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 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
At 26ft by 22 ft, the Dalby maze (or labyrinth) is the smallest remaining turf maze in Europe. It is cut in a classic seven-ring design, 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.
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?
References to the ancient city of Troy are common in maze names in England 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 Danish mazes were called Trojborg or Trelleborg. These references link in with the legend that the walls of ancient Troy were built in such a way as to prevent unwanted intruders from finding their way out.
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.
Finding the Dalby Turf Maze
The Dalby Turf Maze is about 13 miles north of York. It 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). You can find directions here.
When you arrive you will be rewarded with the peaceful countryside of the beautiful but uncrowded Howardian Hills. And the mystery of an ancient turf maze.