You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2012.

It’s been a while, (Part 8 was published back in September last year) but at last we can continue the serialisation of Scubi’s trip of a lifetime to Scotland’s highlands and islands.

For those wishing to catch up on the story so far, a list of previous episodes is as follows:

  • Part 1 – Travelling
  • Part 2 – Clava Cairns
  • Part 3 – Banks Tomb
  • Part 4 – Tomb of the Eagles
  • Part 5– Crantit and Grain Souterrains, Rennibister Earth House etc
  • Part 6 – Stenness and Brodgar
  • Part 7a – Stenness and Brodgar
  • Part 7b – Skara Brae
  • Part 8 – Broch of Gurness and Cuween tomb

and now, the story continues…

It was early but I had to get up to ensure I caught my ferry to Eday from Kirkwall. This island lies in the centre of the Orkney Archipeligo but still takes over two hours to get there. Once there you are marooned as there is only one ferry back to Kirkwall leaving later that day. As the ferry plodded through the clear water leaving Kirkwall behind in the distance the weather started to improve and it all started to come together. During the crossing you get a chance to see many sea birds and the other islands. Most seem quite low lying and fairly unpopulated. WWII gun emplacements can be seen at a few key points along their coastlines.

Eday Ferry © C Brooks

The ferry docked at the Bay of Backaland terminal at the very south of Eday, and I drove my car off the ramp. Eday could be described as a badly blown ‘hour glass’ shaped island running north to southish with a single ‘main’ road running along its length and smaller roads running off either side. You can fly here from Kirkwall but I think (like with the ferry) that time here is limited if you wish to do a day trip. Anyway, I had with me my list of places to see and so headed to the northern end of the island. I hadn’t checked out where my first site was properly and instead used my satnav to followed the coordinates given in my printouts from The Modern Antiquarian (TMA) web site.

I drove past London airport and on to the end of the main road and took a right as  instructed. It then took me down a track to a small group of houses… something was telling me that this wasn’t quite right. I looked around a bit and at the notes I had printed and I definitely wasn’t right. I then looked at the OS map and there was no mention of what I was looking for. A quick scan of the map soon pointed me in the right direction and I reversed the car back up the track and turned back to the main road. Eday is small, about 12km long, so it wasn’t long before I was heading the right way. On this occasion I think TMA needs to be updated and the correct coordinates given.

As I trundled past the small loch (Mill Loch) on the left of the small side road I glanced to the right and could immediately see the hand-like standing stone a short distance away. There was an area of parking by the side of the road into which I pulled over.

As you open the car door the noise from the loch suddenly hits you as the sound of  thousands of water birds penetrates your ears. I am no twitcher so I can’t tell you what they were only that there were a lot of them. I turned to the small gate and made my way up the gentle slope. Other than going in the general direction of the stone it was not exactly clear which side of the fence lines you should follow so it soon became obvious that I was on the incorrect side. This resulted in me trying to negotiate the barbed wire fence with all my kit as I couldn’t be bothered to walk back down the hill.

You enter the fenced off area via a stile (if you are in the right field in the first place) and are greeted with this very large and unusual standing stone. Known as the Stone of Setter (or Setter Stone if you prefer) it is heavily eroded and now stands like a giant hand saying ‘hi’ to all visitors to this small island. It is deceptively tall when you stand next to it,with the moss and lichens covering its sides. There is another feature a little way away which I am not sure is contemporary with the standing stone. To me it looks like a small hut circle or possibly a tomb but could just as easily be a broken down sheep pen.

Stone of Setter © C Brooks

There is a small picnic table which didn’t intrude at all and allows one to sit for a while looking at the beautiful green landscape of this island. I pondered my map and printouts and decided to visit a couple of sites to the north west. The land here rises up towards Vinquoy Hill and being a bit lazy I thought I would drive and park further up rather than walk it, so I walked back down and returned to the car. As I drove about it was plain that I  couldn’t get to the top and nor could I find anywhere to easily park the car without blocking the road or annoying a farmer or indeed trespassing, so I decided to return to where I had previously parked. I wasn’t sure about the weather as although it was very warm and sunny where I was there were many patches of cloud full of very heavy rain making their way past the island and I just knew I would get caught under one of them sooner or later.

