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Welshbury (Hillfort)

A very overdue visit on 17.12.2016.

It's the best part of 7 years since I added this site to TMA, so really about time I made the effort to come here. Heeding the warnings of Carl's approach, I come at the site from Little Dean to the south, via the edge of the woods below Chestnut Inclosures. It's been a claggy, misty December day and the light is dull, tendrils of mist rising from the Severn a couple of miles or so to the east.

Where the path Carl was on gets to the southern edge of the hill, a narrower footpath heads north up the hill - it might be easy to miss this in summer as the vegetation seeks to strangle it, so look out for a stile into a field on the south, which is opposite the entrance to the footpath. Coming from this direction the ascent is at its most gentle, the steeper slopes of the hill are on the north and east sides.

Before reaching the fort, there is a meeting with a remarkable tree, a massive beech of huge height and girth, and great age for the species. The woods here are a lovely mix of deciduous trees, birch and beech, oak and chestnut. The footpath arrives at the southern tip of the fort, where a bank rises on the right but nothing on the left, making it a little difficult to gain bearings of the layout at first. In fact the fort is an irregular shape, like a "q" with this bank being the western side of the short tail (in fact it's very similar in layout to Midsummer Camp on the Malverns). It's immediately apparent that the banks here are stone-built, plentiful mossy stones protruding through the winter cover of dying vegetation.

Because of this disorientation I initially keep heading north rather than following the bank around. The ground is still rising slightly, with a big drop now becoming apparent on the right (east). Soon I reach a confused junction of banks and ditches, which resolve themselves into the point where the tail of the "q" meets the body. The drop the east is now quite severe, with any view curtailed by the heavy tree cover and mist rising from the river valley beyond. Without the trees I imagine I might be standing in the thin upper reach of a temperature inversion.

Deep leaf litter muffles my footfalls. Towards the north I come to a clearer circle, a fairy ring among the trees. This is the only clear and relatively flat spot within the fort interior, and makes a good place to stop and take in the quiet of the woods on this somewhat eerie day.

At the northern end the ground drops very abruptly, a 5 metre drop from the top of the rampart to the next level down. It seems that this has been created by terracing the naturally steep slope rather than needing to create a wholly artificial defence, but it would certainly be a formidable obstacle and provides an excellent vantage over the valley below.

The killer construction though is on the west. Here a massive inner bank towers above two further lines of bank and ditch. There is a wide space between inner and middle defences, which gives the impression that the outer ditches are slight and shallow in comparison. This impression is quickly dispelled by dropping down the slippery slope for a closer look, which reveals the middle ditch to be a good 6 feet deep.

Near the southwestern corner, the lines of ramparts are crossed by a slightly raised causeway, but it's not clear whether this represents an original feature or a later intrusion. Either way it's a pretty steep climb back up to the inner rampart.

Disembodied voices and the bark of a dog rising from the valley settlement below to the west, the screech of an irate squirrel somewhere in the trees above me and seagull cries from the Severn are the only noises to interrupt the quiet. No boars today, although grubbings and scrapings in the soft earth at the top of the hill appear to indicate their occasional presence.

The day has been grey throughout, and this close to Midwinter the light fails early. By the time I've walked around the site and its defences, it's getting towards 4 o'clock and already darkening. Although it's a fairly compact fort, the multiple lines to explore make it feel bigger and it's taken me a good hour to get round it. It's an atmospheric place, and one that would repay a visit on a sunny spring day before the canopy refills and the brambles entwine the accesses.

Gwern Einion stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

It occurred to me after the visit that, with its flat top and broad base, this stone would make an ideally shaped orthostat for a chambered tomb.

Gardom's Ring Cairn

The path makes its descent, cutting through a cairnfield of pretty large, irregularly shaped cairns. The Gardom’s Edge ring cairn is completely hidden by bracken, but can be spotted by the forked silver birch that grows from its embanked edge. Once found, the course can be followed round easily enough, but really this is a place for a winter visit if you want to see it properly.

The Three Men of Gardoms (Cairn(s))

We follow the arc of Meg’s Walls south, before leaving the wood to emerge at the Three Men cairn. The three stone piles are clearly modern, but they sit on a much larger footprint. The views from here are great, looking down on Baslow as the sun sinks further. It’s starting to get colder and it won’t be long now until dark, so we press on without lingering.

