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.

Mao

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chasing the Solstice Sun

Solstice sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”).

On a gloomy day I had little expectation of seeing the Solstice sun. I decided to seek out a Prehistoric Rock Art panel near Roxby. The site is located across from a narrow ridge that runs from the moorland to the coast. The ridge was formed by Roxby and Easington Becks running in parallel towards the coast cutting deep ravines into the glacial till. At some points the ridge narrows to the width of the track with near-sheer drops on both sides.

There are three known Prehistoric burial mounds in this valley. One in the woodland 250m to the west of the carved stone and another pair 1km south where the Birch Hall and Scaling Becks merge to form the Roxby Beck.

Woods

I follow the muddy footpath from Ridge lane down through the woods to a small gorge where a wooden bridge crosses the beck. The sound of running water is everywhere. The low solstice sun finally makes an appearance.

Roxby Beck

At the top of the bank the woods give way to fields. The field is pegged out for pheasant shooting. I spot a wooden structure on the hillside roughly where the stone should be.

Roxby stone uphillThe stone sits on swampy ground at the foot a low hill. The landowner has erected a fence around it to prevent damage from livestock.

Roxby stone

The stone is beautiful, it contains a number of different motifs, different sized cups, some with rings, linear motifs and a couple of faint rings that seem to ‘zone’ certain areas of the stone. Many of the cups are quite eroded, you have to move around the stone to catch the light falling across the surface, revealing the fainter carvings.

Roxby stone springQuite a lot of stone has been dumped on the boggy ground. A spring breaks through at the stone and runs down through the field to the Beck.

Solstice SunThe Solstice sun breaks through beside a dump of large boulders.

When showing people rock art for the first time, they invariably come up with their own definitive interpretation of the meaning, usually a map/chart related explanation. Show them a second and third panel and they begin to develop doubts.

Roxby stone ii

Over the years I have visited many rock art sites both home and abroad. I’ve concluded that we will probably never really know the true meaning of the carvings because we can never know the mindset of the people who created them. The best explanation that I can come up with is that the carvings may be an abstract representation of an invisible reality for the people who carved them and that the meaning may change depending on the locality. On the North York Moors there seems to be an association with burial monuments and trackways but this is not always the case.

Roxby stone i

A couple of years ago I attended a workshop at MIMA  They invited people to help create a timeline for local art. My suggestion was Prehistoric Rock Art along with prehistoric pottery, sadly neither suggestions were included in the final timeline.

Blasted

 

Maiden Castle

I’ve visit Maiden Castle a number of times, every time I visit I come away a little more confused.

OS Map 1857

The site is cut into the side of High Harker Hill, above an old Corpse Road, if you weren’t aware of its location you would be unlikely to stumble across it.

Maiden Castle Lidar

There are two long barrows/cairns associated with the enclosure, one is located on high ground to the west of the site, the other is at the eastern end of a massive stone avenue. The barrows are thought to be late Neolithic/Bronze age in date

Two linear mounds of stone up to 1.5m high form a unique feature, an avenue which runs for over 100m from a large ruined barrow to the entrance of the enclosure.

The enclosure ditch is up to 4m deep in places with the bank rising between 4-5m above the ditch. The counterscarp on the south side of the enclosure rises above the rampart top. This means that it is possible to overlook the enclosure from the outside implying that the enclosure was not built for defence.

MC From Hillside s

Inside the enclosure there are two circular settings that are thought to be hut circles. A recent geophysical survey has revealed other possible hut circles within the enclosure. There is also small cist visible within the centre of the structure.

Cist s

Due to its uniqueness and the lack of any dateable material, Archaeologists are unable to suggest a definitive time period for the monument. A date range from the Bronze Age to Romano-British period has been suggested.

This monument should not be seen an an isolated site.  The location of the monument in the wider landscape may give some clues to its purpose.

  • Situated within a landscape that has rich evidence of occupation since the Neolithic period. On the moor above the monument there is a stone circle, ring cairns, cairnfields and linear dykes.
  • Good access to a number of trans-Pennine routes linking the Vale of York with northern & eastern Cumbria
  • Situated within the Pennine ore fields surrounded by deposits of lead, zinc, silver and copper. A pig of lead inscribed with the name of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138) was discovered at the Hurst mine at Marrick. Lead was a valuable and abundant metal in the Roman empire.
  • The road beneath the monument turns south into Wensleydale and leads directly to the Roman fort at Bainbridge (Virosidum) and the junction of up to five Roman roads.
  • Other resources – coal and large quantities of chert. Chert was important resource for making tools in prehistory.  Across the river at Fremington Edge there are sufficient quantities of chert for it to be exploited commercially up until the mid 20th century for use in the Staffordshire pottery industries.

