The British country side is a great place for walking, we have moors, hills, mountains and valleys for this outdoor sport, problems arise though when the footfall of many walkers start to erode the paths over the higher ground, and also the rather bad practice of creating walker cairns and wind breaks on top of the old Bronze Age burial cairns.
Also, modern walker cairns can often be seen next to the burial cairns, the Bronze Age cairn being quarried to add to the modern one. Such acts of vandalism may be unintentional on the part of the walkers, maybe they are unable to distinguish between modern and old, but such foolishness often obscures and destroys valuable prehistoric remains.
There have been efforts made by archaeologists to redress the destruction of the Bronze Age cairns, one such is Fan Foel in the Brecon Beacons. In June 2002 a survey found that severe erosion was taking place due to a combination of ‘wind, rain, and from visitor’s removing stone for a walkers cairn’.
June 2004 – the walker’s cairn was removed from the site and the area of the burial cairn was partially excavated, and what is left of the monument is now protected beneath ‘terram matting and has been backfilled with turf and stone.
Another example is the Yorkshire Beamsley Beacon, where an old burial cairn lies under a modern walker cairn, and was also probably part of a defence hut in the Napoleonic war in the 19th century, and in the words of the article.…
“Much of this cairn, which is now about 11m in diameter, still survives but in recent years it has suffered a lot of disturbance due to people using stones from it to make modern cairns and wind breaks. Another smaller historic cairn lies further along the ridge at Old Pike and that has also lost some of its stones.”
There is one more cairn that seems to have suffered damage fairly recently and this in Cornwall at West Penwith, a field note on The Modern Antiquarian highlights a recent visit by Sweetcheat to the Watch Croft cairn and his findings there.
One thing I noticed that I didn’t spot last time is that the eastern barrow (with the trig point) has been subjected to the building of one of those annoying walker’s windbreaks that are made from the stones of cairn itself (this is a problem on the North York Moors, but I haven’t seen it here before).
So this quarrying of stone from cairns is an ongoing problem which needs resolving or at least education by the local authorities to explain to people the folly of such actions. Of course it is not only the public who are at fault, some burial cairns because they are at a high point, also have the indignity of Ordnance Survey ‘trig’ posts inserted into the cairn, examples can be found here on The Modern Antiquarian….
Walker cairns are only the latest manifestation of a historical ‘vandalism’ that happens through time, but in this case it is something that can be rectified and stopped through the process of education, informing people that it just is’nt right to destroy prehistoric monuments that have been around for four thousand years, and enforcing the scheduling laws that apply to our protected monuments.