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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Allan Tofts

I recently came across some images that I’d taken of the Prehistoric Rock Art at Allan Tofts on the North York Moors in 2006. Many of these stones are now overgrown and very difficult to find. As with the nearby rock art on Fylingdales Moor, many of the carved rocks appeared to be associated with low-lying cairns.

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

 

Barningham Moor

Barningham

Light constantly changes as weather moves rapidly from the west

 A stoat tracks my progress across the moor

The ruins of an ancient settlement can be found in the bracken

An ancient cairn, four millennia of beaten bounds

The reliable instability of limestone – the stone circle slowly sinking, the gill slowly growing

Eel Hill – scrying stone

Barningham Insulator

The Old Stones

Old Stones

I recently bought a copy of a new book called The Old Stones. The Book describes itself as ‘A Field Guide to the Megalithic sites of Britain and Ireland’ and ‘the most comprehensive and democratically selected list of prehistoric sites that has ever been put in a book like this.’ The book is a collaborative work and utilises the knowledge and experience of the users of the Megalithic Portal website.

I have been visiting prehistoric sites around Britain and Europe for over 30 years but I don’t consider myself experienced enough to give a qualified opinion on the national coverage of the book so I’ll focus on the treatment of North Yorkshire and Cumbria.

The gazetteer covers the major monuments of the Yorkshire Wolds, the Ure-Swale Plateau and a couple of Pennine sites. Sadly only two North York Moors sites have made it into the book, Nab Ridge and The High and Low Bridestones. Both of these are lovely sites although it could be argued that the Low Bridestones are merely a group of fairly underwhelming low walls. There is no mention of  any of the impressive moorland standing stones or burial monuments. Even the nationally important prehistoric rock art site of Fylingdales Moor with its 200+ carved rocks and monuments, fails to get a mention.

The book then travels westwards to Cumbria and manages to capture many significant Cumbrian sites. Surprisingly the Greycroft and Elva Plain circles fail to get a mention. After Cumbria the book back-tracks east to Barningham Moor, then jumps 60 miles north to Northumberland.

The book promotes itself as a field guide, this is only part true, in eastern Cumbria it would be a handy book to keep in your car but in the case of the North York Moors and the Northern Pennines it would be of little use. It is also quite a heavy book to be toting around in your rucksack. My final gripe, the regional guides section at the end of the book fails to list any guides covering Northern England, Wales, most of Scotland and all of the island of Ireland. That said, it does list many useful many online resources.

Putting together a book of this size and scope was always going to be a massive task. There are over 1000 sites listed in the book and it is admirable that such an endeavour has even been attempted. Despite my criticisms, I am enjoying reading the book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Prehistoric sites of our islands. It is well laid out, easy to read and has full colour photographs and maps. There a forward by Mike Parker Pearson, an lovely piece discussing Prehistoric Landscapes by Vicci Cummins. There are a number of excellent articles scattered throughout the book on topics ranging from the Top 10 Urban Prehistory Sites to Archaeoacoustics.

This book serves to remind us of the sheer range and quantity of prehistoric monuments that exist in our islands. It is a fitting tribute to the hard work and devotion to recording these sites by Andy Burnham and the members of the Megalithic Portal website.

Buy it here

The Rock Art of the Kerb – Postscript

I bought my copy of Ronald Morris’s The Prehistoric Rock Art of Galloway & the Isle of Man in the 1990s from a second hand bookseller in Dundee. The flyleaf of the book has the name Kennedy McConnell and the date October 1982 inscribed on it.

On researching the previous owner I found this WW2 People’s War 

It makes me wonder if his war time work with Alan Turing’s team of cryptographers had left him with any insights into interpreting the meaning of Prehistoric Rock Art.

The Rock Art of the Kerb

In his 1979 book, The Prehistoric Rock Art of Galloway & The Isle of Man, Ronald Morris listed one hundred and four theories which have been put forward in all seriousness by Archaeologists and others to explain British Prehistoric Rock Art. Could any of these theories be applied to the mysterious markings that are found on roadside kerbstones?Kerbstone viiBurials, Standing stones, Alignment markers, Astronomy, Re-use in burial, Early prospectors, Early prospecting aids, Belief in after-life, Religious, Magical.Kerbstone iUniform religious & magical significance, Sex, Breasts, Mother goddess, Mother goddess worship, Eyes, Phallic symbols, Fertility symbols – Sperm entering the egg, Fertility rites, Marks of sexual prowess.Kerbstone iiCircumcision ceremony, Sex symbols, Sun symbol, Sun God, Baal, Water divining, Mixing vessels, Quantity measures, Freemasons earliest marks.Kerbstone iiiSacred food & wine holders, Fertility Rites (Indian), Copies of worm casts, Copies of tree rings, Copies of ripples from a stone thrown into a pool of water, Druids, Used by Druids, Blood sacrifice, Code, Water time-signals.Kerbstone viiiClocks, Pictographs or Hieroglyphs, Early writing, Messages from outer space, Megalithic inch, All measured in or founded on megalithic inches, right angled triangles, Equilateral triangles, code, spirals are two-centre half-circles of ellipses.Kerbstone ivDifferent races made them, Bonfire ritual site markers, Search for food, Seed production, Early pilgrimage marks, Dye transfer moulds, Metal moulds, Maps of the countryside, Building plans, Star maps.Kerbstone vEmblems, Tattooists patterns, Decorations, Doodles, An elderly man’s screen, Boundary markers, Route markers, Tribal convention commemorators, Mithras worship, Shields.Kerbstone viGaming tables, Marbles, Annular brooches, Animistic carvings, Primative lamp bases,  Water worship, Cattle worship, Marks of piety, Re-use of long dead superstition, Monuments to the dead.Kerbstone ixNatural, Hidden treasure, Plans for megalithic structures, Plans for laying out mazes, Field ploughing plans, Oath marks, Victory marks, Adders lairs, Knife sharpening marks.Kerbstone xAn early form of music notation, Tuning device, Early astronomers night memoranda, Birth-growth-life & death symbol,  A locked-up force, The stone circle builders carved them, Healing magic, Casts for making bronze, Sea goddess worship, Mirror, Womb symbol, Wells, Child carvings.