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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. 

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!

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 014

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.

speed 1611 cumb

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.

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 028

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.

Loweswater, Wythburn cups, Grasmere 026

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.

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 054

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  .

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”.

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.

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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

This week I start in distant lands with mountains obscured by clouds. In 1938 mountaineer Heinrich Harrer was part of the team to first ascend the North Face of the Eiger. He was interned in India during the war escaping in 1944 where he made his way into Tibet, a tale told in  “Seven Years in Tibet” where he became an official in the Tibetan Government and personal tutor to the Dalai Lama. On his return from Tibet he resumed his mountaineering activities and in 1962 led an expedition to Papua New Guinea to climb the Carstenesz Pyramid he had heard of before the war. Harrer was fascinated with the tribes he met in Papua New Guinea and wrote a compelling account of his experiences in “I Come From the Stone Age”. Whilst here he met the Dani people of the Baleim Valley in the Western Highlands and was the first westerner to witness the journey to Ya-Li-Me on the Kiembe River, the Andiba rock quarries, used for axe making.

A Dani tribesman sharpening his stone axe

A Dani tribesman sharpening his stone axe

Excitement amongst the Dani men mounts on reaching Ya-Li-Me beside the river; a men only affair as it was taboo for women to visit this place. They then set about building wooden scaffolding up the rock face using twenty-foot poles with great gusto in a haphazard affair and laying slabs of stone on this on which they set a fire abutting the rock face. After some unsuccessful attempts at splitting the rock Harrer was asked to light the fire, as he was now called Ya-Tuan the Stone-Axe Gentleman, and with some ritual, which included a lump of rancid pork fat, he lit the fire. Fortunately this fire had the desired effect and the performance of knapping axes started amid great enthusiasm and injuries which were treated by the expedition doctor, I could go on but you should read the book!

Pike O'Stickle from Glaramara Tarn

Pike O’Stickle from Glaramara Tarn

It is fascinating to think that from the Early Neolithic  around 6000 years ago,even here in Cumbria  people like the Dani, were wandering the high fells prospecting for a specific type of rock from which to make their own axes. One wonders how they did this, were they systematic, following the crags and their scree like their later day explorers Bunch, Fell and Plint; or was it a random affair?

Ruddy Beck: Conchoidal fracturing on Seathwaite Tuff

Ruddy Beck: Conchoidal fracturing on Seathwaite Tuff

Now as I trudged down from my last expedition, subject of my previous blog, I noticed some conchoidal fracturing on blue-green Seathwaite Tuff bedrock here where the glacial deposits had been stripped away. Feeling in need of sustenance I resolved to return another day to take a closer look, to see whether the hand of prehistoric man had been at work here. Conchoidal fracturing means that when struck the rock fractures leaving a scallop shell-like shape on the parent rock; the resultant flake will be the obverse shape with a bulb of percussion on the end nearest the blow. Now this fracturing can happen naturally when rocks tumble over each other but also when struck repeatedly by stone hammers; the challenge is to differentiate the two.

Mineral Level Ruddy Beck/Grains Ghyll

Mineral working level, Ruddy Beck/Grains Ghyll

So, like the latter-day prospectors following mountain streams searching for mineral veins, did the prehistoric people first spot the exposed tuff in the ravine sides or see pebbles of tuff in the streams that had washed down from the mountains and track them upstream to locate the “mother lode”? Indeed as the hard tuff makes for obvious near vertical crags this was almost certainly another landmark the ancient people used for spotting likely outcrops. It was in fact likely that these keen-eyed “first fells-men” used all these methods making trail knaps of rock as they went, some of the early sites identified at Great Langdale were next to Stake Beck.

The Langdale Pikes with the drumlin fields around Stake Beck flowing from centre to left

The Langdale Pikes from the north-west with the drumlin fields around Stake Beck flowing from centre to left

On return to Ruddy Beck it was apparent that where rocky ridges cross the beck there that had been some hammering going that had formed two unnatural notches in the ridge; the rucksack lies in one with the other larger one to its left. There was little water wear apparent and they were well above the water level after a night of heavy rain. This particular site appears to have been overlooked in the surveys undertaken since the stone axe workings were first located in the 1940’s and those in the 1980’s by Reading University and Lancaster University Archaeological Unit; whilst discovering working sites on either side of the Seathwaite Valley on the same strata.

Seathwaite Tuff flaking sites adjacent to Ruddy Beck

Seathwaite Tuff flaking sites adjacent to Ruddy Beck

Using the combination of archaeological evidence and ethnographic analogy Bradley and Edmonds were able to establish that fire had been used to crack the rock prior to extraction at the Neolithic quarry faces on the crags of Pike O’Stickle.This work would have been aided by timber levers and wedges made from wood and cattle bone it is also likely that water was used in this process; these facts are hard to establish from the archaeological record when the acid soils are also taken into account. Now that there would have been a more accessible supply of both timber and water at Great Langdale than the higher, drier and treeless Scafell Pike is perhaps another reason why the quarrying developed on a larger scale here; thus becoming the first Lakeland Industry, it’s a thirsty job being a quarry worker!

