|Personal circumstances have meant that all things stony have been put on the back-burner for the last 15 months; other than an overnight stay up in Eskdale last October, Vicky and I haven't had chance to get up to our usual megalithic adventures. So, it was with a sense of delight that we planned a "stolen" day away together in Penrith. She managed to get a day off work and I escaped from my duties as full-time carer, brew-maker, cook and bottle washer. I researched some sites new to both of us and with a promised trip to Penrith & Eden Museum to see their Neolithic exhibit, set off for the train up North. The weather forecast looked pretty ropey, so I was laden down with waterproofs, scarf, hat walking boots AND wellies (you can never be too dry!) and met Vicky at 10.30am in the grey drizzle of an August day in North Cumbria.
First off, we headed to the museum. I had 5 sites marked on the map that I wanted us to get to but it made sense to do the indoor bit first and hope the weather would clear later when we were "out in the field", so to speak. What a great museum it is; a permanent display about the Neolithic in Eden and trippy film by Aaron Watson playing on a loop! We spent ages peering at all the wee flints and giant axe heads and "oooh-ing" and "aaah-ing" over the 3 pieces of rock art on display. Fantastic! It put us in the mood for some real prehistory-stalking but first, we wanted to check out the Giant's Grave in St Andrew's churchyard. This rather lovely site reminded us both so much of the recumbent stones in Aberdeenshire, and especially Midmar Kirk; we felt sure some rather forward-thinking/backward-looking Anglo-Saxon had stolen the idea! Made up of 4 Viking hogback stones and 2 Saxon cross shafts it is remarkably prehistoric-looking in its design.
On our way to the church we had stumbled upon a farmers' market in the square in Penrith and were dazzled by the array of amazing foodstuffs available. Now, if you have read any of my other TMA blogs, you will know that Vicky and I are hardcore picnickers but – *shock horror* - today we had decided to forgo the picnic for a cosy pub lunch somewhere lovely in the Cumbrian countryside. However, once we set eyes on the Moody Baker's stall, everything changed! Laden down with pies, pasties and wraps, we decided to sit in the church yard and stuff our faces with the most delicious food. If you are in the area, I would strongly recommend you check them out - http://www.themoodybaker.co.uk/
So, (finally) on to the real prehistory!
Our first stop was east of Penrith at Winderwath, to check out the 2 stones on the road to Winderwath Gardens. The first stone is unmissable, lying on the roadside and what a fine piece of stone it is. Sturdy and magnificent, it sits proudly on the side of the road, emerging from the hedge as you approach. However, had Fitz not mentioned the 2nd stone lying in the field behind we would never have realised it was there, so thick was the hedgerow! We tried and tried to find a place to peek through and see it clearly but in the end I had to crawl through some nettles and brambles, poke my camera through the fence, point it in the general direction and just hope something came out! Luckily it did, but we couldn't see enough of this 2nd stone to tell how similar (or otherwise) it may have been to the one still standing. However, the weather had cleared, the sun was shining and we were starting to get stone-fever, so we continued on to the next site.
Heading back towards Penrith, we soon found ourselves pulling into a weird little industrial site just off the A66. We followed Fitz's instructions, and right enough, there was our 2nd upright stone of the day! What a strange situation and how lucky that the stone survived the industrial units being built all around it. Similar in size and shape to the one at Winderwath and no longer sitting amongst some bushes, this has the air of abandonment about it – only nettles and thistles were in the way today. As we were poking around, the local farmer came over and stared chatting; he said there had been a 2nd stone close by that had been cleared some time ago and mentioned that the original roadway had run from Eamont Bridge (where Mayburgh & Arthur's henges are) following the watercourse and came out here. This started lots of ideas whizzing round our heads, wondering if this roadway had followed an ancient route, marked by these lovely big monoliths??? Vicky and I love theorising about such things and often convince ourselves of stuff that we have no evidence of – and here we were again – we got out the map and starting trying to find an obvious route, linking various sites in the area. Oh, what fun we can have with a little knowledge and such fertile imaginations!
This really whetted our appetite for more, so we set off to the next site – the standing stone at Sewborwans. There is a handy wee layby right by the fence into the field, so we pulled in and hopped over the gate. As we approached this lovely, big stone - again, sturdy & squat just like the other 2 we had seen today, and sitting on a raised piece of land – we noticed 2 smaller stones in the hedgerow. These weren't the scattered, fallen stones Fitz had mentioned but were still upright. Our minds went into overload at this point, with Vicky convinced that they were just missing the recumbent stone lying between them and me wondering if they had been some kind of entrance stones? One of the things I love most about prehistory is that, a lot of the time, we just don't know the answers so you are able to make things up, argue with yourself, talk yourself out of said theory and then change your mind again and decide you were right all along! This stone reminded me of the Googleby Stone at Shap but that may have been the setting and the fact that it was standing in bright sunlight, with a dazzling blue sky – the exact same conditions when I first saw the Googleby Stone? The strewn large stones in the bank behind are interesting and Vicky decided that this had once been a magnificent circle of stone, standing on the plateau, linked to the henges at Eamont by large processional stones; it certainly has some credibility, with the references to stone avenues in the area. It is also of note that there are 3 cairns within spitting distance of this site at Mossthorns and this site would be visible from there. We had a quick peek at these from the roadside but didn't attempt to get to them, as our heads were already overflowing with stones and the fields were rather inaccessible. Another time.
From here, we took the road back towards Old Riggs so we could see the whole valley from above; this viewpoint really does give a sense of how the monuments sit within the landscape and the idea of a processional avenue linking up sites made much more sense. I feel the need for much more research and a second visit it required. I think what had the most impact on me, is just how similar all of these stones are.....size, shape etc
Our last site of the day was to be Holme Head; one I knew could be difficult to access due to the railway line being in the way! What I can't even begin to explain is this; how have Vicky and I, who have spent the last 25 years whizzing up and down this line to each other's houses, managed to miss these huge, hunk of stone, sitting right by the side of the line? We must have both passed it hundreds of times!! Anyhoo, we tried to get a decent picture of it from the "wrong side of the tracks" and then we attempted to get to it through the filed on the other side – this would be quite easy if a) there wasn't barbed wire on the gate and b) it hadn't been full of cows who seemed very curious. This is not usually an issue for me but I had a train to catch and didn't really have the time to dodge playful bullocks and barbed wire. This is now firmly on my list for "next time".
So, after all that stoning and theorising, all that was left was for me to get back to Penrith to get the train south and for Vicky to drive back North. We stopped off at the wondershop that I Cranston's Foodhall to stock up on – yep, you've guessed it – more pies, then went our separate ways. Another successful day's prehistoric ramblings (both physically and verbally) for us and a shedload of new ideas and "what ifs" to ponder.
Posted by Vicster
17th August 2011ce
Edited 17th August 2011ce