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

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.

© David Wilson Clarke via Creative Commons

© David Wilson Clarke via Creative Commons

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.

© Des Blenkinsopp,  and  licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

© Des Blenkinsopp,
licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

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.

© Stephen Jones via Creative Commons.

© Stephen Jones via Creative Commons.

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.

ArborLowMap

For more information about Arbor Low, see the Arbor Low Environs Project website.

Check back soon for the next site in our A-Z.