Our nest stop was the tiny village of Foxholes which according to the map in the TMA, the source of the stream is. My companion entertained us with stories of his youth on the way there. He entertained us with recollections of boredom, staying in the village whilst on holiday as a youth. The highlight of his time being a trip to the now non-existant mushroom farm. Indeed there isn't much of Foxholes at all apart from the supposed source of the Gypsey Race that is.
Alas even this boast is not entirely true. The race merely disappears underground at the village only to re-appear along the road to Weaverthorpe a couple of miles down the road. There is much more to the complex of the Gypsey Race than meets the eye, namely Duggleby Howe one of the largest neolithic barrows ever found in Britain. It is the Howe that really marks the start of the ceremonial centre of the Gypsey Race for its true source is only a short distance away in a thicket on the outskirts of the tiny village of Wharram Le Street which in turn lies next to the ancient and abandoned village of Wharram Percy.
Of all the neolithic centres in Britain, one that has always held a special interest to me is the area built up around the Gypsey Race stream. Not least because the last place you expect to see a centre such as this is on my doorstep in the East Yorkshire wolds.
The name of the Gypsey Race also has certain romantic connotations. In the TMA Julian was told by a Bridlington book seller that the name of the river was such because it 'wandered around all over'. Whilst it does indeed meander all through this area, that is not really the reasoning behind the name.
A Gypsey river or stream is simply one which flows overland in certain parts and underground in others. At times of high rainfall the underground water levels from which the Gypsey survives breaks out overland and sometimes within a couple of hours a previously dry riverbed can become a raging torrent.
During the research for my trip to I'd come across lots of references to egends about the Race foretelling doom when in full flow. More references told me that the Race was only actually in full flow every two years or so.
I would suggest that to the Neolthic peoples who built there monuments around this river, this place was made ever more important because of the nature of the Gypsey. How amazing it must have been for the river to be suddenly dry and then because the underground water levels were full suddenly become a torrent. For a people who seemed to place great emphasis on nature and the 'Goddess' this life giving flow must have been a sight truly amazing to them. I don't see this river as being an omen for doom, rather a giver of life to be celebrated and not vilified.
A correspondent of the London "Daily Mail" gives some particulars of a mysterious East Riding stream which comes and goes like a will-o'-the-wisp and the appearance of which superstitious folk regard as the harbinger of evil, and which is just now almost the sole topic of conversation in the villages and hamlets among the wolds and dales of North-East Yorkshire.
To solve the mystery of the "Gypsey Race," as the strange waters are called, has been the ambition of many modern scientists. Little, however, has yet been discovered to account for its eccentricities. Almost as suddenly as they came, some six weeks ago, the waters will shortly disappear, and may not be seen again for years. Only five or six times during the last twenty-one years has this brook run its eerie course. Its source of origin is a hidden mystery. The strange workings of Nature, however, appeal to the curiosity and imagination of the Yorkshire wold-dweller.
Day by day young and old watch the stream running its twenty-mile course of hide and seek among the chalk to the sea at Bridlington. Astonishment is often mingled with awe, for according to tradition dire disasters follow in the wake of the brook, and which in consequence bears the sinister title of "The waters of woe." Superstitions die hard, and in these out-of-the-way wolds people are still to be found whom it is difficult to dissuade that the running of a stream fed by an intermittent spring is not in some way associated with the supernatural.
I have tried hard, however, to find someone who can give personal testimony in support of the theory that the appearance of the mysterious waters is a prognostication of trouble. With the exception of some heavy floods in the winter of 1860 and a great storm at sea in 1880, no one can remember that the coming of the stream has been attended by any particular local woe. The legend seems to be founded on incidents belonging to a very distant past.
The "gipsey," it is said, appeared just before the great plague, before the restoration of Charles II., and a few weeks prior to the landing of the Prince of Orange. Its appearance in 1795 is also reported to have synchronised with the descent of a huge meteorite in the village of Wold Newton.
The mysterious stream meanders through this quaint little village, some of the inhabitants of which have not yet ceased to talk of the "bolt from the sky" and its supposed affinity with the "woe-waters" of the wold. Originating from an intermittent spring which bursts through the chalk strata to the east of the village of Wharram-le-street the gipsey stream performs at times so many queer pranks that its vagaries may have given rise to some of the superstitions associated with its appearance.
For instance, the waters may be running strangely at one end of a field and the other end of the bed of the stream be quite dry. On one occasion the stream literally passed through some cottages at Kirby Grindalythe, the water forcing its way through the ground floors and only being released by artificial means. At times trout have been seen in the mystic brook.
Some authorities declare that the stream derives its origin from the Greek word Gupos (chalk), while others aver that it means the same as the ordinary gipsey wanderer. Only once during the last fourteen years have the limpid waters of this strange rivulet run as strongly as they have during the last few days. There are already indications, however, that the waters are about to ebb. Soon the stream will have entirely disappeared and children will again play in its dry and erstwhile channel. The waters, however, will not be forgotten, and not a few old folk will quietly, but anxiously, wait to see whether the gipsy's warning of 1910 of "battle, plague, and famine" come true or not. - Y.H. April 5th, 1910.
