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An evening stroll up the spongy moss-damp valley, snail-like, my home on my back.

Loweswater 16.10.14 005

Across the beck loosing the fence-stuck  young Herdwick, up miners zig zags to long-deserted delph – unforthcoming trial.

Loweswater 16.10.14 004

Past diverting ditch drawing the water away from the workings, on up, a breached dam and cut hushed the soils off the slopes below, in hope of exposing the ruddy ore they found over the hill, the next valley, alas not here.

Crummock slabs, Ling Crag; Dodd Cairn; Gale Fell; Gable moonrise 028

Past ancient enclosures, ghosts of Elizabethan, perhaps Tudor, shepherds, whistle dogs and gather the flocks to guard against the hungry night.

Crummock slabs, Ling Crag; Dodd Cairn; Gale Fell; Gable moonrise 046

Here a shepherd slept? Wrapped in sheepskins and bedded on heather in the lee of the hill.

Crummock slabs, Ling Crag; Dodd Cairn; Gale Fell; Gable moonrise 039

Curiously constructed perched cairns float above the ground, small rocks,

Crummock slabs, Ling Crag; Dodd Cairn; Gale Fell; Gable moonrise 037

round arrangements, mysterious monuments grown from the clatter of stone scattered amongst the stone bields and heather.

 

Mosedale and Clew Gill 010

An orange sky on the northern horizon frames the barrow-like bulk of the summit,

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night beckons but light lingers on, as the moon looms up lazily over peak and precipice.

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Press on to find shelter, wind rising, cresting the rounded ridge, nestle down in low ancient enclosure.

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Night finally falls, transforming rocks into moonlit ridges. Memory stirs and mind wanders to the hands of forgotten waller hefting the pink granite rocks of this roundel on high moor.

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A gathering, winds whisk clouds up, wraith-like tendrils whisper, grasp at the moor but fade into moon-grey darkness. An intrusion in the night, heartbeat drumbeat echoes in the ear, drifts up from the valley below then dwindles to the distance.

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Morning, a change has come, the sky has fallen – in the clouds.

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In the gloom still watched over by the ghostly guardians,

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who are watched.

Notes: A walk up the aptly named Mosedale, Gale Fell and Starling Dodd. Old mine workings and trials are numerous in the fells, here the prospectors in the 1860’s – likely a Mr Faithful Cookson and John Hosking -were trying to locate a continuation of the rich iron ore bearing seams and lodes found on the Ennerdale side of these fells at Kelton Fell and Knockmurton worked from about 1853. However none of these trails developed into true mines and were abandoned by 1873. What is unusual hereabouts is to find traces of hushing, where the water is dammed and diverted to erode the topsoil to expose the rock and, hopefully, the rich seams, the gullies formed by this method are visible in the second photograph. The numerous small stone structures on the moor here have not been formally recorded to date and most likely relate to post medieval upland grazing activities although one or two have similarities to the smaller Bronze Age ring cairns found elsewhere in the Cumbrian Fells and beyond. 

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

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?

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

Ring cairn looking down Oxendale

Ring cairn overlooking Oxendale

While winter snows lie outside its spring at Whorneyside ring cairn! There are numerous prehistoric monuments found throughout the Cumbrian Fells, some the subject of this blog, can be classified as embanked ring cairns with some confidence whilst others are more difficult to fit into existing typologies. Many of these are smaller more ephemeral structures that often occur in close proximity with the more definable ring cairns.

Whornyside ring cairn

Whornyside ring cairn

These tend to be sited high up in the coombes of the fells generally from 400-500m AOD

Whornyside ring cairn, plan and reconstruction

Whornyside ring cairn, plan and reconstruction

With an eye of faith we can see how this cairn may have looked when constructed.

Ring cairn, Great Castle How

Ring cairn, Great Castle How

Here at Castle How above Grasmere we can see a structure of the same diameter and construction with a more “traditional” stone banked ring cairn in the distance across the valley.

Greenburn Bottom ring cairn

Greenburn Bottom ring cairn

The neighboring valley of Greenburn also contains similar structures, this time orthostats are still extant with what may be a cairn central to the circle.

