I had the pleasure of chatting about our current exhibition to Dave Robson of Zetland FM. Interview starts at around 2:20:00
North – Tyrebagger Recumbent Stone Circle.
Tyrebagger – The Field of Acorns
Plan – Coles, F. R. (1899). Report on Stone Circles in Kincardineshire (North), and part of Aberdeenshire, with measured Plans and Drawings, obtained under the Gunning Fellowship.. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 34. Vol 34, pp. 139-198. via the Archaeology Data Service
The Sunken kirk
To celebrate the Summer Solstice, and my release from self-isolation, Graham Vasey & I took a walk up to the Swinside Stone Circle in Cumbria.
This beautiful circle, one of my favourites, is also known as Sunkenkirk. The folklore of the site tells of how the locals once tried to build a church here, the Devil wasn’t best pleased and cursed the stones causing them to sink into the ground. In common with many other circles, it is said that it is impossible to count the stones.
…that mystic round of Druid frame
Tardily sinking by its proper weight
Deep into patient earth…William Wordsworth
..this well preserved ring is one of the finest stone circles in western Europe.A guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, & Brittany. Aubrey Burl. Yale University Press. 1995
I have been seeking out prehistoric sites and hoary old stones for most of my life and have come to view these places as benevolent, liminal spaces. I believe that many of these sites mark a period of departure, a time when our ancestors decided to create physical spaces within the landscape, places that allowed them to temporarily separate themselves from the material world and enter the realm of the sacred or the supernatural, essentially a temple or ‘kirk’.
These places are not only the physical remnants of ancient beliefs and associated cosmologies, they are also evidence of the desires of our ancestors to ‘sign the land’ and leave permanent, visible markers of their presence , a practice that has remained unbroken ever since.
It should be acknowledged that not everyone views these ancient sites this way. Many ancient sites, as evidenced in folklore, have been viewed as having malevolent associations . These were dark locations where witches and demons would meet or sites where bloody druidical sacrificial rites were once enacted. These associations still linger in the modern era and may still effect how these sites are viewed. This is an account by Cumbrian poet Norman Nicholson of a boyhood encounter with the Swinside stones on a bleak Cumbrian winters day.
And there at last, I saw the stones, black, huddled and hooded, with the snow mounded against them on the one side. There was no comfort in them, no hint of anything to do with humanity at all. They were as frightening as the moor, yet they were not part of it. They were separate, persisting through the centuries in a dumb, motionless struggle. They were in opposition to the moor, struggling against it, just as I was – but they were not on my side. I turned and went as fast as I could down the snowy track to the main road, and walked home towards the friendly glare of the furnaces purring in the mist.The Lakes. Norman Nicholson. Hale. 1977
A Memory – The Major Lunar Standstill 2006
Remembering Margaret Curtis Teacher and Archaeologist, born 7 June 1941; died 26 March 2022
Isle of Lewis
Some moorland stones
I took a trip over to Glaisdale to visit one on my favourite North York Moors standing stones. This rarely visited, tall, beautiful stone is one of a pair of upright stones located on Glaisdale Swang
Swang – a boggy stretch of land.
When I arrive at the stone I’m confronted by an anxious pheasant hen who starts running in circles around me, a tactic designed to distract me while her brood of chicks scatter for the shelter of the nearby heather.
I can see another stone on the moor edge in the distance, I know that this will probably be a guide stone but probably isn’t good enough, I head for the higher ground. The ground is marshy, so I zig zag my way up the narrowing valley following the lush green carpet of bilberry which tends to grow on the better drained ground. Curlews and lapwings rise in alarm and noisily track my progress as I move from one birds territory to another. Towards the top of the swang, a large hare breaks cover.
As I move onto the high moor guide stones mark the track. Many of these stones date to the 18th century, others may possibly be far older. On October 2nd, 1711, the Justices sitting at Northallerton ordered that guide posts should be erected throughout the North Riding.
A solitary pine tree on the moor top, its branches indicate the direction of the prevailing winds.
Walking across across the high moor towards Glaisdale I encounter a couple of low standing stones one of which is close to a low mound. These stones are not on the track and are too small to be guide stones. Another group of large stones look as through they were once standing but it is difficult to say much more about them.
This guide stone was carved and erected by Thomas Harwood about 1735. Harwood erected four other similar stones on Glaisdale Rigg. The stone appears to be housed in an old cross base. It is possible to make out the inscriptions on the north and east faces, they read Gisbrogh Road and Whitby Road. The other two faces are illegible, Stanhope White writes that the south face reads Glaisdale Road TH.
Walking over to the edge of Glaisdale I find this beautiful orthostatic wall, a real joy. About a century ago many of the original field walls across the moor and dales were rebuilt by professional wallers, this wall may be a survivor of an earlier age.
In his book, Some Reminiscences & Folk Lore of Danby Parish & District, Joseph Ford writes of Stone-Rearing Days. These were occasions when a farmers neighbours gathered together to build walls around newly-enclosed fields. Ford thinks that this tradition may stretch as far back in time to the original settlers of the moorland dales.
Glaisdale – YN [Glasedale 12 Guisb. Glasedal 1223, Glasdale 1228 FF] ‘The valley of R Glas’
OW gleis, Welsh glais ‘stream’
Glas is a British river-name derived from the Welsh glas ‘blue, green, grey’
Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore & Customs. R Blakeborough. W Rapp & Sons Ltd. 1911
The North York Moors. An Introduction by Stanhope White. The Dalesman Publishing Co. 1979
Some Reminiscences & Folk Lore of Danby Parish & District. Joseph Ford. M.T.D. Rigg Publications. 1990
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Placenames. E Ekwall. 1974
Orthostatic Field Walls on the North York Moors. D.A. Spratt. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal No. 60 1988
The Old Stones of the North Exhibition
Circumstances have prevented me from visiting our joint exhibition, so this week we took a trip over to Grasmere to have a look. I was impressed with the way that the Heaton Cooper Studio has presented our work. The exhibition runs until the 29th May.
Wade Stones 2002
I found a box of some of my old photos.
I used to take my kids out on stone finding expeditions. My daughter once told me that she would call Childline if I took her to see another stone circle.
A few years ago I bought an album of old french postcards themed around prehistoric monuments and natural rock features.
This sparked a short obsession with prehistoric postcards. I bought most of them from ebay and boot sales, setting myself the challenge of paying no more than a pound or two for each card. The obsession burned itself out after a year or two so and I decided to put the collection online for anyone to use. I uploaded about a third of the cards and then kind of lost interest. I’ll return to it one day and finish the job.
If this sort of thing interests you, the collection can be found here
The Old Stones Exhibition March 2022
My friend Tony Galuidi asked me if I’d be interested in a joint exhibition, I agreed and here it is. If you like big old prehistoric stones and you happen to find yourself in Cumbria, pop in and have a look.