Sources

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

LIDAR survey via data.gov.uk
Reassessment of two late prehistoric sites: Maiden Castle and Greenber Edge in Archaeology and Historic Landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Papers No.2. Mark Bowden and Keith Blood. 2004

Why did the Romans build a fort at Bainbridge?  Swaledale & Arkengarthdale Archaeological Group. 2009

A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1914.

 

 

 

Maiden Castle and West Hagg Swaledale North Yorkshire geophysical surveys. Archaeological Surveys Durham University 2011 

The Devil’s Arrows

The Devil’s Arrows are a row of three prehistoric standing stones located in a field on the outskirts of Boroughbridge.

Devils arrows

The stones exist in a wider, complex, prehistoric landscape, a recent archaeological survey of the surrounding area uncovered a number of features including a double timber post row and an associated ditch, extensive flint scatters and grooved ware pottery.

The tallest stones is 22.5 feet high making it the second tallest prehistoric standing stone in the UK after the Rudston Monolith at 26 feet. Graeme Chappell recently informed me that the Rudston Monolith, 44 miles away, is aligned precisely due East of the Arrows.

The antiquarian John Leland visited the town sometime between 1535 and 1540  and described the row as four upright stones with no mention of a fallen fifth stone

..little without this Towne on the west part of Watiling-Streate stadith 4 great maine stones wrought above in conum by Mannes hand.
They be set in 3 several Feldes at this Tyme.
The first is a 20 foote by estimation in higeth and an 18 foote in cumpace. The stone towards the ground is sumwhat square, and so up to the midle, and then wrought with certen rude boltells in conum. But the very toppe thereof is broken of a 3 or 4 footes. Other 2 of like shap stand in another feld a good But shot of: and the one of them is bigger then the other; and they stand within a 6 or 8 fote one of the other.
The fourth standith in a several feld a good stone cast from the other, and is bigger and higher than any of the other 3. I esteme it to the waite of a 5 Waine Lodes or more.
Inscription could I none find yn these stones; and if there were it might be woren out; for they be sore woren and scalid with wether.
I take to be a trophaea a Romanis posita in the side of Watheling Streat,as yn a place most occupied in Yorneying ad so most yn sighte.

A German traveler, Lupold Von Wedel visited the stones in 1584 and recorded seeing five stones, four upright and one lying on the ground. Thirty years later another antiquarian, William Camden visited the stones but only three were left upright, and again, no mention of a fifth stone..

Neere unto this bridge Westward wee saw in three divers little fields foure huge stones of pyramidall forme, but very rudely wrought, set as it were in a streight and direct line. The two Pyramides in the middest, whereof the one was lately pulled downe by some that hoped, though in vaine, to finde treasure, did almost touch one another. The uttermore stand not far off, yet almost in equall distance from these on both sides.

Aubrey

John Aubrey’s notes in his Monumenta Britannica complied between 1665 and 1693. Aubrey thought that the stones may have been part of a great stone circle. No evidence has ever been found to support his theory.

devils_arrows stukeley

Illustration from Itinerarium Curiosum II by William Stukeley. 1776


The Arrows copy

Illustration from The Strangers Guide: Being a concise history & description of Boroughbridge by Boroughbridge. 1846

The fourth stone, toppled by treasure hunters, is thought to have been broken-up and used as the foundation for the bridge over the nearby River Tutt in 1621. There is an account of the top of the stone being taken and placed into the garden of Aldborough Manor.

If its lower portion was embedded in the bridge it may still be there. A local belief that the upper segment was set up in the grounds of Aldborough Manor (Lukis 1877, 134), has been kindly confirmed by the present owner, Sir Henry Lawson-Tancred (pers. comm.).

The Devil’s Arrows: The Archaeology of a Stone Row by Aubrey Burl. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol 63. 1991

Graeme and I have recently been discussing the fate of the fourth stone and decided to take a look to see if we could locate any traces of the missing stone.

Devils Arrows

We started at the stones themselves. There is currently a crop of beets in the field so we followed the well worn path around field margin. Whilst we were looking at the possible cupmarks on the northern stone we got chatting to a woman who told us that, whilst walking her dogs in the area, she had once experienced an energy at the stones that was so powerful it had made her feel ill.

I have enhanced this image a little to highlight the cupmarks on the stone.

