Order Online


Recent Titles

The Spokesman


Bertrand Russell


Philosophical Writings


Socialist Renewal


Peace & 

Human Rights


Socialist Classics

Labour History


New Thinkers' Library


Noam Chomsky

Kurt Vonnegut

Tony Benn

Ken Coates


Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation




A-Z by Author

A-Z Books





Contact Us





Fire over Fylingdales


Blaise Vyner, Fylingdales – Wildfire and Archaeology, North York Moors

National Park, 2007, 44 pages, ISBN 978 1 904622 14 3, £5.75


The journey by road from York to Whitby, on the north-east coast of England, takes you over the empty uplands of the North York Moors. At the town of Pickering, a red sign points north towards ‘RAF Fylingdales’. Then the road climbs steadily, running beside the great declivity known as The Hole of Horcum, before pitching sharply downwards. There, up on the right, stands a three-sided, truncated, concrete pyramid at the centre of ‘RAF Fylingdales’.


Fylingdales provides a major link in the chain that makes up the United States’

Ballistic Missile Early Warning System that encircles the northern hemisphere. Other stations in the system are at Thule in Greenland and Clear in Alaska. Fylingdales sends data directly to US Space Command in Cheyenne Mountain,

Colorado Springs. It also forms part of a growing network comprising the globally dispersed anti-ballistic missile system which the US is developing apace, following President Bush’s unilateral withdrawal, in 2002, from the Anti-Ballistic

Missile Treaty which his country had concluded with the Soviet Union thirty years earlier.


In September 2003, the North Yorkshire base was almost engulfed. A wildfire swept across Fylingdales Moor, burning everything in its path. Amidst the ashes of the vegetation was revealed a variety of ancient features. These included examples of ‘rock art’ – rocks decorated with cup-marks and other motifs – some of them dating from the late Neolithic period, 5,000 years ago.


‘The wildfire presented both an opportunity and a challenge,’ according to Blaise Vyner, the author of this short account published by the North York Moors National Park. ‘The opportunity was to record the detail of the archaeology: the challenge was to do this before the urgent regeneration of the vegetation.’ Now, according to the author, the overall detail of the archaeology of Fylingdales Moor is better known than anywhere else on the North York Moors. Before the fire there were some 150 known archaeological sites; now there are more than 2,000.


The fire left a blackened moonscape. This is graphically represented in an exhibition at Whitby Museum called ‘Fire Over Fylingdales’, for which project this short guide has been produced. Blackened wood from the Moor forms naturalistic sculptures. In amongst the photographs of stranded leverets and displaced hawks there is one of the 120 foot high pyramid, which houses a solid- state phased-array radar (SSPAR) with a range of 3,000 miles. Above it flies a Spitfire aircraft, commemorating earlier campaigns. The background is suffused with orange. The wildfire came very close to the base.


Whose ballistic missiles might Fylingdales give early warning of? In 2002, members of Subterranea Britannica, ‘a society devoted to the study and investigation of man-made … and man-used underground places’, toured the site.  An informative account of their visit posted online (www.subbrit.org.uk) records that:


‘Our hosts ran a tape of a missile launch from the Barents Sea which had been recorded some time earlier and we were able to see the plot appear on screen and follow the drill and identification of the object to validation point. We all asked heaps of questions and were told that there had not been a validated launch call for at least three years although one was made some time ago when a Soviet Typhoon class submarine launched a test missile from the polar ice cap towards Russia. Normally all sides involved in test launches of ballistic missiles notifies (sic) everyone else so as not to cause false alarms of attack. On this occasion the Russians hadn’t informed anybody and tensions were said to have been “high”.’


More tense moments at RAF Fylingdales look likely as the US pushes ahead with plans to extend its missile defence network by upgrading the facility at Fylingdales itself, while constructing a completely new radar in the Czech Republic and installing interceptor missiles in Poland. The Pentagon has also expressed a wish to place a radar base in the Caucasus. In response, the Russians are testing new long-range ballistic missiles which they say can beat the interceptors.


During the long history of human habitation on Fylingdales Moor, the fortress erected around RAF Fylingdales surely marks a low point.


Tony Simpson











































Independent News Collective


Spokesman Books,

 Russell House,

Bulwell Lane,




contact us


tel: 0115 970 8318 | fax: 0115 942 0433