The Un-hugged Homestead

Beneath the ochrous clay banks the Derwent River flows

over salmon spawning glacial gravels,

meandering from mountain to sea

draining distant Skiddaw’s icy

cloud capped slatey slopes.

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A horned oxbow curls round the plain’s rim,

distant memories rise, first settlers;

moonlit shadows, fires glimmering on mercury silvered surface,

deer hide drumming, chanting, dancing;

a gathering.

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Ceremony in gravel banked henge;

propitious offering at waters meet,

fresh fired carinated crock of grain

cast into water,

hissing;

floats,

steams,

shatters and

settles,

returned to its riverine source,

a fragmentary moment;

precious seeds strewn,

scattered constellations on mirrored firmament.

Fire water

Ages pass;

river terrace, thatched earth roundhouse,

woollen clad Brigantian stands sentinel,

rough black dog guards the flock,

gatekeeper gazes north from a gap in the pale,

across the confluence of waters and cultures.

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New bridge, fecund offerings auger well,

pacify those passing south on the paved way,

borderlands, changes.

Derventio; enclosed with dressed stone walls,

rectangular Roman homes, luxuriant laconicum,

mosaic floors and painted walls.

Fine wines, exotic food, tales of distant lands,

people of many races – mills, streets and trade.

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New era;

now the land moves.

old oaks cloak the homestead,

man-made mountain is raised, gateway breached,

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No Silbury Hill this, but

The Laureates,

leafy crown

of irony.

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Upheaval, promontory becomes peninsular

jutting out into sea of churned earth;

battlefield of bulldozed boulders, broken trees and mud,

surrounded by palisades of doused timber,

enclosed with walls of stone and baked clay,

tracks of black bitumen – new trails cross the domain,

no holloways here.

Over run and overlooked.

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River terrace mauled, dug, dragged and dumped

transformed into terraced homes.

scaffolding poles rise;

spears daring to defy the territory.

In the woods hinds scatter,

echoes of woodland industry linger;

domestic reminders.

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The lost shepherd gazes down the road,

bewildered, placatory bronze offering,

the flock is gone,

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collies teeth clack at passing cars,

monument or folly,

the land has paid the price.

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Where Roman soldiers stamped across planks

girder and concrete now flyover.

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water constrained in plastic pipe,

burrows bluely to Moorside.

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Gravelly groves in storm washed field,

Reminders of inundations,

fells deforested, changing climate,

rich store for cairn builders’

long gone,

sacrifices must be made.

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Unseen in dark woods,

Wrapped in brick and burnt limestone,

Marooned by road and railing,

Forgotten behind the barrow,

No huggers here to embrace this hilltop homestead.

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Notes and acknowledgements:

Although not on such a grand scale as its better known relation, Old Oswestry Hillfort and the worthy campaign to protect it from the encroachment of housing estates, nevertheless Fitz Park settlement demonstrates what can become of our heritage when profit is put before heritage.

Whilst there is an inevitable degree of speculation in the narrative created above it is based on archaeological and historical analysis which I provide some links for below.

During archaeological evaluations prior to construction of The Laureates housing development dozens of pieces of a single Early Neolithic carinated bowl were found, dated to c.3700 BC from a grain of emmer wheat in what was interpreted as a votive offering in a former oxbow lake on the flood plain further details can be found here

Fitz Park carinated bowl

Carinated Bowl found at Fitz Park development. Archaeological Research Services Ltd, 2015

Fitz Park Settlement is a Late Prehistoric/Romano British enclosed settlement of modest proportions, which is described here. Excavations around the site failed to identify any other archaeological remains and can be seen here. The consequence of this development is that this Scheduled Ancient Monument is now surrounded on three sides by a housing development which, it appears, will come to within two metres of its earthworks, the surrounding fence was broken down.

The Roman road south to the port at Ravenglass must have passed close by the Fitz Park settlement which overlooks the likely former confluence of the rivers Cocker and Derwent, the latter was said to be recut in the 13th century to provide greater defence for Cockermouth Castle, now somewhat ironically being undermined by it and being to some extent responsible for the inundations of the modern town. It seems the Roman town was situated at the old confluence.

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As a consequence of the 2009 floods extensive Roman remains were discovered on the floodplain below the Roman fort of  Derventio at Papcastle opposite including a water mill. This led to the Discovering Derventio  Heritage Lottery Funded Project which can be found here. Amongst the discoveries made during subsequent surveys and excavations bathhouses and bridge buttresses along with fertility offering were found, these were mainly in the riverside fields known as Broomlands.

An intriguing unexplained feature was also identified in the geophysical survey here, an enigmatic sub-circular gravel and clay bank, clearly hengiform yet apparently Roman in origin and can be seen here. Whilst current interpretations suggest this is not a Neolithic henge, it is interesting none-the-less and given the siting of other henges at river confluences regionally at Mayburgh and the suggested connections with Irish henges (Bradley & Watson, 2009), it would seem quite possible there was such like here, perhaps the feature described  by Askew in his 1872 guide to Cockermouth “…in the second field on the Broughton road, on the left, there are still some remains of an amphitheatre” sadly now apparently under the bypass.

The concept of offerings in watery places to appease is undoubtedly and old one and continues to the present day and much has been written on the subject. The big blue pipeline said to be laid to protect the freshwater mussels in the River Ehen, at a cost of £300 million at last count, is actually considered locally as the unspoken secure water supply to the new Nuclear power station to be built  at Moorside.

At the other side of Cockermouth an archaeological evaluation of yet another large housing development in the town identified further evidence of prehistoric activity to the east of the River Cocker in the form of a burnt mound. Clearly there was more going on here in prehistoric times than previously thought.

Following Storm Desmond, thousands of tons of gravel were deposited again in the fields downstream from the excavated archaeology. Currently the National Park and National Trust are attempting to redress the balance of deforestation somewhat, brought about by grazing farm animals on the fells over the centuries. However, given one of the consequences of Lake District’s new-found status as a World Heritage Site is the preservation of the landscapes current appearance, changes in respect of reforestation are likely to be ineffective in preventing the increased frequency of major flood events locally.

Bradley, R. & A. Watson. 2009. On the edge of England: Cumbria as a Neolithic region. In K. Brophy & G. Barclay (eds.) Defining a regional Neolithic: the evidence from Britain and Ireland. 62-77. Oxford: Oxbow.

Williams, S. & Holgate, R. 2015. An Early Neolithic pottery vessel from Fitz Park, Cockermouth, Cumbria. Transactions Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, CW3, 15, 211-254.

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