Skyrakes enclosure MYD3980 (c) YDNPA, 2003
This enigmatic enclosure, lying astride the long rocky ridge to the west of Sharp Haw, has proved difficult for archaeologists to understand. Like many hilltop enclosures it has been ascribed to the Iron Age as a defensive structure, but as the enclosure bank which survives lacks standard defensive details, such as an external ditch and a robust continuous rampart, this explanation is extremely dubious. In the past it has also been associated with a former medieval deer park, a forester’s lodge and the medieval Forest of Skipton, but evidence is similarly lacking. In fact the structure of the enclosure itself does not appear to be typically medieval. It is probably prehistoric and possibly ritual in function, but its original use is still not understood.
The enclosure forms a rough horseshoe shape about 75 metres across at its widest point and open to the south-east. The enclosure bank is up to 2 metres in width and is low throughout, rarely more than half a metre high. It is made up of earth, stones and boulders and the northernmost side is marked by a double line of parallel stones. The western side is different, a very low single bank incorporating large irregular stones, part of which runs along the edge of the ridge before peeling off away from the steep slope close to a rocky outcrop. A short portion of bank connects the main enclosure to these prominent gritstone rocks. The whole area is strewn with natural rocky outcrops and weathered boulders and this, together with its position high up on the edge of a steep escarpment, makes it unlikely the enclosure was built for animal husbandry.
The topographic setting is unusual, and this may ultimately provide us with a key to understanding the enclosure better. The situation is spectacular, overlooking the Aire valley above Gargrave, with views over towards Pendle Hill and the Forest of Bowland. Just beneath the enclosure on the eastern side is a large boggy area which would once have been a mixture of open water and marsh. After extensive drainage in the 19th century, only a fragment of it remains as a small tarn. However, we know that lakes and water were sacred to prehistoric communities, and it is possible this wetland area formed the focus of a ritual landscape. At the southern end of the ridge, 350m away, lie the Skyrakes ringcairn and a small tumulus; and three quarters of a mile to the north is another prehistoric enclosure on the isolated hilltop of Rough Haw.
Skyrakes enclosure MYD3980 (c) YDNPA, 2023
View of Skyrakes enclosure MYD3980 (c) YDNPA, 2023