Chapter 2: Geological and Prehistory

Geologically the site situation is broadly as follows: the Coxwold-Gilling Gap is a geological term which defines the mile-and-a-half wide pass leading from the Vale of Pickering to the Vale of Mowbray. It is formed by two parallel faults. The fault on the north side of the valley approximately follows the Oswaldkirk-Ampleforth road. On the south side the fault produces the escarpment of the north face of the Howardian Hills and follows that escarpment from Gilling to the Fairfax Lakes. The fault at the Kilburn end of the Gap has a throw of 700 to 1000ft, and at the Gilling end 500ft. This means that at some stage of the earth's history, before the Ice Ages, the land in the Gilling Gap sank 500 to 1000 feet along its length, revealing cliffs or escarpments of varying rock formations. This movement probably occurred at the end of the Cretaceous Period, i.e. about 65 million years ago. To the north the limestone is oolite (like little eggs) and to the south Corallian (i.e. formed of coral deposits on the floor af a shallow sea). Around Gilling, especially on the high land to the east of the village between Gilling and Cawton, fossils abound, especially ammonites (curled snake-like creatures which are actually molluscs related to the Nautilus).

With the coming of the Ice Ages a massive glacier swept down from Stainmore down the valley between the North York Moors and the Pennines as far as Escrick. At Escrick a large mound of glacial debris was formed, called a moraine, on which the City of York now stands. At the entrance to the Gilling Gap the ice penetrated as far as Gilling certainly and filled the valley, forming a massive dam, the ice probably being about 1000ft thick. At the same time another glacier swept down the Yorkshire coast, blocking up the gap between the Yorkshire Wolds and the Cleveland Hills near Scalby.

When warmer weather came (about 12,000 years ago) the ice melted and two things happened. Firstly moraines were formed as the ice left its debris, and secondly a massive lake was created from melt-water coming down Newtondale. This lake eventually reached our present 250ft contour. The moraines can be seen to this day. The hill on which Lodgefield Farm stands is a moraine consisting of Kimmeridge and boulder clays. The orientation of these mounds is very reminiscent of those at present being formed in the Alps, even to the angle at which they lie across the valley. Of course they have been considerably modified by the elements since they were laid down, and the Holbeck has cut through them.

The Lake extended from Ampleforth to Brompton by Sawdon and Sherburn. The formation of the lake was a complex event. The ice as we have seen was about 1000ft thick and thus never topped the higher points of the Cleveland Hills’ north escarpment. As it melted it filled up Eskdale which became Lake Eskdale. This overflowed and ran along the edge of the glacier to form Lake Wheeldale. These two lakes then found an exit into what became Newtondale, and so into Lake Pickering. Eventually Lake Pickering overflowed and formed the Kirkham Abbey Gorge and finally the River Derwent. At its maximum depth Gilling Heights was probably an island, and Lodgefield House Hill a clay peninsula. Reference to Fig.1 [not yet done] shows the extent of the lake in our area. The result of this flooding was a rich deposit of alluvium which is the foundation of the rich agricultural land in the flat plain.

The final result, when the ice had gone, was a site which included wooded slopes, ample water supply, good building stone, good soil for pasture and the growing of crops, and easily capable of being defended. It is not surprising therefore that the site was occupied by man at a very early period.

Forward to the Stone Age; back to the Setting; return to Contents. counter