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Drake Stone

Natural Rock Feature

<b>Drake Stone</b>Posted by HobImage © IH
Also known as:
  • Draag Stone

Nearest Town:Alnwick (27km ENE)
OS Ref (GB):   NT921044 / Sheet: 80
Latitude:55° 20' 0.35" N
Longitude:   2° 7' 28.36" W

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<b>Drake Stone</b>Posted by Hob <b>Drake Stone</b>Posted by Hob <b>Drake Stone</b>Posted by Hob <b>Drake Stone</b>Posted by Hob <b>Drake Stone</b>Posted by Hob <b>Drake Stone</b>Posted by Hob


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Sited on the edge of the MoD firing ranges, in an area dripping with prehistoric remains, the Drake Stone is a 30 foot tall sandstone erratic perched conspicuously on a ridge above Coquetdale. It's prominent profile makes it easily visible as you travel through the valley, and affords the stone itself an extensive view north to the Cheviot massif. It's not far from the road, but the last 40m or so are very tricky going. It's easiest to take the path through the trees, and circle around the stone making the last approach from the west rather than the obvious, but very awkward route from the east.

A short distance (10m or so) to the NW is a circular depression in the outcrop which may have been metal-tooled, it's difficult to say as nearby outcrop bears the same marks, which could be the result of erosion through the strangely convoluted matrix of the sandstone.

Alternatively, just to the west of the stone (Altitude:273m NT 91985, 04435, accuracy: 7m, Garmin E-trex) is a earthfast boulder which could fit the bill for a small bullaun type basin, similar to those described by Beckensall as enhanced natural basins, of which there a couple, each associated with rock art, one a couple of miles to the east at Lordenshaw, and another a similar distance to the NE at Football Cairn.

Neither of the basins near the Drake Stone have been recorded on the Beckensall archive, but if that's because no-one has heard of them, or because no-one has looked, or if it's because they looked and discounted the basins, I do not know. See the reference to a 'Drudical rock basin' in the folklore post below, either of these basins could be the one mentioned by Murray, although it's possible that neither of them are the thing he mentioned. To my mind, the smaller of the two is the more likely of the two presented here, as there were faint traces of what could be interpreted as peck marks consistent with those seen on other prehistoric carvings on similar stone. There is the possibility that slightly different punctuation in Murray's description alters the location of the basin. If the sentence is read: "..the Draag Stone of the Druids, by a small tarn. Near it is a druidical rock basin." Then the basin is nearer the stone than it is to the lough. I couldn't find anything nearer to the lough than to the stone, though subsequent visits may prove otherwise (I'm still hoping that there may be there more definite rock art in the vicinity, as there are near the basins at North Lordenshaw and Football Cairn (e))

Regarding the significance of the Drake Stone itself in prehistory, in conjunction with the local folklore about healing children, it seems to me to have been a very likely spot for use throughout the ages. The outcrops around the erratic form natural shelters, making it a high quality vantage point and suitable for Mesolithic wanderers keeping an eye out for animals drinking on the edges of the gravel terraces of the river Coquet. It's placed on the putative edge of two Bronze Age territories, as is evidenced by the cross dyke a mile or so to the east, for whatever that implies. Equally, it could be just as useful as an Iron Age lookout, having a good view of a major route from the hills to the sea, with intervisibility to a number of beacon hills. This possible use could presumably have continued as recently as the 17thC when one takes into account the endemic Border Reiver activities in the area. Given the position as a good route to pass unobserved from Coquetdale to Redesdale across what is now the MoD ranges, this seems fairly likely.

