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The Devil's Arrows

Standing Stones

<b>The Devil's Arrows</b>Posted by fitzcoraldoImage © fitzcoraldo
Also known as:
  • The Three Greyhounds
  • The Three Sisters
  • The Devil's Bolts

Nearest Town:Ripon (10km WNW)
OS Ref (GB):   SE391665 / Sheet: 99
Latitude:54° 5' 33.49" N
Longitude:   1° 24' 7.62" W

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A year ago I spent a fruitless hour in the gloaming driving up and down trying to find these giants and felt quite embarrassed by that failure...then a visit to these parts was an extreme rarity, but now, my life unexpectedly changed, I drive up and down the A1 by them several times a week ...funny old world. After finally spotting one recently after several attempts at rubbernecking while driving south to work, an opportunity to finally visit was not to be missed. For those without OS or GPS, all you have to do is turn on to the Roecliffe road in Boroughbridge and park where the new housing on the right side of the road ends. The southernmost stone, behind a gate with a blue plaque inset into a stone in front of it, will be in your left, while the other two can be seen over the hedge on the right side of the road. An ungated field entrance provides ready access. The field they are in was planted with beet when I visited, this being protected by a electric fence. Hi ho...however a walk round the field edge was still possible. Then, thankfully, a section of fence which had dropped to a height which would not cause injury to my most precious possessions and the realisation that the crop around the perimeter had been damaged beyond saleability spurred me to cross and inspect the beasts basking in the late afternoon sun at close quarters. OK, not Rudston, but still, standing next to one and cast your eyes upwards is a hugely impressive there are cupmarks aplenty. The traffic noise from the A1 and the presence of new housing nearby cannot marr what still remains a must see site. Go if you can. spencer Posted by spencer
13th February 2018ce

Visited 24.9.10
Despite being so big (the stones are massive) I did have a bit of difficulty locating them and had to rely on asking locals for directions. When I did eventually reach the stones it was a case of 'WOW' – the tallest stone near the road is much bigger than I expected, it is truly huge.
It is hard to put into words the effect it has on you when you get up close. Its size reminded me a bit of the Piper standing stones in Corwall.
The other two stones, still large but not as tall, are in the opposite field which had recently been ploughed so I settled for a view from the road to avoid getting caked in mud. This is one of those 'must see' sites.
Truly impressive and worth travelling far to see.
Posted by CARL
5th October 2010ce

There can't be a more impressive sight at nine o'clock in the morning as these massive erections! We stopped to admire the sheer unimaginable bulk of the single obelisk next to the road, rudely caged up behind a fence doing it's damnest to out-tall the trees surrounding it. It must've been 25 feet tall - a real neolithic skyscraper. We wondered how deep the root of the stone was and settled on between six and 10 feet UNDER ground. This is one big mother! And if that is not enough, cross the lane and you see two more! The sun broke through as these two of the three magnificent menhirs of an alignment of perhaps five stones jutted out of a field of bright yellow corn, today with added interest as somebody/rutting deer/aliens/weird vortex/UFO/drunken pranksters (delete as applicable) had created a wonderful corn circle. I couldn't make out the pattern precisely as I had no vantage point from which to gain height.

As the traffic swishes past on the A1(M), just 50 metres away, it's great metal gantries and signs looming over the scene, you realise that the route of the A1(M) is probably as old as these stones themselves and it's precisely why they were placed here.
Jane Posted by Jane
4th August 2003ce
Edited 4th August 2003ce

Typical of the North Yokshire ancient monuments, the Council has chosen to ignore that they exist and build a motorway next door. Sorry to be political, but North Yorkshire is the county of destroyed ancient monuments, a trend our current council seems content to continue.

The Arrows sit close to place where the Ure changes it's name to the Ouse. Julian mentions the Ure as the River of the Goddess Ur.
Posted by BrigantesNation
31st July 2003ce
Edited 31st July 2003ce

This is the megalithic section of the Ure Swale Landscape, this bit was built by folk from the moors, 'stone people' as their contribution the sacred landscape...
"we'll 'ave nun o' yer fangled swaimish henges,
Tell ye what tho' I can get thee some reet lovely geet big stanes.
Did thee see that job I did at Rudston?"

For me these rude fellas are a gatepost to the North Yorks moors. They stand beside the 'Great North Road' and beside the two main routes onto the moorland plateau.

I think I may have cup-mark fever, is it me or..........

No rampant badgers today, But the new housing developments seem to be gradually stalking the site!
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
18th May 2003ce

Just off the A1, had to stop as I passed!

These stones are huge spikes - *very* tall and impressive.

