Brimham Rocks, bairns and the Bee Gees

Brimham Rocks, places to visit in YorkshireBrimham Rocks could surprise you, a landscape of fantastically shaped crags and boulders that might look more at home in a theme park.  It’s a place you should visit if you can’t afford the ‘bus fare to Arizona, Utah, or anywhere else that has an abundance of weirdly eroded rock formations.  Not that Britain doesn’t have other curious, naturally sculpted, stones – Woolpacks on Kinder Scout is one of several on my ‘must visit’ list.  But Brimham is unique and, in its own way, special.  Of course, Britain doesn’t do really enormous geographical features; we prefer to keep things fairly modest.  So, think of Brimham Rocks as Yorkshire’s answer to the Grand Canyon if you like; but just bear in mind that it’s smaller by some considerable margin and with a damp, far less extreme, climate.  It is also in Nidderdale – closer to Pately Bridge and Harrogate than it is to Tusayan or Flagstaff.

Brimham Rocks, places to take childrenThe shorter story of the stones is that, about 320 million years ago, half of Yorkshire was the delta of a huge river that flowed south from Norway and Scotland.  The water deposited layers of granite sand which went on to form a hard sandstone, Millstone Grit.  Erosion, mostly during the last Ice age between 80-10,000 years ago, has worn away the softer rock, leaving harder rock exposed, sometimes in improbable positions.  Once owned by the monks of Fountains Abbey, the Rocks have been a tourist attraction for at least 200 hundred years.  At one time, they were thought to have something to do with Druids (wasn’t everything?).  Nowadays, they are a magnet for families, their dogs and walkers (sometimes with more dogs).  There is plenty of opportunity for adventure including, of course, clambering on, and falling off, the rocks.

Pre-decimal, entry chargesI have written about Brimham Rocks before and declared that “This attraction carries a SEVERE CHILD WARNING: if you are not the keeper of young children, or feel distressed or intimidated by the presence of hoards of loud, scurrying, sometimes barging, and seemingly unsupervised small humans, DO NOT visit Brimham Rocks during the school holidays.” This came after an exceptionally harrowing visit in 2016, but both the (I thought obvious) humour and underlying serious point were unfortunately lost on some, who helpfully suggested a) that popular places sometimes get crowded and/or b) that they had some sympathy with the idea of not going anywhere during school holidays.  It is particularly unfortunate, because I am fond of children – I just couldn’t eat a whole one.  In fact, Brimham Rocks is the kind of place where children’s imaginations can run riot; they should be there, having a complete blast in the outdoors; it is a fabulous natural playground as well as a natural sculpture park.  The most interesting comment, though, came from a brain cell calling itself ‘Danger_Ranger’, who wrote: “I’m guessing there’s loads of retired moaning old gits about when it’s not the school holidays, the type that were never once young themselves, envious that the youngsters have their whole life ahead while they are at the end of theirs.” Sadly, I have been unable to identify ‘Danger_Ranger’ – none of the options that came up when searching seemed to fit the profile of angry simpleton – and I can only assume that s/he happily enjoys life under a stone in one of our soggier habitats.  The underlying serious point, of course, is that there is a breed of parent who genuinely, but erroneously, believe that everyone else is eager to share the experience of their darling, but amoral, children.  The notion of consideration for others is alien to these people, who, alas, will presumably pass this cognitive deficit onto their offspring.

In 2018, a group of five youngsters, every one of them a potential Brain of Britain candidate, pushed one of the finely balanced rocks at Brimham off the top of its crag, thus destroying 320 million years of history.

Birch trees, bilberry jamThe environment at Brimham Rocks includes heathland, bog and woodland.  So there is a variety of plants, including various mosses and marsh plants, heather, bilberry, oak, rowan and – apparently – some particularly fierce birch trees, which have to be controlled by rangers.  The rangers’ remit unfortunately appears not to extend to feral children, or their parents.  Amazingly, Holly Blue and Green Hairstreak butterflies apparently manage to survive in these harsh surroundings. I have no idea what Holly Blue and Green Hairstreak butterflies look like; I just read this somewhere.