Regarding any possible 'ritual' significance in prehistory, the 19thC reference to druids is obviously an artefact of the predilections of the Victorian craze for all things druidic. But then there's the tentative idea that the stone's proximity to Harbottle Lough may have afforded it significance to anyone to whom lakes were somehow connected to the underworld. It would also have been one heck of a platform for any priestly character who was nimble enough to climb it. They'd be silhouetted very well when viewed by a crowd in the valley below. I can see why Murray was happy to accept it as a 'druidical' site; it just has that kind of feel to it. If the druids didn't use this stone, well shame on them, they missed a good venue for a gig. These days it displays a mysterious offering much different from those one normally finds at a bonafide prehistoric site. Instead of flowers, crystals or whatever left by neopagans, there is a small bundle consisting of a metal rod and two brushes tied with a shoelace, presumably left by a member of the strange cult of 'Bouldering'.
Hob Posted by Hob
22nd January 2006ce


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A tiny addition about the adjacent lough's traditions.
...a footpath leads up past the Drake Stone to Harbottle Lough, a lonely eerie tarn in the hollow of the hills - a stretch of long heather and sphagnum marks an old extension of the lake. The west end of the lough is packed with a dense growth of buckbean, horsetail, and rushes. The water is always pure and very cold - so cold that it was said to be certain death to attempt to swim across. We, however, know of several who have performed the feat and are still alive to tell the tale. A number of large round blocks of sandstone is to be seen lying about on the top of the hill; these are rejected mill-stones, which puzzle strangers very much as to their origin.
From 'Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland: its history, traditions, folk-lore and scenery' by D D Dixon (1903).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
3rd June 2010ce
Edited 3rd June 2010ce

They're probably still telling this story in the pub. Maybe people are still getting stuck up there.
It is customary with the young men in the neighbourhood to climb up this huge rock, from the top of which there is a fine prospect of the vale below, but it requires considerable dexterity and address to descend.

The rustics here relate a story respecting the "Drake Stone" with great glee. On one fine summer evening, a few years ago, a stranger arrived at the village. He entered a public house, and having taken some refreshment, immediately departed. His intention was to ascend the Drake Stone, which he did with little difficulty, and after remaining for some time on the summit of the rock, enjoying the beautiful and extensive prospect, the deepening gloom warned him that it was time to depart, and he therefore set about descending the dangerous rock, but in vain.

He looked at the yawning depth below and shuddered at the prospect of attempting to descend; further, the night was closing in, not a human being was in sight, and the poor traveller in an agony of fear was obliged to content himself with remaining on the cold rock with the starry heaven for a canopy.

Wrapping himself up in his garments as well as he could, he laid him down to obtain, if possible, some repose. To sleep, however, was not in his power, the knowledge of his situation made him to lay awake, anxiously waiting the break of day.

Early on the following morning, the inhabitants on rising, were surprised to hear a human voice, "loud as the huntsman's shout," bawling lustily for assistance. Seeing his danger, they immediately proceeded to the stone, and by proper means and some exertion, he was safely extricated from his very perilous situation, where he had passed so sleepless a night.
Tourists eh.
From p 142 of 'The local historian's table book' by M A Richardson (1844) = now on Google Books.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
18th October 2007ce

The Drake stone gets a mention in a few places, most recently on climbing websites. It merits a mention and a photo in the Bords' 'The secret Country'. In this book, and in other local histories, the Drake Stone is reported to have the ability to cure sick children who are passed over it. Tomlinson (1888) even goes so far as to comment that although he has seen no direct evidence of this, ""Harbottle is an exceptionally healthy place ........and mortality among children almost unknown"
It's possible that Tomlinson took his information from a slightly earlier source, Murray's Northumberland: handbook to durham and Northumberland (part II London 1873, p 324.) where it is stated that:
"Half a mile from Harbottle is the Drake Stone, a very interesting relic, being the Draag stone of the druids. By a small tarn near it is a druidical rock basin. The custom which still prevails in harbottle, of passing sick children over the drake stone may be a relic of druidical times, when they were probably passed through the fire on the same spot."

Other folklore associated with the stone tells of a plan to drain the lough, which was abandoned after the workmen ran away afer hearing a disembodied voice cry:
"Let alone, let alone
Or I'll drown Harbottle
And the Peels
And the bonny Holystone"

Which could of course just have been a good way to get out of what would have been an unenviable task. Folklore also has it that disembodied cries for help emanating from the stone were not unusual, with passing travellers spending the night in safety at the top but unable to descend in the morning.
Hob Posted by Hob
22nd January 2006ce
Edited 22nd January 2006ce