Dawn on December 21st is at 8.23am in West Yorkshire, late enough to allow even those out the night before to join in the winter solstice celebrations. I have been invited to join a large group of img_5885Calder Valley fellrunners “aiming to see if Chris Goddard is right about the sun rising out of the Miller’s Grave on the Winter Solstice”. There is not a little pressure here, but I feel confident enough that I won’t be lynched if it turns out to be an erroneous claim.

Though it is dark as we gather on Blenheim Street, the light creeps quickly into the sky even before we have left the trees. The train of twenty or so headtorches makes its way across muddy broken down fields towards Raw Lane, though mine is quickly rendered useless by the dodgy fix I had attempted at home and the slow advance img_5888of the day. As we trawl steadily up the shoulder of Sheep Stones Edge, I am asked if I have been to see this midwinter alignment before. I have to admit I haven’t, despite being tempted every year to examine the claims I have made in the book. I have always felt more inclined to head up onto Midgley Moor in midsummer when, although there are no alignments to observe, a night walk under summer skies in the early hours seemed more appealing.

We leave the Sheep Stones path near the Greenwood Stone and traipse across the heather towards Robin Hood’s Penny Stone, a large glacial erratic composed of Huddersfield white rock. As we near, it becomes obvious that we are not the only img_5892people to have had this idea. A further dozen people are already gathered by the stone, looking towards Miller’s Grave and the pinkish-orange glow developing on the horizon. Others arrive from all directions; there are many local walkers, runners and orienteers and their dogs who have braved this cloudy morning for a chance to see a prehistoric alignment laid bare. We are fortunate that, although most of the sky is grey, a band just above the horizon is free from clouds. The glow deepens and moves inexorably round to the south until, as it hovers over the low mound of the Miller’s Grave, the sun first emerges into the sliver of open sky. Cameras whir and it seems I was right, or more accurately those I have quoted were right, for there is doubtless an alignment here, even though you could still argue about whether the sun comes right out of the middle 15622613_1168989909858354_6832387305989840178_nof the grave. Still, there will be no lynching of the author today.

There follows plenty of discussion as to how this alignment was created. The obvious answer is that the Miller’s Grave cairn was built to line up with the existing glacial erratic, but the cairn itself appears to have been built over an existing earthfast rock, suggesting that instead Robin Hood’s Penny Stone must have been moved into position. How far this giant 2m high boulder would have been required to move is unclear, but there is another source of Huddersfield white rock 300m across Midgley Moor that may have been its original source. While it is not quite in the league of the transport of the Preseli Bluestone sarsens of Stonehenge, it is nonetheless a quite remarkable feat of our prehistoric ancestors that reveals just how important these ritual sites were.

img_5896By the time our discussions are over, the fellrunners have disappeared over the horizon and I am shivering, so I forego the kind offer of bacon butties at James and Tamsin’s and head home over High Brown Knoll happy in the knowledge that this day has only just begun and the days are only going to get longer from here.