Everything packed, I began my march up the hill. It should be easy to follow and indeed it was. There was even a wooden walkway over a very marshy part of the Eday Heritage Walk route. Obviously a great deal has been spent here to encourage the visitor. You don’t have to walk far before you come to the next site but it is one that is difficult to see. Beside the old school house surrounded by rolling green fields and hills, you can just about make out the form of a large oval of semi buried stone called the Fold of Setter and is thought it may be the site of a bronze age settlement.

Fold of Setter © C Brooks

Not much further on is a lovely but destroyed tomb called Braeside Stalled Cairn of which can still be seen part of the mound and a few of the upright stones which formed the stalls. What is peculiar about this tomb is that the stalls inside it are offset to the axis of the long mound itself and in fact align with the Stone of Setter in the distance.

Braeside Stalled Cairn © C Brooks

It is a pleasure to walk this route as there are so many sites to see in such a short distance and a few of a type you won’t see outside Orkney. Next up was Huntersquoy, this is a double entrance tomb with one entrance above the other. Unfortunately the top entrance is virtually destroyed and the lower one submerged in water (but it looks fairly intact). Still this was a new one on me and so was well worth spending a few minutes having a look and poking about. There are a number of large structures on the route that look vaguely like they could be something interesting but they are more likely to be the remains of previous quarrying as much as anything. As you walk on further up the hill the island and surrounding islands stretch out behind you like green and brown gems floating in a sea of fantastically deep blue and then you can then see how it all fits in.

Huntersquoy © C Brooks

The Calf of Eday lies to the northeast and was somewhere I wanted to visit but unfortunately not this time. The brilliant white bellowing spring clouds were separated by heavy, deep and very dark storms that could be seen to drench what ever lay beneath. The landscape although not mountainous is as breathtaking as it is mechanically silent but as I made my way further up the hill the wind picked up and I approached my target.

As I got closer I decided to take the obligatory photo of the burial chamber in its natural surroundings. Just as I was setting up the camera a large brown bird appeared from behind it and swooped very close to me. In the excitement I juggled with the camera as it continued to circle me on the second pass I managed to get a shot off which came out very well. I thought it was some sort of bird of prey as it looked quite huge but turned out later that the bird was a Great Skua but still quite impressive… to me anyway.

Skua © brooks

Vinquoy like many burial mounds also sits proudly just shy of the summit and looking out over the island. A single dark entrance way almost sunk into the mound and ‘protected’ by an unlocked and open gate bids you welcome. The entrance is quite small and you step down into it before needing to get on your hands and knees to shuffle along the narrow passageway. A piece of wooden board has been placed on the ground just at the entrance to the central chamber.

Vinquoy © C Brooks

A central hole above allows a little light and moisture to enter, just enough in fact to give life to a miriad of ferns that have taken a footing in the drystone ceiling and which now dangle down into the chamber below. There are four secondary chambers, all of which were far too small to get myself into. One of them is completely flooded, something I hadn’t noticed until I almost plunged my camera into the water as I stretched my arm in to take a photo.

Vinquoy ferns © C Brooks

Not being able to get into these side chambers is a little frustrating and sometimes it makes me wish I was still that skinny 17 year old doing archaology for the first time. It is certainly worth the plod up here, not that it is that difficult at all and indeed on a day like this with so much to see, it makes it all the more special.

Vinquoy chambers © C Brooks

I walked back down the hill and took in the landscape one again. The peace here is so remarkable. Only the sounds of nature to hear, it gives you a taste of the isolation here. To live and prosper you must have to plan ahead, especially in the winter months when a trip to the supermarket must be only a dream. How did those early settlers manage? The cold bitter north wind must just drive its way through everything. Their endurance must have been beyond belief…. or did they simply leave the island during those cold dark months for more hospitable lands inland?

