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Iron Age

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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To Blackhazel Beck where no hazel now grows,

Lichenous finger of exotic wood,

Sign from moist  warm woodland

-A distant land-

To lost rainforests of home.

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In parkland well barred

White dots scour the hill,

Stripping saplings bare of bark

And leaves as they unfurl,

Psychedelic tupped ewe blending with bracken.

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There is a change in the weather, we know so well,

Waves of clouds, swirl,

Break over the fell

Crashing with silent surf

Over winters green fields.

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Footprints in the mist-dampening snow,

Ephemeral, wind warms to water

Drifting high into mist

Seeking adventure, testing times

Up high again.

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Time out of mind, cloven hooves of red deer

Wander to summer high pastures

Above the treeline, away from wolves

Stalking through the woods

Hoping for strays.

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Where once the aurochs browsed

The meandering marshy  morass below,

Wallowing in beavered lodges – calm waters

Boar and Bear, snuffle through leaf litter,

Snoring in craggy cave and hollow tree.

 

Lynx stalks through thicket,

Pelt a fine prize crowns a chieftain’s head,

Bears teeth around his neck,

Claws that once raked his arm

Fasten his cloak.

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Swarming salmon seethe up the Great River

Spawn in glacial gravel flowing from mountainside

The river turns from sunrise to sunset

Spiralling, tumbling and rounding

Returning  to the Whales water.

 

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Now people summit

In mist and snow,

Clad in black gold,

From deep depths drawn,

Form coloured nylon and plastic.

 

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Playing at wildness

In park, on path

Released from the pen,

Free to roam but constrained on the fell

Close the gate when you leave, please.

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Twin paps of Mell, Great and Little

Both crowned with barrows of ancient chiefs

Oak and elm their final bed,

Pyre fired urn, holding charred bones,

Watch from a distance over park-life games.

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Notes

The primary influence on these musings whilst climbing Blencathra is George Monbiot’s recent book Feral, a treatise on the re-wilding of the environment.  Unsurprisingly he received a hostile reception from some Lake District farmers despite acknowledging there are many problems, cultural and social, inherent in the process and that the dispossession  of farmers is not the way forward. Whilst the Lake District National Park and National Trust have set to in planting up some areas with native trees, notably around less accessible ghylls and scree strewn slopes, there still remains a lot to be done. A notable success is Ennerdale, and Thirlmere is steadily loosing its green cloak of spruce.  Effectively these conservation bodies have preserved the picturesque qualities of a deforested landscape, where you can walk for hours and barely see any mammal other than sheep (and humans!), at the expense of the wildlife. Despite being quite fond of sheep myself they are desperately destructive, and have largely been responsible for the process of deforestation in the uplands  at least since the Bronze Age over  three thousand years ago.

George Monbiot argues that the present and former forests of the  western coasts of the British and Irish Isles are in fact temperate rain-forests. I would agree with this as I listen to the rain hammering on the roof. It can best be seen perhaps on the western coasts of Scotland where native oak and birch wood survive, festooned with massive growths of lichens and mosses. This makes the deforestation all the more destructive as the upland soils are rapidly depleted of nutrients, this has the knock on effect of increased run off, acidification, erosion and destruction of salmon spawning grounds. There were not always large areas of mire on the uplands!

The aurochs was a native form of cattle, massive bigger than modern domestic cattle something like a buffalo in size, it was hunted to extinction in Britain around the Bronze Age, although extant in Europe for longer and preserved in the Polish forests for the royal hunt until the last cow died in 1627. People have been influencing the landscape in the Cumbrian Mountains from the Neolithic Period and arguably earlier into the Mesolithic. Imagining the wealth of wildlife in that time, it seems that it would not be so hard to find your dinner. The burials mentioned on Great and Little Mell fells were from the middle Bronze Age around 12-1500 BC, brief notes can be found here and here. Their settlements may now be buried in the blanket bog on the west of these fells. There remains an Iron Age settlement still visible on the opposite side of the valley to Threlkeld, this may well have had roots in the Bronze Age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Round rings of stone on the fellside

Bedded with bluebells, the ancient home

On terrace banked with rock

Pink Ennerdale Granophyre, ground round by glacier,

Dragged down from Dodds heights

Weathered to fertile soil.

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Now people return to the fold, above Scales Beck

The new-found steading, measured with laser and staff

Drawn with Derwent pencil

Whose core was once wadd from over the pass.

Black and white watches sheep

Where once short cattle grazed.

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In the shadow of Scales Knott

The fertile delta lies with cup-marked slab

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Soon peat and bracken reclaim the cairn-fields,

Just now laid bare

Before the swelling fronds

Return to cloak the land

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Across the lake above Rannerdale’s green fields

Whiteless Pike’s pointed pyramid

Another ancient homestead’s blue banks

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A squint of the eye, the lights right and they’re there

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Soon they grow,

Even deep enough to hide a dog

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Notes: Bluebells seem to like prehistoric sttlements! The complex settlement features at Scales Beck cover a broad chronolgy and the recent discoveries of hut circles and a cup marked slab would suggest  that this stretches back at least to the later prehistoric period. Amongst the the numerous features are cairn-fields and post medieval farmsteads and a series of rectangular “bothy” or shieling structures which surround but are discrete the core settlement site on the delta. The latest phase of settlement was first noted in  1936 by Nicolas Size and recorded more fully by Thomas Hey in 1945 who considered some of the features to be “Native British” in origin, these can be seen in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society . The more enclosed nature of the settlement at Rannerdale also suggests that this is a later prehistoric feature although it was previously considered to be a later deserted settlement. Both these structures have now been surveyed by the Lake District National Park Archaeology Volunteers to whom thanks are due, out in all weathers, fine and not so good.

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A survey in two halves.

Carrock Fell on  the north east flank of the Cumbrian Fells has a rough crown of rocky ramparts encircling its summit; a prehistoric enclosure overlooking the expanse of the Eden Valley, the Neolithic nexus of North West England.

Nook End 18.03.2015 051

At its foot lies Caldbeck Common, a landscape strewn with glacial debris and the bouldery tumble from its gabbro crags. Miners have disturbed this debris in extracting the lead ore, mounds of glacial gravel have been quarried for road-stone, yet amongst this industrial intrusion into this land still nestle prehistoric enclosures, settling back into the earth, and burial cairns thrown open, stripped of their contents to now resemble ring-cairns.

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East of the wall; marking the land again.  Only recently here, the gaze has been drawn away from monumental mounds to the more prosaic remains of pastoralists.

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The enclosures incorporate megalithic elements, happenstance or planned, boulders in banking; in the centre 5 ton rocks, dragged from the field on sleds by oxen in post-medieval times or part of the original form?

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The intake wall bounding the common is built on something older; the embankment that once divided the prehistoric enclosure now reused to form the new intake enclosure of the meadow dividing it from the rough grazing of the common.

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The lazer shoots from here –

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To there –

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Bouncing back again…

The approaching cloud –

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Colours cluster

Behind embanked boulders –

Backs to the wind

Shelter from the rain.

Pete

Notes: This enclosure was found recently along with other features by Tricia and her team in a walkover survey of  Caldbeck Common carried out by the Lake District National park Authority Archaeology Volunteer Network. It’s period is debatable but it is most likely to have its roots in the Iron Age period.The area has much else in the way of prehistoric archaeology to explore in the well named locale of Weasel Hills just to the north. The enclosure on the summit of Carrock Fell, once considered to be of Iron Age date is now considered to be Neolithic; so at least a couple of millenia older than formerly thought and so contemporary other Causewayed Enclosures  such as the Cornish Carn Brea and with that nearby at Green How.

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