I posted this photograph of a cross at sunset on the North York Moors recently on my Instagram and Facebook page. Usually, I would do a bit of research to provide some narrative around a subject such as this. However, and I blame the kids, I didn’t on this occasion. So, I’ve done a bit of research and found out this is Young Ralph’s Cross.
If you ever take a drive over the North York Moors, Countryfile Magazine’s National Park of the Year 2019, then you are likely to have seen crosses and standing stones close by the road and maybe a bit further into the moorland. Concentrated in this in this area is what is likely England’s largest collection of standing stones. There are old parish boundary markers, the remains of stone circles, memorials, religious crosses, earthworks, waymarkers, and probably many more whos purpose or meaning have long since been forgotten.
The emblem of the North York Moors
What I hadn’t realised at the time of taking this photograph is that Young Ralph’s Cross is, in fact, the cross depicted in the logo for the North York Moors National Park.
It’s a sign I’ve driven, ridden and run past many times over the year as well as passing this cross many time too. And yet, I never realised the connection. After all, there are a few stone crosses on the North York Moors.
So what is Young Ralph’s Cross?
Young Ralph’s Cross stands on Danby High Moor between the villages of Hutton-le-Hole and Castleton. It is situated on the western side of the “main” road heading north between the junctions of two moorland roads to Rosedale in the east and Westerdale in the west.
It is thought to date from the 18th century but many historians believe there to have been a cross at this site since the 11th century. The current cross is in 3 sections having been repaired after suffering damage in the 1960s and 1980s. English Heritage stonemasons from Mount Grace Priory restored the cross in 1985.
There seems to be a couple of tales as to how this cross came to be erected on the moor.
According to once legend it was installed to mark the resting place of a monk from Farndale and a nun from Rosedale. Apparently they would meet here for a romantic liaison, however, they were found out and came to a grisly demise.
Another, more common folk-tale is that a farmer called Ralph found the body of a traveller at this spot. He was so moved by this discovery that he chose to erect a cross in the memory of the unfortunate soul, who he thought to have starved to death and was found to be penniless. He had a hollow carved into the top of the cross so that wealthier folk, and at 9 feet up they’d be on horseback, could place coins in it for the benefit of the less fortunate traveller.
One has to wonder though; a poor traveller probably wouldn’t have even had a horse so how the heck could they reach the coins in the top of the cross?
Other stones on the moors
Stones and crosses on the North York Moors provide a fantastic focal point in landscape photographs. Only last week was I up there and capture this ancient waymarker with the rising moon in the clear sky behind it.
Thanks for reading.