In the past I have overcome many obstacles that have been presented to me on my stone circle odyssey, rivers, farmers, keepers, bulls, barbed wire, bogs, dogs, nettles and even fighting sheep. But today's challenge was a big one, possibly my biggest to date.
How to get safely across the trans-Pennine, four lane, full-on gladiatorial madness of the A66. I parked in a lay-by on the westbound carriageway of the road and got out of the car. Ray Mears could not help me here, there is no urban bushcraft solution to this one unless I could sit and whittle a set of traffic lights or a lollypop lady out of the discarded hubcaps and stripped wagon tyres. Standing there amongst the detritus of the road watching the wagons and cars hurtle by at frightening speed. ..Ah bollocks! I decided that all I could do was run for it.
I made it across the road and walked along the verge to the substantial earthworks of the Roman camp. The fence at the camp is low and quite easy to step over; armed with a copy of the SMR summary I located the most easterly entrance of the north wall and paced the 30 meters to the south.
Stone circle? What stone circle? I had risked becoming a road pizza for this?
If had walked past this site on a moor I would have barely given it a second glance.
I can't sit and write a decent description of this site because there is very little to say about the physical remains of the site other than it's pretty much unrecognizable as a stone circle.
There are two important things about this site.
1. It's location
2. Continuity of use.
This site is 400 metres above sea level on one of the bleakest Pennine moors in England. So why put a monument here?
This is the point where you can see both the Cumbrian Fells and the North Yorkshire Moors, this is the point where east coast meets west. Surely a place of some power. We know that there was an network of trade and exchange between the peoples of the west and east coasts of our islands. I think that this may have been one of the main prehistoric routes. This monument may have inspired and offered hope to travelers crossing the bleak Pennine uplands.
The continuity of use links in with the location. The Romans knew it and placed a heavily fortified road along the route of what is now the A66. It was also a significant route for later travelers as can be seen by the Anglian, Rey Cross.
A hundred or so metres west of the circle is the boundary between Cumbria and Durham and this route was also once the border between Scotland and England. So east meets west, north meets south all within sight of the wrecked circle.
On the face of it the Rey Cross circle is definitely 'one for the enthusiast' in terms of it's state of preservation. But on the other hand it is a site of extreme importance to anyone who is interested in the prehistoric and early northern peoples of our islands.
"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!"
The Ballard of East and West
"King Eric was treacherously killed by Earl Maccus in a certain lonely place which is called Stainmore, with his son Haeric and his brother Ragnald, betrayed by Earl Oswulf, and then afterwards King Eadred ruled in these districts".
Flowers of the Histories
Roger of Wendover
In his book "In Search of The Dark Ages"Michael Wood describes Eric as "The last king of the Northumbrian race"
A few more quotes relating to Rey Cross and Stainmore.
"Here was the boundary between the 'Westmoringas' and the Northumbrians, the old Glasgow diocesan border, and before that the frontier of the Cumbrians and the Northumbrians. The place is marked by the stump of a cross still called rey Cross, from the Norse word hreyrr, meaning boundary.
Some seventy years ago Prof. W. Collingwood identified this as an English-style cross with figured decoration, and suggests that it was done by an English sculptor and commisioned by sympathisers in York to commemorate their king".
"Eric's other monument survives in a more intelligible form. When his wife and family fled by sea from York to Orkney, a poet in their entourage composed his epitaph, the Eiriksmal. It is redolent of the old Scandanavian world, thoroughly pagan, soaked in the shamanistic inspiration of Odin".
"The lost History of the Ancient Northumbrians ended with Eric's death, and was rounded off with the king lists; 'Ever since, the Northumbrians have been mouring their lost liberty.' And of course, some of them still do!"
All Quotes from
In Search of the Dark Ages
Published by BBC Books
I believe the location of this circle is extremely significant and believe that it's location would have had a deep significance to people travelling across the Pennines from the north-east of England to the Cumbrian mountains following an ancient route as mentioned in my weblog "Langdale Axes, Trade Routes & The Birth of Mammon. The Ramblings of Fitzcoraldo".
It's position on the edge of Stainmore affords travellers their first glimpse of the Eden Valley and the Cumbrian Fells beyond.
It is also a site which illustrates continuity of use as can be seen by the substantial Roman remains, the Christian Cross, and the modern transpennine road.
This site also, in common with many other Megalithic monuments, has an asociation with the death & burial of a king or legendary figure, in this case Eric Bloodaxe.
Turned up this care of the wonderful MAGIC Map.
This is the only reference I can find to the circle and will be following it up shortly by taking my life into my hands trying to get across the A66.
The circle is described as "a roughly circular stone setting occupying a commanding position at the head of the Stainmore Pass. This is interpretted as a stone circle of Bronze Age date"
Taken from English Heritage's Record of Scheduled Monuments.