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The Gypsey Race

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Little Argham Henge Henge (Destroyed)
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Rudston A and B Long Barrow (Destroyed)
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Rudston Beacon Sacred Hill
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Rudston Monolith Standing Stone / Menhir
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Sands Wood Round Barrow(s)
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South Side Mount Artificial Mound

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Photographs:<b>The Gypsey Race</b>Posted by moss <b>The Gypsey Race</b>Posted by notjamesbond <b>The Gypsey Race</b>Posted by notjamesbond Maps / Plans / Diagrams:<b>The Gypsey Race</b>Posted by Chris Collyer <b>The Gypsey Race</b>Posted by fitzcoraldo


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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.
notjamesbond Posted by notjamesbond
10th June 2004ce
Edited 22nd July 2004ce

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.
notjamesbond Posted by notjamesbond
10th June 2004ce


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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).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
2nd November 2011ce

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).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
14th November 2007ce

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.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
30th May 2007ce
Edited 30th May 2007ce

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'. Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
8th May 2002ce
Edited 2nd November 2011ce


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Northern Earth Online

Article - 'The Gypsey Race and the Great Wolds Valley Sacred Landscape'
Chris Collyer Posted by Chris Collyer
5th August 2002ce
Edited 23rd March 2005ce

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