Hipping-Stones alias Stepping Stones

Maureen Ellis
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

The north-west of England is a watery place with many rivers and becks. Ancient man needed access to water for moving around and food sources, although he used far less water than we do. Living by a river is fine, but one may need to cross it. A fording place by a settlement is handy both to walk across and even take a vehicle. Footpaths developed as a network between homesteads or as access to religious buildings and to places of industry including fields and markets and they formed part of long distance routes, throughout prehistory and history. It would be reasonable to think that a lowly footpath that crossed a beck would have boulders thrown into it to keep feet dry, and eventually a line of stepping stones carefully placed to further facilitate crossing. Stepping stones are often next to fords because the banks need to be scaleable, but sometimes there is one without the other. It might be supposed that stepping stones are very ancient, but fords probably came first.

I decided to investigate stepping stones by seeing if they were marked on the 1847 Ordnance Survey First Edition six-inch maps and the present day ones. Although old maps can be accessed on line, I also looked at them in Skipton reference library which has copies of the 1847 maps of Craven available without prior booking. Armed with a lot of knowledge from walking on footpaths where I’d seen stepping stones, I had a short list to investigate. The name hipping(s) in a house name normally means that the building was or had been next to stepping stones, (personal communication from Sue Cowgill and Wayne Reddyhough to Jill Sykes). Confirmation of this came from the Dictionary of Archaic Words and The Complete Oxford Dictionary.

List of Some Sites

  1. Across Clapham Beck near Lawsings, south east of Clapham Station at GR 675739
  2. Across Austwick Beck north of Owlet Hall at GR 767679
  3. Across the River Doe at GR 707747 (sometimes called the River Twiss) above Beezleys which is north west of Ingleton
  4. Across Raygill north of High Bentham at GR 677716
  5. Across Stainforth Beck at GR 821673
  6. Across the Ribble at Nappa at GR 855534
  7. At Bolton Abbey across the River Wharfe at GR 075542
  8. At Gargrave across the River Aire at GR 930542
  9. At Loscober Laithe across a tributary of Wigglesworth Beck at GR 799563
  10. At Hollow Gill Beck a tributary of the Ribble at GR 804585
  11. At Tossside Fold, across Tosside Beck at GR 776555
In addition, the presence of the name Hipping alerted me to possible sites at

  1. Wenning Hipping at Keasden across the River Wenning at GR 732677
  2. Hipping Hall near Leck across a rivulet at GR 644750 from Ireby moor going eventually to Cants Beck and the River Lune
  3. Hipping House south of Thorns across the Ribble at GR 783787
  4. Green Hippin, north east of Wigglesworth, above Wigglesworth Beck at GR 790578

The sites of stepping stones and some fords will now be described individually and in detail. I had noted the grid reference from my modern map but the early maps use degrees, minutes and seconds and I located the sites in the library by comparing names. It was not difficult. If using www.old-maps.co.uk a 12 figure national grid reference is required.

  1. Clapham Beck. I approached this one on the footpath leading from Crina Bottom Farm to Lawsings Lane.The stepping stones are marked on the 1847 map. A footbridge is shown on the modern map, which is not there but the stepping stones are. They are barely passable except in dry weather. In November they were clearly visible but a month later they were almost invisible except for a faint line of turbulence in the water and I knew where to look. This crossing is not a fording place but further along at GR 746674 there is a suitable spot across to Lower Waters.
  2. Just south of Austwick the stepping stones are marked on the modern map (but a ford is shown on the old map). The stones connect the village via a footbridge off Holme Lane to the A65 at Owlet Hall. One pointed stone (tipped by the rush of water) next to a deep channel made crossing debateable; a convenient metal girder has been fastened across just further up by which one can clamber over the beck.
  3. Oddies Lane goes north-west from Ingleton along the north side of the River Doe and passes Beezleys going up to Chapel le Dale. Between Beezleys and Twistleton Dale House, a distance of one mile, there are four sets of stepping stones marked on the modern map. There is also a ford at Beezleys but the second set of stepping stones upstream is marked only as a footbridge on the old map, the footpath to it is coming down from Dale Barn. The other two stepping stone crossings are marked on the old map and both are fordable. The set below Twistleton Dale House leads over to Dale House. Each crossing connects the north side of the valley to the B6255 on which side there are several old quarries. This is ancient country where there are early settlement sites on both sides of the valley.
  4. Raygill’s stepping stones were placed there at the owners’ suggestion, as the original bridge had been washed away years before. They were put there after liaison with the North Yorkshire County Council’s Footpath officer, who organized their placement about 1985. They are diamond-shaped concrete blocks in this tributary of the Greta and at present there is a large tree trunk at right angles across them. They do not appear on either old or new maps.
  5. At Stainforth the footpath is shown to cross Stainforth Beck and there are stepping stones which connect the two ‘greens’, part of a substantial routeway and clearly fordable. They are clearly marked on the pre-1894 map but none are shown on the modern map. The forth of Stainforth means ford and is on a major medieval east-west routeway. David Johnson remembers that around September 1987, there was a thunderstorm with torrential rain that lasted all day, and by early evening the beck had risen enormously and a tree trunk became lodged in the village by the pub. Water backed up and burst through the vicarage, down the road and through the car park. When it had subsided next morning, one of the stepping stones had gone; it had been ripped out of its foundation and carried some metres downstream.
  6. The 1847 map showing Nappa has indistinct writing which could be ‘hipping’. In living memory the ford and stepping stones were regularly used (see article in this journal). A ford is clearly marked with the footpath crossing the River Ribble on the modern maps, although the removal of the islands has meant that the banks are now unfordable. The present farmers recall many a time when a tractor had to pull a stranded car and trailer across.
  7. There are the well-known 57 stepping stones crossing the Wharfe at the 1154 Augustinian Bolton Priory, but they are marked neither on the modern map nor the old one although they are part of a medieval track from the village of Storiths to the priory. The canons used to employ labour from the village. The river can always be crosssed now, as there is a bridge next to the stepping stones. The banks are sloping enough for fording.
  8. At Gargrave and easily visible from the A65, there are prominent stepping stones crossing the River Aire, which do however become submerged with heavy rain. They are marked on neither old nor new maps. They connect Hellifield Road (the A65) to the Green. The present ones were placed after WW2 in a straight line across, but now these circular concrete blocks are in a V formation. There was once a ford where the present bridge spans the Aire.
  9. At Loscober, stepping stones are marked on the old map but not the new one. A footpath is marked on both maps, although there is no trace of them now. There is an old stone bridge over the beck and this would have been fordable.
  10. At Hollow Gill Beck, Wigglesworth, stepping stones are marked on the old map but not the new one. There is a substantial stone slab built into the wall which bridges the beck but I found no stepping stones.
  11. Tosside Beck has stepping stones marked on the old but not the new map. There is a footpath on both maps but it was so obstructed I was unable to get down to the beck. I asked at Tosside Fold if there were any stepping stones but wasn’t surprised to find the answer was no.

