VIEWING THE HENGES
The Thornborough Henges are set in a flat agricultural landscape and are so large in diameter that they are undoubtedly best viewed from the air ~ as demonstrated most effectively in the BBC’s “Time Flyers” programme. That film was a revelation and will certainly form a central component of the visitor centre we hope to establish.
An evocative painting of how the Thornborough Henges may have looked at the time they were constructed is featured in Leeds City Museum’s excellent display on the prehistoric complex. The artist, Peter Dunn, has very kindly donated a digital pdf of his painting to the Friends to help raise funds. On the 'honesty box' principle, we are offering you the opportunity to download and print it in return, we hope, for a modest donation by cheque made out to ‘The Friends of Thornborough Henges’ and mailed to Kiln Farm, Nosterfield, Bedale, DL8 2QX. We can't actually prevent anyone making such a download without payment, but it is in keeping with our ethos to trust people. Click here to view Peter’s imaginative reconstruction.
Although scheduled ancient monuments, all three henges are privately owned, two of them by Tarmac. As such, they are not accessible to the public without prior permission from the landowners and tenant farmers. They have all suffered serious degradation from natural erosion, ploughing, grazing and quarrying so the boots of well-intentioned visitors would simply further damage the monuments we are striving to preserve. So until a heritage trail has been established, here are directions on how to view the two most visible henges from public lanes without trespassing ~ but please do be careful to park safely.
The circular banks of the southern henge are the lowest in height and cannot be seen from a public road, but the other two can. Leave the A1 on the B6267 (about half-way between Dishforth and Leeming) and drive west towards Masham. After about 3 miles, turn left at the brown finger-post signed "Lightwater Valley". Take the first turn on the right, and the northern henge is the wooded knoll a short distance along this lane on the right. A detailed map can be found at MultiMap The huge bowl to the left (west) of this lane was scooped out by the previous quarry on the condition that it would be returned to agriculture, but it has actually been developed, at public expense, as a nature reserve where sportsmen are allowed to shoot the wildfowl.
The northern henge is situated within a copse, probably planted in the nineteenth century as a fox covert, which explains this being the best preserved earth henge monument in the country. The thick vegetation, however, completely masks this monument ~ thereby reversing the original intention, when it was coated with white gypsum and must have made an awe-inspiring sight.
View of the central henge, by IronMan.
Then, return along the same lane, go over the cross-roads, past the county council’s waste tip and turn left at the T-junction. The grass-covered central henge can be clearly viewed a short distance along in a field on the left and is built over the buried remains of the longest cursus in the country. This 250m diameter henge has two entrances, and was originally constructed with a segmentary external ditch about 1.3m deep and 6m wide, a bank over 4.5m high and 18m wide, and an internal ditch 2.1m deep and 17.6m wide.
It is under a Stewardship Agreement to protect it from further damage, although substantial degradation has already occurred. The external ditch has been levelled by ploughing and partially removed by quarrying on the west flank. In places, the bank has been reduced to 0.85m high and 11m wide, whilst the internal ditch survives to a maximum depth of 1.05m and is 25m wide.
To request an organized tour of the complex with a knowledgeable guide who can arrange access, contact Linda Smith, Rural Archaeologist at North Yorkshire County Council on . Alternatively, instead of a personal visit, why not make a virtual one on Newcastle University’s dedicated website? This also explains Jan Harding’s research on the complex and incorporates a virtual representation of the astro-archaeological interpretations.