One is captive in a small fenced area (what has it done to deserve that?)
Over the other side of the road are the other two, which today were in a newly-sown field so couldn't get closer.

pebblesfromheaven Posted by pebblesfromheaven
12th March 2003ce
Edited 12th March 2003ce

The field containing the two large stones has been densely planted with some sort of crop and I found it impossible to get to them. Even from a distance, though, they are an awesome sight and well worth a visit. Posted by fritx
4th June 2002ce

My first time seeing these three fantastic stones. The largest stone lies behind a locked gate on a busy road which is way too conspicuous to just leap over, so it's best to be content viewing this one from a short distance. The other two stones are accesible and cannot fail to impress with their immense size. IronMan Posted by IronMan
2nd April 2002ce

Another site afflicted by modern intrusions, yet still rising above them so that you don't really notice. The scale of this site is immense, its easy to see why a fourth monolith nay have been present, indeed you wonder what else may have been there.

A spectacular site which should not be missed.
Chris Posted by Chris
28th October 2001ce

One of the most intersting and easily visited sites in Britain , the DevilÍs Arrows sit adjacent the A1 at Burrowbridge next to the river Ure. The three towering monoliths (originally four it seems) stride across the countryside like stiff legged golems, pockmarked and incised. I dropped in on my way from Leicester to Sunderland to pay my respects. They reminded me of Rudstone in many ways, the grooved tops (which can be also seen at the much smaller Nine Stones in Derbyshire) are always referred to as naturally weathered by the centuries but I have never been convinced of this speculation. The grooves seem far to regular. It would be churlish not to opine that these would have made spectacular conduits for liquid libations to fertilise the stone/earth. Milk poured over the top of these stones would vein them with seminal white and would bring their cold dumbness to life. Putting such romantic speculations aside, I phoned my wife Helen whom, sat at her desk, was delighted to be transported vicariously to this magic spot. The stones are said to come from nearby Knaresborough, a place worthy of a visit with its ancient sacred cavesÍ connections with Saints and Seeresses and a rock cut chapel where one can float in the trancendency of the sacred. Ahh... I must do this more often. Posted by Porkbeast
7th December 2000ce

The good news is that the A1 has moved a bit to the west, the bad news is that it is now 6 lanes wide. The old southbound carridgeway is now called the A168 and runs parallel to the A1. A road from the town passes a few yards north of the southern most stone to join the A168. The middle and northern stone were difficult to reach due to a field of 3ft high crops. Still a rather noisey site but the immense size of the stones did not fail to immpress me.

Don't expect to find the Thornborough Henges without an OS map. The gravel pit Julian refers to in TMA is now a wildlife conservation area for birds and has a handy small carpark. From here it's just a short walk to the northern tree covered henge. It's a very eerie place to walk round, in the center was the remains of a recent bonfire and evidence of some nob hacking at the trees with an axe, maybe the local pseudo-druids hang out here.

The central henge is clearly visable from the track that heads south from the crossroad east of the small carpark, though a little tricky to reach through tall crops. A circle of what appear to be young trees (only about 2ft high) have been planted three deep all the way around the henge about 10-15 yards from the perimeter, who knows why? To the east only a few hundred yards away is an annoying landfill site. It seems most of the local birdlife prefer this as a hang out to the newly created 'conservation' area. We left the visit to the southern henge for another day.
Posted by Drudeboy
1st June 2000ce
Edited 16th December 2008ce


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Their name, as the Devil's Arrows, seems to have originated from the following story, which we had related to us by an hoary headed individual living in Boroughbridge, when soliciting information as to their history:

"There lived a very pious old man {a Druid should we imagine} who was reckoned an excellent cultivator of the soil. However, during each season at the time his crops had come to maturity they were woefully pillaged by his surrounding neighbours; so that at this, he being provokingly grieved*, the Devil appeared, telling the old man if he would only recant and throw away his holiness he should never more be disturbed in his mind, or have whatever he grew stolen or demolished.

The old man, like Eve in the garden, yielded to temptation, and at once obeyed the impulse of Satan for the benefit of worldly gain. So when the old man's crops were again being pillaged, the Devil threw from the infernal regions some ponderous arrows, which so frightened the plunderers by shaking the earth that never more was he harrassed in that way. Hence the name of the 'Devil's Arrows.'"

Another individual told me that it was believed by some that the stones sprung up one night in the very places they now occupy.

These opinions seem to be somewhat firmly fixed in the minds of the narrators. A superstition once imbibed is in many instances difficult to eradicate. However, we neither believe nor wish others to believe that they either sprung up in a single night, or were shot from a bow of Satan.
From the notes and queries section of 'The Geologist' for October 1860. Online at Google Books.