Gardom's Edge (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art)

Next up, we encounter the stonework of Meg’s Walls. Half-buried in the undergrowth, too large to take in easily, this is a fascinating survivor enhanced by a lovely woodland setting. But we’re really here for rock art. After a bit of rooting about in the undergrowth, we find it on the edge of the woods, looking towards the steep western face of Birchen Edge. The light is now too low to illuminate the panel, but casts a soft orange glow across the moor ahead of us.

Despite knowing that it’s a replica, the panel itself is still very impressive. I love the variety of patterns, whatever it represents – or doesn’t. Water has collected in the deepest cup, reflecting the slender trees and blue sky above, an ever open, all-seeing eye on the world.

Gardoms Standing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

The main reason for coming here is the rock art panel, so memorably filled with pink flowers by Postman a few years ago. But first, I’m hoping to find the standing stone, something of a rarity in this area. We walk through the woods, trying to stay away from the treeless edge, as I know the stone won’t be found there. It turns out to be further south than I’d realised, another site that the Ordnance Survey map doesn’t show. Eventually it makes itself known, as we get towards the higher part of the wood. The light has gone strange now, the low sun filtered around the edges of a bank of cloud giving an ethereal glow to the woods and the stone.

The stone is a good one, a little taller than I imagined and different from each angle and direction. Like many of the best standing stones, it gives off a feeling of sentience. Even though I know this is just projection on my part, it’s hard to shake once felt. There’s no malignance, or beneficence, just a presence. I often find woodland sites hard to leave, and the stone definitely exerts a pull. As we leave I’m compelled to look back, Orpheus to Eurydice.

Barbrook I (Stone Circle)

The third of today’s stone circles, and very different again from the other two. This is yer classic Peaks embanked circle, compact and neat. Unlike, say, Nine Ladies, the stones are quite varied in size, although with no particularly obvious grading towards a compass point. The top of one of the stones has cupmarks, something I was completely unaware of, but which recalls the stone at Stanage we visited yesterday.

When we first got into stone circles, I read that the Barbrook sites and Big Moor were closed for environmental reasons – this was in the days before the Countryside and Rights of Way Act opened up swathes of access land, and before the internet might have told me different – so we never came here on our earlier Peaks holidays. As I’ve felt throughout these last three days, the long wait has both sharpened and sweetened the experience of finally coming to these sites. They compare with the best.

The proximity of the track perhaps keeps this from quite reaching the heights of Barbrook II as a place to find solitude, but in truth no one passes our way in the time we’re here. We will definitely be back here.

Barbrook cairns (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

The cairn cemetery lying between Barbrook II and Barbrook I proves well worth a stop off. A widely varied group, mostly dug into in the mid-19th century, many have excellent kerbs. The star of the show is the rebuilt cairn closest to Barbrook I, a bit of a classic of drystone edging about four courses high. One of the stones in the surround shows an interesting weathered pattern that is probably natural, but just possibly could be the very eroded trace of cupmarks.

From here we drop slightly to Barbrook I.

Barbrook II (Stone Circle)

Barbrook II is a bit of an enigma. A circle of free-standing stones, enclosed within a thick drystone wall that stands only slightly lower than the tops of the stones. I’m instantly in love with this place. We’ve never been before, another omission long awaiting correction. The circle feels utterly secluded, the wall and stones are low enough to escape attention from anyone but a deliberate visitor, especially as the Ordnance Survey map perplexingly shows no sign of the circle or nearby cairns at all, other than a misleading “field system” label.

This is somewhere to spend time, to watch the clouds and the changing light over the moor. We sit here for a while, no-one comes, nothing intrudes. There are lots of details, the burial cairn inside the circle, the large stone propped against the outside of the drystone wall, there’s also a cupmarked stone in the central cist but I don’t even notice it. The next time I come – and I really hope that isn’t too long away – I’ll pay more attention to these little elements, but today I’m so overwhelmed by the whole that I couldn’t really care less. Perfect.

