Brimham Rocks: weird natural formations in Yorkshire

What do you see in this picture? In Victorian times, the local people called this The Dancing Bear. In a more PC age where we don’t humiliate animals for our entertainment (much) the name has been changed to The Dog. Looks like he’s begging at his master’s dinner table.

This is one of many rock formations at Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire, England. An ancient river laid down grit and sand in this region more than 300 million years ago, forming a sandstone called Millstone Grit. Wind and rain have been scouring it away ever since. Softer portions go first, while those layers with tougher ingredients take longer to weather. Thus over millions of years the once-featureless stone has been twisted into odd formations like this one.

Needless to say the rocks have been a Yorkshire landmark since before recorded history. In Victorian times it became a tourist destination, with lots of colorful names and stories attached to the stones. One spot is called Lover’s Leap where, according to an 1863 guidebook, a couple named Edwin and Julia decided to end their lives.

“They were madly in love with each other but Julia’s father wasn’t having any of it. Especially when Edwin asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He forbade them to see each other any more. But of course, they couldn’t stand to live without each other. They decided to leap off Brimham Rocks and spend eternity together that way. Julia’s father got wind of the plan and dashed up there to dissuade them – but they jumped before he could reach them. However, by some miracle, instead of plummeting to their dooms, they floated gently to the ground. “Some said that a fairy who lived among the rocks had witnessed their misery and knew they could be happy if only they were allowed to marry.” Perhaps it was the influence of the Druids – or maybe even the magic in the rocks themselves. More boring people put it down to Julia’s skirts being so voluminous. But whatever, her Father at last consented to their marriage and naturally they lived happily ever after.”

The mention of the Druids is significant. The Victorians were fascinated by all things Celtic and many scholars thought archaeological sites like Stonehenge had been built by these Celtic priests. Natural formations were attributed to the Druids too. One table-like formation is called “The Druid’s Writing Desk” although many people say it looks more like E.T. There are dozens more, like the Idol, the Bulls of Babylon, and the turtle. There are also spots where Mother Shipton, the famous Yorkshire soothsayer, made her prophecies and practiced her magic.

While Brimham Rocks didn’t make it onto our list of the 17 strangest natural wonders, it’s well worth a visit not just for its natural beauty but also for all the strange and funny folklore that’s glommed onto it over the years. How much of it is “real” folklore and how much has been made up by the guides? Who knows? Our guide did admit that in Victorian times visitors paid only what they felt like, so the guides were under some real pressure to entertain.

Don’t miss the rest of my series on Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: York: capital of England’s north!

This trip was sponsored by
VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire.


Rocks that are more than rocks: Must see destinations

When I was in 8th grade, my school bus went past a house with an enormous multicolored map of the United States painted on an even more enormous flat rock in the front yard. Each state was a different color than the ones surrounding it. My bus driver thought it was the coolest artwork ever. She pointed it out each time we passed. My dad has two huge rocks in his front yard. One is as tall as the house. He lives in a region of New York where glaciers left huge boulders and crevices in their wake.

Those rocks have nothing on this collection of mega boulders posted on deputydog. From Japan to Peru, and even Kansas, the boulders have become destinations that tourists go to see. Some are left alone in their natural state. Others have been altered to direct people’s interactions.

The Kaiktiyo Pagoda in Myanmar has certainly one-upped the people who turned their front yard boulder into a map of the the U.S. A pagoda was built on top of it, and both bolder and pagoda were then gilded in gold leaf. To me, the result looks like it’s related to the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz–except it’s gold. Can’t you just imagine someone putting a face on it? I do think it’s wonderful, even though as a female, according to the description, I’m not supposed to touch it. It just reminds me of the Tin Man. I can’t help it.

Along with the spectacular photos deputydog includes a description about the significance of each spot. Quite an interesting read and wonderful idea for a collection. This could be a coffee table book in the making.

One of my favorite boulders, not in this collection, is the one in Copenhagan, Denmark where the statue of the Little Mermaid sits in Hans Christian Anderson Harbor. It’s not that the boulder is all that special, but without it, the mermaid would sink. Do you have any favorite boulders in your life? [This shot of the the pagoda was taken by Yetun and posted on Flickr. Yetun has several kudos on the photo. Great job!]