You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2011.

By Chris Brooks, Heritage Action
Unploughed section of bridleway. Image credit and © Chris Brooks
I am quite keen on the preservation of both our ancient history as well as the freedom to roam and explore it via the extensive network of public rights of way that crisscross much of our countryside. Therefore, following on from a post on The Modern Antiquarian forum by head-first regarding the destruction of a bridleway on the Marlborough Downs, I visited the site in question early on Monday morning. The  site lies 3.5km south of  Avebury and is accessed by driving as far up Gunsight Road as possible (it was heavily flooded along many sections that morning) and walking the rest of the way along the byway.
Ploughed section of bridleway in foreground, unploughed section of byway in background. Image credit and © Chris Brooks
At the point where the byway stops and the bridleway starts (approximately grid ref 10356690) the farmer has ploughed out the entire bridleway along the whole length of the field going south-westward (a distance of approximately 750m). You can see the difference in the soil between the bridleway and the actual field so it looks like it was there before. The fence boundary between the bridleway and fields to the east is still there but there is no fence on the other side. But then I don’t think there ever was, as at the other end of the field where the bridleway starts again there is no fence there either.
Ploughed section of bridleway in background, unploughed section of byway in foreground. Image credit and © Chris Brooks
There are plenty of private property signs telling you to keep out but no signs (that I could see) telling you the correct way to go. The Law and Environment website clearly states that –

Footpaths on [the] edge of a field must not be ploughed. Footpaths can be ploughed, if they cross fields. However, a minimum width of 1 metres must be made available within 14 days of ploughing. Landowners must also ensure that they restore footpaths after ploughing.
Bridleways on the edge of a field must also not be ploughed except they cross over fields. Like footpaths, landowners must also give a minimum width of 2 metres within 14 days of commencing ploughing. Landowners must also ensure that they restore bridleways after ploughing.
Other don’ts for landowners.
  • You cannot grow crops on a public right of way, however grass can be grown for hay and silage.
  • Dairy bulls over 10 months are not allowed to cross over a field with a right of way.
  • You cannot put up stiles or gates without the permission of your local authority.
  • You cannot put up misleading signs to prevent people from using a public right of way.
  • You are not allowed to harrass, intimidate (e.g. placing a fierce dog on public right of way) or prevent members of the public from using a public right of way.
  • It is an offence under the Highways Act 1980 to put up barbed wires, electric fences or exposed barb wire that prevents or obstructs a public right of way.

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Newgrange is Ireland’s top heritage site. Official. A poll of over 600 people, by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Company, has come up with the following results;

1. Newgrange – 12.47%
2. The Burren – 12.26%
3. Glenda Lough – 9.51%
4. Cliffs of Moher – 8.66%
5. Hill of Tara – 5.07%
6. Clonmacnoise – 3.81%
7. Giant’s Causeway – 2.96%
8. Rock of Cashel – 2.87%
9. Wicklow Mountains – 2.75%
10. Phoenix Park – 2.73%

It also features in “the ones we are most embarrassed for not visiting yet” (and spot the entry that’s now easily accessible by motorway);

1. Hill of Tara – 12.26%
2. Rock of Cashel – 9.93%
3. Newgrange – 9.30%
4. The Burren – 7.61%
5. Giant’s Causeway – 6.34%
6. Clonmacnoise – 3.81%
7. Céide Fields, Mayo – 3.59%
8. Blarney Stone – 2.75%
9. Kilmainham Gaol – 2.33%
10. Dublin Castle – 2.11%

Isn’t that a bit like prompting the inhabitants of a house full of unconsidered, fading, Rembrandts to worry about not having visited the NG? The conclusion of the article, at least, shows that there is an awareness of the much wider problems of damage and erosion;

“While almost three in every four people believe heritage is critically important to Irish tourism, the survey also revealed that more than a third were not satisfied with the level of work being done to preserve heritage sites…”

by Nigel Swift

I recently opined (here and here) that detecting forum UKDN doesn’t feel constrained by the shackles of truth. But the same and more can be said of metal detecting clubs (despite the motto of Prince Bishop Detecting Club – “Honesty is always the best policy“!)

