Freebrough Hill

Standing prominently above the surrounding countryside, Freebrough Hill is an enigmatic landmark visible from the A171 Guisborough to Whitby route. It lies on the south side of the road between Lockwood Beck Reservoir and Scaling Reservoir.

There has been much speculation in the past as to how this hill came to possess its distinctive rounded profile. John Walker Ord, in his book The History and Antiquities of Cleveland, published in 1846, says the hill was thought to be a great burial mound for no less than the legendary King Arthur and his Knights, the idea originating from poet J.H. Stephenson’s verse:

Freebro’s huge mount, immortal Arthur’s tomb

Freebrough is thought to take its name from Freyja – meaning ‘the lady’ – an Old Norse goddess of numerous things including beauty, fertility, gold, love, witchcraft, war and death. She is said to have been a receiver of the slain, related to the German valkyries and, whether by accident or design, there are many burial mounds of Neolithic age in the vicinity of the hill.

The true origins of the hill are sadly not as mysterious as our forebears imagined. The story of its formation is however no less impressive.

The idea that Freebrough Hill could be a man-made structure was dispelled in the late 1800s, not least by the British Geological Survey for whom George Barrow FGS (1853-1932) mapped the Cleveland district in 1888.

He, and others, noted that the area comprised beds laid down during the Jurassic Period between 200 and 145 million years ago. The hill itself was also found to have a core of Jurassic rock through the presence of a small former quarry high on its eastern flank.

Freebrough Hill has recently been designated as a Regionally Important Geological Site (RIGS).

Below is a diagram showing the geological succession of Jurassic rocks underlying the Cleveland district between sea level and the high moors.

The rocks range in age from 200 million years old at the base to 161 million years old where Freebrough Hill stands. Generally, the Formations are named after the place at which their formal descriptions were originally recorded.

The rocks making up Freebrough Hill occur near the top of the diagram. The base of the hill comprises Scalby Formation sandstone, this is succeeded by a thin representative of the Cornbrash with the top belonging to the Osgodby Formation.

Rocks at the base of the hill, and across much of the surrounding area, are obscured by a layer of clay, sand and gravel deposited by the shrinking ice sheets a mere 20,000 years ago.

More recent studies of the surrounding landform and geology suggest the hill formed during the last (Devensian) Ice Age, (120,000 to 20,000 years ago) through a combination of the erosive action of ice-sheets, differences in the hardness of the underlying rock, and a fault.

The hill is thought to have been originally separated from Moorsholm Rigg to the south by a narrow stream-cut valley before the Ice Age. The valley was enhanced and the hill eventually isolated from the moor to the south as ice erosion widened the original valley to leave Freebrough Hill as an outlier (see diagram below).

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