The Modern Antiquarian. Ancient Sites, Stone Circles, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic Mysteries

Fieldnotes by The Eternal

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Langdale Axe Factory (Ancient Mine / Quarry)

03/10/09 The Siren Call.

Autumn truly arrived to the fell country on a day that saw me wandering alone amongst the Great Langdale stone axe factories. What lay in store should have been obvious when I was halted in my tracks by the wind, a fiendish rushing of air that nearly flattened me, raging down Mickleden, as if it was trying its best to pick up the ancient cairns dotted around and fling them as far as Ambleside. What followed next can only be described as taking an outdoor power shower. It was hard to see through the deluge, and, with the wind, it was painful to any exposed flesh. Well, the forecast had said to expect gusts of 85mph.

My main objective was an exploration of the Martcrag Moor site. At the head of Mickleden, by the old sheepfold, I headed up the Stake Pass track, the beck roaring down on my right. Some of it was roaring down anyway, with the exception of the waterfalls, which were being blown vertically upwards.

With some relief I managed to cross the beck at the top, and was soon on the top of Martcrag Moor, taking welcome shelter behind the rough grey rocks that mark the highest part. By now shafts of sunlight were stabbing into the valley from a tempestuous sky, storm-wracked and spectacular. Would the axe-makers have turned out in these conditions, I wondered.

Between Martcrag Moor and Pike of Stickle there is a flat col, known for its peaty, boggy ground. Erosion repair was under way, the workers absent, with sheep fleeces being laid as a base, before compressed gravel was laid on top, in order to prevent the repaired track from sinking. An ancient practice, apparently. It is around this spot that I had found flakes from axe production before, exposed where the peat had eroded away. They were there again, more being exposed by the increased erosion. There is a certain excitement for me in seeing the clean stone, as if it had been worked last week, with the purcushion marks clearly visible. The outer stone is a whiteish colour, but inside it is a wonderful blue-green. No doubt other evidence of working floors exists beneath the carpet of peat, but I can't see any excavations taking place in the forseeable future. Despite a good search, I couldn't find any other sites.

I went up onto Pike of Stickle, with the wind rushing up its precipitous slopes, before going down to the top of its huge axe factory scree. This is a very impressive place, with a humongous amount of stone. Pity most of it has headed valley way.

Not for me the precarious descent today. I was heading for the Thorn Crag site, taking in the Loft Crag site en-route. It was still a tad breezy, the difficulty not being finding the prehistoric evidence, but keeping on my feet. Loft Crag has stone chippings emerging from the peat on its eroded sections, but the peat is a much shallower deposit hereabouts. The clean chips are easy to spot, with very sharp edges. It's hard to believe what your eyes see. Prehistoric "finds" are usually to be found in museums, not to be found at random on a days wanderings.

A couple of hundred yards away, over at the Thorn Crag site, I inspected the stony depressions that mark the quarry. Here again is evidence of stone-working, with flakes, and larger pieces, broken to expose the beautiful blue-green core, surrounded by a shell of white or terracotta. A lot of the debris lie over the edge, down in the upper reaches of the aptly named Dungeon Ghyll. As an aside, "Ghyll" is a Victorian affectation for the Norse word "Gill". Both spellings can be found on maps of the area. I made a note to go down into the gill on another day, and take a look at the spoil.

I hadn't met another soul, which was hardly surprising, as the saying goes that only mad dogs and TMA-ers go out in the morning storm. I finished the day with an ascent of Harrison Stickle, just for the view, as there were one or two sunny spells appearing, and the wind had reduced to a mere gale. Down by Stickle Tarn I went, where evidence of temporary occupation and working by the stone axe makers has been found, followed by a descent to the valley beside Mill Gill, a truly spectacular waterfall today, foaming white the whole length of its dash to the dale.

I had been a rewarding day, what with the battle with the elements, the stupendous mountain scenery, and last but not least by the site of something tangible from the past: a link with the industry of our Neolithic ancestors, the by-product of their labours.

