Cairnfield on Howl Moor 510m south of Wheeldale Lodge, including an unenclosed hut circle settlement, field system and round burial cairns


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Cairnfield on Howl Moor 510m south of Wheeldale Lodge, including an unenclosed hut circle settlement, field system and round burial cairns
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1021293 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 20-Oct-2019 at 04:05:25.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Scarborough (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SE 81351 97863

Reasons for Designation

Cairnfields are concentrations of cairns sited in close proximity to one another. They often consist largely of clearance cairns, built with stone cleared from the surrounding landsurface to improve its use for agriculture, and on occasion their distribution pattern can be seen to define field plots. However, funerary cairns are also frequently incorporated, although without excavation it may be impossible to determine which cairns contain burials. Clearance cairns were constructed from the Neolithic period (from c.3400 BC), although the majority of examples appear to be the result of field clearance which began during the earlier Bronze Age and continued into the later Bronze Age (2000-700 BC). The considerable longevity and variation in the size, content and associations of cairnfields provide important information on the development of land use and agricultural practices. Cairnfields also retain information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation during the prehistoric period.

Regular aggregate field systems date from the Bronze Age (2000-700 BC) to the end of the fifth century AD. They usually cover areas of up to 100ha and comprise a discrete block of fields orientated in roughly the same direction, with the field boundaries laid out along two axes set at right angles to one another. Individual fields generally fall within the 0.1ha-3.2ha range and can be square, rectangular, long and narrow, triangular or polygonal in shape. The field boundaries can take various forms (including drystone walls or reaves, orthostats, earth and rubble banks, pit alignments, ditches, fences and lynchets) and follow straight or sinuous courses. Component features common to most systems include entrances and trackways, and the settlements or farmsteads from which people utilised the fields over the years have been identified in some cases. These are usually situated close to or within the field system.

The development of field systems is seen as a response to the competition for land which began during the later prehistoric period. The majority are thought to have been used mainly for crop production, evidenced by the common occurrence of lynchets resulting from frequent ploughing, although rotation may also have been practised in a mixed farming economy. Regular aggregate field systems occur widely and have been recorded in south western and south eastern England, East Anglia, Cheshire, Cumbria, Nottinghamshire, North and South Yorkshire and Durham. They represent a coherent economic unit often utilised for long periods of time and can thus provide important information about developments in agricultural practices in a particular location and broader patterns of social, cultural and environmental change over several centuries. Those which survive well and/or which can be positively linked to associated settlements are considered to merit protection.

Hut circle settlements were the dwelling places of prehistoric farmers. The hut circles take a variety of forms. Some are stone based and are visible as low walls or banks enclosing a circular floor area. Others were timber constructions and only the shallow groove in which the timber uprights used in the wall construction stood can now be identified; this may survive as a slight earthwork feature or may be visible on aerial photographs. Some can only be identified by the artificial earthwork platforms created as level stances for the houses. The number of houses in a settlement varies between one and twelve. In areas where they were constructed on hillslopes the platforms on which the houses stood are commonly arrayed in tiers along the contour of the slope. Several settlements have been shown to be associated with organised field plots, the fields being defined by low stony banks or indicated by groups of clearance cairns. Some unenclosed settlements are thought to date from the Bronze Age, but excavation of others suggests that they were also occupied during the Iron Age to the Romano-British period (c.700 BC-AD 400). These settlements provide an important complement to the various types of enclosed and defended settlements which were being constructed and used around the same time. The longevity of use of hut circle settlements and their relationship with other monument types provides important information on the diversity of social organisation and farming practices amongst prehistoric communities. They are particularly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of protection.

Round cairns are prehistoric funerary monuments dating to the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC). They were constructed as stone mounds covering single or multiple burials. These burials may be placed within the mound in stone-lined compartments called cists. In some cases the cairn was surrounded by a ditch. Often occupying prominent locations, cairns are a major visual element in the modern landscape. They are a relatively common feature of the uplands and are the stone equivalent of the earthen round barrows of the lowlands. Their considerable variation in form and longevity as a monument type provide important information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation amongst early prehistoric communities. They are particularly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of protection.

Standing stones are prehistoric ritual or ceremonial monuments with dates ranging from the Late Neolithic to the end of the Bronze Age for the few excavated examples. They comprise single or paired upright orthostatic slabs, ranging from under 1m to over 6m high where still erect. They are often conspicuously sited and close to other contemporary monument classes. They can be accompanied by various features: many occur in or on the edges of round barrows, and where excavated, associated sub-surface features have included stone cists, stone settings, and various pits and hollows filled in with earth containing human bone, cremations, charcoal, flints and pottery. Similar deposits have been found in excavated sockets for standing stones, which range considerably in depth. Standing stones may have functioned as markers for routeways, territories, graves or meeting points, but their accompanying features show that they also had a ritual function and that they form one of several ritual monument classes of their period which often contain deposits of cremation and domestic debris as an integral part. No national survey of standing stones has been undertaken, and estimates range from 50 to 250 extant examples, widely distributed throughout England but with concentrations in Cornwall, the North York Moors, Cumbria, Derbyshire and the Cotswolds. Standing stones are important as nationally rare monuments, with a high longevity and demonstrating the diversity of ritual practices in the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age.