My central contention is that a large number of clubs present themselves as guarantors of virtue while leaving scope in their rules for individual Members to mislead landowners and/or not report finds.  And no, that’s not an unsubstantiated accusation, I can prove it. The killer issue is this: most of them make a big noise about how their members must comply with the National Council of Metal Detecting Code of Practice but (unknown to the landowners) that code is rubbish, it leaves adherents free to ignore the official Code of Responsible Detecting. This accusation comes with an invitation to prove me wrong: let them make full adherence to the Code of Responsible Detecting a strict condition of membership. No-one could then accuse them of supplying irresponsible Members with the means to mislead landowners.

I won’t hold my breath though. Non reporting detectorists don’t live in outer space, many are members of clubs – and it is presumably a wish to convenience them rather than careless drafting that causes the dialogue of so many clubs to be replete with double-speak and hidden loopholes. And it’s not just the widespread “wrong code of practice” sleight of hand that is on show, it is multifarious other ploys that mislead farmers. For instance:

1.Prince Bishop Metal Detecting Club (again): “As an act of openness [!] we are always willing to discuss with landowners the finds that come off their land”! How kind! But it translates (doesn’t it?!) as : “We’ll show you only if you ask, otherwise the stuff is ours and we’ll take it home with us”.

2.Northamptonshire Artefact Recovery Club -“we work very closely with landowners.” So closely in fact that they take the artefacts home for themselves and merely give “a photograph of each one” to the landowner! (For his “records“!)

3. South-Lancs & Cheshire Detecting Club say “It is very seldom that those who grant detecting rights on their land wish to retain any of the coins and artefacts recovered from it” Here’s a puzzle! Why should landowners be seldom interested in retaining items that detectorists are desperately keen to get hold of and which EBay features so extensively? Are they all toothless hillbillies, less educated than detectorists about history and money? Or is the only rational explanation that they aren’t very aware of exactly what is coming out of their fields? And it’s value? (Guess!)

4. Weymouth and Portland metal detecting club generously tells farmers “we are happy to share our finds on a 50/50 basis”. How kind. But if they aren’t trying to fool him shouldn’t that be “happy to share YOUR property on a 50/50 basis”? [And that club’s a doozy anyway – they have guest speakers who are coin valuers – so no pretence there then. And their club motto is buttock-clenching in the circumstances: “We leave nothing but footprints!” You can’t get truer than that….]

5.West Kirby Metal Detecting Club has yet more tricky words that will fool farmers – a Code of Conduct that tells members “Report any unusual historic finds to PAS”. Trouble is, that’s NOT what the official code of Responsible Detecting says, and it’s a deliberate weakening of it. By specifying “unusual” (which appears nowhere in the official code) it is left purely to the club member what he reports and what he doesn’t while giving farmers the strong impression the club rules require 100% recording and Official Code compliance. They don’t.

6. Yeovil Metal Detecting Club leave the barn door wide open for those that want to mislead farmers. They say they are “happy to share any items of value on a 50/50 basis” (patronising or what, considering they don’t own a molecule of them?) and they will report all worthwhile finds and findings to you”. Thus, neatly, they ensure (a.) what is of value, (b.) what is to be shared and (c.) what is to be shown to the farmer all remain entirely for the judgement of the detectorists. WHY? Do farmers ever get ripped off in the Yeovil area? Have a guess!

7. Solent Metal Detecting Club opens the barn door by a different method: it  tells members that finds “may” be recorded with PAS. Of course, saying “may” is also saying “may not”! “May” is only a word but it can make a villain look like a hero – and it wasn’t chosen by chance.

Doubtless PAS et al know I’m right, but will they do something about it? PAS itself never will, for sure (Britain has created an official life form whose optimum survival strategy lies in promoting the well-being of the problem it was created to control.) But what about “et al”, the other archaeological signatories to the Official Code of Responsible Detecting and the Rally Code. Their position is tricky, to say the least. The Official Codes encourage detectorists to join clubs and to enter Finds Agreements. But the clubs don’t prevent unacceptable behaviour, on the contrary for those that are so inclined, they facilitate it. Similarly, Finds agreements don’t provide protection for the public resource or landowners. On the contrary, for those that are so inclined, they aid injustice and irresponsibility. “Et al” have left the public and landowners of Britain wide open to being misled and ripped off by anyone so inclined. It’s surely incumbent upon them to put things right rather than persist in publicly painting the situation as acceptable (leaving it to the likes of us and Paul Barford to voice what they themselves actually think!)

