Exploring Grinton’s enigmatic mounds

One of the mounds at Grinton.

Perhaps you have wondered about the two apparently fortified mounds by the River Swale just to the east of Grinton?

Could they be part of a bronze age settlement, or a Roman fort adjacent to a cross-roads of routes from Catterick up through Swaledale and from Bainbridge to Bowes, or maybe they’re medieval or perhaps something more recent?

In September, members of Swaag (Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group), started a survey to find out more.

The team, who are all amateurs, used GPS to accurately map the shape of the mounds and then carried out a magnetometer survey to begin to understand more about what might lie beneath the surface.

As with many archaeological projects, the work generated more questions than answers. The team hopes to return in 2023 to expand the area explored, carry out an additional survey of the soil’s resistance and perhaps confirm the presence of underlying structures whose presence has been inferred by this year’s work. Thereafter they will prepare a report of the findings and decide whether there is work to be done lifting turf on a proper archaeological exploration.

What they do know is that the mounds themselves are glacial and were shaped by the River Swale as it progressively cut its way through the dale. They have yet to determine a date for the earthworks surrounding the summit of each mound. An excavation carried out in the 1930s surmised that they were medieval, but that is far from confirmed. They certainly pre-date recent times as they are prominent on 19th century maps.

Archaeology is rarely straight forward and both mounds are known to have formed part of an early 20th century golf course. Are those round features on the magnetometer survey signs of possible round houses, or are they the golf course greens?

It is also known that the Second World War and the Cold War had a significant impact on the western mound. Initially the site of an anti-aircraft gun emplacement and then a Royal Observer Corps nuclear bunker, there is a very high chance that earlier archaeology has been displaced or buried under the soil excavated from the bunker and tipped along the mound’s northern slope.

What is known is that Grinton’s enigmatic mounds have been of significance in the life of the dale for a very long time.

Swaag say they couldn’t have undertaken this survey without the permission of the landowner, for which they are very grateful. The Yorkshire Dales National Park has also  been very supportive, providing the group with training in landscape surveying before they started the project.

If you are interested in joining a community group which offers a programme of informative walks, monthly talks, and the opportunity to join in aspects of landscape surveying, geophysics and archaeological digs, then please do look at www.swaag.org and come to one of the group’s meetings on the first Tuesday of the month.