Walking Myth into Place: The Gemini Giant

Our series of self-guided walks continues with Gemini (May 22-June 21 approx.)
You will need the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 South Pennines map. Please note that routes and their condition were accurate at their time of survey, 2018-2020; updates may be made at later dates.
Please be alert to any other quasi-affirmations and correspondences of Gemini as you walk!


Although we are used to Gemini being depicted as a pair of twins, the more usual effigy in British terrestrial zodiacs is a single giant warrior figure, raising or flexing his arm in a gesture of strength and in some way expressing the dualism that is inherent in the sign. This is the image favoured in the Hebden Bridge Zodiac, whose Gemini is a huge (the total length of Gemini is about 1.25 miles) muscular figure kneeling on the hillside above the Colden valley. His head appears to be helmeted, in further identification of this as a warrior figure. The raised arms are clasped above his head in a gesture suggestive of triumph or confidence, but also expressing even-handedness, a balance in the strength of the arms and equilibrium in the parity of exertion between them; thus is the Gemini aspect of balanced duality represented. The same sense is obtained from the way in which the two hilltops which the figure straddles are approximately equal in height. Moreover, the footpath system in the figure has developed a pleasing symmetry, as can be seen from the Ordnance Survey map. A final point of balance is achieved in the relationship Gemini shares with Sagittarius, the other warrior of the zodiac; the two figures, opposites in the landscape as well as the zodiac cycle, face each other and appear to represent the axis of the whole formation[1].

Nigel Pennick relates the solitary warrior of British landscape zodiacs with Wandil, an immortal spirit of darkness who figures in Anglian lore. His rashest act was to steal the springtime, for which the gods apprehended Wandil and cast him into the sky as punishment. His two eyes are still to be seen as the twin stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation of Gemini, which provides the link with the zodiac identification.

More locally, the Calder Valley Pace-Egg tradition, which can be related to more than one of the zodiac figures, offers another relevant warrior figure. The Pace-Egg play is traditionally a springtime custom, nowadays performed at Easter. Once upon a time, it would seem that all the local townships had their own, slightly different versions of a basic Calder Valley pattern, but at present it is the Midgley and Heptonstall versions that are still performed. The village of Blackshaw Head, where Gemini is situated, had its own Pace-Egg Play, a little shorter than the Midgley version, which unfortunately died out after the 1914-18 war. the words of the play have, fortunately, survived[2], and the character Slasher is the dark warrior, called the Black Prince in other traditions, which also recalls Wandil. He describes himself in the Pace-Egg Play in terms very reminiscent of the image of Gemini in the Blackshaw landscape:

“My head is made of steel, my body made of brass, my hands and feet of knuckle-bone”.

The Blackshaw giant’s head is stoutly helmeted, his body as angular as though encased in armour. His hands are clasped at the rugged slope below Hippins Farm, at a piece of bumpy, rocky ground that is subtly evocative of a knuckly grip. His legs and feet lie below Hot Stones crags.

Gemini is the highest in altitude of all the zodiac figures, touching 1100 feet across the arms and shoulders, as befits an Air sign which has rulership over the arms, shoulders and lungs.


The walk

To access the Gemini figure from the main A646, take Jumble Hole Road, opposite the Ecoheat works, under the railway and straight on. Follow the track uphill through the old mill buildings and into the wood. Take the track as it crosses the stream, and follow the hairpin turn to the right just above the bridge. At the next hairpin bend, take the footpath that goes directly in front into the wood. Keep to this path past the ruined Staups Mill to the footbridge over the stream – as you cross the stream, you are entering Gemini…

To start you off on the Gemini experience, look down as you cross the bridge for a symbol of the sign’s essential dualistic nature – the first bridge I knew here consisted of just two iron railway lines, without a handrail, and they are still visible; above them are the foundations of the safer replacement built in the 1970s, consisting of two logs with planks for a walkway; the pair of railings were added in the 1980s.

On the other side, you are in the Gemini figure, which appears as a single giant clasping his hands above his head – here on this stretch of rocky slope is where those powerful hands and arms clasp in a balanced exertion of power. It’s an appropriate point to enter the figure – astrologically, Gemini rules the arms – and if you are walking the figure during Gemini itself, you will be greeted across the river by a flourish of buttercups – yellow being Gemini’s primary colour.

Climb the path to the field above to the signpost. At the signpost, bear left along the wall to the 17th-century house known as Hippins (the name means ‘stepping stones’). Above its door is a 1650 datestone; on either side are protective symbols – note how the one on the right duplicates a heart scroll, and how the doorway itself employs the two-headed ogee arch.

Duality and decision is symbolised everywhere in this figure. It stretches over two hills and two valleys, and the numerous footpaths and tracks means that the walker faces numerous choices and options (unless you follow our route…). This again is appropriate to a Gemini perspective – known to us as the twins, the sign can also be seen, more informatively, as twins within the individual, and this is how the image of a single powerful giant should be interpreted here; the clasped arms, the poise between stasis and action conveyed in the kneeling stance, the gaze from the head down the valley to its opposite sign of Sagittarius in Mytholmroyd all capture the ideal sense of equilibrium sought by any dualism. The figure seems to reflect the image conjured up in the words of the warrior Slasher in the Blackshaw version of the Calder Valley Pace-Egg Play:

My head is made of iron, My body made of brass

My hands and feet of knuckle-bone – I challenge thee to feel 

At Hippins, you have a choice of routes. You can pass in front of the house to the road, turn right and climb the hill into Blackshaw Head village. This route takes you to the giant’s shoulder; at the T-junction, you turn right along the road, past where the Shoulder of Mutton Inn served customers until the 1990s, to the chapel.