There IS an interim solution, and it’s below. It borrows the Prince Bishop Detecting Club sentiment about honesty being the best policy and applies it for the benefit of landowners and the general public. I’m sure “et al” know it would be a Good Thing and that it would be simplicity itself to achieve, they would just need to advise landowners to adopt it, for their own sake and the good of the resource. One full page ad in the farming press would do more good for those that deserve it than thirteen years of uphill outreach! Some people might object but advising farmers on the conditions they should lay down for access to their own land is not exactly unreasonable, the dimmest of MPs and BBC producers would see that, so the non-recording and pocket-loving sector of the metal detecting community would be left as the only objectors.

So will “et al” say…..

Yes, in the unfortunate situation where Parliament hasn’t stepped in and absolutely anyone can go metal detecting without constraint, that really is the only way the property interests of farmers and the cultural interests of society can be protected

Or will they keep silent yet again, pretending what is clearly happening on a massive scale isn’t, and murmuring

Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie, Watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by?


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


The Past is Another Country: an Exhibition by the Elementals Art Group. Artwork inspired by the pre-history of Wiltshire at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes from 10:00am on Saturday, 5 November 2011 until  Monday, 2 January 2012.


“The Elementals art group brings together the ideas and inspirations of six different artists under a central theme – Jenny Ford, Jan Knight, Julia Leyden, Christine Shorney, Josephine Sumner, plus guest artist Charlotte Sainsbury. The project has been as much about the process of an idea, as the finished works of art. The group studied archival maps and diagrams, artefacts in museums and photographic aerial views of the landscape – and walked and looked, and looked and walked! Rather than recreating the past they have distilled their own personal and emotional responses to the creations of the Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples of Wessex.”

More here –

An ancient ‘rolling stone’ which kept falling apart with age has been restored to all its mystic prehistoric glory.  The ancient ‘holed stone’ forms part of a set out on Kenidjack Common in St Just in Penwith.  Sometimes referred to as the ‘Tregeseal holed stones’, the stones lie nearby the better known Tregeseal stone circle.  The ancient monuments are believed to have stood in St Just since the Megalithic period of pre-history.

English Heritage has just issued a fascinating tender document. In essence they want an outside organisation to undertake a national assessment of all Scheduled Monuments identified on the Heritage at Risk Register as being vulnerable to arable cultivation ….. in order to ….. identify suitable mitigation measures for each monument, and to assist future targeting of staff and grant resources by English Heritage and Defra.

Sounds expensive and lengthy. It crosses our minds it might be done in-house, at a lower cost and pretty quickly. How? By harnessing and collating the efforts of the hundreds of ordinary members of the public that visit all the sites in question on a regular basis and who could be relied upon to provide accurate (and very up-to-date and entirely free!) structured eye-witness accounts. The sort of people that use websites like The Modern Antiquarian, The Megalithic Portal and others. Needless to say there would be additional advantages… the opportunity to foster a sense of public engagement and stimulate public involvement in monument guardianship on an ongoing basis.

A news item on BBC1 at lunchtime featured King Arthur outside the High Court today. The news item reports that, “The cremated remains of more than 40 bodies, thought to be at least 5,000 years old, were removed from a burial site at Stonehenge in 2008 and ministers gave permission to allow the bones to be examined until 2015.” Arthur is reported as saying that he, “…did not believe the bones would ever be returned to the site, and that his views were not being taken into account.” He also said that, “If we don’t get them to, force them to, put them back, they’re going to end up in Salisbury museum.”
Conversely, archaeologist Mike Pitts argues in the news item that a detailed study of the remains leads to a better understanding of the people buried at Stonehenge and this is a form of respect.
The interview with Arthur is here. See also our feature on the re-burial issue here.

