Burning of Bartle  
West Witton in Wensleydale


"On Penhill Crags he tore his rags,
At Hunters Thorn he blew his horn,
At Capplebank Stee he brock his knee,
At Grisgill Beck he brock his neck,
At Wadham's End he couldn't fend,
at Grisgill End we'll mek his end!
- Shout lads Shout."

Who is Bartle ?
 As with many old customs, there are few details available regarding the origins of the Burning of Bartle tradition, however old documents collected in the village were said to show that the custom could be traced back at least 400 years. Unfortunately these papers were later lost in a house fire.

  Two local families, the Harker’s and Spence’s have been regarded as custodians of the tradition for many years and these family names can be traced back to the Middle-Ages in the West Witton area. The Harker’s make the 'Bartle' every year and carry him in the procession, while a Spence has normally done the chanting, but in the mid 1980’s John Spence moved away from the area and so Alan and Robert Harker carried Bartle, while John Harker took over the chanting.

 The explanation most often given for the Burning of Bartle is that it commemorates the chase and capture of a thief who was stealing sheep belonging to the monks of Jervaulx Abbey. The thief was chased from Penhill Crags on the prominent hilltop to the south of the village, and then through the locations mentioned in the rhyme, before finally being caught and killed on the outskirts of West Witton.

 Some say the thief’s name was Bartle, while others say the events took place on St Bartholomew’s day and the name Bartle came from this (Bartle being a shortened form of Bartholomew). The mention of the Jervaulx monks in the story, place the event sometime before the Reformation (1537) and so it would appear that since this time a straw effigy has been carried through the village on St Bartholomew’s Day and burnt in order to commemorate the capture of Bartle.

 This story provides a straight-forward explanation for the tradition, which is generally accepted by many in the area, but is this really the whole story? Was the capture of a sheep thief such a significant event that it provided the basis for an annual ceremony that has lasted for over 400 years?



In addition to the Burning of Bartle tradition, the West Witton area is also the setting for an old legend known as the Giant of Penhill. This is the only detailed legend of its kind in this region and so it seems something of a coincidence that the burning of Bartle Tradition and the Giant legend are both located around the Penhill/West Witton area. 

Looking at these two stories together, bartle and the giant, there are several parts which suggest they may originally been part of the same legend.

Bartle is pursued chased from the top of Penhill – the location where the giant is said to live.

Bartle was stealing sheep - the giant set his wolf hound to attack a flock of sheep.

The local people gathered together and killed Bartle,- The local people gathered on Penhill when the giant is forced over a cliff  and dies.

Bartle is burned to death - the giants home is burnt down.

The giant is known as the 'Son of Thor' - Bartle's name comes from Bartholomew (from the latin 'Bar-tholmai') meaning 'son of Tholmai'.  

(in?)Nathanial Bar Tolmai  Bartholomew was one of the 12 Apostles.

The 'Son of Thor' in latin would be 'Barthor'.

The Norse god Thor had three sons, Magni (strength), Modi (courage),  and Ulle.

Ull/Ulle was the god of the Chase, hunting and archery. His weapon was the longbow. He was worshipped at the great temple at Uppsalla in Sweden alongside odin? before thor took his place in the temple. 

Was Ulle the hunter archer the original name of  bartle?  bart ulle?

Bartle blew his horn at Hunters Thorn.

The giant shot an arrow and killed his dog and 

He assembled all the archers of Wensleydale to meet on Penhill

The name Gunda means Female Warrior   gund gunnr = war


Does this suggest that the scandanavian settlers in this area dedicated Penhill to the norse god Ulle the hunter. As they dedicated the hill of Roseberry Topping to Odin (Odinsberg) x mile to the east?

When Christianity came to the area did they attempt to wean the locals from their norse Gods by setting up a Christian temple near the village and dedicating it to Barthor-lemew. bar ulle mewSave your legs walking all that way up Penhill to make your offering to Bar -Thor?

So is this the origin of Bartle or were the Scandinavian settlers 'respecting' an earlier British legend god resident on Penhill? 

In the Mabinogion collection of celtic myths, the chief of the giants is called  'Ysbaddaden Penkewr'  pronounced 'is-ba-tha-den  Pen-kaur' . This has been translated as 'Hawthorn - chief giant'. (note the 'ba-tha' part and 'Pen'). pen = chief

There are similarites between Isbathaden and the giant of Penhill

Hunters Thorn

He had a great castle on a wide moor and his shepherd had a great flock of sheep on nearby guarded by

fire breathing dog as big as a horse attacked all those who passed by.

Ysbaddaden had killed all the shepherd's sons except one.

Ysbaddaden was wounded in the knee and neck. (Bartle brak his knee and neck)

giant finally taken to dung hill and has head cut off.

Outline of headless torso on side of Penhill?

stone spread at foot of penhill in dog shape?

bartle was stabbed and burnt?

Horn?  shepherd equipment gathers flock

giant is said to have castle fort on open ground on top of penhill   leland said the remains of castlet vissible

Ian Taylor studied this  The Giant of Penhill



The legend recalls that a giant and his wolf hound lived alone in a castle on the top of Penhill where he also kept his herd of swine. One day a herd of sheep strayed onto the slopes of Penhill, so the giant set his dog on them, killing a large number. Gunda the shepherdess pleaded with the giant to call off the dog, but the giant just laughed and then tried to seduce the girl. Gunda rejected his advances and fled, so the giant set his dog after her, Gunda turned to face the chasing dog and hit the dog in the face with a stone. This so angered the giant that he struck Gunda with his club killing her on the spot.


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