From Orthwaite Lane up, over Barkbeth Hill

Broad, green-mounded rigg and furrow,

Fell gate, Southerndale, bright sun, cold dry stillness,

Rock cut track, sled-iron-smooth ground grooves.


Below the broken grey blocks, Watches,

Hard picrite intruder into Ordovician siltstone

Quarried lintel and quoin for house and farm,

Eyes up, sharp lit Kiln Pots and The Edge.


Across sparkling cold Southerndale Beck,

The sled-gate road rises over the tawny sedge,

Hollow ways fall from the fellside

Eroded tracery of sled-runs.


Remnant of the rock running slaters,

Loping down the rushing scree

Slate laden sleds behind them,

Run out, braking trail-barrows rest.


Walking-in, cold wind, low light

Morning mist draped over the tops

Little Knott, Great Knott, Buzzard Crag,

Randal Crag terrace – to work.


The “old men” in kytel coat

Dresser and river

Bait bag, chisel and mell,

The clogged trod upwards.


Dig, delve, dock and split,

Open tops of slaty layered tumble,

Blaeberry, purple-grey fossil mud revetment,

Riving shed, collapsing cards sliding sideways.


Wafer fine split slate from the clog

Dressed with whittle and anvil, sheltering

Basenthwaite, Bewaldeth Snittlegarth

Orthwaite, Ulldale and Ireby.


Solitary watcher on observatory ridge,

Skiddaw Man, time out of mind,

Feint footings by the cairn,

John Adams telescope hut.


Ullock Pike, Longside Edge, Carlside;

Blencathra, Knott, Great Calva;

Broad End, Bakestall, Binsey;

Little Man, Lonscale and Latrigg.


High and airy, shallow trials,

Left abandoned, by Gibraltar Crag,

Echoes of Peninsular Wars, of Succession,

Greater rock possessed by force of arms.


Down Barkbeth Gill, ghostly figures

Below Broad Stand, White Horse,

Across the mired track, into the mist,

Jet black fell pony and sled fade.


Some Notes:

Like several ancient slate quarries, the workings on the edge of Randal Crag Terrace became evident when the sled runs were exposed in low oblique light. I have as yet found no reference to these quarries in the literature, for those interested the books of Ian Tyler, Alasdair Cameron and John Adams amongst others provide a more in-depth research into the subject of Lake District quarrying and mining. There are other slate quarries on the Skiddaw slate series but none at such altitude, the main workings are at between 650-700 m although the trials adjacent to Gibraltar Crag are at about 850 m AOD making them the highest slate workings in the Lake District, perhaps why they were not developed further. Despite this there are extensive areas that have been worked as hollows or “open top” delphs on the terrace and more developed quarries on the steep scarp slope of Randal Crag.

Some notes on terminology: Old Men was a miners term used for the early miners. A river was a chisel used to split the slate along with a mell which was a hardwood mallet, sometimes iron bound. Thus, the river or splitter splits the slate and the dresser shapes it with a dresser was someone who finished the slates with a whittle and slate anvil. On workings of this scale the job of the river and dresser were probably merged. A clog was a very large lump of slate. A tully was similar to a wood splitting axe with a blade on one side and sledgehammer head on the other, for breaking the clog into manageable lumps. The trail barrow was a sled used to transport the finished slate down the sled run to the loading dock where they would have been transferred to a horse drawn sled or cart. Horse drawn iron runnered sleds were often used in the fell country as they were more stable than carts on the rough and steep terrain. A kytel coat was a heavy cotton working jacket.


Finished slates being sledded down Bull Gill, Honister in a trail-barrow

Whilst these workings were likely to be worked on an intermittent basis and given the exposure not worked all year, this would have been a hard life, with little shelter whilst quarrying and only an open fronted riving shed for shelter when sat on the ground splitting or dressing the slate. In this instance all the production would have taken place on the fellside so no unnecessary weight needed to be taken down the sled run, of course the sled then had to be dragged back up the scree. There is no bothy apparent at the site so it must be concluded that they walked up to work here every time they quarried some slate.

The period of activity of these quarries is uncertain however there are certain indicators that suggest these are quite early workings. The workings are relatively small scale, so likely to be pre-industrialisation, also the track that used to go down Barkbethdale had an enclosure wall built across it by the 1862 (1st Ed OS) so would not function as a track. It is quite probable Gibraltar Crag was named by the slaters working the trials there and may relate to major current events, either the ceding of Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 (Treaty of Utrecht) or the Peninsular wars of the early 19th century. The earlier date would fit with the increased demand for slate as a consequence of the “great rebuilding” of the late 17th early 18th century thus prior to the increased production of the like of the Honister Mines or Elterwater quarries and the use of blasting.

In 1689, a geographer Mr John Adams built a hut on Skiddaw “of a sufficient size to contain his telescopes and optic glasses, whereby he was enabled to give a better description of the two counties; but being arrested by his engraver, and death soon following, his labours were lost.” The description of the site of the hut, “towards the northern extremity of this stupendous mountain where chasms of enormous depths in the bowels of the mountains, forming steeps of slaty silver, yawn upwards with frightful grin, and threaten to swallow inferior hills” tallies with the most northerly summit on the Skiddaw ridge, where, with a keen eye the vestiges of the footings of a wall about 4m long might be discerned adjacent to the modern cairn.


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.



Lank Rigg, isolated , a focus;


Stone rings surround,

Ring cairns on Ennerdale Fell, Lank Rigg and Whoap   beyond

Springs flow





   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


Stone cairns static, sentinel

Lank Rigg 16.04.15 015

Watching, a calm reminder for the future from the past

Tranquility in rock under a darkening sky.

Lank Rigg 16.04.15 016

Homeward bound

Guided by an equilibrium of rock and moss.

What are we waiting for?


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

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