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

It’s been a while.

I was looking at a photograph of my parents’ wedding the other day. Taken over 40 years ago – taken, somehow, from an angle and above -, it was a large grouping that filled the church driveway. In it I spotted two of my uncles; looking only a little like they do now, and my late grandmother, her smiling face (where was my grandfather; was he hiding?). There was the minister that I was later named for; very smart with a black hat and a white collar. And on either side the gravestones and graves of previous generations seemed ‘grey’, even amidst the greys of the print. I doubt that they noticed them, though.

I’ve always been a bit dismissive of family history buffs; why would you want to live your life through somebody else’s? But I’m not so sure any more – they may just be experiencing a different type of interaction. Inside myself, I’m aware that the knowledge of where my great-grandparents lived (or where my great-great-grandparents lived), where they were married and where they are buried, links my life to those places and changes the way that I perceive them; I’m thinking of the unique thrill that I get from the roll of those particular hills, from the heavy growth of the hedges, or from the paths leading up through the fields. My hills, my hedges, my fields – or so it feels. Likewise, tracing your relations, both back and across generations, must link your life closely to all those people, living and dead. And to all those places – the more you discover, the more your ‘tribe’ and your feeling for their surroundings, present and past, must grow.

Theories of ancestor worship, of tribes and territorial markers, of instinct, are common, but I never really understood that power. For me the lonely stone in the meadow, or the circle on the side of the hill, were like flesh built on phantoms; I obsessed over the mysterious structure underneath. But my approach was probably wrong; I only thought perhaps, when I should have thought and felt. Could their link to ‘their’ land have felt as strong as mine does today? Were they told of their lineage for generations past? And did they see this land as if through their ancestors’ eyes?

How heavy must that boot have been, to leave its footprint in stone? Was it left by a phantom? Or was it left by a man?

by Chris Brooks, Heritage Action. All images © Chris Brooks.

Unstan is a neatly kept chambered tomb not too far from Brogdar on the other side of Stenness Loch along the A965.  There is adequate visitor parking in a set-aside area and the tomb is a short walk along a marked path. The chamber is beautifully sited, near and surrounded on three sides by Stenness Loch. It is covered with a well kept grassy mound and surrounded by the normal wire fencing but looks quite small compared to the other chambers such as Wideford.

I had to get on my knees to enter through the stone lined passageway. Constructed inside in a similar fashion to the Tomb of the Eagles complete with the bunker style dome roof, however this chamber is in much better condition. More or less rectangular in shape, the central chamber is divided into a number of stalls one of which has a smaller side chamber off it. An unknown number of jumbled bones was found in each of the stalls with two complete skeletons found in the side chamber. Standing inside you can’t help but feel the place is a bit of a tardis with the inside seemingly larger than the outside. This is probably one of those optical illusions where there is nothing really to measure size against, either on the inside or on the outside. If you like your chamber tombs neat, tidy and well presented I cannot imagine one much better than this.

People who don’t mind getting their knees dirty, or alternatively can bend themselves double, won’t mind going through the entrance either. Funny bit was me huffing, puffing and swearing to myself while trying to get my photography stuff back through the entrance only to be met by a young couple waiting on the outside giggling to themselves as I heaved myself out. I think I said something like they must have been small people who built this – I then left after yet more photo’s were taken of those lovely surroundings.

As it was a nice day I thought I would drive over to the western side of the mainland and visit a few sites there.  I drove up past Deepdale standing stone, but didn’t stop, and on to Voy on the northern edge of Stenness Loch. I had not seen a Crannog before and this would be my first chance to get a view of one. I parked the car up on the side of the road and looked down the cool waters of the loch to two small round islands in the mid-distance. Around the foreshore of the loch a layer of foam had built up and gleaming white in the spring sunshine. But this seemed to attract numerous flying insects which were in turn attracting lot of birds all zooming around the edge. Although I didn’t/couldn’t get very close to the crannog I did stay a while and sat in the warm sun looking out over the loch to the distant hills on the horizon.