Barbrook III (Stone Circle)

The first site of the day, Barbrook III will be the most difficult to find, rendered so by small stones and tall grasses. Leaving the embanked edge of the reservoir behind, we follow a faint path NNE, hoping that the stones will show themselves. Arriving at a darker ring of bracken, obvious amongst the pale oranges of reedy grass, I concede that we’ve gone too far this time, so we head slightly downhill and back on ourselves. Soon after the first stone appears, barely peaking its head above the vegetation. Then another, and another, and another. This is a laugh out loud circle, so easy to miss yet huge in size, if not stones, once discovered.

It’s a bit squelchy, the stones are half-hidden, their spacing makes it hard to photograph more than a couple at a time, but it’s truly wonderful. The relative flatness of the moor makes the surroundings somewhat undramatic, but instead there is a sense of secrecy that has a charm all of its own. The play of light on the rising ground to the west, the gnarly lichen on one of the stones, the patterns of erosion and wear on the upper surfaces of others, all combine into a near perfect experience. We can see cars on the road, walkers in the distance, but it seems almost unthinkable that any of them might ever come here. Hidden in plain sight, a gem all the more precious for its coyness.

Eyam Moor Barrow (Cairn(s))

The barrow is a mess, the shape all but gone, straggling and ragged at the edges. But there’s still a lot of stone here, indicating that the upheaval wasn’t about robbing for walls. And the setting is perfect, better than the circle itself as it’s that bit closer to the northern lip of the moor. The countryside drops to a patchwork of green fields in the Derwent valley, with Hathersage the obvious settlement below. Beyond and above, the hills rise again towards the high uplands above Edale, the moors of South Yorkshire and the edges around Higger Tor.

Our rainbow makes its last appearance of the day, a welcome splash of colour against the grey. I should have come here years ago, but it’s still a sweet pleasure to come now.

Wet Withens (Stone Circle)

As the sun starts to come out, it picks out a light grey amongst the browns and reds, revealing the presence of the mutilated cairn next to Wet Withins. With that fixed, the eye then finds the darkly curving bank of the stone circle itself, with one larger stone standing out at its edge.

Wet Withens is another Peaks site that has lived in my mind and on my imaginary list for a long time. A feature in Burl’s guide, apart from the one swiftly abandoned attempt so long ago it’s eluded me up until now.

Rather like Gibbet Moor yesterday, some of the joy of coming here is undoubtedly borne from relief and satisfaction at actually getting here. But as well as that, it’s a terrific site. Bigger than I expected, the clearly defined bank and neatly placed stones make it a wonderful example of the ubiquitous Peak District embanked stone circle. Add to that the colours of the moor, freshly scrubbed from the recent soaking and illuminated by the sun against the dark backdrop of billowing clouds, and we’ve got a bit of a classic going on.

Stanage (Cup Marked Stone)

Where the ground once again levels off, Stanage cairn sits to the east of the path, surrounded by heather but prominent enough to stand clear of it. It’s a flat-topped mound at least 15 metres across, with a rubble bank poking through the vegetation on its circumference. It enjoys a great view to the north, with Mam Tor just peaking over Abney Moor. The most striking landscape feature from here is Win Hill, which reminds me of the Sugarloaf/Pen y Fal in South Wales. A good cairn in a lovely spot, but the real gem here is the cup marked stone in the edge of the monument.

I’ve been aware of this stone for the best part of two decades, simply because I bought a postcard of it in Bakewell bookshop a long time ago. Somehow I’ve never quite found the time to get here until now, but it’s even better in the flesh. The cupmarks are large and cover two sides of the stone, as well as its top. We stop here for a while, watching the wind push the rain clouds of earlier further east, before revealing one last gift, an incomplete rainbow hanging beautifully over Win Hill. There are moments when time stops and lets you breathe, completely at peace. This is one of those, fleetingly brief but eagerly snatched.

Hob Hurst's House (Burial Chamber)

We came to Hob Hurst’s House on our second Peak District holiday, pretty much exactly 18 years ago to the day. I remember a walk through the woods above Chatsworth, then crossing a boggy and wet moor under increasingly heavy rain. We were ill-dressed for open November moorland in the rain, and our first visit to a chambered tomb left both of us soggy and underwhelmed.

