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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”.
English Heritage is to mobilise a volunteer Heritage Army – “the first crowd-sourcing project to tackle heritage at risk”. The idea is to get volunteers to carry out surveys of England’s 345,000 Grade II buildings “to enable thousands of passionate heritage fans to get more actively involved.”
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “Today we are announcing a win / win proposition. For English Heritage it means we will eventually get, for the first time, a complete picture of the condition of all England’s listed heritage. We can use this information to decide how best to deploy our national expertise to help owners and all those tackling heritage at risk on the ground. And we’ll have a grass-roots network to spread understanding and appreciation of local heritage so that less of it becomes at risk in the first place.”
It certainly fits with something we’ve been suggesting for years regarding prehistoric monuments – there is already a passionate, knowledgeable army of enthusiasts out there who regularly visit those, even ones in inaccessible places. Many of them keep EH informed of their condition but a more formalised system including phone apps would certainly improve protection at minimal cost.
However Rescue News made an important point (on Twitter) :
“Involving the volunteer public in assessing Heritage at Risk is a great idea. But they should NEVER replace qualified professionals!” And of course, doing that may well be in the Government’s mind. They also made a sharp retort to Planning Minister Nick Boles:
“not making it easier to demolish those beautiful places and heritage assets we all value would be a help too”!
Welcome to a new occasional series of Fascinating “Facts”, in which we’ll endeavour to present short snippets of history, folklore and news about Britain’s prehistoric heritage sites. Each article will be brief and to the point, and we’ll be looking to our readership (that’s YOU!) to provide some insight into a site that may be local to where you live or work, or that you’ve had some connection with in the past. Please get in touch with your own Fascinating “Facts” and we’ll publish them here. So without further ado, the first Fascinating “Fact” concerns:
Zennor Quoit, Cornwall
This chamber tomb, having stood for thousands of years on a hilltop overlooking the parish of Zennor on West Penwith’s north coast road, was threatened with destruction in 1861. A local farmer proposed to convert the monument into a cattle–shed by removing one of the uprights and drilling a hole in the sloping capstone.
Luckily, the plan was disapproved of by the villagers of Zennor (an early case of NIMBYism?) and the local vicar, William Borlase – a great grandson of Dr. William Borlase the antiquarian – offered the farmer an incentive of five shillings (25p in today’s money, though worth considerable more then) to build it elsewhere. The farmer had already started on construction of the barn, and three stone posts which he’d erected can still be seen today, next to the quoit. Traces of drill–holes can also still be seen in the capstone.
A poem commemorating the incident, “Zennor Quoit Preserved”, written by local postman Charles Taylor Stephens can be found in Issue 10 (pg 73) of the Transactions of the Cornwall Archaeological Society.
Who knows what the site would have looked like today if William Borlase hadn’t stepped in on behalf of the villagers?
Eric Pickles may have just advised Local Authorities not to rule out developments through inflexible rules on buffer zones but never fear, he’s about to impose millions more – see here. The guidance, to be published this week, will advise builders of new houses to provide space to hide away wheelie bins because “unsightly bins left lying around the neighbourhood can damage the visual amenity of an area”.
Mr Pickles said:
“For years, badly-placed wheelie bins and the proliferation of multiple bins have created a blot on the landscape. By ensuring that developers create appropriate waste storage areas when designing new homes, we can tackle the ghastly gauntlet of bin blighted streets and driveways”
Hurrah! No more ghastly blots on the landscape then!