Many places I have been on this island feel forlorn, secret or forgotten. This is not the case with the incongruously named Roseberry Topping, a hill on the Eastern edge of North Yorkshire. It was originally thought to be the highest hill on the North Yorkshire moors until Urra Moor was found to be higher. It is cared for by the National Trust and on the day we were there lovers, families and packs of teenagers climbed its steep height. I got a sense this was a shared place, much loved still, and to climb it was a rite of passage of sorts.
The name shift from Odin’s Rock to Roseberry Topping is a slow linguistic morphing. It’s thought that hill was sacred to Scandinavian dwellers who inhabited this place during the Viking Age, and that its name was Othenesburg. Othenes slowly, weirdly became Roseberry and Topping is an old Yorkshire dialect for hill.
But there is something mysterious about this place– at its summit there was once a sacred spring and its waters were used as a cure for sore eyes. (Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs by Edna Whelan). Odin had one eye– having sacrificed the other in a shamanic bargain at Mimir’s Well of Urd, the waters of transcendent wisdom.
There was also said to be a hermit’s cave at the top, also lost, with a hole beside it called Wilfrid’s Needle, named after the 8th century Bishop.To crawl through such a place was a rite. The pagan past is not so distant– the Viking Age coming after the needle’s namesake’s reign of power came to an end. The Scandinavian settlers left little evidence of who they were while they were here and its perhaps in residual Norse names and words (and their genetic code!) that their presence can really be felt.
All these structures are vanished now, with the top of the hill having caved in a mining collapse, burying these sacred spots. But the people of this place still hold it dear– I like to think the eye of Odin looks up through well buried in the ruins and sees the little girls climbing in their pink sandals, the teenagers, the lovers huddled in the crevices of the paths, and the dogs hurrying past their masters, all the way to the top.
More fascinating history can be found on the Yorkshire Holy Wells Website.
The triad design of these earrings was inspired by the Odin’s knot.