Up on the moors on the edge of the Forest of Bowland is a large, box-shaped, chunk of rock. It sits just inside North Yorkshire on the border with Lancashire. With characteristic English wit and imagination, it is known as ‘the Big Stone’ or ‘the Great Stone of Fourstones’ – because there used to be three more, presumably smaller, stones which have long since vanished. You can reach the Great Stone by climbing south out of the town of High Bentham along the more intriguingly named Thickrash Brow. Cross the cattle grid and you’ll see it away to the west, at the end of a (normally rather soggy) path. There’s a small pull-in for vehicles. Or you can come at it from the other direction, across the bleak moors north of Slaidburn – not recommended in dodgy weather.
The stone is about 18 feet high and used to be a boundary marker between the two counties. Experts think it was a meeting place in ancient times. It’s a breezy location – there must have been cosier spots where tribal chiefs and what-not could have got together for a natter. Perhaps they liked looking at the smashing view of Ingleborough away to the north east. Some long-dead person has carved 14 steps in the side of the stone so you can clamber to the top.
Geographers will recognise the Great Stone of Fourstones as a glacial erratic – a piece of stone transported from far away by a glacier and left behind when the ice retreated 10,000 or more years’ ago. Possibly during the course of its journey, it has been tumbled – the strata in the rock are about 90 degrees off horizontal.
That explanation is, of course, complete tosh. Everybody knows that the Devil dropped the stone on his way to build the Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale about 11 miles away – though I suppose it’s possible that it was thrown across the Irish Sea by the giant Finn McCool (who built the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim).