I have previously posted about a local Yorkshire genius loci /Goddess known as Verbeia and as I was researching Her I came across the article The Altar Stones of Ilkley. The author closes the article by saying;
Ilkley – The Body of Verbeia?
One day I finally got round to trying to trace the two streams that flowed past Olicana back up onto the moors. The westerly stream, which originates just east from the Barmishaw Wood, seems to disappear into the grounds of the Bradford Community College. The easterly stream, as mentioned above, can be found flowing under Brook Street, its final exposure to us being a lovely oasis of vegetation among the streets on the moorside. Tracing it uphill, it winds east under the road onto the moor, and back into a small concrete pool. Then it carries on through the area downhill from the White Wells house, and, before you reach it, it becomes obvious that it is flowing from the waterfall to the west of White Wells.
Behind this fall is a curious mound, which presents itself more forcefully due to being isolated by its covering in trees. Clambering up past the ford that the waterfall creates over the pathway, and on to the mound, I became gradually but powerfully astounded at the situation. Two streams flow from further uphill and converge at the southern end of this mound. They immediately part again, flowing down past either side, only to reconverge at the bottom of the mound, where the water cascades down towards Ilkley. Perhaps the fact that the trees here are an isolated huddle had something to do with it, but for me the sense of this mound being some sacred grove was palpable. Indeed, high up at the head of the mound is to be found a grand boulder carved with cups and rings.
In case it’s not obvious already, I’m not using terms like the ‘bottom’ and ‘head’ of the mound as purely mundane figures of speech! For here I saw a natural analogue of the Roman fort’s situation, with two enclosing streams that may have been the inspiration for the snakes in Verbeia’s hands. The feeling of it being an ‘analogue’ is strengthened by the fact that we’re actually dealing with the same flow of water from the moor into the Wharfe. Was this mound associated with Verbeia, perhaps seen as her prone form in the land? Was it a sacred place to the Brigantes or the Gaulish troops, as it evidently was to the Neolithic or Bronze Age folk who carved the petroglyphs here?
It became more and more tempting to link the mound to Verbeia when I went back down to the waterfall again, and saw that it created the image of a flow emanating from the lower regions of this ‘recumbent goddess’! Note that the snakes in the altar stone image seem to nearly converge near the goddess’ vagina – this is the situation with the mound’s streams, but not with the fort’s.
I urge anyone interested in Verbeia to explore the place for themselves, to make up their own minds; or to let their minds wander in the odd peace and vibrancy of this suggestive mound.
So with this written map to guide me off the family went in search of the “Mound” of Verbeia; the perfect way to spend your aniversary weekend.
It proved relatively easy to find the waterfall using Google Earth, and it is relatively close to a road, however seeing it on a screen is not the same as seeing with your own eyes. Once there in person the suggestive natute of the waterfall was quite obvious. The falls have cut back into the moors leaving verdant legs of land on either side and although water levels were moderate on our visit the presence and height of stepping stones indicates how forceful the flow can be.
The imagery of the gushing waterfall becomes stronger as you ascend all three falls…
… untill rising up behind the top most waterfall the mound itself appears.
Around the mound flow two branches of the stream and I whole heartedly agree with the author of The Altar Stones of Ilkley that the presence and joining of the two streams strongly echos the altars to Verbeia where the tails of the snakes merge in a very suggestive location.
The similarly between the land and altar stone becomes even stronger as you are walking the contours of the mound itself. The mound itself is wooded, though not so densley that traversing it is impossible but sufficiently so that arieal views of the area does not reveal the contours and content of the mound.
The further we walked the greater the impression we were walking along the prone body of a recumbent goddess.
Emerging from the trees and back out on to the Moors the course of the two streams can be seen, emerging from between two hills before parting to caress the mount.
I am inclined to agree with GT Oakley that it is this striking waterfall and mound, which would have been visible from the formative Iron Age and Romano-British settlements around modern day Ilkley, that inspired the occupants of the Fort to conflate their Goddess with the genius loci of the area. The fact that the feature consists of a single streem which gives way to the mound makes the location, to me, seem more significant.
The sense of identity is palpable, and even with two kids dashing around it was possible to feel the Goddess beneath my feet and I strongly wanted to recognise Her. I had taken a candle and matches with me and a perfect flat stone with carving, henceforth known as the Altar Stone, would have served as a safe setting to light them on however it was just too windy to get them to stay lit.
Instead the girls and I arranged things found in nature around the carving before leaving a food offering in a discreet location.
The whole visit was very inspiring and I don’t think the only reason the girls want to go back is for a water(fall)side picnic. I would like to visit at a more liminal time of day/year with more time and ‘equipment’ in order to perform something more in the area. Unfortunately the area is well frequented, with evidence of beer cans, pop bottles and of fires having been burned in shallow pits excavated under various bolders scattered around the mound. A few days after our visit a large moor fire broke out in the area immediately in the vacinity of White Wells and at time of posting I am not sure of how affected the mound has been, driving home the need to be careful with fire when out in nature. We even found a wooden angel/chetub nailed to a tree!
Even if we are unable to go bavk and perform actual ritual we will be going back later in the year to review the damage and perform a litter pick and honour the Lady Verbeia in some small way.
Mistress of the sacred falls
Holy Verbeia, I name you.
Secret Goddess of the Moorland craggs, you hold the secrets of this land of ours, singing it’s tale in falling waters.
Cold waters caress your form, serpents coiling through the land to carve the unwilling bolder, hill and dale. Whirling, bending, the flow of your dance is the beat of the land.
May your waters be ever clear and flowing, dear Goddess of the twisting falls; Lady Verbeia forgotten Goddess of the Land.