Saturday evening saw the roads quieten off as everyone hunkered down to watch England in their first match at the South African World Cup. The constant background noise from the A1 disappeared as it only ever does on Christmas Day – England hoping for glory, 30 million people preparing for disappointment, which came when Robert Green fumbled his save from a half-hearted shot from Clint Dempsey of the USA. So England start with a 1 -1 draw and the heartache begins, yet we can still dream.
I went on a very short amble before the football to walk past the Devil’s Arrows in Boroughbridge. These are 3 large sandstone grit menhirs that comprise what was once a line or series of 4 or 5 megalithic structures from around 2000BC, which were mined from Plumpton Rocks by Knaresborough. In the 1560s, William Camden described “foure huge stones, of pyramidall forme, but very rudely wrought, set as it were in a straight and direct line… whereof one was lately pulled downe by some that hoped, though in vaine, to find treasure”.
While they have been called many names, they are now generally known as The Devil’s Arrows, as (so the story goes) the devil felt slighted by Aldborough a settlement near to Boroughbridge, so he flung these stones at Aldborough from How Hill, near Fountains Abbey outside of Ripon, but being a poor shot or a bit of a wimp, his arrows fell short. It is, also, claimed that you can raise the devil by walking around the stones 12 times in an anti-clockwise direction – who knows?
Three of the stones still stand close to the edge of Boroughbridge near housing and roads called Arrows Terrace, Arrows Crescent and Druids Meadow. The missing two are thought to include one in the grounds of Aldborough Manor and another in the structure of the bridge over the River Tutt within Boroughbridge itself.
Many theories abound as to their purpose, but I like them for their mystery and the fact that they are just plonked their inconspicuously in a field and by a house within Boroughbridge. History stretches back thousands of years in this region and will continue for thousands of years in the future, and we will toil on and survive whatever is thrown at the region by the devil or the Romans or Vikings or Kings and Queens of Northumbria or England or passed by ukase from London. Soon the actions and demands from Parliament in London will become lost in time, a mystery, but life here will continue undiminished, unaffected and timeless.
This is a very gentle walk. I parked my car opposite Charltons, the Renault car dealer, and then walked about 50 metres before turning left into Roecliffe Lane. Crossing over, you walk past modern housing that fills the space between Horsefair and the Devil’s Arrow fields. At the brow of the small hill, you cross over to the largest arrow that stands 6.9 metres high (22 feet 6 inches) beside the road. I like to touch the stone and feel if there is any power that emanates from it, but it never does as that’s just New Age garbage; I do the same with trees and similarly feel nothing unlike the tree-hugging Fins who think that it centres their souls.
This megalith soars upwards, and you can see the grooves that are perhaps relics from when the local tribes cut and dragged the stones to here, and you look up to the trees and the sky, seeing the awesome space that stretches above us towards infinity; frightening, so I return to earth and contemplate the understandable.
I crossed the road and before following the footpath down to John Boddy’s Timber, I walked around the wheat field to the other 2 standing stones – one of these is stranded in a sea of short wheat stalks, while the squatter final stone is in the grasy verge. This one is a bit squatter and also has the grooves that you could see on the first larger stone. It’s a decent view back along the three stones. Now you walk back, then take a small ginnel into the housing area. Here I paused and watched a thrush and a tiny wren jumping about in the hedgrow and singing out their songs to anyone who wanted to hear, but there was no-one but me.
You are in a housing estate with pretty, neat little bungalows made from red brick and tidy gardens of all shapes and sizes and styles. This is Druids Meadow that stretches from Roecliffe Lane to Valuation Lane. Valuation Lane runs alongside John Boddy Timber where you can get all sorts of fancy woods that have been used to refurbish Windsor Castle and York Minster, for example.
As you get to the end of Valuation Lane, turn right back up Horsefair and passing the Methodist Chapel and St Helena to get back to the car. Horsefair was originally the Great North Road and was a busy staging post and postal area, plus the area of the traditional June horse fair, the Barnaby Fair, where there was a fortnight of horse-trading followed by three days of cattle, sheep and hardware trading plus time for pleasure.