*one can only presume 'being provokingly grieved' means he was swearing a lot at this point, which attracted the Devil's attention.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
7th March 2007ce

The Devil's Arrows are made of millstone grit, which suggests they might have been shifted from over a mile away near Knaresborough, across the River Ure, although it is possible they were found more locally, having been brought by glaciation. Then again, perhaps the traditional story is true: the devil stood on Howe Hill (near Fountains Abbey) to throw the stones at Aldborough. He shouted:
"Borobrigg keep out o' way,
For Aldborough town
I will ding down!"
As usual he messed up and the stones fell harmlessly short of their mark. You can still raise the devil using them though - if you walk round them at midnight 12 times (widdershins of course). I also read that the grooves on the stones were from his attempts to hang his grandmother. Ah, I didn't know the devil had a grandmother. She must have been a tough old bird because there are a lot of grooves on these huge megaliths.

Aldborough is the modern town where the Roman Isurium Brigantium used to stand, the civilian capital of Brigantium. On the unlikely webpage of 'Britannia: America's gateway to the British Isles' I found the following alternative story:

"The King of the Brigantian Celts, to weigh the merits of the Druids' lore against the newly-come teaching of the Christians, bade that both should be debated before him. At first the new faith made ground, until a late arrival among the Druids turned the tide by his strong personality and his ridicule. But a movement of his cloak showed that his feet were melting the rock he stood on, and sinking into it. Discovered, he rose into the air in a smother of curses. He moulded into bolts the masses of half-molten rock which clung to his legs and flew towards Iseur, the capital city, intending to destroy it. But the bolts were miraculously intercepted, and fell harmlessly to earth. "

A different interpretation of the stones comes from the modern leyline/earth energy fold, which suggests that the needle like shape of the Arrows was chosen deliberately because of how it can influence or control the movement of energy through the land.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
21st August 2002ce


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This reference from Rydale and North Yorkshire Antiquities by George Frank published in 1888 echoes Paulus's account from E. Boggs regarding the fate of the fourth stone.

A fourth 'Arrow' originally stood near the central one ...The upper half of this stone is in the grounds of Alborough Manor, the lower portion having being used at Boroughbridge, in building the foundations of 'Peggy Bridge'.

The Boroughbridge Town Council website

The upper section of the fourth stone is claimed to stand in the grounds of Aldborough Manor and the lower part is believed to form part of the bridge which crosses the River Tutt in St. Helena just a few hundred yards away on the route into the town centre. Large pieces of the same millstone grit have turned up in the garden of a house bordering the field in which the enclosure containing the largest arrow stands.

Two large boulders of the same material as the stones have been found in the garden of a house only a hundred yards or so from the line of the stones and may possibly be part of the fourth stone which was broken up by treasure hunters..
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
13th November 2007ce
Edited 13th November 2007ce

This is copied from Leland:
A little without this Towne on the west part of Watiling-Streate stadith 4 great maine stones wrought above in conum by Mannes hand.
They be set in 3 several Feldes at this Tyme.
The first is a 20 foote by estimation in higeth and an 18 foote in cumpace. The stone towards the ground is sumwhat square, and so up to the midle, and then wrought with certen rude boltells in conum. But the very toppe thereof is broken of a 3 or 4 footes. Other 2 of like shap stand in another feld a good But shot of: and the one of them is bigger then the other; and they stand within a 6 or 8 fote one of the other.
The fourth standith in a several feld a good stone cast from the other, and is bigger and higher than any of the other 3. I esteme it to the waite of a 5 Waine Lodes or more.
Inscription could I none find yn these stones; and if there were it might be woren out; for they be sore woren and scalid with wether.
I take to be a trophaea a Romanis posita in the side of Watheling Streat, as yn a place most occupied in Yorneying ad so most yn sighte.
Camden also saw four stones fifty years later, but one of the two middle ones had been lately thrown down by "the accursed love of gain."

copied from 'The rivers, mountains and sea-coast of Yorkshire' by John Phillips (p66), 1853.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
6th September 2007ce

Mention of a slightly different name:
Leaving Rippon, we passed the same Day to Borough-Bridge,, where we viewed the three Stones called the Devil's Bolts or Arrows by the Vulgar, and about which they have a Legend.