Danebury (Hillfort)

Visite 09/07/09. Flamin' Hell, this is a big, impressive site, with banks and ditches of almost Avebury proportions. Obviously it's been tamed, and spruced-up a tad, with a modern, slightly-pisses-me-off entrance. But, did I want an overgrown site, which was hard to see and interpret, and an entrance which was overgrown and hard to find? Yes, and no. Can't have both, can I? So, it's the modern take, and the huge, cleared centre.
It's definitely easy to appreciate how massive this place is, and the info boards are full of info, as you'd expect, even directing you to the archaeologist who dug the site, which is helpful, 'cos so many lay-people who visit the lesser-known sites don't always know where to find more knowledge.
The area is massive, once housing up to 1,000 people, and it just has to be seen to be believed. The views from the bank are superb, south across the flatlands of Hampshire, and with the various hills in other directions. It's a very quiet spot, and the wind rustles gently through the surrounding trees. On my visit I had the place to myself, and it was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been, with an atmosphere reeking of the past.

Bilbury Rings (Hillfort)

Visited on 06/07/09.
It's in a lovely setting, this Iron Age hillfort, on the edge of a rolling down, and now occupied by a farm. It's now a series of ploughed-out banks and ditches, barely discernible in the field, and hardly worth a visit, unless you're passing. In fact, you wouldn't know it was there if it wasn't for the fact it's marked on the O.S. map. I can't see many photos of this site being posted. I didn't bother taking any. Go to the Bell Inn at nearby Wylye instead.

"Small hillfort levelled by ploughing. From the excavation of 1959-64:- a pedestal base and bead rim sherds from the lower silt of the ditch and pre-camp Iron Age 'A' occupation material. A collection of brooches and a ring found in 1863 plus an iron arrowhead are in Salisbury Museum. A watching brief during 2003 produced no information or features." according to Wiltshire and Swindon Sites and Monument Record Information website. Sceduled Monument AM449.

Amesbury 11 Bell Barrow (Round Barrow(s))

Visited on 08/07/09. This is Burl's "the last round barrow", as is the caption of the photo in his "The Stonehenge People". It is Scheduled Monument, number SM10371.
It is pretty much ignored, except, perhaps, by the occasional interested people passing by in a car. It lies just east of Stonehenge, and most people will be seen with their backs to it, staring at the enigmatic sarsens of that great circle.
I wandered over, as cloud shadows chased across the landscape, the sound of the traffic close by. I have never seen anyone approach it, and I had it to myself. There is an impressive ditch with berm, and a patch on the SE side has been eroded away, probably by rabbits. It is quite an impressive barrow.
The ubiquitous Hoare dug here, discovering, beneath an upturned urn, bone tweezers and a cremation, as well as bluestone fragments.
Next time you manage to dodge the obscene admission fee, and sneak into Stonehenge over a distant fence, walk across to our old friend, Amesbury 11, and keep it company for a while, as it's a lonely old soul.

Overton Hill (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

What a lovely collection of round barrows, and a shame about the A4 spoiling the peace, and separating them. They are by The Ridgeway, which leads you up the hill to more tranquil surroundings, and the promise of a journey through history. The hairy old mounds, with a head of long grass, speak of the past, and I wonder about the scenes in the days when these monuments were being constructed. The Sanctuary is their neighbour, and leads the eye to nearby Avebury, and Silbury Hill, to which these sites are inexorably linked.

Bleasedale Circle (Timber Circle)

Bleasedale Circle is a wonderful place, surrounded by trees, through which the wind sighs or howls. Sometimes, well, quite a lot, it rains. It is Lancashire after all.
The peace within is complete. Few people visit, and the trees will be a bit overbearing for some, but for me it works well, and adds to the sense of the past. True, it'd be good to see the surrounding fells of the Trough of Bowland, and to look towards the Fylde coast, but the modern wooden markers of their predecessors, along the edge of the well preserved ditch, along with the info board all help to reconstruct the site in the Modern Antiquarian mind.
If in Preston, pop into the Harris Museum to view the beaker with cremation that was found here, along with a reconstruction of the site.