The cairnfield on Howl Moor, 510m south of Wheeldale Lodge, is in an excellent state of preservation. Significant and varied information about the date and form of the different components will survive. Valuable evidence for the nature of Bronze and Iron Age agriculture, the contemporary environment and earlier land use will be preserved between and beneath the cairns and field banks. Important evidence for the nature and duration of the occupation will survive within the hut circle settlement. The association with the hut circle settlement, burial cairns and standing stone will provide evidence for the relationships between agricultural, social and ritual practice. The relationships between features of different date will add greatly to our understanding of the sequence of development and change, and continuity of land use during the prehistoric period.

The monument is situated within a landscape where there are many other prehistoric monuments. Associations such as this contribute to our understanding of the distribution of prehistoric activity across the landscape.


The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of a cairnfield which is situated on Middle Jurassic sandstone on the North York Moors. It lies between Hunt House Crag and Howl Moor Dike, at the western edge of Goathland Moor. Also included are an unenclosed hut circle settlement, a regular aggregate field system, two parallel hollow ways, two round burial cairns and a standing stone, all of which lie within or adjacent to the cairnfield, and are associated with it.

The cairnfield consists of at least 63 cairns, distributed on a gentle south west facing slope between the 180m and 190m contours, and on approximately level ground above 190m. Most of the cairns are well-defined sub-circular mounds constructed from small and medium sized stones, although some are more elongated in shape, or are built around large erratic boulders. They are generally 3m to 4m in diameter, with a few varying examples, and they stand between 0.2m and 0.4m high. The majority are field clearance cairns which are the result of clearing the ground to prepare for agriculture, but some of the larger cairns are thought to have been used as burial mounds. Interspersed between the cairns there are fragments of walling and field banks, which are interpreted as part of the field system which was in use with the clearance cairns. These are visible as irregular lines of stone in the ground surface and stony banks which are 1m-2m wide and 0.3m high. The field system extends to the south west and south east beyond the main concentration of cairns, and has an orientation along and perpendicular to the contours in an approximately NNE to SSW direction. Some of the field boundaries are less fragmentary here and survive as tumbled stone wall lines which include orthostats, or earthfast stones, and as stony lynchets, which are the product of cultivation within the small plots defined by the boundaries.

At the northern edge of the cairnfield there are two parallel hollow ways. These are visible as rounded hollows, 3m-4m wide and up to 1m deep, which run in a north westerly direction down the valley slope. They continue beyond the monument, deepening as the slope increases, and would have provided access between the cairnfield and field system and Wheeldale Beck in the valley bottom.

The unenclosed hut circle settlement lies towards the centre of the monument, between the main concentration of cairns and the better defined part of the field system. The settlement is visible as a single hut circle, defined by a penannular bank of earth and stone rubble, which is 1.5m-2m wide and stands up to 0.3m high. The interior of the circle is slightly raised above the level of the exterior ground surface and measures 6m in diameter. A break in the perimeter bank in the south east sector of the circle would have been the entrance to the hut and this opens into one of the enclosures within the field system. To the west of the hut circle settlement there is a round burial cairn. This is the most prominent cairn within the cairnfield and it has a stony mound measuring 7m in diameter and standing up to 0.5m high. Partial excavation in the past has left a hollow in the centre of the mound. The second round burial cairn is situated in a prominent position at the top of the rocky edge on the north side of the monument. This has a stony mound which measures 8m in diameter and stands up to 0.5m high. Partial excavation in the 19th century uncovered a cist, consisting of vertical stone slabs set into the ground beneath the mound. These formed a square chamber, which had sides 1.1m long. The chamber would originally have contained a burial and been covered by a further stone slab. The northern and eastern sides of the chamber are still visible, but the other sides have become buried by tumbled stone at the edges of the excavation, and the covering slab has been removed.

The standing stone is located at NGR SE81469780, to the south east of the cairnfield and field system and on the opposite side of Howl Dike. It is a block of sandstone which measures 0.7m by 0.3m in section and is oriented NNE to SSW. The stone is 1.3m high, although it is leaning to the west. During the post-medieval period, the standing stone was used as a marker for a crossing point over the nearby stream, which was traversed by means of a sandstone slab laid across it.

Over the years the cairnfield and field system have become embedded in blanket peat. This has partly masked some of the earthworks, making them less pronounced, and has buried other features which will survive between the visible remains.

The monument is surrounded by many other remains from the prehistoric period, which include further cairnfields as well as ritual and funerary monuments.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Spratt, D A , 'Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology in North East Yorkshire' in Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North East Yorkshire, (1993)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].