THE HITCHING Stone is one of the largest single boulders in Yorkshire and sits high upon the moor to the south west of Sutton, writes Robin Longbottom.

It was ripped out of the bedrock some 20,000 years ago during the last glaciation, carried along by a glacier and dumped on the moor when the ice retreated about 12,000 years since.

There were once many large gritstone boulders but most of them have long since been broken up to build field walls.

More surprisingly is that there were also limestone glacial boulders, but these were also broken up and burnt in kilns to make lime mortar, or for spreading onto fields to improve the grass.

Legend has it that the Hitching Stone was hurled from Rombald's Moor by a giantess who stuck her broom stick into it and 'hitched' it up and threw it across the valley.

As an outstandingly large stone it is a major landmark on the moorland skyline but in pre-historic times it would have been hidden from view by trees.

When grips (ditches) were cut into the moor, for drainage, in the early 1960s, the roots of long gone silver birch trees were revealed about a metre and a half below the surface.

That the Hitching Stone was once surrounded by a great forest is difficult for us to imagine today.

Both its size and remoteness have given rise to legends of the stone having once been the haunt of druids and in more historical times as a place where members of non conformist religions could meet secretly and worship during times of persecution.

A large hole cut in the western side of the stone is still known today as the Priests Chair. On the southern side of the boulder a large, deep, bath, that fills with rain water, has been cut into it and is certainly big enough to submerge a man.

During the 17th century the early Baptist Church had to meet remotely and in secret and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the 'bath' was used during their full immersion baptismal ceremonies.

As a more practical landmark the stone has for centuries been a boundary stone.

First and foremost it marked the ecclesiastical boundaries of the old parishes of Kildwick and Keighley. As a secular boundary stone it is the point at which the boundaries of Sutton, Cowling and Keighley meet on the moor.

On the very top of the stone are a number of interesting boundary marks and in a central position there is a large capital B marking the point at which the boundaries meet.

Above the letter B are the letters WC, which stand for William Cavendish who acquired the Manor of Keighley about 1578 through his married to Anne Keighley, whose family had held it since the Middle Ages.

Just to the left of the B are the letters WD, these stand for William Devonshire and were cut some time after William Cavendish was created the Earl of Devonshire in 1618 (the family were made dukes in 1694).

On the very eastern side, at the top of the stone, is a cross moline, the heraldic device of the Copley family, once Lords of the Manor of Sutton. A second cross moline is on the side of the stone at eye level.

Since the Local Government Reorganisation Act in 1974 the stone gained another responsibility and now marks the boundary between the modern counties of North and West Yorkshire.

The stone is easily accessed along a footpath from Buckstone Lane, or, for the more adventurous, across the moor from Slippery Ford.

For those who are interested, a short walk from the stone along the wall side that runs to the east will bring you to the Worm Hill Stone.

Almost hidden in the heather this stone also marks the boundary between Sutton and Keighley and is also incised with a large cross moline.

The moor is now open access but it should be noted that during the nesting season care should be taken when leaving designated footpaths, and that dogs are not permitted other than on leads and must be kept to the approved footpaths.