Excellent, it turns out the Gypsey Race is a republican.
This piece from the Yorkshire Herald is collected in County Folklore v6, the East Riding of Yorkshire, edited by Mrs Gutch (1912).
The word is not pronounced the same as gipsy, a fortuneteller; the g, in this case, being sounded hard, as in gimblet.
The Gypseys are streams of water which burst through the unbroken ground in various parts of the Wolds, during the latter part of winter and the early part of spring, and at other periods after heavy rains, sometimes so copious as to fill a drain called the Gypsey-race, 12 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. The Gypseys sometimes flow during two or three months and then totally cease, leaving scarcely a mark to distinguish the place from which the water issued.
Hone, in his Table Book, tells us that the young people of North Burton had a custom in former times (in accordance, probably, with some traditionary custom of the Druids) of "going out to meet the Gypsey," on her rise from the Wolds.
p492 of 'History and topography of the city of York.. and the East Riding..' by J J Sheahan and T Whellan. (v2, 1856).
It is worthy of notice, that the Gipsies were known so early as the reign of king Stephen, when they presented the same phenomena as they do now, and even passed by the same name. William of Newburgh, in recording the events of that monarch's reign, makes mention of the Gipsies; which he describes as rising at intervals of some years, and forming, when they did rise, a considerable torrent. And he observes, that it was a good omen when they were dry, for their flowing was deemed a sure prognostication of an approaching famine.
p32 of 'A Geological Survey of the Yorkshire Coast' by George Young (1828). There's lots of information about the course of the Gipseys here, and you can read it online at Google Books.
The Gypsey Race is the only surface stream on the 'High Wolds' of Yorkshire. There are a number of 'Gypsies' in the region - they are streams that only flow with water intermittently and irregularly. They are associated with divination and are supposed to flow particularly vigorously before major events. These are often unhappy ones, and the streams are also known as 'Woe Waters'.
The earthwork remains of a bowl barrow, located in the southern corner of Sands Wood. The barrow is sited on the north side of a ridge on gently sloping ground. It survives as a well rounded mound 20 metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high, surrounded by the slight impression of a broad and largely infilled ditch. The berm between the outer edge of the cenral mound and the inner lip of the encircling ditch is gently sloping, but obviously not as steep as the sides of the central mound, and is slightly elongated north to south. The form of the berm is considered to be the result of weathering of the mound and ditch sides. The mound, ditch and encircling berm together comprise an area of roughly 30 metres in diameter. Scheduled.
Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age standing stone in churchyard, with modern cap of metal, and suggested cup and ring markings. The stone is approximately 8 metres high, 1.75 metres wide and 1 metre thick, the stone tapers to a point which at some point has been broken and repaired with a lead hood. Excavations in the 18th century suggested the monument extends as deep below the ground as it stands above. The monolith is of gritstone, the nearest source of which is 10-20 miles away. It is unclear whether it was brought to the site in the Neolithic/Bronze Age or arrived much earlier in a glacier flow. It has been suggested that the stone marks the convergence of the Rudston cursus monuments. Cursus A passes to the east of the monolith and cursus C passes to the north, where they converge. The terminus of cursus B is probably on the spur of land on which the monolith stands, but this is concealed by the village. Cursus D runs along the valley floor below the monolith. There is no dating evidence to suggest which came first, but if the monolith is of Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date it almost certainly post-dates the cursuses.
Round barrow, now just a slight rise. The barrow was excavated in 1864 by Greenwell and a rescue excavation was carried out in 1968 by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works as the monument was being destroyed by ploughing. It is probably that the primary burials were destroyed when a burial pit was cut through the mound, the pit contained two cists, one with inhumations and a beaker, the other a cremation and beaker. The 1968 excavations revealed Neolithic pottery and flints on the old ground surface beneath the north-east quadrant of the mound. The secondary burials from the central pit were removed in the 19th century, however the 1968 excavations revealed three more secondary burials. The first was a crouched inhumation, on its right side with its head towards the centre of the mound, without any grave goods and was found 6 metres east of the centre within the area of the turf mound. The second was on the north-east edge of the central pit. It was a crouched inhumation without any grave goods, partly on its right side with the head slumped forward on to the chest, it was in a shallow pit just below the level of the pre-barrow turf. The third burial had been cut through the chalk capping of the barrow. It was also a crouched inhumation without any grave goods, the body had been place partly on its back with its knees drawn up to the right side and hands crossed on the chest. The barrow was surrounded by a wide ditch cut into the chalk.
