Not just a lump of rock?

History by Peter Fox 

THE HILLS and moorlands of Saddleworth are covered with many large boulders and rock outcrops which may appear only of interest to the geologist and to the rest of us be simply lumps of rock.

The ‘Muffin Stones'
The ‘Muffin Stones’

They have acted in the distant past simply as guides in the landscape, yet many of these have a story to tell and a place in our local history, whether its folklore or not.

The origins of the names of many of these rocks are lost in time; some however have obvious links to its shape while others are associated with its locality and some have simply acquired a nickname for whatever reason.

The folk tales of Saddleworth include the story of two giants, essentially named after the rock outcrops of Alderman and Alphin in Greenfield, who both hurled large boulders across the valley at each other.

One of the pans on Pots and Pans rock
One of the pans on Pots and Pans rock

There is an association with food for a number of these rocks, including ‘Oven Stones, ‘Sugar Loaf’, the ‘Dish Stone’, and the ‘Muffin Stones’ behind Pots and Pans which are obviously named by the very shape after which they are formed.

We also have ‘Bakestones’ quarried in the area and used to cook on, ‘Pots and Pans’, named not after its shape but after the fact that in the top over centuries the weather has eroded round ‘pans’.

The origin of the name of the ‘Dinner Stones’, another food related one located in the Castleshaw Valley, is lost in time – was it the resting place of a shepherd who ate his lunch?

The location is now however forever associated with Ammon Wrigley as one of his favourite places and one where his ashes were scattered from, with plaques and a poignant poem now marking the spot.

’Wimberry Rocks’ in Greenfield
’Wimberry Rocks’ in Greenfield

There is one rock that has moved a considerable distance, now lying in the bottom of the valley. In 1797 the navvies working on the canal tunnel at Standedge for a day’s entertainment took gunpowder and no doubt a few bottles up the Greenfield valley to the ‘Rocking Stone on Ravenstone Brow with the intention of blowing it up.

They succeeded in their efforts but one man was killed and several injured, and the event is said to have scared away the Golden Eagles that used to live in the area.

Above Dovestones Reservoir in Greenfield is ‘Indian’s Head’ – an outcrop of rock having the profile that resembles the head of an Indian. The name is a relatively modern addition, not appearing on early maps.

The rock is part of an outcrop of rocks called Wimberry Stones which on August 19, 1949 were the location of a disaster when a Dakota plane trying to land at Manchester Airport in bad visibility flew too low and crashed into the rocks, sadly killing 24 people.

I hope this has shown there is more to these ‘lumps’ of rock; there are no doubt many other stories to tell and I certainly welcome any of these if you send them to the museum.

Please get in touch with Saddleworth Museum curator Peter Fox by emailing or calling 01457 874093.