|I'm a great lover of the British weather, rain, hail, wind, sun, snow I love them all. The only weather that I dislike is offshore fog. All offshore workers dread waking up to the mournful wail of the foghorn as it means only one thing, you're not going home.
So there I was, fog-bound with a camping trip to the Channel Islands planned. A trip I I'd looked forward to for the past few months. I'd researched the archaeology of the islands, compiled notes, I'd even bought some new lightweight camping kit.
But, there was nothing for it, stuck offshore, I had to cancel the trip, Bummer!
I needed a new destination for when I did finally manage to get home and as on previous occasions my attention turned to Cumbria. Cumbria holds a deep fascination for me. A few years ago I decided that rather than attempt to see all the sites, I would concentrate on distinct areas and then by visiting and re-visiting the area I would hopefully I would begin to gain some understanding as to why the monuments were located where they were and how they relate to each other.
Most of my wandering have been around the eastern margins of Cumbria however I have recently been making the odd forays onto the coastal plain. I decided this time I would continue with this by visiting the south west and have a look at Lacra and Burnmoor, two upland sites with multiple monuments and possible coastal associations.
The journey over the Pennines to Cumbria was lightened by the sight of green- canvassed horse drawn Gypsy caravans retuning home from the Appleby Horse Fair. The caravans were invariably driven by bare-chested blokes, walking their wagons up the inclines to spare the horses. It was a marked contrast watching the Gypsies taking their time, stopping and re-grouping in the lay-bys and road side cafes whilst the modern world hurtled by. It wasn't all picture book gypsies though, there were also plenty of chrome trimmed show caravans towed by ford transits or ugly 4x4' pick-ups hurtling along the dual carriageway with trotting carts strapped onto their backs.
I pulled off the A66 at Kirby Stephen and made my way through the Pennine foothills and Howgill Fells to the M6 and then into Southern Cumbria with occasional glimpses of the Irish Sea opening up in front of me. A journey from coast to coast never fails to thrill me, two seas in one day. I eventually arrived at Kirksanton, parked-up and set off on foot for the Giants Graves.
I took the short walk here from Kirksanton.
This pair of beautiful stones on the edge of a stoney field appear to point to the Whicham valley and a possible route into the central fells via the Duddon valley and the Wrynose pass.
More importantly, they should also be seen as part of group of coastal monuments that include the nearby lost circles of Kirkstones, Hall Foss and Annaside. Beckensall in Prehistoric Rock Art of Cumbria quotes J. Ecclestone (1872) as reporting 'six stone circles, a Giants Grave, and a huge cairn south of the Esk.'
In his recent book Prehistoric Monuments of the Lake District, Tom Clare reports a buried landscape around these stones including what appears to be a ring of pits around the stones and other cropmarks which include 'timber henges or roughly circular palisaded enclosures with internal and concentric pits.'
I find it rather sad that these stones are all that's left of this once magnificent landscape, but then again at least they are still there and have not been destroyed, unlike many of our lowland prehistoric monuments.
Access is very good. It's possible to park at the field gate beside the level crossing and then it's just a short walk down a bumpy field margin footpath.
After visiting the Giants Graves I back-tracked into Kirksanton and headed up to Lacra.
From the village I followed the footpath that crosses the railway and then follows a sunken trackway uphill. As I walked up through the rough pastures I was aware of Black Combe, this hill is huge but in my opinion its presence is almost benign. This massive, soft, whale-back of a hill has to compete with two other even larger presences, the sea in front of it and the central fells behind it. Never the less Black Combe looked marvellous and reminded me of Benarty in Fife, part of the landscape but not domineering.
What drew my eye from the hill was the gentle curve of the coast, the estuaries and of course, the sea. As I reached the top of the hill I was able to look along the coast over Millom, the Duddon estuary, Barrow, Walney Island, and across Morecambe Bay into Lancashire and on to North Wales, and as my eyes got used to the haze I was able to make out the faint profile of the Isle of Man on the horizon.
