Nature Writing

4 min read

Part of my Open University study this year is learning map reading, so today I'm setting off to see if I can find ancient rock art on Ilkley Moor, inspired by Mary-Ann Ochota's Hidden Histories.

I start under the orange leaves of an old oak at the edge of the moor and head up through the browning bracken. Verdant green has been replaced with gold; the hillside blazes the colours of fire.

With regular map stops, I make it over a ledge high on the hill, where the crisp autumn day turns to bracing wind and cold rain. I splash along the path, peering into the haze until I see the rock I've come looking for: the Badger Stone.

The rock art carved into its face is thousands of years old. The landscape here has always felt old to me. It is old. Without tarmac and houses and cars it's easier to imagine the land around you being the bed of a tropical sea, later being gauged by glaciers.

The ancient rock carvings are another layer in the history of this place. It feels closer but, somehow, further away - we understand more about the environmental forces at play millions of years ago than we do about the reasons why humans created these pictures on the rocks up here.

On the side facing into the moor, away from the town, is what looks like a flower. A small, round hollow (known as a cup in rock art lingo) surrounded by a shallow groove (a ring) at the centre, with more cups and rings arranged around the first.

I hunch down behind the rock and run my fingers over the depressions our ancestors made here thousands of years ago. I haven't previously been into ancient human history but crouching here with it inches from my face feels different. They were here, chiselling the grooves underneath my fingertips.

The designs are weathered and softened but brilliant, coming to life in the high contrast of a camera lens. A link with the past.

Nobody knows why rock art was created or what it means. We don't even know if the people who carved it were trying to create art. I feel sure that these patterns were something social and meaningful, something that connected our ancestors to the land, that tethered them to the natural world.

The Badger Stone is marked on OS maps. If you've connected with this stone too, or any other ancient rock art, I'd love to hear about it.

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