I first saw photographs from this site back in 2003 on Graeme C's wonderful website (link below). At the time the location of the site was a secret at the landowner's request. When Rockrich posted his images a couple of weeks ago my interest was re-awakened, especially as the location of the carvings was now known.
There were a couple of small details, particularly about the cup and ring carving and the general location of the site that didn't seem to fit in with the North Yorkshire tradition so I jumped at the chance when Rockrich kindly offered to show me around the site. Looking at the site with Rich has two advantages, the first reason being that Rich has an in-depth knowledge of West Yorkshire Rock Art tradition, the second reason being that Rich is a thoroughly nice chap.
We met up at a car park close to the site and headed off up the footpath to the distant plantation and location of the carvings.
As soon as we got into the plantation Rich pointed out a strange dolmen-like structure hidden away amongst the large rocks of the plantation. The 'dolmen' appears to have been constructed by jacking up a large stone to act as a capstone and then inserting an large stone into one side to act as a side wall. The wall on the other side and back of the 'dolmen' appears to be natural. A small dry stone wall has been coarsely constructed to fill in any gaps. It has to be remembered that the megalithic folly of the Druid's Temple is only a couple of miles away. So almost probably not prehistoric but a nice diversion.
A little further down the track we came to the first of the carved stones. This is a large earth-fast rock, the surface of which has been carved with a number of deep grooves at least two of which enclose cups, plus a couple of cups with grooves leading out of them. There are a number of other motifs on this rock, a crudely carved roughly circular motif with a central cup and three radial grooves linked by an outer groove. Next to this motif is a 'draughts board' motif. On another section of the rock are a number of grooves and cups plus a roughly rectangular or 'D'-shaped motif. This rock is amazing and worth the journey alone. Rich and I didn't really see it in its full glory until the low winter sunlight lit it and the whole rock seemed to come to life. *I don't want to get all arty here but looking at the carvings on this rock brings to mind 20th century artists such as Mondrian and Kandinsky*. It's a giant of a piece of rock art.
The next carved rock we looked at was the another earth-fast boulder with a large cup and multiple ring motif. Rich had been told by a local fella that the central groove on the motif was aligned to the midwinter sunrise, guess what? It does!
This motif is a strange one. When I had looked at photos of this motif I had noticed that the carving was asymmetrical, Rich pointed out that this is due to at least two of the rings just petering out, very unusual. Another oddity about this carving is that the central groove on the motif doesn't terminate at the central cup or on one of the radial grooves, this is highly unusual.
Rich and I gently brushed away some of the pine needles that covered this rock and discovered a couple more cups and grooves including one groove that makes a ninety degree turn to link up with a cup.
There are a number of other carved rocks that we looked at but I'll not bore you with lengthy descriptions here apart from to say that they are extremely varied and very exciting. West Agra seems to be an extremely important and unusual site as regards the style and distribution of the carvings. I'm sure there are more carvings to be found here especially amongst the dozens of rocks that litter the plantation which are currently covered in a dense blanket of needles and soil.
As for the landscape, the carvings are all on a south facing slope just below the scarp edge of Masham Moor. The views to from the site have two main focuses. The two flat topped peaks to the west are the first. I'm not sure of the name of these peaks but suspect they may be Little and Great Whernside.
The second focus is east along the River Burn Valley towards Masham and Wensleydale.
One thing that does concern me about this site is the lack of any other known prehistoric sites in the vicinity. Rich pointed out that there was a Nineteenth century report of a stone circle at Fearby which is just a couple of miles along the valley but as far as I'm aware there have been no reports of evidence of prehistoric settlements in this area. I wonder if this is because no-one has really looked?
"A significant group of rock art sites has recently been recognised on private Land within an area not previously known to possess rock art.
Rock surfaces with cups, enclosures, cups and grooved enclosures and a single concentric ring figure are currently being recorded.
T.C. Laurie July 2003"