The Two Lads cairns on Crooked Edge Hill, an outlying summit on Winter Hill are quite well known and frequently visited today. When I was a kid this was not the case as most people walked up the mast road on trips to Winter Hill. The Two Lads always seemed to look foreboding and mysterious from the road, I think because the sun is usually over that side casting the hill as a silhouette from the side that looks steep.
Again, when I was younger the large cairn was very prominent and I don’t recall the smaller ones at that time. The second cairn which is nearest the large one I do remember from at least the 1990’s, but the third I think is much more modern, although it developed into a fine little tower for a brief period a few years ago. The large cairn has at times been tall and very well built such that it resembled a small tower or miniature Scottish “broch”.
People are very fond of the large cairn on Two Lads and there is an ongoing battle with the council over safety as one cannot help but scale the cairn which over time causes the structure to slip and turn into a standard “cairn” or mound shape. The council then either demolishes the remainder or erects cheap day-glo netting fences around the site. At this point the local populace become enraged and build the cairn even bigger. Dave Lane tells the story of one local man who rebuilt the cairn into a very good round tower to defy the council and it was still standing well in 2006. Currently in 2016 the cairn has begun to slip quite badly but the tower form can still be seen in the centre. This story and others report the presence of “large stone slabs”, beneath the cairn but I think the surrounding country rock is such, see below.
Two Lads stands on Crooked Edge Hill which is a very interesting place in itself but I’ll leave that for it’s own section. However, mention must be made of the landforms surrounding the Two Lads cairns which is rather different from the surrounding country. The area immediately around the large cairn looks very much like a raised circular platform of rocks, roughly the size of those from which the cairn itself is constructed. Very much like that described around many prehistoric cairns, either a prepared platform or cairn-slip as it is known, the various rocks that have fallen or been dispersed from the cairn over time.
The surrounding land forms two concentric plateaus that are long rather than round shaped. These are very pronounced and I feel must represent the junction of the geological layers of different hardness and can be seen further up the hill once the land starts to rise again. I think these would be large slab like rock, possibly outcropping at times and various slab-like boulders can be seen all around in the grass. I am not sure how this relates to the smaller rocks of which the cairn is constructed and which also seem to be exposed all over the top of the hill. I have to assume that the top of these plateaus erodes into the much smaller rock fragments and was at some time not covered with peat.
In the rocks surrounding the Two Lads cairn can be seen strange circular forms, as though the rocks have been pushed out from a central point. I am not sure if this is an optical trick or perhaps if water forms a dip in the land over time, the fragmented surrounding rock dips down in the middle creating a roughly circular shape. A couple of times these circular forms have been posited as prehistoric “hut circles”, or even the site of “the original Two Lads”. It’s possible - maybe.
There are a couple of local “legends” featuring the Two Lads, perhaps the best known being the least well known - because there’s several conflicting versions. The basic story goes that “two lads” where stuck on the moor and froze to death on the site currently marked by the large cairn. The difference in versions are when this was supposed to have happened.
The earliest tale relates that two princes of a Saxon king dies on the moor, which would, based on other local legendary dates be around 680 CE. The next tale states the lost lads where the sons of Bishop Pilkington so maybe around 1540 CE. The story that was often told in Bolton was that the two lads where children working in a mill over the Belmont side of the hill that were forced to walk back from work each day over the moors.
Although the first two versions are based in times that pre-date the third version, I have found no record of mention of either tale before the times of the industrial revolution so we can’t actually say they are older.
The moor around here is known as Wilders Moor and below can be found Wilders Wood. As is quite well understood today this name comes from a root meaning wild deer, although many years ago wild deer meant any animals of the wild wood, that is Old Saxon “deor”. The old word for actual deer was “hart”. In some areas away from here can be found “wilbers” rather than wilders, which likely relates to wild boar. So we might find names like Wild Deers Wood or Wild Boars Clough and such.
At times I have heard it said that the Two Lads had become “bewildered” on the moor as though this was the origin of the name Wilders Moor. However, in an interesting turn of etymology the word “bewildered” itself does come from the same root as wild deer, that is to say one has become lost and become as a wild beast. It is stated elsewhere that the Two Lads was sometimes known as the Wilder Lads but I haven’t heard this said outside of books and this may be just a turn of prose. In none of the versions of the story do the two lads become bewildered in the historic sense, they die on the moor and don’t live for a while in the manner of wild beasts.
The less known legend today is that of the Spectre Horseman whose mount “treds the bog without wetting a hair of it’s foot”. This is said to be an old Lancashire folk tale and is related by Roby in his variously reprinted and serialized Lancashire Myths and Legends and the rest. The story as told by Roby involves the local squire and his hunting party trapped by weather in the Pike tower which was years ago used as a hunting lodge. One of the party goes a bit strange and is drawn to the Two Lads cairn from where the spectre horseman is said to issue forth and ride across the moor to Noon Hill where there is another ancient burial cairn. Apparently, as the story goes the spectre is able every thirteenth year to try and capture another soul who will have to be the horseman for the next few years.
It’s a good little spooky story if you like that sort of thing and it includes more than one ancient site on the moor. Roby published the tale in 1829 but as we know the Pike tower was built in 1733 we must assume the story takes place some time in the 18th Centrury. Again, not that old and if memory serves, no mention of two lads.
Two Lads cairn in 2016 image by munki-boy
Two Lads cairn upstanding in 2006 image by munki-boy
Cairn-slip surrounding the main Two Lads cairn image by munki-boy
Round shapes of rock near the Two Lads cairn image by munki-boy
The Two Lads on Crooked Edge Hill from above image by munki-boy
Plan view of the Two Lads on Crooked Edge Hill image by munki-boy
Marker type: Ancientsite