By Ronnie Bray
Although I live only an hour and a half away from Brimham Rocks, I have been there only twice. Once with a group of energetic and enthusiastic Primary children, the second time with the third year set of the Department of Theology at Leeds University.
If I were to say that the area is a magical place, I would be doing so outside the meaning of sorcery and witchcraft, but rather of the enchantment of its unique setting and extraordinarily rugged beauty. In Philistinic terms it is nothing but a heap of old rocks on a broad stretch of scrubby wasteland.
But to the poet’s eye their craggy grandeur tells of man’s struggle against a hostile environment, and the triumph of the human spirit over the disadvantages of his native ground. Land that will break ploughshares and will not support cattle will feed sheep and make wool for the textile mills, and sheep still roam the place devouring the scrubby growth that looks unappealing to city folk, but means survival for rustic shepherds and their families.
My visits there were very different in character. The first with the children was a scene of wild rioting, such as they have probably not witnessed since William the Conqueror took exception to something a Yorkshire man said, probably about Yorkshiremen being independent and needing no kings but themselves. William’s response was not well thought out, more a matter of raw emotion, and that emotion was anger. He brought his troops to God’s Country and decimated the population, and settled sheep in their places. Their descendants still munch the same scrub as did their immigrant forefathers a thousand years ago.
We adults, parent and leaders, remained at ground level but the children took to the rocks as if they had been mountain goats. Fear is natural but these unnatural but lovely youngsters had no fear of the heights they scaled, and seemed blithely indifferent to any prospect of falling and dashing themselves on the stony ground.
It was a wild time, and had not our God been a God of miracles, some injuries, possibly even a fatality, could easily have ensued. But whatever special arrangements are made in heaven for the robust activities of children that guards them against reaping the rewards of foolhardiness were in place and highly effective on and around our piece of earth that day.
Despite out anxious pleas, the little ones took full control of the freedoms that place proffered. Whether such liberties were formed into the rocks themselves or sprung up from the ancient soil, I will not speculate. But, on this occasion, emancipation was much in evidence in our usually compliant charges, and I am pleased to report that no one so much as scraped a knee or grazed an elbow, and that was a miracle.
The second visit was a picnic founded and supplied by Alastair Mason, who was admissions tutor in the department, and who provided variety of theological seminars for our set. Alastair is a thoroughly nice man, able, scholastic, thoughtful, helpful, learned, and a Master of Scottish Dancing.
Our picnic was a get-to-know-you jaunt to the Rocks, although as we had been together for almost three years we knew each other quite well. Still, it was a change from our being in lectures or in the common room discussing various aspects of theology and religious studies. It was one of those perfect days made more perfect by the company of good friends and sunshine.
We basked in a nest of rocks high in the formation, enjoying the good weather and conversations between the like minded and the not so like minded. Alastair opened the picnic hamper. It was a veritable feast that would have been proud to call itself one of Fortnum and Mason’s best hampers. Exotic breads and cheese biscuits, butter, patés, and a seemingly endless supply of different cheeses from soft to jawbreaking, fruit, and bottles of wine.
Although one might think long and hard about drinking wine before having to descend the difficult formations that composed our tower in the sky, we all reached flat ground safely. We took away from our time up there a greater sense of appreciation for each other as friends and scholars. It was one of those times that live long and pleasantly in memory.
The old rocks have seen much of life, and are associated with much folklore, and are thought to have been places where ancients worshipped pagan gods in the spring of time. Some believe them to have been carved into their odd shapes by Druids, although their weathering is entirely natural.
One stone has a hole into which the fingers of your right hand are inserted and a wish made. Other tales say that the hole was once a Druid’s oracle. At one time, there was a rocking stone here that, it was told, could be rocked only by the hand of an honest man.
The Rocks at Brimham in Nidderdale are scattered across fifty acres of Brimham Moor and exhibit a broad assortment of weird and wonderful forms. Some look like bears, elephants, hippopotami, mushrooms, and some, it is said, are connected not only with Druids, but also with that curious lady, Mother Shipton, and even with his satanic majesty, Lucifer.
Less daunting is a rock formation called The Lover's Rocks. These are called so after two eloping lovers who were fleeing the disapproval and fury of the maiden’s father. He chased them until they came to this rock, where the girl vowed she would jump to her death than be separated from her true love. Her father was not moved, and so hand in hand the forlorn pair jumped from the rock to die together because they were not allowed to live together.
The father then witnessed the unhappy pair being lifted into the air by unseen hands, and set down gently without suffering harm. This convinced the father that their love was true and foreordained, so he withdrew his objections and welcomed the lad into his family. Ever since, that place has been called Lover's Rock.
Such enchantment still haunts the place, whether it is a company of dishevelled angels scrimming up and down their vast stones, a group of more sober adults discussing angels and related subjects, or those who are young and in love go to promise eternal love and fidelity.
Some places are special because of what they are, or because of where they are, or because of what happened there, and Brimham Rocks scores high in all three categories.
Copyright © 2007 – Ronnie Bray
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Those unfamiliar with Brimham Rocks can see some of the amazing formations at: http://www.yorkshire-dales.com/brimham-rocks-views.html