I got a few more shots of Braeside and of the Setter Stone before getting back into the car. There are a number of less spectacular and much ruined cairns on the island and I had wanted to see if it was possible to find them. The first one was called Eday Church. Now this was shown on TMA Google Earth as near the end of the runway at London airport but the OS map had shown it near a small side road south of the airport. I was easily able to park and find the cairn but access was another matter. There is a tendency to surround fields on Eday with a bog for rain drainage and then put a barbed fence around the field to ensure sheep do not fall into it. This means it is also difficult to jump the bog before immediately hitting the barbed fence. Unfortunately this is what happened to me and I slid down the bank into the very muddy ditch as I tried to grab a post without spiking my hands. It was then more difficult to try and climb back up with large clods of muck stuck to your boots. After a couple of more attempts I decided it would be better to admire the cairn from the roadside (call me defeatist if you like).

The cairn is a little overgrown and a few of the stones can be seen poking out from the centre and although tantalising I think it was wise to stay by the road rather than risk injury trying to negotiate the ditch and fence.

Eday Church © C Brooks

I managed a couple of decent photos for the album before starting to return to the car. It was at this point that I noticed within the nearby compound a white albino rabbit running around with other normal bunnies, which was unusual to say the least… I took a couple of pictures just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming but at least this one wasn’t 6 foot high and called Harvey. Can’t see it lasting long around here though.

The next couple of places were a couple of burial cairns somewhere on the western coast line just off the ‘main’ road that runs through the centre of the island. Although the island is very unpopulated, the main road does get used quite often. I reckon a car, tractor or van passes along at least every 30 minutes and its not the widest of roads so I didn’t want to be holding anybody up by just parking the car anywhere I fancied. I drove up and down the road trying to spot either of the cairns and also somewhere to park when the Satnav said I was close. Unfortunately the only place was by an old converted church, which seemed a little way from where I wanted to be (I am so lazy).

As I parked up I noticed the church was now the Eday Heritage Centre so I took a quick look around inside. Whilst walking around somebody came up to me and asked if I was local. Replying to the lady in my broadest Wiltshire accent that I wasn’t, she told me she was part of the Orkney Marine Research unit and was looking for places where mussels would be in abundance as they wanted to carry out some marine pollution research. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to help. I just find it remarkable the people you sometimes meet in the middle of nowhere.

Walking back along the road it was very difficult to find an access point into the field other than by jumping another very deep ditch and straight into a gorsey hedge…oh and of course climbing a small barbed wire fence. There were no signs pointing to a clear entry to the cairns. I managed to get in the field and at the same time risking future bodily functions from both the gorse and the fence. The gorse being quite thick it was difficult to see anything on the ground and after about half an hour of searching I gave in (defeatism strikes again).

The next site, called Eday Manse, was situated high up on quite a steep hill that occupies the southern half of the ‘hour glass’ island. Another old abandoned church is sited near to the cairn and this can be seen from the road below so I was very hopeful of finding this one. According to the OS map there should be an old track leading up to the church but again I couldn’t find it anywhere. Eventually I spotted what could be a footpath and decided to go for that. The footpath eventually became less clear further on and the walk up the hill became a bit of a struggle as I made my way through the mixture of tufted grass and gorse. I decided to try to make a sort of zigzag route up but which seem to take ages and, as is common when climbing hills, you think you have just got to the top when another peak appears further ahead. But eventually the ruins of the old church came into view and I was able to make my way to the cairn as the land flattened out.

To be honest there isn’t a great deal to see here. The cairn is sited within the the grounds of the old church with a dilapidated dry stone wall all around. There remains a mound but it has been extensively damaged and dug into making it difficult to work out the orientation. There are a small number of largish stones distributed about the site that were obviously part of the cairn. Some of these had been deliberately shaped and one that also showed signs of possible markings but as I am no expert these could be just natural. The view from the cairn is still quite impressive but not as much as the one on Vinquoy Hill. There are barely a couple of walls left of the church so not really much to see here.