West Kennett (Long Barrow)

I can't believe I haven't posted owt about (like the rhyme?) one of the grestest of our chambered tombs. I'm having a blitz on sites I've not posted fieldnotes about, me.
Here goes. A few years ago we took our chances and crossed the A4 without being killed by some speed-freak with lowered suspension, wide tyres, and a big phallic exhaust. I suppose it makes them feel a little less inadequate. I'm turning into my dad.
Anyway, our ancestors, who built WKLB had other things to worry about, like missing thigh bones, skulls, and other body bits. What a memorial to a collective of people. It makes you think about how graves and grave markers have developed over the milennia, yet the basics have remained the same: stone. Did the WKLB people have any form of "writing", and is the absence of markings on the sarsens proof of no "writing"? I know of the carvings on the Stonehenge sarsens, but wouldn't you think that such a huge monument as WKLB would have had some form of "words", symbolic or otherwise? Or was the memory of people in the form of ancestral stories, passed down through the generations? Perhaps telly and stuff has got in the way of our modern communication.
It's an awe-inspiring site, with big stones, and an even bigger earthen mound, and great views. It's just below a ridge, so where was it supposed to be seen from?
Marvellous.

Silbury Hill (Artificial Mound)

A few years ago I stood on top of Silbury Hill, and was absolutely gobsmacked by the sheer effort required to raise this behemoth. Why? Deep thought fails to bring an answer. With all the comforts and ease of a modern day life I bet we couldn't be arsed to do anything remotely as big with the tools they had to hand. Their life would be hard work without the hassle of this monumental construction.
To get into the mind of these people is impossible, and beyond the realms of archaeologists, who can, like us, just theorise.
Looking from The Sanctuary, on 07/07/09, I could see the downs rolling across the landscape, and there, in the middle of it all, was a flat-topped mini-down, dear old Silbury Hill. It didn't look at all drawfed by the surrounding landscape, truly a tribute to her architects, for she always seems a she to me. Bless 'er.

The Sanctuary (Timber Circle)

My latest visit (07/07/09), and the Natioinal Trust warden was finishing off strimming the grass, or rather the latest of many showers finished it for her, and sent her scuttling back to the Land Rover. I waited for the rain to stop, and the warm sun to return, and entered the sacred site, ankle-deep in strimmings (is there such a word?). They almost obscured the ugly concrete markers, which isn't a bad thing. The number of outstanding sites visible from The Sanctuary is more than you could shake a big stick at, and sites that would be on any anorak's ticklist: East Kennett long barrow, West Kennett long barrow, Seorfon round barrows, The Ridgeway, Silbury Hill, and dear old Avebury. Need I go on. Alright, I will - Adam's Grave. Good, eh? If The Sanctuary had a doorstep, I could safely say it's a crying shame that the A4 is on its doorstep. Why, as a nation, are we famous for ruining our historic sites by running roads right through or by them? The Sanctuary would be truly that if it was remote from the A4, and had its original stones. It still exudes an atmosphere, in spite of everything.

Knap Hill (Causewayed Enclosure)

A few years ago I visited Knap Hill, and was blown away by the place. However, I then walked across to Adam's Grave, which outshone it. Knap Hill is the bridesmaid, and adam's Grave the bride. Having said that, it is a place to put on your places to visit before you shuffle off this mortal coil. Adam's Grave is a place to put on your list of places to visit tomorrow in case you shuffle off this mortal coil the day after tomorrow. In fact, stuff it, spoil yourself, visit them both tomorrow, it'd be daft not to.
Knap Hill is wide open, with outstanding views, and a sense of loneliness for a people gone. Choose a day of wind, and clouds sailing like galleons across the sky, with the sun-dappled landscape stretched out before you, with Avebury to the north, and Salisbury Plain to the south.

Adam's Grave (Long Barrow)

Big Wiltshire skies, cloud shadows chasing across the downs, creating a patchwork quilt over the already patchwork quilt of the farmland, wide-open spaces, pre-history peppered across the rolling landscape, a landscape of curvy, female-like form, and views over golden fields. There's the odd crop circle too.
I first visited Adam's Grave a few years ago, and was struck by the prominent position it occupies, visible from miles around. Knap Hill sits handily away to the east, and it's good to feel the wind through my scalp. This is a special place, a place of great atmosphere, and a place where I feel great inner peace. Whoever was placed to rest her for eternity was truly blessed. I wish I could meet the people who built this barrow, for they truly felt something, something intangible to us today.
Sit up there on the right sort of day, and dream of the distant people, for whom a great, unknown driving force set them to work on this tomb.

