The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Langdale Axe Factory

Ancient Mine / Quarry


03/10/09 The Siren Call.

Autumn truly arrived to the fell country on a day that saw me wandering alone amongst the Great Langdale stone axe factories. What lay in store should have been obvious when I was halted in my tracks by the wind, a fiendish rushing of air that nearly flattened me, raging down Mickleden, as if it was trying its best to pick up the ancient cairns dotted around and fling them as far as Ambleside. What followed next can only be described as taking an outdoor power shower. It was hard to see through the deluge, and, with the wind, it was painful to any exposed flesh. Well, the forecast had said to expect gusts of 85mph.

My main objective was an exploration of the Martcrag Moor site. At the head of Mickleden, by the old sheepfold, I headed up the Stake Pass track, the beck roaring down on my right. Some of it was roaring down anyway, with the exception of the waterfalls, which were being blown vertically upwards.

With some relief I managed to cross the beck at the top, and was soon on the top of Martcrag Moor, taking welcome shelter behind the rough grey rocks that mark the highest part. By now shafts of sunlight were stabbing into the valley from a tempestuous sky, storm-wracked and spectacular. Would the axe-makers have turned out in these conditions, I wondered.

Between Martcrag Moor and Pike of Stickle there is a flat col, known for its peaty, boggy ground. Erosion repair was under way, the workers absent, with sheep fleeces being laid as a base, before compressed gravel was laid on top, in order to prevent the repaired track from sinking. An ancient practice, apparently. It is around this spot that I had found flakes from axe production before, exposed where the peat had eroded away. They were there again, more being exposed by the increased erosion. There is a certain excitement for me in seeing the clean stone, as if it had been worked last week, with the purcushion marks clearly visible. The outer stone is a whiteish colour, but inside it is a wonderful blue-green. No doubt other evidence of working floors exists beneath the carpet of peat, but I can't see any excavations taking place in the forseeable future. Despite a good search, I couldn't find any other sites.

I went up onto Pike of Stickle, with the wind rushing up its precipitous slopes, before going down to the top of its huge axe factory scree. This is a very impressive place, with a humongous amount of stone. Pity most of it has headed valley way.

Not for me the precarious descent today. I was heading for the Thorn Crag site, taking in the Loft Crag site en-route. It was still a tad breezy, the difficulty not being finding the prehistoric evidence, but keeping on my feet. Loft Crag has stone chippings emerging from the peat on its eroded sections, but the peat is a much shallower deposit hereabouts. The clean chips are easy to spot, with very sharp edges. It's hard to believe what your eyes see. Prehistoric "finds" are usually to be found in museums, not to be found at random on a days wanderings.

A couple of hundred yards away, over at the Thorn Crag site, I inspected the stony depressions that mark the quarry. Here again is evidence of stone-working, with flakes, and larger pieces, broken to expose the beautiful blue-green core, surrounded by a shell of white or terracotta. A lot of the debris lie over the edge, down in the upper reaches of the aptly named Dungeon Ghyll. As an aside, "Ghyll" is a Victorian affectation for the Norse word "Gill". Both spellings can be found on maps of the area. I made a note to go down into the gill on another day, and take a look at the spoil.

I hadn't met another soul, which was hardly surprising, as the saying goes that only mad dogs and TMA-ers go out in the morning storm. I finished the day with an ascent of Harrison Stickle, just for the view, as there were one or two sunny spells appearing, and the wind had reduced to a mere gale. Down by Stickle Tarn I went, where evidence of temporary occupation and working by the stone axe makers has been found, followed by a descent to the valley beside Mill Gill, a truly spectacular waterfall today, foaming white the whole length of its dash to the dale.

I had been a rewarding day, what with the battle with the elements, the stupendous mountain scenery, and last but not least by the site of something tangible from the past: a link with the industry of our Neolithic ancestors, the by-product of their labours.
The Eternal Posted by The Eternal
27th October 2009ce

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