Brenig ring cairn

Brenig ring cairn

At Llyn Brenig in North Wales, an area with numerous excavated Bronze Age monuments  this ring cairn is on a much greater scale, perhaps reflecting the population of that locale.

Broken Spectre, Skiddaw

Broken Spectre, Skiddaw

Whilst out on Skiddaw the other day I was followed for half a mile by the Broken Spectre, it got me wondering what prehistoric people made of this phenomenon that we can now explain through physics.

Whympers vision on descending the Matterhorn

Whymper’s vision on descending the Matterhorn

Even as recently as 1865 Edward Whymper descending the Matterhorn with his remaining companions, in his heightened state of anxiety following the death of three of his team,  interpreted the Broken Spectre as a vision.

Modern ring cairn Scoat Fell

Modern ring cairn Scoat Fell summit

People still build in the round on mountain tops.

Whorneyside ring cairn and PikeO'Blisco

Whorneyside ring cairn and Pike O’Blisco

Perhaps it’s the place we find ourselves in.

Notes

There is a fine trail to be followed round various Bronze Age monuments at LLyn Brenig: http://www.cpat.org.uk/walks/brenig.pdf

These were excavated by Frances Lynch in the 1970’s and are published in a monograph, the typologies are based on this work and many other sites are discussed here: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20567822?uid=3738032&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21105668461373

Greenburn cairns, Great Gable 11.11.12 032

It’s a long way from Flanders Fields to Great Gable,  hub of Wordsworth’s Lake District “wheel”. For over 90 years a pilgrimage of remembrance has led to a poignant monument, here on the summit rocks, on Remembrance Sunday. It is to those members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club who were killed in the First World War and would never tread these fells again, people pause and take a moment of silence up here to remember all victims of war; mans folly.

Greenburn cairns, Great Gable 11.11.12 054

Cairns have generally been built to mark summits or as way-markers. They are proliferating, people add to them, marking another “Wainwright” climbed perhaps or someone’s passing, some are appropriated as formal or informal memorials to the dead. There is a continuity with the past here, as just some of these summit Cairns are prehistoric, a memorial place perhaps for a local tribe.

Greenburn cairns, Great Gable 11.11.12 048

Now in a dynamic landscape being altered by man, pounded by the constant tread of boots, it is quite hard to identify which cairns have been here for a hundred years or so and which have been for a few thousand years. There are sometimes a few clues to be seen in their eroded structures but otherwise we are reliant on reports of antiquarians and surveyors from a time before the Lake District became popular for walkers. One of these people was James Clifton Ward a member of the British Geological Survey who worked from Keswick in the 1870’s. Although in poor health he walked the Fells and noted unusually large cairns on some peaks such as Seatallan. This particular fell sits on the western fringes of the mountains; an area rich in prehistoric upland settlement remains.

Wasdale 025

Why people chose particular mountains on which to place cairns in prehistory is perhaps too larger subject to address in this blog. However on the face of it there would be an element of aesthetics creeping in here with some on nicely rounded peaks and others on distinctly  pyramidal, whilst others like Seatallan are perhaps chosen for their relative isolation and proximity to Bronze Age settlements. Establishing unequivocally that these are prehistoric burial cairns might only be possible by excavation, exposing any concealed structural elements; it is unlikely that any artefacts or human remains would survive as the environmental conditions are too aggressive.

Rydal High Park 18. 11. 2014 011

I am reminded of mountain burials as I record a cairn-field, which is surely a cemetery, set in a sheltered hollow high above Rydal; a locale rich in prehistoric rock art. One ponders on the connection between the two, both set in an elevated spot with fine views over Rydal Water to the distant Langdale Pikes; surely as good a final resting place as anyone could wish for.

Greenburn cairns, Great Gable 11.11.12 041

After thought…It is interesting to note that as I stood in the misty silence on Gable’s summit around me and amongst the feet of the gathered throng were scattered people’s ashes. Should archaeologists come to investigate these cairns and summits one wonders what interpretation they may draw from the stratified layer of cremated bone from the 21st Century should it survive; Burial Cairns?

Pete

Sources and notes

Clifton Ward’s surveys are recorded in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 1876/8

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the old plaque has now been replaced with a shiny new one; these photographs are from 2012

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