Isn't it great when you chance upon a site that you assume will be a minor deviation but ends up blowing you away? Well for me such a site was Sunbiggin Tarn stone circle last Wednesday.
After spending a good chunk of the day at the frankly wondrous Rayseat Pike Long Cairn, I find I've an hour and a half to spare before dark. Although not shown on the 1:25 map, a quick delve into my trusty TMA list reveals directions to the site (cheers Fitz). Oh go on. Why not, then?
The scenery roundabouts, here in the 'no-man's land' between Lakeland and The Yorkshire Dales, is truly worthy of much more than a passing visit, a wild uncompromising landscape to lose yourself within - in a metaphorical as opposed to physical sense, you understand. Couldn't be doing with the latter.
Climbing the small hill, the first impressions of the site were 'hang on, there's nothing here', until the very diminutive stones, surrounding what appeared to be a cist, slowly materialised from the long grass. The sinking sun flooded the landscape with golden light, sparkled upon the waters of Sunbiggin Tarn and highlighted Rayseat Pike standing on it's ridge to the south-east. What with the Howgills crowning the horizon it suddenly dawned upon me that this was a very special place indeed and I didn't want to leave.......
You see it's true. Size isn't everything. Sometimes it's of no consequence whatsoever.
I have lots of daft notions about trying to identify significant prehistoric sites along the borders of Yorkshire and Cumbria. I can't accept that the monuments and rock art just stop in a certain place and then re-start a few miles down the road.
I recently visited the circles of Rey Cross. Lune Head and Mudbeck they all exist in this megalithic 'liminal zone' and I was hoping that the circle at Sunbiggin Tarn would be more of the same.
The circle is quite easy to locate as long as you get yourself on the right road. Sunbiggin Tarn is signposted at Raisbeck.
Once you have past the tarn you will encounter a small hill to your right, park up on the verge and walk up the few dozen metres to the top of the hill then look north-north-east and you should see a few low stones in the long tussocky grass.
Once you reach the circle you'll see at least 20 small low stones half buried in the grass surrounding a number of central stones. The diameter of the circle is approximately 5 metres. The stones are a mixture of shap granite and other stones including sandstone.
There are two possible outliers to the circle both 11 metres from the ring one to the north and the other to the south west.
My best guess is that this is a ring cairn, possibly a double ring cairn.
As stone monuments go this one is fairly small and insignificant but I think the location is the key element here. The circle overlooks the tarn and has beautiful views over to the majestic Howgill fells. To the west of the circle are the dramatic limestone scars of Knott and Great Asby which jutt out into the lovely Lune valley.
If your planning to visit Gamelands I would recommend adding this lovely little ring to your itinary.
Fitz, I'm sure you will appreciate this little titbit with regard to your enthusiasm for this area. It's not like I'm saying it's a definite prehistoric find of course. But it echoes similar things at least:
In digging peats near the east end of Sunbiggin-tarn, about 1730, two pair of bulls horns, jumped together in the posture of fighting, were found, and one pair of them was to be seen at Howgill Castle in 1777.*
The east side would be that nearest the cairn. And of course you've got 'Cow Dub' to the south (pool / black cow?) - another bovine connection. Well to be honest they could be any horns. But they must have been impressive to be taken to the castle. I was thinking 'how do horns survive in (acidic) peat?' but actually bog bodies have demineralised bones and Lindow Man has got lovely fingernails. So they could be old.
*The Beauties of England and Wales by John Britton, v14 1813, p 152.
J & P.J. Cherry reported this site in 1987 in their publication 'Prehistoric Habitation Sites on the Limestone Uplands of Eastern Cumbria'
They describe the site as "A small kerbed cairn or circle, five metres in diameter, comprising twenty stones. In the centre a further six stones are visible".