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In the latest installment of our series looking at ancient monuments around the UK, Katherine (Cait) Range takes us to the wilds of the Peak District, Derbyshire, to look at the enigmatic site of Arbor Low.
Arbor Low, near Bakewell in Derbyshire, is often referred to as the “Stonehenge of the North”, and like that famous monument, Arbor Low has been a place of reverence for many generations. Situated on a hill with magnificent views over the Derbyshire countryside, the site cannot fail to impart some of the power and mysticism our ancestors must have felt when looking out from where we stand. And people looking up at the limestone ridge upon which the henge sits, couldn’t fail to be awed by the place of the gods, looking down on them.
Dating from the Neolithic/Bronze Age, the oval bank and ditch, with causewayed entrances at both the northwest and southeast, were constructed first, during the 3rd millennium B.C. The stones being added later, by about 2000 B.C. There are 46 large stones of locally quarried limestone, within the bank and ditch, along with 13 smaller stones arranged as a grouping in the middle (a feature called a “cove” and found only in major sacred sites). But the most striking and unexpected feature is that all of the stones are recumbent and there is no evidence to tell whether the site had been constructed with the stones laid flat or whether they had all been toppled at a later date. Archaeologists have not, as yet, found any evidence of post holes to provide a solid conclusion. One theory suggests that the stones were knocked down by early Christians, in order to drive out the sacred nature of the site. But there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever for this.
The Bronze Age long barrow of Gib Hill lays a mere 200 meters from Arbor Low. Gib Hill’s original construction was roughly contemporary with Arbor Low. It is thought to be a Neolithic oval barrow with an Early Bronze Age round barrow superimposed at one end, and was most likely the original worship focus, with the later, 1st phase of Arbor Low being the “new” ritual site for the surrounding community. There is some evidence that the 2 sites might have once been connected by an earthen bank. However, this may be a much later and more mundane field boundary. Around Arbor Low are dozens of barrows constructed in the Late Bronze age, about 1000 years after the Arbor Low circle. One of these was even built into the bank near the southeast entrance. It was excavated by Thomas Bateman in 1845 and found to contain several burials. Bateman also found a large burial cist at Gib Hill in 1848. In 1901-02, a human burial was found near the “cove” of stones in the middle of the henge.
To take a more mystical view, Arbor Low is purported to have many ley lines running through it. This is a nice, romantic thought but a line can be drawn between pretty much anything, depending on the angle. And while there may very well be fissures of energy around the site, the area is too dense with archaeological features and too many lines would be pure chance. This huge complex of burial and worship sites was in use for at least 1000 years. Clearly the successive generations saw and felt the power of their ancestors and their original choice of the site. To build these massive and magnificent structures, these had to be a people who lived with a great sense of community, co-operation, and spirituality.
For more information about Arbor Low, see the Arbor Low Environs Project website.
Check back soon for the next site in our A-Z.
The Welsh Government is holding a public consultation on whether the “ignorance defence” for damaging an ancient monument (saying the accused was unaware of its status or location) should be restricted.
Successful prosecutions are very rare. Between 2006 and 2012, Cadw received reports of 119 cases of unlawful damage to scheduled ancient monuments in Wales but there has only been one successful prosecution under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 in the last 25 years. That is surely a ridiculous state of affairs? Over the years hundreds of the most important sites have been damaged and only once has a culprit been punished! What do YOU think? Responses have been invited from any individuals or groups with an interest in the historic environment of Wales. You can submit your views here.
Of course, there are certain measures that could be taken to discourage heritage crime, certainly at the Nine Ladies. You’re welcome to suggest some of your own!
Welcome to our occasional series, looking through an A-Z of ancient sites in the UK. Some will be well-known, others much less so, but we hope that each site featured will show an aspect of our ancient heritage that inspires people to get out and visit.
Katherine (Cait) Range has once again provided us with an interesting article, this time looking at a well known site in Wiltshire, Adam’s Grave.
High up on the summit of Walker’s Hill, near the Wiltshire town of Alton Barnes, Old Adam, the sarsen stone, looks out upon the surrounding countryside of Pewsey Vale.
Old Adam and his companion sarsen, Little Eve, once flanked the entrance to the massive Neolithic chambered long barrow called Adam’s Grave. The chamber system inside, was most likely similar to that seen at West Kennet Long Barrow. And Adam’s Grave is also part of the greater prehistoric, ritual landscape surrounding the Avebury/Silbury/Windmill hill complex. Even in its collapsed state, it commands panoramic views and in turn can it be seen from miles around. The prominence of this barrow was surely to honor its occupants.
