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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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Bleak boggy moors on a drab dull day, east wind blows bringing a chill cloudy mood.

Walking across the centuries; imprints of people on the land, from summit  down to col and valley.

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Cairn,

Lank Rigg, isolated , a focus;

Axial,

Stone rings surround,

Ring cairns on Ennerdale Fell, Lank Rigg and Whoap   beyond

Springs flow

Down,

Encircling

Water,

Life:

   Red Gill

Hole Ghyll

Swarth Beck

Caplecrag Beck

Latterbarrow Beck

Ya Gill

Long Gill

Whoap Beck

Worm Gill

River Calder.

Rebult enclosure and cairns, Whoap

Places named by Shepherd and Herder for millenia,

Treading this land:

Poukes Moss

Lankrigg Moss

Beck Grains

Boat How

Grey Crag

Caple Crag

Tounge How

Town Bank – homestead

Sheilings – steadings,

Names now forgotton

Marked only by stone, re-arranged,

Cleared clitter ring cairn, Whoap

Cleared clitter ring,

Overlooking sacred summit

Lank Rigg Round Cairn and Nuclear Sellafield

Cairn with a view,

Mans modern nuclear monument – or folly everlasting

Memories in bone and stone

Memories in bone and stone

Gaze to our future.

Cairns, Latterbarrow

Latter-Barrow

Stone cairns static, sentinel

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Watching, a calm reminder for the future from the past

Tranquility in rock under a darkening sky.

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Homeward bound

Guided by an equilibrium of rock and moss.

What are we waiting for?

Pete

Notes: The Western Moors of the Cumbrian Fells are liberally scattered with the archaeological remains of pastoralism from, arguably, some of the earliest days of agriculture in Britain. Lank Rigg like its neighbour Seatallan, see my previous blog, are both crowned with large prehistoric cairns.

The suggestion that this was a “sacred summit” to the prehistoric locals here is also supported by the fact that is surrounded by at least  a dozen ring cairns and it also has a similar number of round cairns and some long cairns to boot on its slopes and the adjacent fellsides. The more ephemeral features which also found here and have been identified other areas of the Lake District (see here) and elsewhere in Britain, where they are associated with Neolithic and Early Bronze Age features, they have also been recognised in many upland regions of Ireland, see here.

The majority of these features are recorded in the wide ranging and excellent publication by  Jamie Quartermaine & Roger H. Leech. Cairns, Fields, and Cultivation: archaeological landscapes of the Lake District uplands, other features mentioned were located more recently by myself. 

The term clitter is a descriptive term I am particularly drawn to; describing the litter of stones left around the landscape in areas of moorland, coined  I believe, by Bender, Hamilton and Tilley on their research on Bodmin Moor and published in their fine book Stone Worlds.

The clitter-fields of Lank Rigg and Latterbarrow like those on Bodmin Moor are scattered with small ephemeral disturbances many with no apparent function others as potential shelters. Latterbarrow in particular has over ten cairns that are quite incongruous for such a diminutive summit, unfrequented by modern walkers.

The splendidly named Whoap, an adjoining summit above Ennerdale, certainly sounds like a name form an ancient culture

Dunmail Raise, an axial point in the Cumbrian Mountains crowned with a massive cairn, mythically associated as the burial-place of the last King of Cumbria, but variously described as a memory cairn, boundary marker between Westmoreland and Cumberland or prehistoric burial cairn. It could perhaps be all these things, yet it is now sitting ignominiously in the central reservation of the A591 which also truncates it somewhat.

Dunmail & Green Burn Survey 05.2013 190

However in the light of a recent field survey south of the pass there is a strong suggestion that it may well have prehistoric origins. Here we recorded dozens of cairns many apparently pasture clearance cairns but others more structured are perhaps more likely to be burial cairns. In particular a group near the top of the pass clustered around a large boulder in close association with the spring rises on the west side of the pass and within sight of the Dunmail Raise Cairn.

