I'm not at all sure if I agree with Julian’s sacred hill theories, and his choice of hills that he feels might have been of significance to prehistoric man seems rather arbitrary at times. It seems to me that pretty much any hill could have been seen as special to the local inhabitants, as could any river, lake, valley or any other landscape feature, but in the spirit of investigation and with an open(ish) mind I decided to pay a visit to Blakey Topping and Howden Hill.
Howden is easily reached from the village of East Ayton by a road travelling north through the picturesque Forge Valley and Scarwell Woods which line the edges of the River Derwent. Due to the number and size of the hills in this area Howden doesn’t come into view until you round the corner just before the bridge at Langdale End when suddenly *bang* it’s right there in yer face. The effect was the same as when I visited Avebury last year after not having been there for several years and I had forgotten the way that Silbury suddenly leaps out at you as you head west past Waden Hill. Perhaps the old man is on to something after all.
I didn’t attempt to climb the hill as I had already read Porkbeasts notes plus I was short of time as usual - anyway it looked one hell of a climb. The conical effect is only seen from the south/southeast as once you move round to the west the spine becomes apparent which diminishes the visual impact. It’s still a beautiful hill though and as Julian says it is set in a faerie landscape. Whether I think it was a ‘sacred’ hill or not, well the jury is still out on that one I’m afraid – maybe I needed to climb it for a full appreciation.
Also known to the locals as 'The Sugarloaf' and 'Tit Hill' this magnificent mount is rightly pointed out as important by Julian. The drive from West Ayton along the Derwent river through the Forge Valley to Langdale End was beautiful and would have made a splendid walk if we had had the time. Howden reveals itself just as you turn the corner into the 'village' and is a breathtaking sight. This is indeed a proto Silbury. We parked by the river and walked to the small church/chapel, sited magnificently at the foot of the hill with good views one way. Julian points out the relationship of this flattened but raised site as similar to the standing stones at Blakey Topping and we have to agree. Again, as at the nearby Rudston Monolith, the monument of the hill is completely obscured. You cannot see the Rudston stone from inside its Church (a matter of feet away) and likewise the Christians do not have to see the hill in their worship from this church as it is obscured completely by judiciously planted trees. This place has a atmosphere that is sacred and we tarried awhile before walking up to the great Howden Hill. Opposite the Moorcock Inn (where food and good beer may be enjoyed in a folksy atmosphere devoid of the middle class pretensions that despoil so many country hostelries these days) is Howden Farm. It is important that visitors ask permission to ascend the hill here as it is not normally given due to beer sodden hairy arsed new age 'seekers' who have peed off the locals by partying, shouting and littering the hill (which is private property) with beer bottles and worse. The landowner was a bit frosty at first but charming as soon as she realised we were serious seekers. She gave permission to ascend the hill and imparted the information that it 'has many names' (pointing to its importance) including the two given at the beginning of this piece. We ascended via the public footpath that runs up the hill but stops short of the summit. Here a sign informs the public that this is private property, we pressed on and were rewarded with magnificent views as good as I have seen anywhere. Blakey Topping was visible rising out of the Crosscliffe that obscures its feet. The surrounding landscape is like something out of Lord of the Rings, a Rivendell in Yorkshire. The spine of the hill has an earthwork ridge that we processed along before settling at the hollow on the summit. The Tolkien resonances struck me again as this seat of power worked its strange magic upon us. Howden is still in use by the locals, the landowner informed me that they had lit a beacon on the hill and set fireworks off at the millennium, it must have been quite a sight. Keep this one to yourselves.