This long barrow is quite substantial in size being 60m long and 6m high. The ditches on either side are still 6m wide and .09m deep. At one end there appears to be a sarsen stone burial chamber in which, in 1860, were found 3 or 4 incomplete skeletons and a leaf-shaped arrowhead. There is evidence that originally, there was a retaining wall of sarsens and dry stone around the barrow.
Adam’s Grave is one of those places that feel like a “thin place” in the veil between our reality and the supernatural. It isn’t too difficult to imagine faeries, goblins and heroes in this beautiful place. As one would expect, there are several legends attached to the place. One such is that Adam’s Grave is thought to be the final resting place of a giant and if you dare to run seven times around this huge tumulus, then you will risk waking him. To date, no one has disturbed him and when one looks at the size if the place, it’s easy to see why.
There is an account also, of a Miss Cobern who, sometime in the mid-1960′s, had a very disturbing experience there. She states that she was walking back from the barrow to where she had parked her car. All of a sudden, she felt very anxious and uneasy. It was cold and cloudy and there was no other person there from what she could see. She began to hear the sound of many horses coming at a full gallop. So many that it seemed as if an army were near, but of course there was nothing, certainly no horses. Once she walked fully past the barrow, the sound of horses stopped abruptly. There are plenty of other accounts of the sound of galloping horses, animals taking fright for no apparent reason, ghostly shades, and many reports of baying hounds said to be the guardians of the barrow. True or not, the story does bring to mind the two very real battles that occurred in this place, both of which are recorded in the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicles”.
In the 6th century, the place was known as Wodnesbeorg, and in AD592 a battle was fought here. The Chronicle states “Her micel wælfill wæs æt Woddes beorge, 7 Ceawlin wæs ut adrifen. (There was great slaughter at Woden’s Hill, and Ceawlin was driven out).” Caewlin was king of Anglo-Saxon Wessex but in most versions of the Chronicle, the name of his opponent is not listed. It is assumed they were British. However, in one or two versions of the Chronicle, the opponent is listed as Coel. Could this be the “Old King Cole” of nursery rhyme? A romantic and intriguing thought.
The other battle fought here and recorded in the Chronicle, occurred in AD715. “Her Ine 7 Ceolred fuhton æt Woddes beorge. (There Ine and Ceolred fought at Woden’s Hill).” Ine was king of Anglo-Saxon Wessex and Ceolred was king of Anglo-Saxon Mercia. Several Anglo-Saxon battles took place near Adam’s Grave as the area was of strategic importance and is near to the passage of Wansdyke where the ancient Ridgeway interconnects. This passage was named “read geat” (red gate or gap), and the Saxons most likely considered it worth defending.
Adam’s Grave and the surrounding area contain enough history and legend to fill a book, never mind this small article. And as part of the greater Avebury/Silsbury ritual landscape, it has clearly been a place of mystery, reverence and legend to people, our ancestors, since before recorded history.
Many thanks once again to Katharine for an interesting and informative article. If you have a favourite site and you’d like to submit an article for this series, please contact us.
Welcome to the first in an occasional series, looking through an A-Z of ancient sites in the UK. Some will be well-known, others much less so, but we hope that each site featured will show an aspect of our ancient heritage that inspires people to get out and visit.
This first article has been submitted by a new contributor to the Heritage Journal, Katherine (Cait) Range. Katherine lives in Texas, USA but has frequently visited the UK to satisfy her passion for our heritage, of which prehistoric sites form a large part. We look forward to further articles from Katherine in the coming months.
Apron Full of Stones
This intriguingly named site is a large ring cairn, located on the eastern edge of Kingsdale Beck, east of Kirkby Lonsdale near Ingleton, in the Yorkshire Dales. (map link)
Excavated in 1972, the cairn was built within a single period, most likely Bronze Age (as suggested by a small collection of flints), and its kerb is formed of boulders. A cremation burial was found during the excavation but there were no grave goods in accompaniment. An interesting fact is that the stones are gritstone and sandstone which seems strange in an area that is largely limestone. One suggestion for this is that the stones represent glacial deposits which had been scattered over a wider area. Those stones were then gathered, possibly as a precursor to farming activity, and then used to construct the cairn. It has also been suggested that this is not a cairn at all but may be a small henge. This idea, however, has not been pursued beyond a suppostion.
