Walking Myth into Place: The Crow guardian

Our series of self-guided walks ends with the guartdian figure of the Crow.
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, 2017-2020; updates may be made at later dates.


A recurrent feature of Britain’s terreestrial zodiacs is an exterior figure which has been interpreted as a kind of guardian or sentinel figure. Frequently this is a dog, like the Girt Dog of Langport found alongside the Glastonbury Zodiac. Commentators like Mary Caine in her comprehensive overview of the zodiac and its mythic associations, The Glastonbury Zodiac (1978), have associated the figure with Cerberus, the hound of Hades. The Hebden Bridge Zodiac departs from the pattern in having a different but still highly apt external figure in the form of a crow, standing on Midgley Moor with its head on the rounded summit of Crow Hill, its beak pointing into Hebden Bridge itself at the centre of the formation. From tail to beak it measures one mile, and is mostly delineated by restless paths on the moor, in keeping with the watchful corvid.

The crow is a powerful symbolic and magical character all over the world, often playing the role of divine messenger. One thinks in these northern parts of Hugin and Munin, the raven spies of Odin, and indeed here in the Upper Calder valley we have twin Crow Hills on opposite sides of the valley, at Midgley and Sowerby, our own landscape versions of Odin’s birds. The raven had great significance in Celtic lore, too; when fatally wounded, the semi-divine hero Bran (meaning raven) in the Welsh Mabinogion story ‘Branwen, daughter of Llŷr’ instructs his surviving followers to cut off his head – and in that form he accompanies them back to Britain, entertaining them with song and prophecy throughout. His head was eventually interred in London, on a hill we know as Tower Hill; from there, Bran insisted, he would protect the island of Britain, and the sacred ravens of the Tower of London are kept in honour of this mythic narrative. Note an echo of Bran’s fate in Manshead Hill, a little to the south of Mytholmroyd and west of Sowerby Crow Hill; and note also that Calderdale is an especial haunt of the severed head motif, expressed in the patron saint of its mother church (St John the Baptist), the idiosyncratic punishment of the Gibbet, the town coat of arms, and the plenitude of stone heads of the ‘archaic head’ form in the vernacular architecture of the 17th century [see John Billingsley, A Stony Gaze, Capall Bann 1998].

The Crow can be best made through the valley of Luddenden Dean, from Holme House Bridge upstream from Luddenden village, taking the road up towards Booth. Turn right just before the houses into Jerusalem Lane; at Jerusalem Farm, a track through the car park leads down to the tip of our Crow’s tail at Wade Bridge, once a ford. It is possible to walk from here alongside the stream which marks the Crow’s rump to catherine House ford, in which the Crow’s feet are planted.

From this ford, take a footpath up to a roadway, and turn left as far as another footpath towards Ferney Lee leading off to the right. On this path, the front of the Crow is marked a couple of fields away  to our left by field boundaries. WEAr=t FerneyLee, we turn left at a track near the farm, and right again at the far side of the farm, heading uphill along the line of the Crow’s breast (note this path may be closed during grouse-shoots in August). entering on to the moor, head for the corner diagonally to the left. As we climb, a mound can be seen on the skyline away to the right, across Bired Hole – the Bronze Age Miller’s Grave (see the Scorpio walk). Crow Hill itself will also become visible ahead. It is worth ascending to the small cairn at its summit (1250ft ASL) to admire the views across valleys and moor, including one of the valley’s most prominent Bronze Age ritual landscapes, comprising cairnfields, mounds, earth circles, stones and walling [see David Shepherd, . In 1992 one of a group of friends I was leading on a Crow walk found a crow’s skull at this summit, in another of the odd minor coincidences that have repeatedly emerged during embodied surveys of these zodiac figures. From here we can gaze along the Crow’s beak towards Hebden Bridge. A path leads down to the tip of the beak below us at the standing stone known as Churn Milk Joan, erected c1608 as a boundary marker then known as Nelmires Stoop. The stone is the focus of a folktale involving the accidental (or not) death of a young woman, and is the site of a popular money-exchange custom [see John Billingsley, Folk Tales from Calderdale Vol.1, Chap.9]. The similar profile of Sowerby’s Crow Hill on the far side of the valley stands out.

From Churn Milk Joan, walk towards the wall of Folly Field, below Crow Hill. Its curved upper side delineates the back of the Crow’s head, but our path goes down the side and left along the lower wall of the field and beyond it to leave the moor by Drt=y Carr, just to the left of the reservoir at the top of the Scorpion’s tail. Turning right along Dry Carr Lane and then navigating the hairpin bends, we find ourselves on Jerusalem Lane again, heading towards Booth and down to our starting point at Holme House Bridge.