Eday Manse © C Brooks

Time was getting on, I had seen (or attempted to see) most of what I wanted prehistory wise and now I wanted to drive around and take in the island a bit more. I found the more direct route back down the hill which turned out to be more of a gully than a track but which was mostly dry.

Eday has a whole range of sea birds and mammals but you have to look around a bit. I decided to see if there were any seals on the west coastline, a place called Seal Skerry. Unfortunately a mooch around here did not reveal any seals but I did discover a wonderfully secluded cove with perfect white sand and crystal clear water lapping against the shore. The sun was warm and the distant cloud bursts gave this place such a magical feeling that I decided to just walk around a while collecting the odd shell or stone as is my thing. Before long though time was getting on and I needed to get back down to the ferry jetty to ensure I caught the last ferry back to Kirkwall.

I was able to take in more of the island on the slowish drive back. I parked up by the jetty and waited for the ferry only to have my peace disturbed by white van man and his very loud stereo blasting away radio one. Isn’t it marvellous how you can be in the middle of nowhere and have your tranquillity shattered. But it was not all bad, on the ferry back I bumped into the Marine Biologist again and she gave me some good pointers about where to go in Kirkwall if I get a chance to walk around there.

News that debt-ridden Greece is to open up many of its ancient monuments for commercial exploitation has caused consternation in many quarters. Strong opposition is being expressed about two aspects: the risk that the monuments could be damaged and the feeling that the dignity of the country’s national icons shouldn’t be compromised. Archaeologists have long slammed such initiatives as sacrilege and the Central Council of Archaeology has always been very choosy about who gains access for commercial purposes.

However, an unofficial spokesman for the Greek Minister of Culture may have remarked:

“It’s easy for a country to open up its national icons to massive gatherings without compromising their fabric or dignity, and wonderfully democratic as well. Our best friends the British (who look after the marbles for us) have shown the way at their own national icon. So next Summer we’ll be letting tens of thousands of random people in party mood into the Parthenon at night. There’s two-and-a-half times more room in there than there is inside Stonehenge so it’ll be fine. We invented democracy, the British invented monument protection so it all makes perfect sense.”

Party in the Parthenon...... perfect sense.

It has been reported to Avebury Parish Council  that the Olympic torch will go from Calne to Marlborough but won’t be carried by runners through the villages. What a missed photo-op. (Who is to say Avebury’s henge or its ditch were never used for sport?!)

No doubt the torch will travel right past Silbury but again the world will be deprived of an amazing image -as it will be transported in a vehicle!

Continuing our journey around Britain’s regions, Yorkshire and the Humber covers most of the historic county of Yorkshire, along with part of northern Lincolnshire which was previously within the former shire county of Humberside. The North York Moors in the north-east of the region are probably the main area of archaeological interest.

Yorks and Humber region (Creative Commons)

Northallerton & District Local History Society

The focus here is more on local history than archaeology, membership is £13.50, under-18s are free. Attempts are made to preserve and protect old buildings and sites. Part of this process is the review of planning applications on a regular basis, and volunteers for this task are always welcomed.

Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society

Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society consider themselves among the most active and expert archaeological societies in the UK. Originally called The Scarborough and District Archaeological Society, it was founded in 1947 by a group of enthusiasts keen to preserve and research the rich archaeological inheritance of the area. Set up as an ‘excavating’ society, over the years their activities have expanded.

Membership is £13.00 and provides a copy of the society’s journal, Transactions. A full index to all issues since 1958 is avalable on their web site. In addition, a series of lectures is held throughout the year, and there is an ongoing schedule of excavations and field walking.

Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology

The society activities include:

  • arranging lectures, conferences, local history fairs and site visits on many topics related to Lincolnshire’s history, archaeology and industrial archaeology;
  • publishing quarterly and annual periodicals, and a series of more substantial and academic books as part of a longer term programme;
  • running a bookshop – operated by volunteers – which carries an extensive selection of new books on Lincolnshire, a thriving second-hand department, and both new and old postcards;
  • encouraging schools to promote Lincolnshire’s history and archaeology;
  • facilitating research and field investigation;
  • working with affiliated groups throughout the county.

Individual adult Membership is £21, and procvides a quarterly Bulletin and Magazine, and annual Journal, discounts on publications and access to all society events.

Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group

One of the smaller societies in terms of members, the group was formed in 2005 with the purpose of adding to the knowledge of the archaeologically rich area of Upper Wharfedale. Members have been involved in producing a series of landscape surveys, as well as taking part in summer excavations. Several of the projects have online blogs.

Membership is £12 and provides access to a Members-only area on the website and  members-only fieldwork days, as well as discounts on walks, talks and courses.

Yorkshire Archaeological Society

The Yorkshire Archaeological Society was founded in 1863 (as the Huddersfield Archaeological and Topographical Association) to promote interest in the history and archaeology of the Huddersfield area. In 1870 it expanded its interest to cover the whole of Yorkshire, and today it is the main society in this field for the historic county. The society Library holds books on all aspects of Yorkshire’s history from prehistory to the present day including local history, social history, industrial history, heraldry, place-names, and architecture.

Membership is £45 for an individual, but there are various classes of membership and additional ‘sections’ of membership which require additional fees, so it is best to consult the website regarding benefits of the various classes. A full program of events is available.

Useful Links

Northallerton & District Local History Society
Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society
Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology
Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group
Yorkshire Archaeological Society

Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society

According to the Salisbury Journal a consortium of council leaders from across the Southwest is exploring the possibility of funding to revive the plan to construct a “short” tunnel under Stonehenge!

Perhaps a 2.1 kilometre tunnel is now thought to be no big deal in the light of plans to build 22 miles of tunnels under the Chilterns for HS2, who knows? In any event it seems unlikely to happen at this late stage.

(We sincerely hope not!)

By their very distance in time, the origins and motivations of the builders of the various ancient monuments littering our landscapes can only ever be guessed at. But over the years various explanations and stories behind the origins of many ancient stone monuments have become enshrined in folklore. So we thought we’d take a brief look at some of the stories behind 5 of the most common Folklore Motifs.

Rocks thrown by Giants or the Devil

Crousa Common Stones © Chris Brooks

There are many instances of this story. Typically, standing stones have been set in place after an argument or competition between giants, (e.g. the Crousa Common Stones on the Lizard, see our earlier article for this story ) or as the result of a pact with the Devil, such as at the Devil’s Arrows near Ripon.

Their name, as the Devil’s Arrows, seems to have originated from the following story, which we had related to us by an hoary headed individual living in Boroughbridge, when soliciting information as to their history:

“There lived a very pious old man {a Druid should we imagine} who was reckoned an excellent cultivator of the soil.

However, during each season at the time his crops had come to maturity they were woefully pillaged by his surrounding neighbours; so that at this, he being provokingly grieved, the Devil appeared, telling the old man if he would only recant and throw away his holiness he should never more be disturbed in his mind, or have whatever he grew stolen or demolished.

The old man, like Eve in the garden, yielded to temptation, and at once obeyed the impulse of Satan for the benefit of worldly gain. So when the old man’s crops were again being pillaged, the Devil threw from the infernal regions some ponderous arrows, which so frightened the plunderers by shaking the earth that never more was he harassed in that way. Hence the name of the ‘Devil’s Arrows.'”

From the notes and queries section of ‘The Geologist’ for October 1860.

Entrances to the Underworld

The Piskey Hall at Trewardreva © Alan S

Several Cornish fogous, such as that at Trewardreva have legends of strange sounds emanating from them, as do several barrows e.g. Nempnett Thrubwell, which are considered to be possible entrances to a supernatural world of fairies or goblins.