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 034

It is clear that this natural route-way dividing the Lakes – the Coniston Fault – must have seen use from prehistoric times; cup-marked rocks and a stone axe were found at the north side of this pass at Wythburn, shown above – now largely submerged. So it appears this pass was “marked” at least from the Bronze Age.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHistorically thee was more accessible land at the head of Thirlmere prior to the flooding of the two lakes of Leathes Water and Thirlmere by Manchester Corporation. Whose aqueduct burrows under this route, and in their wisdom the AA still maintain their phone box adjacent to Raise Cottage, the old Isolation Hospital; on a cloudy day almost as bright as a West Cork Cottage.  Surely an iconic place in the landscape!

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Old mapping shows stones recorded at Dunmail Raise, which was variously written as Dunbalrase, Dunmel Raise and Dunmel Wrays, but does this refer to the cairn, lost boundary stones or even prehistoric standing stones.

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The symbol used was synonymous with that used to describe the Three Shires Stones at the summit of Wrynose Pass where the historical counties of Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire met; both shown here on John Speed’s map c.1611.

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These were shown on Saxton’s 1579 map and described at the time as three small standing stones about one foot high; more recently engraved recumbent stones and the modern standing stone, erected in the nineteenth century, have been placed there. But the symbol used suggests that there may have been upright standing stones present on Dunmail Raise at the same time.

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So were there ever any such standing stones on Dunmail Raise? There is certainly a naturally upright outcrop at the summit of the pass which this symbol could refer to.

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But during the survey I noticed a tall  “gatepost” in the enclosing wall of Raise Cottage, rather unusual as it was set in line with the wall rather than at right angles, like most gate stoops. It was also apparent that this was considerably more weathered than is seen on other gate posts such as this old example bored for poles instead of a gate.

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Could this be one of the stones referred to in the mapping? This had clearly been present for some time, unlike that seen next to the phone box which had been removed for safety reasons from the dividing point of the carriageway since the survey.

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 016

We shall perhaps have to keep musing on this stone, but on a recent visit it was apparent that an unfortunate accident had befallen it and now stands at half its height, not even a shadow falling from its former self on this dull day.

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Further up the fault-line at Castlerigg there are stones that stand in a more convincing prehistoric pattern. Elsewhere on the fringes of the Lakes there are other prehistoric standing stones like this fine pair at Kirksanton, apparently cup-marked and marking the northern moonrise and southern moonset during a major standstill every 18-19 years.

Although we must still be a little wary of pairs of stones as they may not always be what they seem. Like so many stones that stand – sometimes its just hard to say where the truth lies.

Pete

Acknowledgements and Notes: Thanks to University of Central Lancashire and The Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society for providing funding for the Field Survey of Dunmail Raise and Greenburn Valley. Thanks also to The Urban Prehistorian for intriguing posts, to Roaringwater Journal, and Douglas Scott for the Archaeo-astronomy information  .

No, not some Mad Hatter-esque question posed at an eccentric tea party in Grasmere, but a serious question that concerns all prehistoric rock art/cup mark researchers. Unlike this picture, today in the Cumbrian Fells this question would be hard to address with a light dusting of snow – the dormice are, well dozing, however the low sun at this time of year is possibly the best opportunity to consider the problem.

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“Sun Cup” Loweswater

This came to mind following a field trip to look at some recently reported rock art sites. Among these was a single cup at the top edge of a fine glaciated slab on the side of the valley just above Crummock Water, a site I feel, had it been in Scandinavia would have been covered with ritual carvings of Bronze Age boats or perhaps further north, reindeer.

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“Cup-marked” glaciated slab, Crummock Water

But this “cup” appeared to sit in splendid isolation in a setting that was somewhat atypical for the locale.