The locals in times past tended to devise fantastic tales that would explain the reasons for the existence of many of these sites. And such is the case with this one. Legend has it that the Devil was collecting stones in his apron in order to build a bridge over the Lune at Kirkby Lonsdale when his apron string broke and the stones fell out on the edge of Kingsdale Beck. The tale goes on to tell that the Devil was building this bridge at the request of an old woman who wanted to cross the Lune to search for a stray cow. The Devil, not being one to do a good deed for nothing in return, had extracted the price to be the soul the first creature to cross the bridge (assuming it would be the old woman). But the old woman was as cunning as he and as she came along to the bridge the next day, she threw a bun across first and a dog leapt out in front of her to get it. The Devil was thus cheated of his payment of a soul.
1. “The Yorkshire Dales: South and West” by Dennis Kelsall and Jan Kelsall (Cicerone Press Limited, Feb 15, 2012)
Following on from our recent forays into the world of music, looking at pieces entitled ‘Stonehenge’, comes a timely piece from the BBC, concerning acoustic research by London’s Royal College of Art upon the stones in the Preseli Hills, the source of the Stonehenge bluestones.
With this study, thousands of stones along the Carn Menyn ridge were tested and a high proportion of them were found to “ring” when they were struck.
“The percentage of the rocks on the Carn Menyn ridge are ringing rocks, they ring just like a bell,” said Mr Devereux, the principal investigator on the Landscape and Perception Project.
“And there’s lots of different tones, you could play a tune. In fact, we have had percussionists who have played proper percussion pieces off the rocks.”
A musical instrument where stones are used as an acoustic device is known as a ‘lithophone‘, or sometimes as a ‘stone marimba’. Though we’re not entirely sure that something of the size of Stonehenge could quite qualify for that name!
And a brief message for all our Cornish readers: Gool Peran Lowen! Happy St Piran’s Day!
The English Heritage Commissioners have just joined the chorus of scepticism over the proposal to split up the organisation. They have said they can’t commit to supporting it until “unacceptable financial risk” is mitigated. The plan is for a one-off £85 million grant for a new organisation to both manage and improve the National Heritage Collection of more than 400 properties and then to become self-financing within eight years.
It is based on the Government’s projected figures of an 86% increase in membership and a 31% increase in visitor numbers. Nice growth if you can get it but clearly the Commissioners have doubts. They “welcomed the proposed model” (how polite!) but have warned that its success is “critically dependent” upon having “financial certainty” (or “enough money” as most people say!)
The Heritage Alliance have similar doubts: “Visitor figures are notoriously volatile as events such as the outbreak of foot and mouth disease have shown…..it would only take one or two significant events to derail this model” (like unprecedented bad weather and flooding for instance?). They also recommend the money is paid in one lump sum to avoid a change of heart by the Government! The National Trust has also suggested that after eight years when the money is gone the model may become “unsustainable”.
Now that the December hullabaloo has died down, (what? You’re still celebrating??) January is traditionally a time for the holiday brochures to make an appearance, and cold evenings huddled around a fire are spent dreaming of the sunnier, warmer days of summer ahead, and how to spend them. If you’re not one of those who go flying off to foreign climes, but prefer to explore the ancient heritage of the British Isles in a so-called ‘Staycation’, you may well be looking for some ideas.
Luckily, our friends over at the Heritage Daily have recently been putting together a few ‘Top Ten’ lists which may inspire you.
Firstly to set the scene, a list of the Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries in 2013. Not so much here on places to visit, though my personal favourite ‘local’ henge at Norton in Hertfordshire is included here. Whilst there’s not that much to see on the ground at Norton, taking in the wider landscape of the ‘Baldock Bowl’ can reap some rewards, whilst a few miles away is the largest longbarrow in Hertfordshire, just outside Royston.
If stone circles are your ‘thing’, a list of the Top Ten Circles in Britain should provide plenty of inspiration. From Brodgar in the north, to Stanton Drew and Stonehenge in the south, all the major circles are here.
Hillforts seem to be coming under attack from developers lately (see our recent stories on Oswestry), so why not get out and see a few while they’re still relatively free of housing? The Top Ten Iron Age Hillforts list features some spectacular forts, from East Lothian in Scotland, down to the South Coast.
If your tastes verge toward the more ‘modern’ side of ancient heritage, the Top Ten Roman Forts list should do for you, though we’re straying outside our ‘mainly Pre-Roman’ remit here :-) As you’d expect, Hadrian’s Wall features prominently – if you’re a Romanist and haven’t walked it yet, I’m assured you’re missing out! But there are also shore forts from around the coast, so whichever part of the country takes your fancy, there should be something there for you.
So plenty there to get your travel plans under way, whether it be for a day trip, long weekend, or something a little longer. Why not tell us your plans for this year? Which sites are you hoping to see for the first time? Which old friends will you be revisiting? Let us know via the Comments.
