The Rocking Stone
Words & pictures by Nick Small.
I had a Great Uncle, a poet and painter, who requested that his ashes be scattered about a spot on Warley Moor near Halifax known as The Rocking Stone. He and his siblings played there in childhood and it would later inspire his art…as it would also inspire the likes of Ted Hughes.
I know the moors in the area pretty well but had never happened upon this collection of stones. There are very few mentions of them on-line (save a note somewhere that they no longer rock) and I only managed to find them marked on the largest scale map of the area. I was pleased to discover that they lay in the vicinity of Too To Hill, Fill Belly Flat, Old Fly Delph, Rough Nook, Sleepy Lowe Flat and Slade.
The lad and I decided to go and find these mystical stones. We approached from the West, taking a path from the old Castle Carr gatehouse in Luddenden Dean. Negotiating peat bogs saturated by a winter’s rainfall we crested the brow of Warley Moor to see a long ridge of exposed boulders.
This scar of crumbling gritstone is the exposed shoulder of what was once a sea bed, now thrust over a thousand feet up into the teeth of Pennine weather. Slowly, that weather is niggling away at the rocks, drawing them out of their peaty sheath so they might fall randomly about in the tough moorland grass.
We happened upon a flat stone, resting on one more rounded in shape. Could this be the rocking stone? If so, we were a little underwhelmed. However, as winter skies played with the weak rays of late afternoon sun, we were both taken by the wild drama of the landscape. It’s a strange place: mean and beautiful in equal measure.
Getting our bearings we followed a hunch and trudged north amongst the strewn boulders, striding away from the marked footpath. Within a minute or two, the skyline was interrupted by the irregular lines of seemingly sculpted megaliths. These were on an altogether more impressive scale than our first “rocking stone”. The lad ran ahead to clamber over their organic forms yelling “this is it” into the wind.
Here the gritstone sits upon a layer of much softer mudstone which appears to be laid down in wafer thin and fragile layers. The elements have clearly been making shorter work of this medium than the tougher gritstone which it supports…..or doesn’t entirely support, as the case may be. The result is a series of precariously perched boulders above rapidly (in geological time at least) eroding pillars and plinths. In one place the wind and rain have wrapped themselves right around the back of a pillar, like an ultra-slow motion breaking wave, carving out a cave (which is refreshingly free of uric stench).
The tops of the stones have also been eroded as though by a raging torrent which, in a sense they have….just a very slow one of rain, hurled by Pennine gales over centuries.
Looking west from the top of the stones is as bleakly beautiful a moorland landscape as you could wish for. It may seem a hostile place for man to wander, especially given the overwhelming evidence of nature’s work, but for those of us who love these uplands, we only need to close our eyes to be transported to a summer’s day, laying to bake on top of the flat dry rocks, whilst the skylarks, pee-wits, pippits and curlews make their music on a more benign breeze.