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Solitary”cup-mark” Crummock Water

It’s base also had a hump, now this in itself does not disqualify it from being a man-made cup, a row of four at Buttermere we had agreed earlier were cups were of rougher manufacture than we expect to see normally, so it could be. But, having previously observed the lower usually submerged slab, when the lake level had dropped considerably a few years ago, it was obvious there were marks that had been plucked out by the glacial action rather than pecked by man. Had these marks been exposed to the elements for many millennia they may well have eroded into what we could see as the single cup mark above. Likewise the four we saw earlier may have eroded smoother had they been on a level rather than sloping surface

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Glaciated slab, Crummock Water, glacial “plucks” just above pole

So what other criteria do we consider are appropriate to test the veracity of a possible cup mark? One is its landscape setting,  perhaps a little thorny as there are inevitably always exceptions, however we can say with a certain amount of confidence at present that the majority of the sites here are on glaciated bedrock, often roche moutonnée.

Confusingly one of the first sites to be identified in the Lake District on the Langdale Boulders is now appears to be an anomalous site within the region and is surrounded by cupule of natural origin

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Eroded clasts, Great Langdale

So what of the actual cupule? Aside from slabs whose surfaces are pitted with eroded glacial gas vesicles or eroded clasts – inclusions of softer rocks – we are left with the case of the odd cup or two that may or may not be of human origin.

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Eroded gas vesicles, Scafell Pike

Now a few of these individual cups are of such symmetry that they compare well to slabs where there are numerous other cup-marks.

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“Cup-marked” rock, Mitredale

But some do not quite cut the mustard; this rock reported as cup marked in a survey of Mitredale has many of the attributes of natural features – eroded faults and “cups” with projecting inclusions – which should have suggested that these were natural features.

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Eroded “cup” Mitredale

So back to the problem, when a cup is not a cup,  when it is an only cup…

A fine natural bowl from the summit of Haycock

A fine natural bowl from the summit of Haycock

or when it’s a bowl?

Pete

 

Notes: Thanks to; Jamie Lund, National Trust Archaeologist, Mark Astley, National Trust Ranger, and Tom Bell, Chester University, for discussions on these sites. If you wish to see the solitary “cup” yourself you can find it directly below LIng Crag, Crummock Water, its a fine walk, there are other sites locally that really are prehistoric cups!

Greetings to all readers for a fine 2015! – “Now is the time for fire and wine…” – its elemental…

Darkness; landscape fades, eyes are drawn to the fire cups, intimate in their rocky relief.

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Altitude; changed world – domed profile glimpsed through the notch, upturned axe blade thrust into the earth marking the spot

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Through the vaporous air – Isle of Man – connecting the Neolithic Irish Sea-farers

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Mountains mirrored in mercury water, a place for reflection and offering

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Light; solstice morning, winds blow, the sun hides

Windy Crummock Solstice 016

Pete

Notes and references

A  session  themed on “Fire” at the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference at Manchester University this year reminded me of some “experiential archaeology” from a few years back;“Fire Cups” ,the consequence of some discussions with Dave Chapman around simple stone lamps from Late Upper Palaeolithic cave sites in France  which was followed by an impressive demonstration using a home pecked stone-cup-lamp, cooking oil and a plaited moss wick.

http://www.ancient-arts.org/index.html

To the best of my knowledge there is no archaeological evidence of burning within pecked cups on outcrops but this was simulated with enclosed candles. The main problem on a still evening was to get the candles to stay alight; the rock’s  elevated position meant that there were small eddies encircling the outcrop repeatedly puffing the flames out. With perseverance the effect was intriguing, like stars, an eerie sight late in the evening had anyone cast their gaze lake-wards. No cups were harmed in the making!

More on experimental “Burning The Circle” on Arran can be found on Gavin MacGregor’s blog and Northlight Heritage’s website

https://heritagelandscapecreativity.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/burning-circle/

http://northlight-heritage.co.uk/conc5/index.php/sub1/burning-circle/

Pike O’Stickle – site of Neolithic Axe-Factories – although a diminutive peak in the Cumbrian Mountains has distinctive profile which is curiously conspicuous from a broad area.

The quote is from Steve Ashley’s song “Fire and Wine”.

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