We also noticed that there were lots of ladybirds on the stones, it turns out that these are Harlequin Ladybirds, an invasive species that are said to be responsible for the decline of our native species.

Devils Arrows grooves

I’ve recently read that the grooves on the tops of the stone were caused by The Devil trying to hang his grandmother from the stone.  The tale does not say why he was trying to hang her or whether he was successful. I was just surprised to learn that the prince of darkness had a grandmother

The road beside the field is currently being improved to provide access to a new housing development. It is always a little disturbing to see a development encroaching upon an ancient site.

We took a walk down to the bridge over the River Tutt to see if we could spot any remains of the stone.

Tutt Bridge

The Arrows are made of Millstone Grit and are thought to have been brought to the site from Plumpton Rocks, a distance of over 8 miles. The local building stone is a fairly uniform. fine grained sandstone so the coarser grained gritstone, with it’s large quartz grains is quite easy to identify. We didn’t find any evidence of gritstone in the bridge but Graeme did spot three large dressed gritstone blocks in the kerbing leading from the bridge.

Tutt Bridge kerbs

We decided to head over to nearby Aldborough to see if we could track down the top fragment of the fourth stone.

Aldborough.jpg

Aldborough is a small village on the outskirts of Boroughbridge. It is the site of a walled Roman town called Isurium Brigantum. We enquired at the Manor House regarding the whereabouts of the stone, the owner told us that they have looked for evidence of the stone in the manor grounds but not found any trace of it.

In the centre of the village is a large column called the Battle Cross. A nearby plaque states that the cross commemorates the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. The plaque also mentions Thomas Earl of Lancaster who was in collusion with the Scots. A Yorkshireman rarely passes up the opportunity to have a pop at his Lancastrian neighbours.

The local church is reputed to be  built on the site of a Roman Temple, there is a carving inside the church which is thought to portray Mercury.

The devil's arrows

Having arrived at a dead end in our search for the fourth stone, we decided to visit the site where, according to legend, the devil stood when he threw the Arrows, How Hill.

How Hill

How Hill is just over 7 miles west of the Arrows. The first written record of the hill is from 1346 and refers to it as the site of a medieval chapel dedicated to Saint Michael, possibly a place of pilgrimage. The site became a ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The tower was rebuilt in 1719 and further domestic buildings were added to it during the 19th century. It is likely that the tower was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh

What surprised both Graeme and I were the views from the hill, although relatively low lying it has a fantastic viewshed, the Pennines in the West, the North York Moors in the east and as far south as Drax power station.

The tower is currently boarded-up, it’s a substantial building, quite singular in design. It has a slight air of malice about it, I’m not sure I’d like to visit it in the dark, as Graeme once did. On checking the BGS website I discovered that the bedrocks around the hill are Plumpton Gritstone, the same stone as the Arrows, perhaps the folklore is right and the Arrows did originate from here.

smith's arrows

The Devil’s Arrows should be viewed as one of a number of prehistoric monuments that align roughly north-south through North Yorkshire. I recently found this lovely pdf booklet which details this alignment. Booklet

I’m not sure if anyone has ever tried to tie-in the Arrows with the Prehistoric  monuments that extend eastwards towards the Yorkshire coast, both Graeme and I believe that it is not unreasonable to think that there may be a connection.

Scarth Wood Moor

I took a trip, with my friends Emily and Martyn, to Scarth Wood Moor today to look for the Seven Stones. Unfortunately we all assumed that someone else would bring a map, which none of us did.

I tried and failed to convince Martyn that it is possible to navigate a moor using Rowan trees. Emily demonstrated her pareidolic skills, collected some bones and told us tales of hunting Warthogs.

The Seven Stones were discovered by Frank Elgee in the 1930s,  The stones are the most visible part of a number of orthostat walls. The moor has been a busy place in the past, there are recent stone quarries, small enclosures and burial mounds. Flints have been found on the moor that are characteristic of the late Mesolithic. All of this within sight of a popular tourist spot for Teesside day trippers known locally as Sheepwash.

Raymond Hayes

Much of what I know today about the history and archaeology of North Yorkshire comes from Raymond H Hayes. It was a true joy to see one of his field maps on display in the Ryedale Folk Museum.

Update. I’ve just been reading some recollections by Raymond Hayes, he writes of Mr Crosland giving him his set of 6″ OS maps on which he had marked sites and finds. Mr Crosland had a small museum at Hutton Le Hole which later became the Ryedale Folk Museum so I guess the map may be one of Mr Crosland’s. Hayes writes that the maps were extremely useful when he became OS Correspondent at the invitation of Charles Phillips.