I headed north-west along the Yesnaby road towards the dramatic coastline of the West mainland. The road terminated at a small parking place right on the edge of cliffs overlooking the deep blue Atlantic ocean with not much between here and Canada. I walked northward along the cliff edge. The striated rocks formed amazing stepping stones and routes for small streams of water as it made its way to the sea. Eventually a fence with a stile is negotiated and the footpath and sign lets you know you’re on the right route. Also marking your way are a number of small modern standing stones. After a short time as you walk along the border between the monumental rock formations and the green pastures to your right you dip down to sea level crossing a small bridge with a disused building to the side.

A small but beautiful cove hides itself among the cliffs. I stopped here a short while siting on the smoothly worn boulders just watching the lapping water, the pebbly beach, and admiring the sea stack that reminded me of a small ‘Old Man of Hoy’. The cove was sheltered from the wind the sun was very hot but nobody was around… I think I almost fell asleep as I sat there.

It was time to move on and I made my way up the other side of the cove. I met an ex-pat along the route and we stopped and chatted. He had moved away from the island many years ago as the winters can be long, dark and very cold and he preferred the metropolitan life in Edinburgh. But he liked to return to his homeland during the warmer months to see old friends and family and catch up with the local gossip.

As I walked along to the coastal path I could see my target only a short distance away. From the front, the squat building looked like a stone built round house complete with lintel doorway. This was in fact a broch perched on a very small promontory on the very edge of the cliff but gradually giving way to the storms that must battle with this coastline during the dark times. Originally this would have been a large community and the broch the central communal area. Now, however, the walls facing to the sea have given way and maybe used for the small building down by the cove. Evidence of the double wall between which could have been used for grain storage could still be seen.

You can walk around the edge but it is very narrow and not for the faint-hearted. But on the other side of the promontory was another inaccessible beautiful cove being gently washed by the clearest sea water I have seen around the British coastline (and believe me I have dived a fair bit of it). The water being clear enough to see deep below the surface. This place was striking and although it may not have been quite as close to the cliff edge. It must still have been both a dramatic and harsh place to live in the iron age. I made my way back along the cliffs exploring some of the nooks and crannies as I went. As I was approaching the car I realised that in the very distance just  off the large Hoy mainland I could make out the distinct shape of the Old Man of Hoy. As I didn’t have my tripod it was difficult to get a steady picture but I am pleased I spotted it and that is another box ticked.

Skara Brae.

Just a short journey north is another of Orkney’s most famous prehistoric attractions. Skara Brae is perhaps the most intriguing of sites. To me it has always been like a place captured in time. The fact that it is so complete leaves little to the imagination and you can instantly see in your mind the people coming and going about their business.

As you turn off the small country road you drive along a small track and into the main purpose built car park. There was plenty of room to park that day but I can imagine it gets quite full at peak times. As you enter the large reception building and pay your entry fee (£6.90) you are instantly aware that this is a well oiled machine, complete with small museum, video centre and shops. The entry fee is for both the Skaill House and the Skara Brae settlement. Apparently during the winter months you can just pay to see the settlement… for a whole pound less! To be honest I wasn’t that interested in the house (not really my bag to be honest). Anyway I sat through the nice little interesting video and the small museum which has some cool artefacts, and then made my way outside. Also quite well done was a reconstruction of one of the houses complete with roof and everything. As you are not allowed into the real ones this is a good second as you are allowed to touch everything and just take in the place and how the real ones must have felt. If you follow the passage way out you have to stoop over quite a bit and it can be quite painful, however there is nothing stopping you going back out the way you came in which is much easier on the back and neck.

It remained a very warm and windy day and I took the gentle stroll along the beach edge path that leads to the settlement. Skara Brae is nestled in the protected corner of a small mushroom shaped cove looking out at the gleaming white sandy beach and the most beautiful blue waters of the Atlantic ocean. The same waters that must have both covered and re-exposed Skara Brae many times in its stormy history.

The settlement is fenced off and you have to enter via a gate where a path takes you around the site so you are able to appear down into the various houses. A watchful ‘guard’ walks around the the site making pleasant conversation with the tourists on his rounds. I suppose this is necessary as the urge to get among the finely presented rooms was almost unbearable.