Since then we’ve been to a lot more prehistoric sites, and I’ve wanted to return here for ages. Funny how your memory is both accurate in details and completely faulty in the broader picture. As soon as we get here, I instantly remember the shape, size and layout of the mound with its squared-off bank and ditch. But I don’t recall the exposed stones of the chamber at all. I also have a recollection of a fairly flat landscape, perhaps the rain and cloud condensed the world around us that day. Today the views to the south are extensive and sweeping, taking in the deep valley of Beeley Brook, with the sharp line of Harland Edge above, then onwards to rising ridges and long hillsides fading into grey. The unmistakeable feature on the skyline is Minninglow, for all that I’ve never been there. For the second time today Stubob’s presence in these hills is palpable. Eyup Stu.

We stop here for a while and have a proper look at the chamber, noticing that the mound itself appears to be built at least partly of stone, another thing missed the first time. It’s too damp to sit and my wet feet are beginning to make me cold, and in any case there’s one more reacquaintance to be made today, so we head off downhill, following the line of the wood until we reach a field boundary.

Gibbet Moor North (Stone Circle)

Gibbet Moor is access land, and we make our way uphill, along a sturdy track running southwest from where the road crosses Umberley Brook. TMA shows all sorts of sites up here, but I only have eyes for the stone circle, three stones remaining of what might be a rare non-Scottish example of a “four poster”.

I know the circle is somewhere about 500m to the southeast of the point where the track meets a drystone wall. From here the tussocky, reedy grass and patches of heather look decidedly unappealing and lacking in paths, but this is where we need to go. Setting off into the slight unknown, the vegetation isn’t as bad as it looked, low enough to step through without snagging ankles and feet. But it is wet, and within 20 yards of leaving the track my feet are soaked in my old boots. Nice.

We wander around the gently sloping hillside looking for small stones in every reed clump and heather swell. There are plenty of stones, little stones, bigger stones, outcrops and individual rocks. But nothing resembling three stones of a circle. At one point I head towards an odd looking line of upright pallets, but nothing leaps out from the grasses.

We’ve been going around in circles for about 40 minutes before I finally decide to look properly at the photos on TMA. The first couple are by Stubob, one showing the recognisable dark swell of East Moor, the next looking north across the valley towards a distinctive clump of trees on the opposite hillside. The conditions are different to our dull grey skies and distant snow, but the landmarks are unchanged. Getting to a position where both photos match the view from where we are involves heading into a particularly soggy patch of reedy grass, close to one of the pallets I noticed earlier. And suddenly, there they are: three stones, unmistakeably slim and upright, their heads barely poking above grasses. Without Stu’s photos we’d probably still be there now, so much gratitude is due to the Peaks pioneer.

The lengthening grasses are threatening to drag the stones under, appearing quite a bit taller than in the previous photos. But despite the soggy setting and the even soggier feet, despite the small size of the stones and the absence of a fourth stone, I really like this site. Perhaps it’s partly the sense of relief and satisfaction at actually finding the circle, but it has a lot of charm. The views to the northwest and north are fine, across the valley and out to the distant edges. At this time of year the reedy grasses are a lovely shade of orange, which sadly the recalcitrant sun fails to properly light while we’re here. The stones are well chosen, shapely and lightly tapering. Whether this ever was a four stone circle, or just a three stone setting, I guess we’ll never know. But it’s well worth a visit, just wear something waterproof on your feet.

Park Gate Stone Circle

Park Gate stone circle is not visible from the track, so it’s a matter of following the route until it starts to turn northwest, where another fainter path heads off north onto the moor again. There are a couple of stones in the circle that are big enough to stand above the reedy grasses, so it’s a lot easier to see than Gibbet Moor was earlier.

This is the second revisit of the day, as we came here in 1998 on the same day as Hob Hurst’s House. At the time it was the fourth stone circle I’d been to, after Arbor Low, Nine Ladies and Nine Stones Close, three of the Peak District’s big hitters. So it’s probably not a great surprise that it felt a bit of a disappointment after those sites. Although there are at least ten stones in the circle, many of them are small and overwhelmed by the tufty, reedy grass that surrounds the site. The biggest stone, on the southwest of the circle, is leaning at an alarming angle over the top of a pit that threatens to swallow it whole if it ever goes the rest of the way. The most striking stone is the one on the east, a shapely upright with what appears to be at least one cupmark and some other dents that are apparently bullet holes and do have a ragged outline. This is the stone I remember from our first visit, and indeed the only one that I have a photo of.

