Durham Dales – The Castles

Graham and I headed over to Hamsterley to have a look at a strange site called The Castles. Graham told me that despite modern archaeological investigations, including a visit by the Time Team Archaeologists, no one has been able to fully explained this strange site.

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An archaeological evaluation was undertaken by Channel 4’s Time Team at The Castles, a Scheduled Monument at West Shipley Farm, Hamsterley, believed to be the remains of a fortified site of Late Iron Age, Romano-British or post-Roman date. The investigation included evaluation trenching and geophysical and standing remains surveys, the results of which are briefly summarised in this article. Although clearly constructed by a substantial workforce as a defensive fortification, there is little evidence to indicate what the site was used for or its date.

Abstract from McKinley, J. I., (2014). ‘The Castles’, West Shipley Farm, Hamsterley, Co. Durham. Durham Archaeological Journal (19). Vol 19, pp. 105-106.

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The monument remains enigmatic both in terms of date and function. Though clearly constructed by a substantial work force as a defensive fortification, there is little evidence to support by whom and for what it was used. It may have served as a demonstration of power, its use may have proved unnecessary by change of circumstances, or occupation may only have been temporary or seasonal. The date of  the original construction seems most likely to be Late Iron Age, with possibly post-Roman reuse of parts of the structure 

Summary detail from ‘The Castles’, West Shipley Farm, Hamsterley, Co. Durham
Archaeological Evaluation and Assessment Results. Wessex Archaeology. Report reference: 65303.01. May 2007

 

We drove along the narrow lanes to the farm entrance and walked along the public footpath to the farmyard. The friendly farmer was busy unloading a feed tanker but stopped to point out the right of way across his land. We walked down the extremely sodden fields towards the copse of woods that enclosed the site.

The site is located on a hillside midway between the ridge top and the valley bottom. It has views along the valley to wards to confluence of the Harthope and Bedburn Becks and then further east to the Wear Valley.

Lidar

Wessex Archaeology / Time Team report here

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

LIDAR  Image from here

Leaving Eden – Moor Divock

 I’ve been exploring this moor for many years.

MD

The Kopstone, gatekeeper of the moor. Looking towards Shap with the Howgills in the distance. The low escarpment on the upper left of the picture is Knipe Scar with its  limestone stone circle, part of a chain of at least a dozen intervisible prehistoric monuments in the Lowther valley from Oddendale in the south to the Leacet circle in the north.

 

There is a loose alignment of monuments running across the moor, walking between this large pair of stones leads you towards the cairn circle known as Moor Divock 4

Map

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Stan Beckensall believes that the roughly circular area, below the arrow in the picture, is an eroded cup and ring motif. I have stared at this stone many times and in many lights, the eye of faith is required.

MD

Moving west, this embanked alignment of  large upright stones has previously been interpreted as the remains of a circle.

Autumnal colour

Continuing west, an avenue of small, paired stones leads you across the moor towards the White Raise Cairn

MD Arriving at White Raise the western landscape opens out,  the builders of the mound chose well when they selected this spot. The large white limestone block in the centre of the picture is thought to have served as a cover for the cist.

MD

The cist

White Raise illust

Onwards across the moor following the route of the Roman Road which deviates towards the circle indicating that this route existed long before the Romans arrived on our shores

OS Map Pub 1920

 When the Bronze Age people erected the monuments on the moor, the Cockpit may have already been regarded as an ancient monument.

 

MDThe Cockpit was probably the first stone circle I ever visited.

Cockpit

MD

Looking west across the moor from the Cockpit to White Raise and the Pennines beyond. Thinking about the journey home.

Sources

The Prehistoric Remains on Moordivock near Ullswater by M. Waistell Taylor. TCWAAS 001. 1886

The Stone Circles of Cumbria by John Waterhouse. Phillimore & Co. 1985

Map extract Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Into Eden – Dacre

Skirsgill

Heading west from Great Salkeld towartds Dacre, I called in on an old friend, the Skirsgill standing stone. Tucked away on an industrial estate, the huge stone is almost lost in foliage, not a bad thing perhaps. I took this picture of the stone in 2004

Plaque

St Andrew’s Church, Dacre. A Norman church built on a pre-conquest Christian site.

Dacre

A beautiful 9th century cross shaft.

Cross Shaft

Description

The slab-like shaft is complete, as is clear from the presence of both upper and lower border mouldings to the panels on sides D and E. The edge of the head on face A and all faces of the shaft were bordered laterally by a roll moulding.

A (broad): At the top and bottom of the shaft is a border formed by a single incised line; two wavering parallel lines divide the two panels on the shaft. On the head are remains of interlace of unidentifiable type. At the top of the shaft is a backward-turning contoured quadruped with a small scooped ear; the ground around the animal has not been cut back. Below are two human figures, the larger to the right, whose hands are joined over a rectangular object with two pellet-like legs. Between their heads is a cluster of three pellets. The ground to the right of the figures has not been cleared completely but sprouts curling or circular branches.