As prehistoric site enthusiasts we thought this was excellent. It’s part of EH’s extensive set of teaching resources and what struck us as particularly effective were the series of questions designed to get children to think a bit more deeply about any “bunch of old stones” they may visit.
“If you are visiting a prehistoric site, you can become a landscape detective… Often these sites weren’t just put anywhere but were carefully designed either to be seen from miles around or to have good views.
When you are being driven or are walking to the site, think about how soon you can see it… Could you see it for miles and miles or was it a surprise when you got there because it was hidden away? Did you have to walk or drive up a big hill?
Have a look at what you can see from the site… You might have to think about what wouldn’t have been there thousands of years ago (roads, walls, telegraph poles for example). Can you see a long way? Can you perhaps see other prehistoric sites?
Now, being a landscape detective, can you decide whether the site you are visiting was meant to be seen by lots of people or was the view from it more important? maybe it was meant to be a secret?”
Then they suggest the fun bit….
Make some sketches and take some photographs when you are there and draw or paint a picture of what you think the site might have looked like when it was first made… Collect between 15 and 25 stones from somewhere – perhaps your garden or a driveway or even the beach…. Think about the colour, texture, shape and size as your stones, just as they did in prehistory…. and so on.
What child could resist?
Back in January of this year, I was witness to unthinking desecration by a family group at Men an Tol. I recently returned to the scene, or rather, I attempted to return to the scene. On this occasion, my path was blocked by cows grazing on the approaches to the monument. The surface damage done by the grazing cattle was much worse than that caused by the family earlier in the year.
Indeed, I’m not alone in thinking that the damage caused could have easily been avoided, were it not for poor advice from certain government departments, coupled with the greed of the owners on whose land the monument lies. Save Penwith Moors, (SPM) a local pressure group acting to campaign lawfully for the removal of all new stock proofing (fencing, gates and cattle grids) from a few selected areas of open access moorland popular for local and tourist recreation, have been keeping a daily eye on the situation at Men an Tol, and have recently issued the following Open Letter to English Heritage, Natural England, Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN), as well as the local MP for the area:
“More potential trouble at Men-an-Tol!
As at Tregeseal Circle the cattle are gathering around the stones and using the two uprights as rubbing posts as well as covering the area with heaps of dung and ruining the public right of way – virtually impassable down towards the stream – by churning it up.
This is not an isolated out of the way site – and that would be no excuse anyway – but, probably, the most popular frequented ancient monument in the Peninsula and an iconic part of Cornish Heritage. It is high time remedial action was taken after this warning message – preferably by removing grazing stock from this Croft and undertaking manual maintenance.”
The Save Penwith Moors campaign web site and Facebook page includes photographic and video evidence of the damage being caused by the ill-conceived grazing policies as instigated by Natural England and (unjustifiably) supported by English Heritage who are ultimately legally responsible for the protection of the Scheduled Ancient Monument. We would urge all our readers to visit the SPM pages and give them every support possible in their campaign against the current grazing policies.
Press Release 15TH OCTOBER 2013:
After three years of fundraising, the Sustainable Trust, owners of the field formerly known as Cromlech Parc or Frying Pan Field, have finally found the required level of funding to restore this Scheduled Ancient Monument to standards required by English Heritage.
The Sita Cornwall Trust are funding the excavations and restoration, and the Heritage Lottery Fund are funding the education and outreach side of the project.
The Sustainable Trust are also grateful to the Tanner Trust, Cornwall Heritage Trust, The Council of British Archaeology and Cornwall Archaeological Society. Support has also come from our Patron Charles Thomas, the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies & Camborne Old Cornwall Society. Without this diverse interest, the larger bids would not have been forthcoming.
Our volunteers have been helpful too, pledging to carry on the good work after the successful phase of archaeological investigations last year. A film will be made, a bi-lingual ballad will be commissioned and an App will be built. Several exhibitions and talks will be held along with education days for schools.
The final excavations will take place between the 21st and 31st of October with an open day on Sunday 27th. Weather permitting we anticipate the erection of the first support stone, or orthostat, during the morning of 31st October.
Pip Richards, Director of the Sustainable Trust said “We are delighted with this long awaited news and are looking forward to fulfilling our ambition to restore this unusual iconic monument. Bringing Neolithic history into focus through what was once considered just a pile of old stones, and giving the local community something to be proud of, makes us happy to undertake the work. So much good feeling and encouragement was engendered during the last phase of the project, it makes it all worthwhile”.