The Dalby Turf Maze, North Yorkshire: City Of Troy

Dalby Turf Maze

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The Dalby Turf Maze, also known as the City of Troy, may be one of the oldest turf mazes in England. Or it could be a relative newcomer, dating back only to the mid-19th century. Like all of England’s remaining turf mazes, the history and origins of the Dalby labyrinth, in a remote part of North Yorkshire, are mysterious and obscure.

Unknown Origins Of The Dalby Turf Maze

The Dalby maze is situated beside a lonely road in peaceful countryside, surrounded by the beautiful but uncrowded Howardian Hills. At 8m by 7m, this is the smallest turf labyrinth in Europe. It is a classic labyrinth with a single pathway, following a seven-ring design.

This is a pattern that has been found on Greek and Roman pottery, as well as in some Scandinavian mazes. The -by ending of the place name also indicates Norse origins, leading people to assume that the maze dates back to the Viking era.

Dalby Turf Maze
The Dalby Turf Maze lies beside a remote road side

However, an alternative theory is that the labyrinth was cut around 1860, based on a design found on a nearby barn door. Another version of this story has the pattern copied from a picture in a newspaper. Of course, turf mazes do wear down over time and it is possible that this was actually a re-cutting of an earlier maze. What is known for certain is that the maze was recut (and possibly relocated) after it was damaged by horses and wagons early in the 20th century.

City Of Troy: What’s In A Name?

The Dalby maze is sometimes referred to as the City Of Troy Turf Maze. In fact, references to the ancient city of Troy are common in maze names in the British Isles and northern Europe. The Somerton maze in Oxfordshire is known as Troy-Town, and “Troy” or “Walls of Troy” were the names of several older mazes that have now disappeared.

There are two stone labyrinths in the Scilly Isles called Troy Town, and a number of Scandinavian mazes were called Trojaborg or Trelleborg (including the most famous of the many mazes on the Swedish island of Gotland). These references link in with the legend that the walls of ancient Troy were built with a winding path and many dead ends so as to prevent unwanted intruders from finding their way out.

Dalby Turf Maze
The design of the maze allows unwanted intruders (or dead souls) to be trapped at the centre

Like other ancient turf mazes, the Dalby maze was almost certainly used for religious and fertility rituals. Mazes are often associated with the ideas of pilgrimage and penance, but a sign at Dalby suggests yet another explanation. Like the unlucky intruders at Troy, it is said that dead souls were trapped at the centre of the labyrinth. They were unable to escape but could be approached by the living whenever they were in need of advice.

But, just as its date is unclear, so is the real purpose of the Dalby labyrinth. It is all part of the mystery of this ancient turf maze.

Finding The Dalby Turf Maze

  • The Dalby Turf Maze is in the Howardian Hills, about 21 km north of York.
  • The maze is located on a remote roadside between the villages of Dalby and Brandsby (the village of Skewsby is nearby, and the labyrinth is alternatively known as the Skewsby Maze). Follow High Lane from Dalby for about 2 km and you will come to the labyrinth, surrounded by a low fence, on your right.
  • Nearby places of interest include Castle Howard (11 km), Nunnington Hall (14 km), Fountains Abbey (48 km), and Mount Grace Priory (42 km).


7 thoughts on “The Dalby Turf Maze, North Yorkshire: City Of Troy”

  1. This is an interesting trip out if you are in the local area, and though the place itself is small and somewhat underwhelming, there is a certain satisfaction about finding it, and in wondering what on earth it was for and when it was made. I like the theory that these small mazes might have been for games of some sort.

  2. I wrote a thesis on the remaining English Turf Mazes as part of my degree in design (many, many years ago). I think you can still read it if you contact the Historical Monuments Commission for England (they hold a copy). It’s a fascinating subject. I managed to visit all the remaining turf mazes in England for my study and they tend to be in very beautiful parts of the country.

    1. Hi Steve, thanks for your comment. I finally managed to get round the remaining turf mazes a few years ago – as you say they do tend to be in lovely places. Now trying to get to as many of the stone labyrinths (here and in other countries) as possible! Karen

  3. That’s a good write-up. The likelihood of it being copied from a barn door (possible via a newspaper) is very likely, because they have been used in apotropaeic magic and exorcism – and barns are vulnerable to fire. Some people will say this is a labyrinth, but Geoffrey Chaucer had to explain that it meant maze. Labyrinth is a loan-word from Latin, Greek and possibly Phoenician. It’s a maze in English, and the puzzle is one of geometric construction using a clewe of twine (ball of string), from which we get the word “clue”.

    Mazes of this exact design are found on coins from the Roman era at Knossos in Crete, and on clay tablets from Tel Rifa’at in Syria and Pylos, Greece from about 1,200 BC. The latter is a squared-off design like one by a door labelled “labyrinthvs hic habitat minotavrvs” in Pompeii 79 AD, and an Etruscan one on a wine-jar labelled “TRVIA”. The ones around the Baltic and in the White Sea are no longer thought to be Viking, but there is one in Arizona which is contemporaneous with the arrival of Europeans – and one with a different design on the Plains of Nazca, Peru, which by radio-carbon dating of a wooden peg nearby could be pre-colombian.

    There is a different type just south of the Humber at Alkborough in Lincolnshire, where it is called Julian’s Bower. The same – specifically Christian – type is found on the Mappa Mundi in Hereford Cathedral, where it is labelled “laborintus id est domus dedali”. The spelling is deliberately ambiguous, self-identifying the Latin word for a maze as a maze of many meanings. There is another in Gloucester Cathedral which is in Greek and from Josephus “History of the Jews”. These were the first mazes with more than one path – paths of meaning – dating back to the biblical Writing on the Wall (Daniel V). Physical mazes with more than one path seem to have been invented by Giovanni Fontana as late as 1427 – a few short years after Chaucer wrote about mazes.

    “The lone and level sands stretch far away.” – Shelley

    1. Hi Lindsay
      Thanks for your comment. People tend to use the words ‘maze’ and ‘labyrinth’ interchangeably, but the technical difference is that a labyrinth is unicursal (with just one winding path) whereas mazes have dead ends.
      Yes, the labyrinth at Alkborough is also interesting – you can read my post about that one as well as the others that are still dotted around the UK.

  4. Pingback: Holidays, hoolies and hills – Bespoke

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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