Ruddy Beck: vertical faces

Ruddy Beck: vertical faces

Here at Ruddy Beck we can see how the rock fractures off neatly along the bedding planes that have been tilted vertically here, this would make working down the rock into manageable blanks relatively easy. Now whether many of these slabs have been removed by man or nature is hard to say; any spoil that fell into the stream would now be at the valley bottom. However it is quite possible that several may have as we can see flaking scars on the upper surfaces of an in-situ vertical slab adjacent to the right – perhaps like the Dani tribes-men they lit fires against it on stone platforms set in the beck bottom. Were they flaking the rock to divert the water whilst they quarried the rock or just altering the land, are there flaking sites under the turf or is it a trail extraction site? Many questions, further investigations are required!

Pete

Ruddy Beck: conchoidal fracturing on vertical Seathwaite Tuff bedding

Ruddy Beck: vertical shot of conchoidal fracturing on vertical Seathwaite Tuff bedding

Acknowledgements

Heinrich Harrer’s book “I Come From the Stone Age” is a grand read and fantastic photographs of the Dani by Diego Verges can be seen here: http://www.diegoverges.com/blog/?p=103

More about Great Langdale can be read in the excellent volume by Richard  Bradley & Mark Edmonds, “Interpreting the Axe Trade” and Mark Edmonds’ book ” Langdale”. The most recent survey of the area was by Phillip Claris & Jamie Quartermaine, published in 1989 in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 

P.S. As I compose this a collie has been reunited with his keeper, Adam, after four nights lost on Scafell Pike. This has touched a lot of people…and returned from the misty spirit world …the dog god? Welcome back Jasper!

Jasper, Adam and Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team

Jasper, Adam and Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team

Here in Cumbria late September was glorious for the annual C-art fortnight, an event where artists and crafts people open their studios and workshops to the public. This year one art installation was set on top of Scafell Pike, the highest art installation in England. The title was intriguing so this seemed like a good chance to take advantage of the Indian summer and get out on the fells to take a look; it appeared rather roughed up by the elements.

Scafell Pike 24 Sept 14 002

On my walk up here from Sty Head along the Corridor Route I had been thinking about the connections that this installation had to other activities that have taken place here. Over  the millennia this place has seen a variety of “performances” taking place, from the musical “clink-clink” as stone was knapped into stone axes over  5600 years ago to Alice Fancis’  “The Hilltop Rest Hotel …a boutique hotel which provides a welcome break for nature-loving and travel weary birds alike” which I am told was carried up here in procession.  So too the roughly shaped stone axes knapped up here might well have been carried down the mountain in procession, secure in their leather bags or baskets.

Scafell Pike 24 Sept 14 006 a

Like the characters drawn on the hotel wall the hunt for the source of the rock from which stone axes were made  had something of a “Boys Own” adventure about it as archaeologists and climbers scoured the screes for evidence of the prehistoric prospectors.  These axes, found across Britain, were known to be made from volcanic tuff which had its origins in the Cumbrian Fells and can be worked like flint; however they were originally thought to have been made from boulders that were glacially transported further afield.

Scafell Pike Axe factories 105

The first clue of a production site in the Fells was in 1918 when palaeontologist Professor DMS Watson, who was working on fossil plants in the North East’s coal measures, observed the hand of man had been at work on some stone eroding from the peat on Mart Crag, Great Langdale; a small excavation established that it was indeed a small stone axe working site. They were getting warmer, but it was another thirty years before Ulverston couple Brian Bunch and his wife discovered the iconic Stone Axe Factories on Pike O’Stickle whilst on holiday in Langdale. It took several more years for climber and Secretary of the Wasdale Climbing Club, Dick Plint and friends to identify where the first “Fell and Rockers” working sites were on the summit plateau of Scafell Pike, finding roughed-out axes as seen  in the foreground of this picture.

Scafell Pike Axe factories 076

In the period in Britain known as the Neolithic, axe making was likely a right of passage for young people to prove themselves on this wild and barren plateau. Perhaps they slept up here for a night or two but even in summer with the climate a little warmer back then, this would have been a hazardous place to work. Strewn with weathered and fractured rock with hardly any green to be seen, exposed to the elements, heightening the sense of drama with only the elders knowledge of the safe paths avoiding the precipices to guide people back to the security of the valley and their coastal settlements where the axes were finished. Many of the axes found are beautifully polished and unused, ethnographic research in New Guinea has shown that there is a strong element of ritual in the way that stone axes are handled. Thus with Cumbrian axes we find them deposited in bogs and rocky crevices sometimes unused at the end of their or their keepers lives.

Frontispiece

As I linger on the summit around me small performances take place; a man asks me to take his photo as he strikes up a suitable heroic pose, a group takes the inevitable selfie. On just about every day of the year people perform small ceremonies here on the summit cairn of Scafell Pike; from cracking open of a can of beer to the scattering of human ashes that percolate down into the frost shattered rock.

Walking back across Broad Crag I see a newly split block where some 21st century rock prospector had been at work. A fine-grained tuff – people don’t change that much do they?

Pete

Scafell Pike Axe factories 092

Acknowledgements

The C-Art project is run by Eden Arts http://www.c-art.org.uk

Alice Francis can be found at http://www.peoplespalace.net/home.html 

The polished stone axe appears courtesy of Keswick Museum

Further information on the Stone Axe Factory discoveries can be found in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society http://cumbriapast.com/cgi-bin/ms/main.pl?action=transactions

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