For all that, it’s actually a really good circle. In the 18 years since I last came, I’ve been to a lot of wrecked, dishevelled, uncared for, ploughed out, vandalised and generally unloved sites. So although there’s also been a lot of awe-inspiring, stop-you–dead-at-50 paces classics over the same period, my expectations are very different to how they were back then. Now, I see a fine circle in a good setting, looking towards Harland Edge particularly. It could do with a de-vegging, as the long grass is detracting from the sense of the whole site. Circle stones needn’t be enormous to make an impression, as anyone who’s had the pleasure of Cerrig Duon or Nant Tarw could attest. But they do need to be kept visible, and a judicious tidy up here would do it wonders.

The only disappointment really is the terrible dullness of the day. It’s not even 2:30 but it feels like dusk, as though the sun has given up and set early, leaving a crepuscular greyness to the scene, even with the autumn colours of the moor. We head back to the track and head west.

Beeley Moor (Ring Cairn)

The final site of the day is Beeley Moor ring cairn, an easy visit as it’s right next to the track. So near in fact that the track is slowly nibbling away at its northern arc. The monument itself is quite heavily overgrown with heather and scrubby grass on the circumference and bracken in the centre. Stones protrude from the bank here and there. It’s reasonably upstanding, but worth a stop off mainly for the excellent views down to the valley below.

Cranham Corner (Enclosure)

Visited 15.3.2009 as a precursor to a walk to the hugely impressive Painswick Beacon hillfort.

A triangular enclosure in a triangular piece of woodland, close to the busy A46 but far enough away for the noise to be left behind. Very overgrown even in spring. The enclosing banks are quite well defined though, under their covering of brambles and ivy.

No-one seems sure of the date, but its proximity to the Iron Age camp at High Brotheridge may be significant.

Maen Morddwyd (Standing Stone / Menhir)

22 September 2016

The coast path runs a hundred yards from the church at Llanedwen, so it's no hardship to detour off for a quick rummage around the churchyard. Cloudless blue sky, sun sparkling on the deeper blue of the Menai Straits, a picture perfect backdrop of the mountain ranges of North Wales from Carneddau to Nantlle ridge, this couldn't be a nicer spot for a hill-free post-equinox walk.

Llanedwen is one of two possible locations for Maen Morddwyd, fittingly for its reputation as a wandering stone. The other is Llanidan, a couple of miles further along our route today.

Rhiannon has found lots of slightly contradictory information about the stone. The sources don't seem to agree about which church(yard) it's in, none really give a description other than the fact it's shaped "like a thigh" and all of them predate some fairly big upheavals at both sites. And they seem to agree that it went missing before all of that anyway. There seems to be a lack of engravings, woodcuts, potato prints, watercolours and etchings of the stone.

Llanedwen church has been completely rebuilt, but appears to have retained its original churchyard. Llanidan by contrast was replaced by a brand new church, with the original left to fall into disrepair, ruin and private ownership.

So I hold out little hope of finding the missing stone, but it's always worth a look. Now, I'm not claiming anything here, just reporting what I found.

Round the back of the church (the east end if you like your directions more directional), just inside the wall but not part of it, is a slim, slightly tapering stone, buried in the ground so that its top surface and the upper parts of its sides are visible above the grass.

It's the shape of a chunky human thigh, if that's what you want to see. It's a little over 2 feet long, broader and one end that the other, much like a thigh.

The church itself is locked, so there's no opportunity to investigate the interior for further thigh-shaped stones. When we get to Llanidan a little later in the day, the whole site is locked, but someone over on the portal has drawn a blank in there. So this might be the best bet we have. Or it might be nothing at all.

Is it Maen Morddwyd? No idea. I don't even know if this is the right churchyard, after all. But it's nice to do a bit of investigative nosing about, especially in such a lovely spot.

Rhino Rift Barrow (Round Barrow(s))

My route heads east again, passing one barrow on the map that doesn’t appear to exist anymore, a load of the cutest spring lambs you ever saw, and then the obvious mound of Rhino Rift barrow. It’s perched above the edge of a steep sided wooded ravine, which presumably is the Rhino Rift itself. The barrow is not round, rather it’s an elongated shape, higher at one end than the other. I’m not surprised to read Chance’s post that it has been considered as a possible long barrow, although it’s not that long.
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