Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

re “Lines of Sight Through Craven” (Tony Burnett, Journal 1999 pp 12, 13) I read Tony Burnett’s article with particular interest since I too had been investigating potential sight lines for Roman roads through the Craven Gap.

I would like to comment on Harry Speight’s claim (that TB quotes from the book The Craven and N.W. Highlands) to have established a clear line of sight from Rawdon Billings on the western fringes of Leeds to Ingleborough. According to my calculations that is impossible: the direct line descends about 30 metres below ground level in the vicinity of West Harts Hill on Embsay Moor. (Indeed, if the Ingleborough bonfire site were on Little Ingleborough which I believe is the usual bonfire location, at 665 metres elevation, instead of on the main summit at 723 metres, the line is over 50 metres below ground level).

I have spoken to Tony Burnett, who said that he had himself been somewhat sceptical about the claim. Later in the year when I climbed Rawdon Billings on a dull day at the end of October, I found the hill a poor vantage point: quite high ground to the north west, looking over and beyond the Yeadon airport runway, and a rather murky atmosphere which could have been worse in Victorian times with the smoke drifting from the connurbations crowding nearby.

What could Harry Speight have seen, then? If his assessment of direction were correct (the bearing of Ingleborough from Rawdon Billings is about 306.5 °E of true North, the distance being just under 59 km) the most likely possibility seems to be a bonfire on Embsay Moor itself, above Skipton. On the other hand if his direction were a bit out, it could have been on Ilkley Moor, but that is quite close by so it is a rather unlikely mistake. But anyway, how could Speight have known the right bearing: on the curving surface of the Earth, it is quite complicated to calculate, and just trying to estimate it from a map can produce an error of up to 20° which would bring a host of other sites into contention. Perhaps after all he was looking in the right direction, and what he saw was a reflection of a bonfire on a low cloudbase above the summit of Ingleborough. But that I consider very unlikely!

Yours sincerely, John Hughes.