Below the left-hand figure is an uncarved area shaped like a boat, which partially separates this scene from the one below which contains a horned quadruped on whose back is a crouching wolf/dog with curling tail. The ground in front of the horned animal and between its legs has not been cut back.

Below the incised border the lower panel contains a Fall scene. The female figure to the left is clothed in a short kirtle and reaches to pluck a fruit pellet from the tree. The right-hand figure, who is not clearly clothed, grasps a branch. A snake coils to the left of the tree. The ground around this scene has not been completely cleared.

Source – The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture 

 

The Dacre Bears

The bears are a genuine mystery, no one really knows their origin or meaning. This is from the St Andrew’s church website

The Dacre Bears are a special feature at St. Andrew’s. There are four stone statues located within the churchyard. A recently expressed archaeological opinion is that they are pre-Saxon and may originally have marked the boundaries of some pagan sacred site, however, the origin of the Bears is unknown and has been a puzzle for centuries.

 

Into Eden-Bolton

Continuing into the Eden Valley, still trying to process what I’d seen at Long Marton, I stopped in Bolton village to visit the Church of All Saints.

Dedicating your church to All Saints seems a bit lazy to me, mind you, in Middlesbrough, the church now known as the Sacred Heart used to be called The Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Philomena. I don’t know what went on but St. Philomena was dropped from the team and the church became, The Sacred Heart. So I suppose dedicating your church to all saints is simply hedging your bets against the vagaries of church politics.

Momento

The church dates from the 12th century

Effigy

This ghost-like effigy is close to the church entrance. She has her head is on a pillow indicating that she was once horizontal. Sources differ on her age between the 12th and 14th centuries.Knights

This carving is built into the wall over the north door and depicts two knights jousting. Its origins are unknown.

Remnants from the early fabric of the church.

Charles Laughton

This well-fed local caught my eye and put me in mind of Charles Laughton

 

Into Eden – Tympana

St Margaret and St James Church – Long Marton

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I had been very much looking forward to visiting this beautiful church with pre-conquest origins.

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The porch, I cannot find any information on this stone, it looks Roman. The sheep skull on top of the stone is an odd sight in a church. Then I looked up at the entrance door..

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.. I had seen pictures of the tympanum but to see it up close, breathtakingly beautiful.

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I had to sit down and drink in the beauty of the carving. If I wasn’t to seen anything else on this trip, this was worth the journey.

Christianity has an odd relationship with dragons.

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A thirteenth century parish chest. Local built, the wood is three inches thick.

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A cross slab put to good use as a lintel.

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A lovely window by Stanley Scott of Sunderland, a memorial to a local surgeon.

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I walked into the bell tower to look for the second tympanum. The light was fairly dim, the motifs barely visible, my heart sank.

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Then I noticed the light switch..

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A beautiful sneck on the church gate, I’m an ungodly person, I love this church.

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Even the views are beautiful – Knock Pike

illustration

 

Into Eden – The Druidical Judgement Seat

DJS

Who could resist visiting a place with such a wonderful name?

I first visited this place in 2004, at that time very little was known about this strange oval earthwork. The site, on the margins of Brackenber Moor, has since been the subject of an Archaeological investigation by the Appleby Archaeological Group and North Pennines Archaeology.  They have concluded that the site, and a number of burial mounds located across the moor, are Bronze Age in date.

George Gill

On the ground there is very little to see. The surrounding moorland is a mix of rough pasture and a golf course. The site occupies a spit of land overlooking the George Ghyll. The ditch and bank are visible and there are a few lumps and bumps within the enclosure. What excites me about this place is the beautiful red sandstone crag and cave located on the edge of the Ghyll.

Standing Stone

Dropping down to the Ghyll just beyond a large standing stone

DJS

George Gill SandstoneAeolian (wind-blown) in origin, the Permian Penrith Sandstone Formation formed approximately 272 to 299 million years ago in a desert environment

George Gill Cave

The main cave could easily house two or three people comfortably. There are many birds nests in the niches in and around the main cave.

Roman Fell

The 5th hole looks towards Roman Fell.

Parasol Mushroom

Into Eden

For the past two decades or so I have been researching the links between Cumbria and North Yorkshire. For most of that time my researches have focussed upon Prehistory and the movement of people, objects and beliefs.

In recent years my focus has broadened and I’ve become interested in the post- Roman period, a time when our identity was more about being Northern than being English. With this in mind I decided to return to Cumbria and spend a couple of days travelling around the Eden Valley.

On trips like this I can never completely detach myself from Prehistory but I consciously  decided to limit the megalithic sites to a couple and loosely focus upon looking for remnants from the post-Roman period onwards.

The journey started at the western foot of the Stainmore Pass at Brough. For me, Brough has always been the gatekeeper of the Eden valley. The Romans recognised the strategic value of the place and built a large fort there called Verteris, later in the 11th century the Normans chose to build a castle on the Roman site.

