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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 2015 - March 2016 208

Crystals of bright barytes bond to dark grey galena,

Tallow candlelight on felt caps to bright bulbs on hard hats,

From Mines Royal to motionless museum, a near half millennium has passed,

Still sheep graze on grass above this deep dark mine.

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White eyes in smudged faces emerge into the light

Ore dumped in grizzly hopper, drawn by belt

Worn through the layers to rings, contours of a mountain?

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Still silent wheel, no crushing here today

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Slack chain drive once turning the ritespeed

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No current flows today, drawn from the beck head

Held at height rushing down, turning water whirring turbines

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Rushing crushing ore falls through the funnel

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To rattling riddles, separating slate from mineral

Into the hollow drum of the ball mill.

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Balls of steel rumble tumble and grind, silent now,

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To flotation tanks of foaming minerals,

Skimmed, dried and gathered by the scavenger cells

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Skeletons of empty trucks

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Worn artefacts of hard labour, tagged.

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Notes: This tour was organised by the Lake District National Park, thanks to Joel Ormond for giving us a grand tour!November 2015 - March 2016 189

Coledale Mine was worked from Elizabethan times, by German miners employed by the Mines Royal, and finally ceased work in 1992 when it was gifted to the National Trust. The machinery was to be scrapped until it was realised that this was probably the last remaining example in Britain and so it was all brought back and reassembled! The processing mill must have been an extraordinary dusty and noisy place to work and serves a a tribute to the fortitude of the men who worked this site over the centuries. It latterly it was worked predominately for its Zinc and Barium bearing ores but was also mined for lead and silver in the past. The vagaries and fluctuating fortunes of mining meant that it eventually closed due to a roof fall which buried the loco and was the final straw. These mines were thrifty places and there was widespread recycling of metallic items and power provided by hydro-electric turbines latterly, indeed much of the machinery present still dates from the 1920’s.

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Says a farmers wife to the farmer “should we show him our treasure” a minute later, on cue an axe emerges  from a Morrisons carrier bag wrapped in bubble wrap, its home in recent years.

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This is a big one! Quarried a few miles away or even closer, it emerged one day form the fill of a drystone field wall that had rushed. Fortunately, as the farmer said, his wife was on hand to recognise that the hand of man had been at work here, stopping him chucking it back into the fill of the wall from whence it came.

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But before it was built into this wall where had it been? In the field perhaps, ploughed up like so many other axes hereabouts and picked up by the ploughman following his horse and tossed to the side of the field eventually to be built into the wall when the mass enclosures were in full swing and walls were being built in the blink of an eye or two.

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Before that; perhaps it was lost, left or buried. An offering back to the earth from where with fire and water with stick, stone and bone it had been split from the rock face high in the mountains.

Now we value the object for the histories it holds within it.

Others will value it for the the cash they can make out of it, much greater than its scale; offering it to that modern god, ebay.

Pete

Note: I came across this rough-out axe as I was asking leave to walk some fields surveying for rock art, not quite what I was expecting to find; however later in the day I did find a new cup-marked slab, a god day all round!

Locally a wall rushing is an apposite descriptive term for  the collapse of a drystone wall.

This is most probably a Group VI Cumbrian Axe. Its broad blade suggests it may have been intended as an adze. Other axes that have been polished and are of these proportions have been found within Cumbria notably one found at Mechi Farm near Aspatria comes to mind. These are different to the thinner butted and waisted  iconic “Cumbrian Club’s”, it is possible that these morphological differences could relate to differant social groups rather than purely functional, but that is perhaps the subject of another blog.

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.

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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.

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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  .

One benefit of enforced inactivity – over zealous mountain biking – is that you can sort through photos and reflect on previous years field work. In this case some prehistoric cup-marked rocks found in Rydal in 2010. These were spotted in January on the way to reconnoitre the upper Rydal Valley for a field survey carried out later that year. I had been targeting various glaciated slabs, mainly roche moutonnée, in the Lake District valleys for man-made cup-marks and spotted this one and took a look; this is as it appeared to me.

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Up to that time there were hardly a handful of cup-marked slabs known in the Lake District, one of these was Barbers Rock in Loweswater across the fields from our home (below). As children we played here and noticed the curious smoothed hollows and thought these were places where people had ground “things”; I thought little of them for several decades until I realised that child’s-eye view was not that far off and these were made by the hand of man.

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So the question everyone asks is invariably “what do they mean?” and the answer is, we don’t exactly know, but we could have a stab at it. Ronald Morris proposed 104 uses for rock art in his book on the rock art of Galloway and this highlights the sometimes speculative nature of the search for meaning in abstract petroglyphs; which were in use for over 1000 years from the Later Neolithic to Bronze Age. But perhaps they give some insight into the cultural references of the time; inspirations revolving around relationships with landscape, the natural environment and their nascent agricultural practices.

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So to throw a few thoughts out there, we see similar rock markings, caused by erosive processes such as natural cups and here at the entrance to Great Langdale rock ripples.

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Water, fundamental, ubiquitous – ripples – reflections – motion

Rock art at Great Langdale

Rock art at Great Langdale

Quartz  – triboluminescence, glowing when struck together – hammerstones used in cup-making at Kilmartin Glen, Argyll.

Quartz "stone circle" Isle of Man

Giants Fingers the extraordinary remains of a quartz stone circle, Isle of Man

Society probably had vestigial animistic belief structures at the time, so carving on the “living rock” would have had great significance and likely a good deal of ritual associated with it. Was the action of rock-marking perhaps more significant than the end result; a statement of belonging to that spot? A mnemonic for death; the proximity of cairns in some cases could suggest this or were the meanings of marked-places to prehistoric people also multi-facetted?

Rydal High Park CM Plan

But as I start to digitise the most recent finds from the Lake District (above) I am reminded of this picture…

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…no not Floss!

Pete

Sources

You can read the 104 varieties of rock art in The Prehistoric Rock Art of Galloway and the Isle of Man by Ronald W. B. Morris and they are not all fanciful.

Thanks to Kate Sharpe whose Doctoral Thesis gave some inspiration to look for rock art sites in the Lakes:  Motifs, Monuments and Mountains: Prehistoric Rock Art in the Cumbrian Landscape online at: http://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do;jsessionid=00502FD1F652A65EEDD012FECB272D99?did=1&uin=uk.bl.ethos.525624

Visualisations and other integrated archaeological artistic endeavours are shown on Aaron Watson and collaborators website: http://www.monumental.uk.com/photography/

Excavations around rock art sites and the associated use of quartz are discussed in: An Animate Landscape: Rock Art and the Prehistory of Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland by Andy Jones et al.

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