Dovedale Henge (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

This site is thought to have started its life as a henge, later adapted by the Romano-British as a settlement with hut-circles. There is also evidence of a round cairn. See the ADS link below:-

http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/search/fr.cfm?rcn=LDNPHER08-2983

It's about 100 feet in diameter, with what appear to be standing stones on top of the bank, in places, which is highest at the northern quarter, and seemingly constructed of rocks, which appear on the surface in this quarter.
When you visit it, you are struck more by its henge-like appearance than by any hut-circles, and the "standing stones" certainly seem too coincidental to be true. Some do appear to be large boulders "placed" on top of the bank, but others seem to have been erected. Even so, why are they on top of the bank if they're natural?
Visit it, and decide for yourselves. It's worth it for the views into beautiful upper Dovedale. The Brotherswater campsite, Sykeside Farm, is a few hundred yards away, as is the pub, always a bonus.

Elterwater Common (Cairn(s))

Eterwater is a beautiful place, full of lifelong memories for me. There is a supposed ancient cairn in the outskirts, but it's scratchng at the truth. Many investigations leave me doubtful. I want a burial cairn at Elterwater.

Great Langdale (Cup Marked Stone)

13/04/09
Easter Monday in the Lakes, eh? Deserted on mine and Mrs. TEs' walk. From Elterwater, over the shoulder of Lingmoor, into the twin valley of Little Langdale and a pastoral idyll. This is what Great Langdale must have been like before the internal (infernal more like) combustion engine.
We continued over the ancient (not prehistoric) Slater Bridge, and along to Fell Foot. In days gone bye, and in the second half of the 20th century, an old chap used to sit by the fell gate, opening and closing the gate to cars for a penny or two.
Sorry to go on, but we continued a couple of hundred yards up Wrynose Pass, before cutting across Blea Moss. According to local writer Bill Birkett, in his book (Great Langdale, A Year in the Life of), it's a site of a neolithic/bronze age burial cairn, not that I've found it. We continued to delectable waterfalls, and on to Blea Tarn. Then we had our sarnies on the shoulder of Lingmoor, with Great Langdale below our boots.
I looked, through the bins, to the Pike of Stickle, and Harrison Stickle stone axe factories. Knowing where they are helps.
We descended soft, grassy, and mossy slopes to the Great Langdale campsite, stopping to admire the cup-marked boulder, amongst the sighing trees.
It does make you wonder what it was all about. Something to do with the axe factories? Why just the one boulder, when half-a-dozen similar ones lay about? Why just cup-marks, so near the axe factories, especially when the Copt Howe boulders are so elaborate?
The beer in the friendly, and familiar, beer garden at the Old Dungeon Ghyll finished off a perfect day.

Seatallan (Cairn(s))

This is a huge Bronze Age cairn, which, typically, for Cumbria, has been reduced down by fellwalkers, who, in their ignorance, have done what they do: mess about with summit cairns for their own shelter.
How ignorant "modern" man is. From the middle ages onwards we have helped to destroy numerous ancient monuments, and, on the Cumbrian fells, are still free to do so.
As Francis Pryor writes about in his outstanding book "Britain BC", in the uplands of Britain the barrows change from earthen or megalithic to those made of stones: the cairns.
The cairns don't seem to be protected very well. In fact, in reality, they don't seem to have any protection. The archaeological records of these places in Cumbria are vague or non existant. Who cares about these remote cairns, which is what they all sem to be?
It's a lonely summit - you won't meet anyone up here. From the cairn the views are outstanding. On a clear day Scotland, North Wales, and the Isle of Man can be seen, and on exceptional days the mountains of Ireland have been claimed to be in view.
The Stockdale Moor (Sampson's Bratfull) site is seen well from here, as is the modern eyesore of Sellafield (formerly Calder Hall, Windscale, etc.). Ancient and modern. Also, there is a good view of Burnmoor Tarn, and the cairn at the northern end, Maiden Castle. It makes me think of sightlines.