Brimham Rocks, National Trust sites in YorkshireSome of the rocks have been given names – not personal names like Adolf or Goneril, but names which suggest the shape of the rock when viewed from a certain angle, such as ‘the Eagle’, ‘the Anvil’, ‘the Druid’s Idol’ and ‘the Fractious Child’ (I might have made the last one up).

Since 1970, Brimham Rocks has been owned by the National Trust, who in addition to caring for the place provide a shop (which sells locally made bilberry jam), toilets, information and basic refreshments in what used to be Brimham House.  On a good day, Brimham would be a great spot for a picnic.  It is certainly an intriguing place to see, with some wonderful views, though it can get crowded; did I mention that?  The last time we visited it was busier than IKEA on a wet Saturday and made Prime Minister’s Questions seem civilised.  The NT car park (free to members) was full and an enterprising farmer was offering spaces in a neighbouring field for the princely sum of £4.00 for each vehicle.  We estimated that revenue would at be a minimum of £1,000 a day – not a bad little earner over a holiday period.

Visit Brimham Rocks

Brimham Rocks has popped up in various kids’ programmes, apparently, but the height of its fame, until being featured by A Bit About Britain, was an appearance in the video for the Bee Gees’ You Win Again in 1987.  I’m sure you could find it if you want to, but here it is anyway.  I expect Barry, Robin and Maurice filmed it when the kids were at school. Take it away, boys…

51 thoughts on “Brimham Rocks, bairns and the Bee Gees

  1. cat9984

    Early on in my blog – before it was taken over by animals – I suggested that parent such as those you reference should be put in a locked room with howler monkeys so they could appreciate the effect their children were having on the rest of us.

  2. Anca

    How wonderful. I’ve visited the Brimham rocks a few years ago and it’s lovely to see these pictures.
    I didn’t went on school holidays and we had a peaceful and enjoyable time.

  3. Cynthia H Anderson

    I loved Brimham Rocks. Went there with my cousin and his wife and had a picnic lunch there. I love archaeology and geology so I was right in my element! Sorry to hear that there has been some damage done by hooligans. 🙁 There were a lot of dogs with their people that day and it was a lovely sunny August day. It also amazes me how a heather plant would grow seemingly right out of the rocks in some places.

  4. Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter

    Thank you for visiting The Glasgow Gallivanter – I have now found my way back to you! I have been to Bramham just once, I think, and it must have been off-season as I remember it being relatively quiet (I share your aversion to uncontrolled children!) I had never seen the video, though I know the song well. Oh Robin, what were you thinking with that outfit?

  5. Clare Pooley

    My younger daughter won’t stay anywhere where there are noisy, uncontrolled children! Amusingly (?) when she was a baby she could have been used as a foghorn! I was forever having to remove her from shops, church etc. before the noise abatement society was contacted.
    I am sorry to read that part of the rock formation has been smashed by idiots. Our family favourite ‘Roger and the Rottentrolls’ was filmed there.

      1. Clare Pooley

        Martin Clunes narrated, John Thomson, Phil Cornwell and Rebecca Front did all the trolls’ voices and Rod Argent wrote the music. My younger daughter learnt the word ‘berk’ from this series and upset my father by calling him a berk when he chased her.

  6. Andrea

    Aren’t they fun? These formations reminded me of the Hoodoo formations near Drumheller, Alberta here in Canada.
    Also, a while back, I had written a little story about my personal fear of feathers. You commented that with a bit of editing, it could be a worthwhile short story. I did just that, and won first place in a local writing contest. So thank you for your kind words which encouraged me to go ahead with it.
    Enjoy your week ahead,
    Andrea

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      I hadn’t heard of the Hoodoo formations until Darlene, below, mentioned them just before you did. They look amazing, other-worldly. I am so chuffed that you turned your tale of feathers into a short story AND won a prize for it. Congratulations! If any little remark I made helped the process along a bit, that’s really lovely – but it was your writing that caused any kind words…

  7. Kay G.

    Wow, would love to see this. We also have feral children here too! Great that the Bee Gees filmed part of their video there, sure do miss the Bee Gees.