At Glastonbury Tor, Geoffrey Ashe in his The Landscape of King Arthur mentions the local legends:

To this day you can hear local tales of a chamber below the summit, or a well sinking far into the depths, or a tunnel running all the way to the Abbey, a distance of more than half a mile. Rash explorers are supposed to have found a way in and to have come out insane.

Buried Kings and their Treasure

King Zil's Sepulchre © Jane Tomlinson

The archetypical example for this story is that of King Zil, supposedly buried upright beneath Silbury Hill on the back of his charger, with his chariot of gold. Of course, we now know, thanks to the recent excavation work to stabilise Silbury, that no such tomb exists, although Stukeley claims  that the remains of a horse and rider were indeed discovered there in 1723:

In the month of March, 1723, Mr. Halford order’d some trees to be planted on this hill, in the middle of the noble plain or area at top, which is 60 cubits diameter. The workmen dug up the body of the great king there buried in the center, very little below the surface. The bones extremely rotten, so that they crumbled them in pieces with their fingers. The soil was altogether chalk, dug from the side of the hill below, of which the whole barrow is made. Six weeks after, I came luckily to rescue a great curiosity which they took up there; an iron chain, as they called it, which I bought of John Fowler, one of the workmen; it was the bridle buried along with this monarch, being only a solid body of rust . I immerg’d it in limner’s drying oil, and dry’d it carefully, keeping it ever since very dry. it is now as fair and entire as when the workmen took it up… There were deers horns, an iron knife with a bone handle too, all excessively rotten, taken up along with it.

There are several other similar legends, none of which have been proved, though the existence of Dark Age golden treasures such as at Prittlewell and Sutton Hoo provide some possible basis in historical fact for these stories.


The Rollright Stones © Jane Tomlinson

Possibly the most common piece of folklore associated with ancient sites is that of petrification. Many stone circles are known as the Maidens or Ladies, supposedly young women turned to stone for dancing on the sabbath, eg the Merry Maidens or the Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor who were petrified dancing to the Devil’s fiddle playing. Alternatively, the stones were men, either sportsmen as at the Hurlers.  In many of these cases, the stories may have originated in Puritanical times, when church attendance on the Sabbath was strictly enforced. The Rollright Stones which includes a circle, a standing stone and a burial chamber, takes a different angle on the petrification legend, claiming that a King, his men and a group of Knights were victims of a witch’s trick. The knowledge that the burial chamber is much earlier that the other stones at the site gives the lie to this particular legend, entertaining though it is.

Walking or Moving Stones

Minchinghampton, hot to trot? © Chris Brooks

The Tinglestone  and Minchinghampton Longstone,  both in Gloucestershire, are said to run around their fields when the clock strikes twelve.

The Whittlestone  in Oxfordshire has a legend that when the clock strikes twelve it goes down to the nearby Lady Well to drink. Tom McGowen in Giant Stones and Earth Mounds hypothesises that “legends of stones that drink water may indicate that water was once poured over them – perhaps an effort to cause rain to fall?” We’ll reserve judgement on that one!

But it does seem that many sites have stones which either suffer from midnight thirst, or are said to dance around at certain times – the Rollrights previously mentioned do both!

Are there any legends or stories you’re aware of that don’t fit into one of the broad categories above? Tell us your stories in the comments!

[See also: A Landowners Guide to Finds Agreements – Part 2]

If you own land someone may ask if they can metal detect on it and ask you to sign a Finds Agreement. There are various versions, but all have big implications for both you and any hidden archaeology. As there’s no official guidance available you’ll be reliant on the detectorist alone to explain it. You may feel that’s not ideal so here are some points to consider. (The most frequently used agreement is shown but our comments apply to most others).


See also  A Landowners’ Guide to “Finds Agreements” (Part 2)

[NB – occasionally you may be offered a different set of written or verbal assurances. If so, you may wish to consider whether you are being offered THESE TEN PLEDGES.]