Probably more attractive is to head up from Hippins past the barn conversion, following the Calderdale Way. Between these two options is the right arm of the giant – the road is its outer and the path its inner side; the road leads to the giant’s shoulder, while the path leads to his armpit via Apple Tree Farm. In the fields across to the right is the giant’s head, looking down the Calder valley. Cross the farm drive to continue the footpath, uphill and below a single wind turbine, symbolising and making Gemini’s air element audible and productive (another stands about 200 yards away). Causey stones lead you up to Badger Lane; turn left and pass the Methodist chapel to the junction, where a milepost offers travellers a choice of routes into Hebden Bridge. Looking west from the junction, the Shoulder of Mutton inn was on the left; the road route from Hippins rejoins at the chapel.

Turning into Old Shaw Lane, follow the road as it marks the line of the giant’s back; where it veers to the left, a deeply-incised track continues the backbone straight down the hillside. Rejoin the road at the small of the giant’s back, and follow it as it outlines the giant’s buttocks around the New Delight campsite and inn to Jack Bridge – yes, on the giant’s jacksy – then uphill along the thigh past Colden School (another reminder of Gemini’s communicative aspect). A little above the school, opposite a converted farmhouse on the right, a stone-paved farm track leads off diagonally to the left. Walls either side of the track focus the perspective with their defined twin borders, and are common on this section of Gemini. Follow the track through the hamlet of Higher Colden, doing a right hairpin at the top to take you on to the tarmac lane at the giant’s right ankle. Turn right and walk along to the knee, bent at High Gate Farm – which is also May’s Shop and a good place to stop during working hours for teas, sandwiches, etc.

Continue along the lane – a hard-to-see footpath along a field edge marks the front of the left leg as it dips down to the valley, but pass that and you come to where the Pennine Way crosses the lane. Downhill, it marks the left heel, with the front of the left leg running downhill, but walk on… High Gate Lane follows the sole of its left foot to the tarmac road at its toe, at Edge Hey Green; here, you turn right back down along the road above the housing estate and pick up the Pennine Way again.

Just before the gate at Little Lear Ings, take the stile to the left and follow the path to the far corner of the farmyard and into another field – strike diagonally across this field and downhill, now following the front of the left leg along the stone causey stones and steps (note that this section is usually very wet and may be slippery on the lower section). When you reach the wood, follow the path down to the clapper bridge across Colden Water. This bridge again recalls the dualism of Gemini – twin pairs of stone slabs bridge the stream. Once over, choose the path climbing the hillside immediately to your right, and at the top, turn right. The track (known as Gamaliel’s Gate after its builder, multiple mill-owner Gamaliel Sutcliffe, in the early 19th century) marks the top of the thigh and the waistbelt of the Giant as it passes through to the New Delight Inn.

You don’t go that far, however; in a few yards, a driveway cuts back on the left – take that and through the gate on to the walled path climbing the hill. You are now climbing the front of the giant, and as you climb, the steep hill seems to swell out in sympathy with the ribcage and chest, across Pry Hill and down another walled track that disgorges you on to Badger Lane at the giant’s shoulders once more. Turn left, past Cally Hall Farm (where a mummified hand, known as a Hand of Glory and much prized by miscreants for its assistance in burglaries, was apparently found in the 1970s, and subsequently lost) to Marsh Lane. Follow this main track as it draws the eastward side of the left arm; the track to White Windows leads to the helmeted head of the giant in the fields between here and the village. The helmet bears a curious resemblance to those of the stormtroopers in Star Wars! Reflecting on that, however, the Star Wars series is of course an extended exposition of binary opposites – good/evil, father/son, love/hate, etc. – which are certainly appropriate in a Gemini context.

Eventually the track takes you to Dove Scout, also recorded as Dew Scout, which raises the possibility that Dew was once Dule (as in Dulesgate in Todmorden or Tuel Lane in Sowerby Bridge, meaning Devil – an appropriate image for a massive giant in the landscape, even if subconsiously perceived). Follow the track above Dove Scout as it becomes an embanked path across a field and into the woods of Jumble Hole Clough, with its powerful image of clasped arms and balanced exertion which seems to be intuitively embodied when the path reaches a wall; on the other side of the wall are the ruins of the workers’ hamlet for those employed at the now-ruined Staups Mill.

You are back close to where you entered Gemini, and from here it’s up to you. You can take the right path up above the old houses and into the wood, where you will find your way to the bridge by the mill, or you can take the left, which gives a few options of route down to the river. Just follow the sound of Jumble Hole Clough, and in due course you’ll cross the stream and out of the sign. Bear downstream, and you’ll come back to the old mill buildings near the railway. Note, as you approach the first building, the stone head high in the gable – it’s not an ancient carving, but the design of a tongue poking out is historically and internationally attested as an image designed to discourage ill intent, demeaned in western culture to an infantile gesture but supremely expressed in the Maori haka and ancient Greek Gorgon images.

    [1] Note that Sagittarius can be equated, like Gemini, with a character in the local Pace-Egg Play tradition, and in this tradition also the pair ‘face off’, as it were, in annually renewed combat. See below for further discussion of the Pace-Egg Play.

    [2] Harry Greenwood, Memories