A Bronze Age round barrow still extant as an earthwork mound circa 32 metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high. In the 1870s Greenwell described it as "almost entirely removed many years ago, when bones are said to have been found in large quantities". There is documentary evidence for re-use of the mound as a beacon, possibly as early as 1573 if not before. More recently the mound has been damaged by the presence of an Air Ministry observation point and the erection of an Ordnance Survey trig point. (TA 09466558) Rudston Beacon (NR) (1)
(TA 09466558) Rudston Beacon; described by Greenwell (2) as "almost entirely removed many years ago, when bones are said to have been found in large quantities". In 1963 (3) it survived as a mound, 19.8m diameter, 0.76 high, overgrown with brambles and bushes, and damaged by an Air Ministry observation post on the summit adjacent to an OS trig point. (2-3)
"There were beacons in 1573 at 'Many Howes in Rudston Field', presumably on the hill by the southern parish boundary, near several barrows, on which a later beacon certainly stood". (a) The later beacon was probably taken down circa 1830 (b). (4) Now cleared of vegetation and visible as the remains of a turf-covered mound about 32m diameter and 1.5m in maximum height. It has been severely mutilated in the S (presumably by the observation post mentioned) where the interior has been removed almost to ground level. The OS, pillar occupies the highest part of the barrow in the NW. Published Survey (25") Revised. (5) TA 095 655. Rudston Beacon (and round barrows to east). Scheduled No HU/68. (6)
A round barrow still extant as a substantial earthwork. It was excavated in the later 19th century by Greenwell, who described it as a mound 100 feet in diameter and 9 feet high and "formed entirely of chalk, with the exception of a layer of dark fatty earth which rested on the natural surface" and was 1 to 2.5 feet thick. It was thickest towards the centre, and extended across the whole of the area covered by the mound. It contained much burnt earth and charcoal, as well as numerous animal bones, potsherds and flints. The mound included or covered the remains of at least 23 interments. The only ones beneath the mound were a child and the remains of a young female in a wood-lined hollow in the natural surface roughly 7 feet north-northeast of the centre. Greenwell regarded this as the primary interment. All the other interments were within the mound, and were predominantly crouched or incomplete inhumations of Early Bronze Age date, associated items included whole or fragmentary Beakers and Food Vessels. A group of 5 male inhumations, at least 3 of which were extended, may have been of Anglo-Saxon date although this is incapable of proof. The date of the suggested primary interment and of the barrow's construction is unclear. Beaker and Food Vessel inhumations are clearly secondary, while leaf arrowheads are among the sizeable collection of material recovered from the mound.
Approximate site of two long barrows, one with a possible round barrow at the western end, recorded by Greenwell circa 1870 (see TA 16 NW 70 for the second barrow). The principle mound was aligned east-west, with either of the two extremities being of a greater elevation than the middle part. The mound was 137 ft long with a mean breadth of 40ft, the west end was 4.5ft high and the east 5ft. The long barrow contined numerous animal bones, flint chippings, charcoal and sherds of plain, dark-coloured pottery throughout the whole of its length but pricipally at the level of the old ground surface. At the west end and below the centre of the round barow was the body of a young adult women. The inhumation was 2ft above the level of the natural surface and just in front of the right tibia was a "drinking cup". At a level 6" higher (the head lying above the womans knees) were the remains of a child aged about 8 or 9. Immediately above the head was a flint knife 1.75" long. Underneath the woman, at the level of the natural surface, was a wooden beam which covered a grave which was 7ft long, 4.5ft wide and 2ft deep. This grave contained the body of an adult of uncertain sex, behind the head was a "drinking cup" , three flint scrapers and some chippings were also found in the grave. Just beyond the feet of this inhumation were the remains of a young woman which had been distrubed and relaid. They had been placed in a heap with the skull on top of the other bones. The mound also contained the remains of a male of large stature, a child and a single piece of burnt bone.
The approximate site of the second of two long barrows recorded by Greenwell circa 1870 (see TA 16 NW 4 for further details). The mound was 190ft long by 50ft wide and 4ft high. No burials were found when the barrow was excavated, although flint chippings, charcoal and fragments of pottery occured in several places.
The Rudston cursus group consists of four cursuses stretching along the bottom and sides of the Great Wold Valley. At least one end of each of the monument are to be found on the elevated chalk ridges which surround Rudston. The valley contains the Gypsey Race, one of the rare streams across the chalklands, and two of the cursuses (A and C) cross this stream. The Rudston group contains an unparalleled concentration of cursus monuments. Cursus A is the southern most of the group. The southern end of the cursus survives as an earthwork and the remainder is visible on air photographs as two parallel ditches. The cursus is 2700 metres long by circa 58 metres, it tapers to 41 metres at the south terminal. Cursus A is the only one of the group where both ends are visible, both of the terminals are square in plan. The earthwork was excavated in the mid 19th century by Greenwell and showed what appeared to be a round barrow raised upon the surface of a long mound. This excavation produced six burials (two with Beakers), only one of which Greenwell considered to be primary, and a considerable amount of pottery. These burials were inserted into the south end of the cursus monument in the early bronze age. Greenwell also found sherds of earlier Neolithic pottery, along with worked flint and animal bones on the ground surface beneath the bank of the cursus. A second excavation across the west ditch in 1958 recovered 24 small pieces of Beaker pottery from the bottom 18 inches of the ditch fill, excluding the primary fill, and 4 larger pieces from the primary fill. There is evidence to suggest that the ditch was recut at this point explaining the presence of the later pottery.