They are tall and slender, four-square, of a pyramidal Figure, but not very sharp at the Top. They seemed to us to be factitious Stones, but yet endure the Weather exceedingly well, and may, in Probability, stand there till Dooms-day.
p162 in 'Select Remains of the Learned John Ray, with his Life' by William Derham. Published 1760.
Online at Google Books.
This journey was undertaken in 1661.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
20th March 2007ce
Edited 20th March 2007ce

It's a bit of an easy shot. But I want to include it because it shows the old stones still had the power to wind people up. Even though on the surface of it they just looked like big stones in fields.
Montgomery addressed the audience at considerable length, giving, as he often did, additional interest to his remarks by the charm of local allusion.

"This," said he, "is the fifteenth meeting that I have attended in this northern district, - a district which has with me a peculiar interest, as it contains so many interesting monuments and historical associations connected with the olden times. When I came to Boroughbridge, I saw those famous remains, probably of Druidical idolatory, called by the people the Devil's Arrows. Why do not they still, as probably once they did, call together the people to sacrifice their children? Because we have the Bible.
Thank goodness for that eh. This was in 1827, and comes from 'Memoirs of the life and writings of James Montgomery, by J. Holland and J. Everett' (1855). Montgomery was a Wesleyan hymn writer.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
7th March 2007ce
Edited 7th March 2007ce

At Rudston and Boroughbridge, in Yorkshire, are supposed examples of maenhirs. Near the latter place there are four standing in a row, which are called by the country people the Devil's Bolts; but, from their relative position, it is not unlikely that they are the remains of a large circle.
Source: An Archaeological Index to the Remains of Antiquity of the Celtic, Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon Periods, by John Yonge Ackerman F.S.A., 1847
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
9th November 2006ce
Edited 10th November 2006ce

"Not farre beneath there standeth by Ure a little towne called Burrowbridge, of the bridge that is made over the river: which is now built very high and faire of stone worke, but in King Edward the Second his time it seemeth to have beene of wood. For wee read that when the Nobles of England disquieted this king and troubled the state, Humfrey Bohun Earle of Hereford in his going over it was at a chinke thereof thrust through the body about his groine by a souldiour lying close under the bridge. Neere unto this bridge Westward wee saw in three divers little fields foure huge stones of pyramidall forme, but very rudely wrought, set as it were in a streight and direct line. The two Pyramides in the middest, whereof the one was lately pulled downe by some that hoped, though in vaine, to finde treasure, did almost touch one another. The uttermore stand not far off, yet almost in equall distance from these on both sides. Of these I have nothing else to say but that I am of opinion with some that they were monuments of victorie erected by the Romans hard by the high street that went this way. For I willingly overpasse the fables of the common people, who call them the Devills Bolts, which they shot at ancient cities and therewith overthrew them. Yet will not I passe over this, that very many, and those learned men, thinke they are not made of naturall stone in deed, but compounded of pure sand, lime, vitriol (whereof also they say there bee certaine small graines within), and some unctuous matter. Of such a kinde there were Rome cisterns, so firmely compact of very strong lime and sand, as Pliny writeth, that they seemed to be naturall stones."

William Camden
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
31st July 2006ce

In Burl's 1991 Yorkshire Archaeological Journal paper on the Arrows, he speculates on the fate of the fourth stone
"Exactly what happened to that stone is not certain but it is probable that in the early 17th century it was dragged to St. Helena, Boroughbridge, for the foundation of a bridge over the River Tutt".
In the same paper Burl states that "the Devil's Arrows possesses the features of a classical stone row:
1. it leads uphill from water;
2. it has a blocking or terminal stone at it's lower end;
3. the stones of the row are graded in height with the tallest at the head of the gradient near a stretch of level ground;
4 The row has an apparent alignment on the most southerly midsummer rising moon".
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
28th September 2004ce
Edited 28th September 2004ce

According to Janet & Colin Bord;

"A St Barnabas Fair used to be held in a field near the stones on summer solstice, probably a continuation of ceremonies held there in prehistoric times".
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
26th March 2003ce

The three stones here aren't regularly spaced out - because one is allegedly missing. Aubrey Burl (in 'From Carnac to Callanish') reports that a fourth stone was overturned in the early 17th century, by someone digging for treasure. The stone was apparently later dragged to Boroughbridge to form part of the foundations of the bridge over the River Tutt.
There have been rumours of a missing fifth stone too, but Burl says there is no documentary evidence for one.

Stukeley also came up with the idea that the fair was a continuation of older rituals (see entry above)
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
8th January 2003ce
Edited 7th January 2004ce


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The Smell of Water - The Devil's Arrows

fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
10th December 2017ce
Edited 10th December 2017ce

Collect Britain -The Devils Arows

An image of the Devils Arrows from the British Museums 'Collect Britain' on-line galleries.
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
22nd February 2005ce

BrigantesNation Devil's Arrows page

Posted by BrigantesNation
31st July 2003ce