Perhaps the most interesting fact which came to light in this study was the occurrence of hipping or hippin in a house name.

  1. In Keasden there is Wenning Hipping, a farmhouse south of Clapham, near the station. It is situated on a bend in the Keasden Road just south of the River Wenning. By the time I looked over the road bridge to the west, I had got my eye in for possible fording places and stepping stones. Across the fields and below the farm it would have been possible to ford. My thoughts were later substantiated by a document previously prepared by Alison Armstrong for the owners of the house, which had put the crossing at the same place. She had with the help of Google Earth surmised that the area surrounding the farm had been an important holding area for animals. There is no trace of ford or stepping stones on either the old or new maps. It is clear on the ground that the river has markedly changed its course. It is possible that the construction of the railway played some part in this.
  2. Hipping Hall is next to two footpaths. There are no stepping stones marked on old or new maps. The stream next to the hotel is carefully channelled and it is difficult to work out where the crossing has been. The house is mentioned by this name in early 17th century parish records. The stepping stone route to it was likely to have been cut off by the building of the railway, which is on the 1847 map.
  3. Below Gearstones on Blea Moor Road there is a track that leads down to the abandoned Thorns settlement and beyond, down to the Ribble, with a foot bridge and ford marked on the modern map, west of an area named Wife Park. I was alerted to this site because the old map named Hipping House on the east side of the right-angled bend in the river and there is an L-shaped building marked. At the site there is a grassy area 24ft by 30ft at the corner where the field walls meet, which is firm underfoot, while every where else is swampy with rushes. The structure is confirmed on Google Earth, which also shows three lines across the river which look like stepping stones. On the way down I met Reg Dobson at Thorns and he said his father had replaced the wooden bridge, about 1954, with a metal girder, metal hand rail and wooden platform. The platform has now gone. One set of stepping stones, which are present, is indicated by a large boulder on either side of the river bank. There are places up and down stream, where one can see other lines of hippenable stones, in dry weather.
  4. Green Hippin is a house a quarter of a mile above Long Gill Brook which eventually becomes Wigglesworth Beck, where there are two sites marked on the old map but not the new one. One is between Hill Top (house) and Tod Holes Hill at GR 795567and another lower down at Hole House, at GR 802566. Although I could find no trace of stepping stones at the first it is likely that the ones at Hole House would have been just to the east of the substantial road bridge there, on Tod Holes Lane which leads up to Green Hippins. The beck would also have been fordable.

My interest in stepping stones began years ago. There is a sort of romanticism about crossing water by them and an excitement as one strides from stone to stone and a frisson of fear about missing one’s step. They are fugitive crossings depending on the amount of water in the beck or river and are therefore not dependable crossings as part of footpaths. Water scours and moves them. I had expected to find stepping stones marked more often on old rather than new maps. This was not so. It is difficult to know whether this transience has led to their omission on some early maps with their replacement later, or as with Raygill’s that they are actually modern. Health and safety as well as cost are now issues and as at Nappa, stepping stones and fords are unlikely ever to be replaced, the diversion of a footpath being more feasible and cheaper.

The examples described in this article are not meant to be an exhaustive list of hippinable stones but are just some of the interesting and useful man-made constructions in this area.

I want to thank Alison Armstrong, Myfanwy and George Bargh, Sue Cowgill, John Fox, David Johnson, Sylvia Harrop, Wayne Reddyhough, Kate Rowe and Jill Sykes for generous information and help they have given me in writing this article.

Map Showing Hipping House




Map Showing Hipping House