mid 17th century the Plague swept through Leeds killing a fifth of the population. This Plague Stone was originally sited in Chapeltown Road near to Reginald Terrace on the northern outskirts of the city and remained there until 1910.

The Sanctuary Cross
In the middles ages penalties for crime were very severe and people were executed for relatively minor offences, often without any fair trial. The right to sanctuary in the church was a sure way for fugitives to prove their innocence and many churches were granted sanctity rights. Some sanctuary towns had sanctuary crosses at their boundaries whilst many churches had a sanctuary ring on their door. Once the fugitive reached the sanctity of a particular church they were required to surrender any weapons and to swear an oath to the church. The fugitive could then remain in that sanctity for a set period of time during the church authorities would examine the case in an effort to resolve it. The right to sanctuary was curtailed by Henry V111 and was abolished completely by James 1.

The tiny City of Ripon was granted a charter in 886 by King Alfred the Great and became a sanctuary town known as The Liberty of Ripon. In the 13th century there were five Sanctuary Crosses around the town, each one placed just 1 mile from the cathedral. The last remaining of these crosses, Sharow Cross, can be seen at the junction of Sharow Lane and Dishforth Road in the village of Sharow just one mile from the cathedral, marking the southern limits of the sanctuary. This cross is now in the care of the National Trust. 




The Ell Stone


The Scottish ‘ell’ was a measurement equivelent to 37 inches. It was very important in the Scottish market place that this measurement was strictly adhered to and officials made every endeavour to ensure that it was. The Cathedral graveyard at Dornoch in Northern Scotland, once part of the market place, preserves a curious flat stone just 37” long which was formerly used for measuring cloth on sale in the market.





Boundary Stone


Although this stone is inscribed St Michael’s Well it is not over the well.
The northern boundary of Dornoch in Northern Scotland is at a point called St Michael’s Well but this stone does not mark the true boundary.
The stone was put in this position, a short distance north of the well, in 1832 by one George Gunn who was land factor to the Duke of Sutherland. Gunn had an ulterior motive for his action because a new law declared that only those living within 7 miles of the Burgh boundary could vote in the local elections. Unfortunately George’s home was at Rhives near Golspie just outside the 7 miles limit, so he had the stone hewn, inscribed and erected within the 7 miles and thus he retained his right to vote.  

 Dornoch boundary stone