When seen from the A66 the ruined castle of Brough is generally my first glimpse of the red sandstone of the Eden valley.

St Michaels Church Brough

In the bible, Michael the archangel was Gods’ General, leading the forces of heaven in the  fight against Satan. It is fitting that the a church built within the confines of a ‘pagan’ roman fort should be dedicated to him. Perhaps the site was once occupied by a Roman temple and continued to be used by local people until the arrival of  Christianity. The current church was founded in 12th century and has undergone a number of improvements in the years since.

Mason Marks

There are many masons marks on the exterior walls of the church. Most of them are in the form of a crossed ‘Z’. I am guessing that the stones as they were quarried and were marked with the orientation of the cross indicating how the stone should be aligned, but this is only a guess.

Cross Slabs and Roman Inscription

Built into the wall of the porch of the church are a number of large cross slabs and a tribute to the Roman commander of the fort. The stone was found in 1880 during building work to the church. The inscription translates as For the Emperor Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus and for Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caesar … in the consulship of Lateranus and Rufinus. 

The Brough Stone – A Roman tribute, written in Greek, to a young Syrian who died a long way from home.

A lovely Norman arch

A possible Celtic/Romano-British carved head and a hexafoil, a symbol of purity that has been used elsewhere as a folk-magic symbol of protection.

Pin Cone

 Andy Goldsworthy has built one of his beautiful Cone Pinfolds in the grounds of the local school.

Dykes on the Tabular Hills

The linear dykes of the Tabular Hills of north east Yorkshire are the third largest group in Britain both in area and the number of dykes.

The Scamridge Dykes are the most famous of the North Yorkshire Dykes, they run six abreast in a large curve for almost three kilometers from the scarp edge of Troutsdale south to the head of Kirkdale.  Their scale can only really be appreciated from the air. The dykes are thought to be prehistoric in origin, they most probably define prehistoric territorial boundariesDykes

The Cockmoor Dykes also run south from the Troutsdale scarp where as six large dykes. As they run south to Wydale they are joined by another fourteen smaller parallel dykes.  The six large dykes are thought to be prehistoric and the additional dykes are thought to be burrowing mounds connected with the large-scale rabbit warrening industry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Cockmoor

My friend Chris Corner and I took a trip down to the Tabular Hills to have a look at these mighty earthworks. We started by trying to find an embanked pit alignment at Givendale but found nothing apart from dense conifer woodland, debris and deep forestry plough ruts. We moved east to Cockmoor.

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The multiple small dykes at Cockmoor, probably the result of commercial rabbit warrening.

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One of three round barrows on the margins of the Cockmoor Dykes. The other two barrows have been destroyed by agricultural activities.

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The rabbits have all gone. Tiny spoil heaps in the sides of the dyke, probably caused by burrowing miner bees.

One of the six large Cockmoor Dykes running down to the scarp edge overlooking Troutsdale.

A Penny Bun & Oysters

The Scamridge Dykes form a dense mixed woodland corridor across the large open fields.

 We dropped down into Troutsdale and come across this beautiful abandoned building. Chris informs me that it is a school house built in 1870

Map

Sources

Linear Earthworks of the Tabular Hills, North East Yorkshire. D.A Spratt 1989

MAGIC

Historic England

Google Earth

 

Solstice Wanderings in Cumbria – Tuff

Great Langdale Cup Marked Stone – Dungeon Ghyll – Harrison Stickle – Loft Crag – Pike of Stickle – Martcrag Moor – Stake Pass – Mickleden – Old Dungeon Ghyll – Copt Howe – Mayburgh Henge 21.06.2019

A cup-marked boulder at the foot of the Side Pike pass to Little Langdale.

I don’t have a great head for heights, the narrow scramble between Harrison Stickle and Dungeon Ghyll makes me question my choice of route, to withdraw would be to fail.

There are two genii, which nature gave us as companions throughout life. The one, sociable and lovely, shortens the laborious journey for us through its lively play, makes the fetters of necessity light for us, and leads us amidst joy and jest up to the dangerous places, where we must act as pure spirits and lay aside everything bodily, as to cognition of truth and performance of duty. Here it abandons us, for only the world of sense is its province, beyond this its earthly wings can not carry it. But now the other one steps up, earnest and silent, and with stout arm it carries us over the dizzying depth. On the sublime by Friedrich Schiller. 1801

 Staring down the gulley to the valley below, then scrambling to the summit of the Pike of Stickle, terrifying and exhilarating.

Chasing clouds across the fells

Tracking  Prehistoric Cairns along Mickleden

Flakes of Tuff carried down the scree from the Neolithic quarries on the Pike of Stickle

On leaving, I visit the prehistoric carved boulders of Copt Howe

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Mayburgh Henge, generally my starting and finishing point when visiting Cumbria.

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