Binsey (Cairn(s))

I visited this site on 10th March 2007, on a morning when the wind was blasting rain out of the west, and the clouds down on the top, depriving me of the wonderful view.
The Bronze Age cairn has been messed with, and the rocks have been scattered a bit. It must have been a substantial cairn in its original form. Two low-walled shelters have been constructed from the hoary old stones, providing shelter for the intrepid traveller, who can huddle from the wind. It's an exposed place, at just short of 1,500 feet above sea level.
This cairn will appeal to the lover of the more obscure evidence of prehistory.

Castle Crag, Shoulthwaite (Hillfort)

Earthwork remains of an Iron Age hillfort containing levelled rock-cut hut platforms, according to ADS, but they're hard to spot amongst the heather. It's quite a small fort, sited on top of a rocky outcrop. There's not a lot to see, but it's obvious that the site would be easily defended.
You can see Castlerigg Stone Circle from the top, if you know where to look, and have binoculars.
It was a cold day of sub-zero temperatures, when me and my mate, Pie Eater, visited. The ice, under the light covering of powder snow, made for an interesting ascent. The Forestry Commission have spoilt the area somewhat, but the short detour to the top of nearby Raven Crag will reward the intrepid antiquarian with spectacular views of Thirlmere.

Blakeley Raise (Stone Circle)

Supposedly, this is a reconstructed site. Perfectly manicured lawns, courtesy of the local Herdwick sheep, and manure to keep the grass growing.
This is the land that could well be described as the "arsehole of nowhere", not that I wouldn't like to live there. The west Cumbrian coast is the hardest part of England to get to. Even from the central Lakes it's at least an hour plus to get to Kinniside, sorry Blakeley Raise. The new name has come from the small fell behind. It' known locally as Kinniside.
If you get there at the right time of day, i.e. when the minority of dickheads who work at Sellafield aren't going to, or coming from work at high speed on a narrow road, often on the wrong side, then it's bliss, otherwise don't bother, as the chances of a crash are high. As are the chances of a crash on the southern approaches from the M6, to-whit, the A590 (740 casualties in the last 5 years).
Enough doom. The circle is set high above Cleator Moor, which can be seen down to the west. Sellafield's (it's safe, honest) chimneys and cooling towers spoil the view of the Irish Sea. To the N and NW lovely fells rise up, as the do immediately behind. You can walk these heights all day without seeing a soul.
As for the circle, well the story of the reconstruction (see my notes in the miscellaneous) sort of destroys the illusion of the perfect setting. How can we really be sure they're the right stones in the right holes? It changes the atmosphere and feeling of the site for me.

Glaramara (Northern) Stone Axe Factory (Ancient Mine / Quarry)

This is a hard to find site, small, but the evidence is there if you stumble upon it, with worked stone to be seen.
If you can't find it amongst the many areas of scree and rock then so what, 'cos it's worth going to the top of Glaramara for its own sake. Glorious, with the length of Borrowdale stretching northwards to Skiddaw, and the highest land in England to the south.
If you walk south along the ridge to Allen Crags, just after the lowest point, look on the left for the most perfect of mountain tarns, just off the track, and ringed by grey rock. The setting is unforgetable, the waters gently lapping the shore, the wind soughing through the mountain grasses, whilst the north face of Great End looms over all, dark and gaunt, the mists rising like smoke through her gullies.
.........and at work I wonder why my mind isn't on the job.

Cockpit Cairns (Cairn(s))

27/05/06 You tend to stumble across these cairns, rather than look for them. From The Cockpit you head SSE, then see a suspicious upright stone, which turns out to be an old estate boundary stone, not an ancient outlier of the stone circle, discovered for archaeological posterity by your good self.
They are mostly overgrown, which is understandable, considering their lonely nature. Who, apart from a few lone, romantic souls, with a faraway look in their eyes, bother to seek them out for their worth? Most concentrate on the likes of Castlerigg, thus depriving those sites of their mystique, for who can fully feel the spirit of place when it's shared with so many.
Give me the solitude of the lonely Cockpit cairns any day, with only the larks for company, and the sound of the wind soughing through the long grass.
Showing 1-20 of 51 fieldnotes. Most recent first | Next 20
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

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