Second time lucky I managed to find this place, no mean feat as it is not listed on the OS map. From White Wells we took the path leading upwards towards the crags. The path breaks into two and the left hand one should be followed. This takes you through a small rock laden valley known as rocky bottom which runs parrallel with the overhanging crags. Once out of the valley another intersection of the path appears, take the left route and head down towards the stream which is known as Backstone Beck. Instead of crossing the stream, turn right and follow the path along it. After around half a kilometre you will come to a very distinct cup and ring marked rock slap bang in the middle of the path. A little further on over the beck on the left hand side you can see the remains of an ancient enclosure. To the right about 50 yards across the heather can be seen what looks like the remains of an old sheep pen. It is here, within these walls that the circle can be found.
A sight for sore eyes indeed. There is debate as to its authenticity and indeed it is unusual in its setting. Why would a circle be enlosed by a sheep pen? But after hearing stories of this mysterious circle, only recently discovered on the moor, an antiquarian trip to the moor could not be complete without attempting to find this place. Especially as by following the route given above the weary traveller could continue along the same path towards the much more famous Twelve Apostles situated much higher and further into the moor.
This is a very peculiar site. I'd walked past it a few times before and thought, "gate posts". As previously described, a partially ruined circle enclosed in drystone walling (possibly a Victorian sheep fold). I really can't decide if this site is genuinely prehistoric or not.
The long sedge grass and walling makes the site quite difficult to evaluate but from what I could find it seems like there could be a double circle with a central standing stone. However, just when you think you've worked it out, you find something that bucks the plan!
The inner circle stones are quite low and in some instances, very square cut. Giving the impression of having been quarried and dressed rather than composed of land-strewn boulders. There is little evidence of weathering on the stones as at the nearby Twelve Apostles circle.
The three larger stones at the back (north west) of the circle are set in a triangle. Two of the stones could possibly form a section of an outer circle, but the third stone appears to be supported by stones similar to those in the drystone walling. One other stone wasn't even set in the earth, but sat on it's broad base. The tallest stone appears that have what looks like a figure 8 set on it's side carved near the top of the stone. This doesn't appear to have been pecked with stone tools and shows little sign of weathering.
On the southern side of the walling is what could possibly be a ditch and bank, or could equally (or more likely) be a watercourse. This does not surround the site and if the circles were completed to their full circumference, they would cut across the feature.
On the plus side, it commands a wide view over the settlement areas of Backstone Beck and Green Crag. The pointed Idol Rock is clearly visible to the eastern horizon on what could possibly be a Samhien alignment and there would have been good views of sunrises throughout the year, over the cairnfields to the east. Paul Bennett also mentions a fallen monolith to the south at Gill Head (which I didn't manage to find). He also points out that the Backstone Beck site forms the north western corner of a perfect isosceles triangle with the Twelve Apostles and the Grubstones, with the Lanshaw Lass boundary stone set in the centre of the longest side.
On the question of the Backstone Circle being genuinely prehistoric or not, my inclination is to suspect it as a Victorian Folly. First references to a 'lost circle beyond White Wells' come from around this period. However, it is possible that it was constructed on the site of an older monument. Also, medieval masons are known to have erected and moved standing stones around the moor over more recent centuries (Walter Hawksworth of the 14th C in particular) and used the Grubstones and Twelve Apostles for their moots.
I wouldn't say that I'd rule out the possibility of this being a genuine prehistoric site, but my gut feeling is that what is to be seen there today isn't entirely prehistoric in origin. The only way to be sure of it's origins and history is for a full excavation at the site. In the meantime, it's still a very pleasant spot to visit, so go and make your own mind up.
Having read Paul Bennett's book, I made a trip up there last April.
This charming, tumbledown, overgrown circle, camaflouged by newer dry-stone walls takes some finding, but it's certainly worth the effort!
It's perched on the flanks of the Backstone Beck valley. I must've walked near it dozens of times over the years and never noticed it. Maybe it's because it's hidden amongst more recent constructions, or maybe it's only noticed if you're actually intent on finding it! The stones nestle into the moorland vegetation, partially obscured by great tussocks of sedge. To me, the attendant man-made remains don't seem to detract from the peaceful sanctity of the place.
As can be seen from the lush vegetation in the pictures, parts of this site are very damp. This is due to an underground stream running close under the earth.
Geological fault lines surround the circle on three sides. Compass and temperature readings can exhibit wild fluctuations! Apparently, tests in the late eighties recorded a difference in temperature between stones inside and outside the circle at certain times of ten degrees Fahrenheit!
I visited again in late June and noticed a 6-foot long stone, laid on it's side in the bottom of the quarry behind the circle. Probabley nothing, though a flight of fancy had me thinking of 'recumbent menhirs'!
Traces of green candle-wax graced the stone, indicating pretty recent activity!
We also thought we could hear water and have since found that a well lies there, only usually apparent after heavy rains.
This is a crazy place and almost defies interpretation - we had a go anyway!
What puzzles me is, why did the folk who built the structures around these stones not remove them? they must have hindered them.
There is a possible ditch and embankment.
Stu and I came up with the following possiblilities;
A complete fake
Stones that were placed there when the structure was built and served some sort of pratical purpose.
A robbed cairn with part of the kerb still in situ
A horse shoe with central stone.
A circle - we found two different possible routes for the circle.
The site appears to be on a similar contour and looks across the valley to the Backstone Beck enclosure.
I’m still not convinced about this site, but I thought I’d give it another look. Just to the northwest of a track that runs along the west of Backstone Beck and jumbled in amongst drystone walling I counted 9 upright slender slabs that looked more like the kind of thing you buy from a garden centre to create a stone circle in your garden. Having just got hold of a copy of Paul Bennett’s “Circles, Standing Stones and Legendary Rocks of West Yorkshire” he seems pretty sure that it is in fact a double circle with embankment but points out that the overgrown nature of the site and the walling make an accurate determination of it difficult – well I won’t argue with that! He also mentions the isosceles triangle formed by Backstone, The Twelve Apostles and The Grubstones as well as proposing an alignment between The Swastika Stone, Backstone and the Idol Stone (which I haven’t had chance to check out yet), the remains of a possible stone maze and a fallen monolith – I’ll be having a root around for those next time.
This one is a bit of a mystery. Julian mentions it, as do several other sources but they give no details, while Burl ignores it and I have never seen any pictures of it or any solid information about it. While I was at the Badger Stone chatting to a knowledgeable local I asked him about this site – his opinion was that it is a fake, the stones having been placed there recently by persons unknown and as this particular area was formerly mined for rock there would have been plenty of stones lying about for them to choose from. The situation is also confused by the remains of some kind of (recent?) settlement building that seems to cut right through the circle, as well as the whole site being very overgrown.
" The walling is about one hundred years old and has been used for sheepfolding in living memory. At the back, however, are the remains of a rectangular building which was probably a dynamite store for the small quarry behind the fold. The tall, pointed stone and outlying smaller standing stones are thought to have prehistoric origins but a full excavation would be necessary to substantiate this".
from "Find The Past on Ilkley Moor"
A booklet published by Bradford Metropolitan Council
available from the Cow & Calf Tea kiosk