Once at the top of the hill the terrier and I made our way over to Lacra B. We found the circle quite easily. The circle is sat in knoll on the hillside, all around the circle are large outcrops of bedrock jutting out through the turf at forty five degrees almost as if they are defending the stone ring.
The circle is composed of low stones and has definitely seen better days. The largest stone is just over a metre tall. It's possible to make out the slight rise of the central cairn but the thing that gives this circle its charm is the views, again it's the Duddon estuary, the coast and the coastal plain that draw the eye with Black Combe still visible over the brow of the hill.
I sat down in the circle and thought about how the land was used in the past, the estuaries and coast would have been an attractive place to live, Early man would have found this a rich place to forage and hunt. Wildfowl, shellfish, fish and animals would have lived here in abundance. Later, the pastoralists and farmers would have found the fertile Cumbrian plain ideal for raising stock; the surrounding hills would have provided summer pastures, much as they do today. The fertile soils of the coastal plain would also be an ideal place to plant and raise crops, the rivers running off the hills would have ensured an abundance of clean, fresh water, the wooded slopes providing an almost endless supply of timber for building and fuel.
The coast would have also provided the opportunity for contact with others. Archaeological evidence shows us that people have been navigating these coasts since at least the Neolithic, this part of Cumbria would have been an ideal stopping-off point for those early navigators steering a course to and from Wales, the Isle of Man, Southern Scotland or Ireland and they may well have used Black Combe as a guide.
From Lacra B the terrier and I walked west for a 100 or so metres to Lacra C. In the past these three stones have been interpreted as the ruins of a stone circle. Aubrey Burl is of the opinion that this is a fallen three, possibly four, stone row, which when you see the stones makes a lot more sense and besides that if anyone knows the difference between a circle and a row it's Mr Burl.
The stones themselves are quite low but of a decent size, they are aligned roughly north east-south west and are graded in size, the largest being the most northerly.
The largest stone also makes a handy seat to once again sit down and admire the views.
From Lacra C the terrier and I headed across the fields in search of the elusive avenues. After crossing some boggy low ground we came across a group of stones that more or less fitted Burls description of 'a few footballish boulders'. The eye of faith is definitely required here but given enough to-ing and fro-ing it is possible to make out an avenue. Saying that, if Mr Burl had said that they were just a fortuitous arrangement of boulders I would also agree with him.
I'm not too sure what to say about this site other than have a look for yourself and see what you think.
After puzzling with the avenues of Lacra C the dog and I headed up towards the ruined farm house and Lacra D, as we walked up a small rise a very large cow appeared at the top and started bellowing at us for all she was worth, we stopped dead and the cow was soon joined by another, equally as large and equally as aggressive. This was a little worrying, the cows were trying to tell us something and it definitely wasn't good news. In no time at all I picked up the terrier, stuck him under my arm, turned tail and ran. After a couple of minutes running I thought to myself, hang-on, I'm carrying a dog who could outrun me over any distance , so I dropped the dog on the deck and we both ran for the cover of the nearest wall. Once we reached the field entrance we stopped and looked back, the cows were still standing their ground, watching our every move. I decided that due to the fact that none of these fields had gates and those angry cows probably had calves, the best thing we could do was leave. So that's what we did, taking a leisurely stroll back down to Kirksanton.
I must admit, I was a little disappointed not to see Lacra D but there would be other days to complete our tour of what Burl describes as a meglithic 'melange'.
For future visitors. The path from Kirksanton is fairly steep and uneven so may not be suitable for everyone. For those who do make it up there, the megalithic remains are not very spectacular but are unusual and varied enough to justify the walk. The real rewards for getting yourself up to Lacra are the settings, the views are wonderful and are probably a huge reason why the sites are located where they are.
Posted by fitzcoraldo
28th June 2008ce
Edited 29th June 2008ce
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