What is Nine Standards Rigg? It's a curious and distinctive landmark overlooking Kirkby Stephen on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, a welcome sight for walkers on Wainwright's Coast to Coast route.
The drystone cairns stand in a row, 2 – 4 metres tall. They’re very much part of the landscape but do seem to vary over time – some say they can find only 7 of these tall ‘standards’, others claim to find 11! Their height varies with the weather and efforts to rebuild them.
No one is quite sure of their purpose or origin. There are stories of them marking burial sites, of being beacons for weary walkers, of boundary markers between Westmorland and Swaledale. Some think they were built by a Roman army to look like troops from a distance. Another story says they were to deter invading Scottish armies. Dr. Stephen Walker has made a valiant attempt to delve into every possible archive and manuscript, finding mentions that date back to 1538. At one stage they were known as “standers”. An Old Welsh document apparently mentions a defeat of invading Saxons in the hills north of York at a place called “toothed mountain” which seems apt.
Whatever their origin, they attract visitors who climb the hill to see the Nine Standards and admire the sweeping views below.