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Iron Age

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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.

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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.

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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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