Just as the reproduction house showed it does indeed look as if everybody has just popped out for a short time leaving the fire going and the kettle on. One building has been covered over to protect it from the elements and it cannot be accessed so you are left to wonder what it contains. The other open building varies from very from small communal areas with a simple fire in the middle to a full studio apartment complete with compartmentalised beds, cupboards, kitchen and fireplace. Taking everything in is almost impossible and I just had to take loads of photo’s. Due to the very bright day and almost white stones and very dark shadows, this was quite difficult to do. The only thing that was unexpected was the size of the complex. It is much smaller than I had imagined with each building and room packed into the available space like a honey comb. Still it is very much worth the visit and luckily there were not many tourists around that day so it was very enjoyable for me.

I returned to the my car via the shop, purchased the official tour guide and decided to just drive around the top of the mainland on the way back to the cottage visiting Wheebin standing stone on the way.

This was a very tall, almost dorsal shaped standing stone, standing in a field a short distance from the road overlooking a large loch and easily accessible. Nothing special but again like most thing on Orkney worth just stopping to take a look at. It had been a long day already and I looked forward to having a spot of food in the cottage’s garden this evening. After a bit of a rest, and sitting in the warm evening sun, I thought to myself, what if this is the only nice day on my holiday and it chucks it down for the remainder… maybe I should just pop out to Brogdar just in case?

I was in the car before you could whistle and driving back along that now familiar road. It had cooled somewhat and a jacket was needed but it was a very pleasant evening nonetheless. I scurried along the the wooden causeway, over, the road and up the hill. The sunset was starting to look as if it might be a good’un. I set the tripod up and shot a few pictures capturing the texture of this amazing place. The warm sun brought out the reddish glow occasionally spotted on this island. One stone in particular had a fantastic wave like texture over its entire surface, looking almost too surreal not to be manmade.

Being in one of the top places on Orkney, and it also being a great sunset, meant I wasn’t alone for very long. An ever increasing paparazzi of photographers appeared around me all trying to get the same good shots but at the same time not getting in each others way. The sun was producing long shadows across the great circle and I left the group to try to get some independent shots elsewhere around the ring. This proved quite fruitful but as the sun disappeared behind some distant low cloud and the beautiful red sky dimmed, the crowd dispersed with just a few hardened photographers remaining.

I decided to go over to Stenness to see what I could get there. It was just light enough to get some long exposure shots which came out great. The moon also appeared now and this added to my magic hour among these giant stones. Eventually the light beat me and even with Canon’s powerful EX580 flash I was unable to get any better pictures that evening. But my little late excursion had been worthwhile and I returned to the cottage looking forward to the next day.



Remember how the Rotherwas Ribbon had a road built over it thanks to the pressure from quango, Advantage West Midlands plus the reluctance of English Heritage to schedule it? You’d think that was the end of it and that things couldn’t get worse for this world-unique monument, yet they just have. Chancellor George Osborne has just announced that the Rotherwas Business Park has been granted Business Enterprise Status.

There are a couple of stunning Ribbon related facts about that: Firstly, it seems that one of the key reasons that Enterprise Status has been granted was “the benefits of the new direct road link to the A49 from Rotherwas” – and that’s the very road that was driven (without good economic reason said the Government Inspector at the time) over the Ribbon!  Secondly, the rest of the Ribbon (still not scheduled! EH said it would “take some time” to decide and that was years ago) curves several hundred yards towards (and actually into) the Business Park – which, as an enterprise zone, will be expanded onto the land surrounding it using “lower levels of planning control”. So one must wonder: is the Ribbon “in the way” again and if so what will happen to it?

To summarise:
Because the Ribbon wasn’t scheduled at the time, a road was built over it.
Because the road has been built, enterprise zone status has been conferred. 
Because enterprise zone status has been conferred the rest of the Ribbon might now be under threat.

Pretty awful, is it not, for a monument that the County Archaeologist said was comparable in importance to Stonehenge before he suddenly desisted? We could perhaps start a petition calling for it to be scheduled… but somehow that doesn’t seem likely to happen now.

Or ever, don’t you agree?


August 2011

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