  8. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – magnificent Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty … I quite understand your comments re kids … wish people could remember there are others around. I’d never seen the BeeGees video … being in SA at that stage …

    … but I’d love to visit – and I enjoyed being reminded about the way our geology and thus landscape has changed over time … also the fact that there’s so much interesting fauna and flora around – needing to be conserved …

    The farmer sounds enterprising – cheers Hilary

  9. gaelphillips1835

    Very interesting. Was the rock pushed off one of the formations replaced? A similar thing happened to the Logan Rock, near Land’s End about 200 years ago. It was never quite the same after being repositioned, I believe. Gael Phillips, Australia

      1. gaelphillips1835

        Sad to hear the capstone was smashed. At least the Logan Rock survived being displaced and repositioned.

  10. Easymalc

    Another excellent blog Mike. I’m fortunate enough not to have to go out at the same time as everyone else these days, but I’d love to see Brimham Rocks at the right time – with, or without the Bee Gees.

  11. exploRVistas

    Funny you should mention the Grand Canyon, as that is where we just visited. We will have to check out Brimham Rocks when we are in the area later this year. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Lucky you – I’d love to see the Grand Canyon. Brimham is a great place – but I think there are better places to visit nearby, if you have limited time.

  12. derrickjknight

    Another fine introduction, with foot-tapping video. A local pub bears a legend on the wall claiming that dogs are welcome but children must be kept on a lead

  13. Aviationtrails

    How very interesting, another one of Britain’s little secrets that I never knew of and will add to the list of places to go. As a teacher I know exactly what you mean. I try to avoid the little darlings as much as possible – just don’t get me started on standards of behaviour!

  14. Anne Clare

    What gorgeous formations- I love all of the different, dramatic shapes. Glad you survived those aggressive birches though, and the crazy small people! What a shame that the craziness ended up spoiling one of the formations. It’s great to expose kids to natural wonders, but it’s EXTRA great to use it as a chance to teach them about respect and responsible enjoyment of those places- it’s frustrating when that part doesn’t happen.

  15. fragglerocking

    When Sophie and I go on our photography trips we try and avoid kid friendly places! If there’s too many we abandon ship and find another. 🙂 Those rocks are fabulous!

  16. Alli Templeton

    Wow, Mike. I knew about Brimham Rocks, but I didn’t realise they were that amazing! I think I need to go there when I’m up north next. Out of season, though, as I agree with you about hoards of children. That’s no good for us because we can’t stand crowds – neither can our kids, and one of them is autistic, so crowds are out on all fronts. Besides, I always find that these kinds of places – and I include castles in this – are more atmospheric when the weather isn’t at it’s best.

    It’s interesting to know how the rocks were formed, and who knew they made it to the dizzy heights of a Bee Gees video?! Great post, Mike, and thanks for giving me another idea of a place to visit in Britain – in the colder weather! 🙂

  17. markspitzerdesigns

    Hi Mike – I appreciate your notes about crowds and kids. I think it’s a tourism thing. Mostly I’m concerned about these sites being loved to death so that when these kids bring their own in another generation the area will be fenced off, the way Stonehenge was at one point. We have the same issues here in the US – though of course we up the ante by bringing dirt bikes along to challenge the terrain – Mark

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      It’s a good point, Mark – I’m not sure what the answer is. Visiting Stonehenge is no great pleasure any more – and probably just a tick in the box for most people. Even some of our more remote popular places are becoming eroded by walkers!

      1. markspitzerdesigns

        My own thought is that it’s past time to be calling areas ‘wildernesses’. We’ve colonized the whole planet (even Antarctica has regular cruise ships calling) so we need to admit it and start defining what used to be wilderness as parks instead, with more robust management. Otherwise it’s all going to be rubble.

        1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

          You may be right. Watched a horrifying programme on the box about the damage we are negligently causing to our planet. There is no true wilderness in the UK – unless you count the Scottish Highlands.

  18. Eunice

    Thanks for the video, love the Bee Gees and that’s one of my favourites 🙂 I went to Brimham Rocks a few years ago while camping near there, it beats me how some of those rocks manage to stay balanced on each other.

  19. John

    Those are nice rock forms, they are similar to what we have outside of Las Vegas in our Mojave Desert. Regarding the crowds? I will not go to certain areas outside of the city on the weekends, the crowds can be nutty so I head out during the weekdays instead. Usually less people out there!

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