More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


A recent BBC News item highlighted the attachment of a memorial plaque on Hadrian’s Wall. This is just the most recent incident where thoughtless or outright malicious activity has caused damage to a heritage site. We therefore thought it would be timely to provide a brief list of five things not to do…

Climbing on monuments

It’s not big, and it’s not clever. Climbing can damage delicate lichen on stones, causes erosion and in extreme cases can lead to instability and collapse. Not to mention the possibility of personal injury!

© Wikimedia Commons


We can’t imagine what goes through people’s heads when they conduct such acts.  The paint attack at the Rollrights a few years back was an extreme example, causing damage to the lichen and being extremely difficult to remove, but graffiti has been a problem for many years – some of the carved graffiti at Kit’s Coty in Kent dates back a couple of centuries. The plaque on Hadrian’s Wall is included in this category, as it has caused damage to the structure of the wall.

Paint attack at the Rollright Stones © Jane Tomlinson


A few years ago, there was a spate of attacks at sites in Cornwall, wax talismans and stakes with Christian inscriptions were found buried at various sites in West Penwith, see the CASPN web site for details and photographs. Others may dig holes in a misguided attempt to find ‘something interesting’, be that as a result of metal detecting (illegal at scheduled monuments) or just random curiosity. In all cases this causes potential damage to unseen archaeology and can ruin possible future stratigraphy investigations.

Buried Talisman found at Men-an-Tol © CASPN

Setting fires

We vaguely understand the desire to attend an overnight vigil at some sites considered ‘sacred’ by e.g. the Pagan community. What we don’t understand is the desire to damage the sites by setting fire pits to keep warm during such vigils. If such things are necessary, use a firebowl designed for the purpose, and don’t leave the ashes behind!

Fire Pit at Coldrum Stones © Alan S


They’re not ‘offerings’, they’re litter! If you must use tealights for your ‘ritual’, make sure the smoke will not damage the underside of stones in a covered area, and take the lights with you when you leave. Don’t jamb coins into crevices in stones – in severe weather these can corrode or allow water to seep into the stone, causing structural damage to the integrity of the stone. Tieing ‘clouties’ to trees near holy wells is a time-honoured tradition, the idea being that as the cloutie rots away, so the wish is granted. However, sweet wrappers, nylon cords and other such indestructible items not only will not rot, but may cause damage to the tree as it grows.

Rubbish left at Stonehenge after Solstice celebrations © Simon Chapman/PIN

All of the above fall into two main categories; deliberate malicious acts of vandalism, or sheer thoughtlessness – however innocent or ignorant of the consequences of the actions. Ongoing education is the only answer for the second of these, and the responsibility for that must lie with the organisations responsible for the upkeep of the monuments – and that doesn’t just mean erecting more signs!

So, have we missed any major cardinal sins out of our list? What’s the worst case of damage you’ve seen at a site? Comment and let us know.

© Wikimedia Commons

A recent Planning decision allowing a wind farm at the Naseby battlefield has dented hopes that English Heritage’s recently published guidelines would ensure the “setting” of monuments was going to get a logical, if not sympathetic hearing. The Inspector did have regard to the guidelines, and he agreed with English Heritage that the proposed wind farm would damage the setting of the battlefield ….. but he considered the damage the project would cause is outweighed by the need to meet renewable energy targets. EH could be forgiven for wondering whether their guidelines are applicable to windfarms at all if achieving renewable energy targets is to be the dominant consideration in planning decisions.

It’s worth considering though whether one thing the Inspector said that he got slated for maybe had a germ of good sense in it. He said it was relevant that the wind farm would be a temporary intrusion and would perhaps last only 25 years.  Of course, taken to extremes that view makes no sense for in the words of Frank Baldwin of the Battlefields Trust  “By the same logic, there is nothing to stop you building an entire array of wind farms around Stonehenge.” But isn’t there a strong case for saying permanent damage is more serious than temporary damage and making permission for it commensurately harder to obtain? After all, in 25 years Naseby will no longer be damaged, whereas in 500 years the Thornborough complex still will be.


January 2012

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