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

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Maeshowe (Chambered Tomb) — News

New Visitor Centre Open

Report from the Orcadian with details of the new visitor centre.

Soussons Common Cairn Circle — Images (click to view fullsize)

<b>Soussons Common Cairn Circle</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

Soussons Common Cairn Circle — Fieldnotes

Visited 5th February

It’s getting on in the afternoon, so looking for an ancient site that was a) easily accessible, with no massive hike required, and b) somewhere we’d never been before, limited the options somewhat. However a cursory look at the OS map seemed to show a likely candidate in the temptingly close to the road form of the Soussons Common cairn circle.

Heading south from Moretonhampstead on the B3212 we initially missed the turning, which probably in hindsight was a good thing, as it’s a very sharp left turn, which almost doubles back on itself. So turning around in the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ village of Postbridge, and back up the road, we headed down the lane signposted towards Widecombe.

Within a couple of minutes the circle was visible off to our left in a clearing screened by forestry. There’s plenty of space to pull in, and I scamper out of the car and into the perfect little circle of twenty-three stones.

It’s almost too perfect here but I’m immediately struck by the atmosphere, it feels so welcoming and homely. Sheltered but not overpowered by the trees, seemingly remote but accessible on the quiet moors, pristine but not over-restored, there is just something about the place. An old camper van is discretely parked on a forestry track nearby, and the smell of wood smoke emanating from its chimney, along with the sound of wood being chopped for the fire, somehow just adds to the cosy air of domesticity.

It’s too damp for sitting, but I stand in the circle and ponder, surrounded by the sounds of the wind in the trees, birdsong, and the aforementioned crusty’s axe work. The central cist is well grassed over now, with only the top edges of the cist stones remaining as a faded outline, such a shame that people fail to treat these places with the respect they deserve, but at least this part of the monument is now protected as it slumbers beneath the turf.

Another of Dartmoor’s many gems, the circle is intimate in size, yet still gives a feeling of the specialness of the place. Once cairn stones would have filled this space, but today instead it feels a place of life, a small posy of heather placed by one of the stones showing it still holds a significant meaning for some, of which I am one.

Nine Stones (Cairn(s)) — Fieldnotes

Visited 4th February 2017

There's surely nothing better than a pasty, a pint, and the prospect of seeing a hitherto unvisited stone circle. So as we finish up our lunch in the Tors Inn in Belstone, and I peruse the O.S. map, I couldn't feel more content.

Leaving the car at the pub we head off up the road past the old chapel/telegraph station (honestly!) towards the moor. It's been a while since I've tried to track down a new site with a map, and I'm hoping my navigational skills are not totally rusty, particularly if I'm looking for somewhere on a trackless moor, but at least the Nine Stones looks reassuringly close to the village.

Soon we reach the gate which opens on to the moor, there's space to park here if you want, but it's only a couple of minutes closer than where we left the car. Now checking the map I can see that we just need to head south-west to find the circle. It's been so long since I've been out in the field that I couldn't find my compass before setting off, but never fear, with modern technology to the rescue I turn to the compass function on my phone, only to discover that I first need to 'calibrate' it, which of course, requires a phone signal. Drifting between half a bar and emergency calls only, I manoeuvre the phone around as if attempting to signal by semaphore or perhaps deter a particularly persistent wasp, until just enough connection is made that the compass will now work.

Striking off across the moor we pass several walkers coming the other way, and quite a distinct and well-trodden path to follow. It's a crisp cold day, but blue skies soar above us, and the horizon is given a gauzy, soft focus look by a lingering vague mist in the distance. It's not long though before the stones of the kerb circle make themselves visible to our left, and I realise I probably didn't need the map and compass after all, so close are they to the path.

The first thing I'm struck by is the setting. The granite tops of Belstone and Higher Tors commanding the view as they overlook the circle, the landscape seeming very ancient indeed as you stand here amongst the stones.

Although called Nine Stones there are at least twelve by my count, and probably at one time even more. Nine I'm sure relates more to the sacred trinity of the number three in Celtic myth, as I'm sure does the etymology of the name Belstone itself, after the Celtic god of fire and the sun. Inside the circle there is an obvious depression in the centre, probably the remains of a cist, but it's really the setting and sense of place that affect me here.

Dramatic and windswept it feels remote, but is actually only about a ten minute walk from the village, hidden atop the moor, with the only sign of life a remote farmhouse to the west, a small stream and waterfall glistening as it cuts across the deeper green of the fields below us, and then of course the huge tors, like the fossilised remains of ancient leviathans as they dominate the moor.

Sadly I note that I must have missed the stones capering's, as it's 1pm now and everything is still, but you can't be too disappointed. It's a perfect place on a perfect day, the sky remains, dare I say it, a hazy shade of winter, but Bel must be pleased someone is taking an interest in his stones, as standing in the circle, the gentle warmth of the sun reminded me that the first stirrings of spring are at hand, and as life returns to the land, so I too feel alive here, such is the power still of 'old stones'.

Nine Stones (Cairn(s)) — Images

<b>Nine Stones</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Nine Stones</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Nine Stones</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

Holm of Papa Westray (Chambered Tomb) — Images

<b>Holm of Papa Westray</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Holm of Papa Westray</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Holm of Papa Westray</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Holm of Papa Westray</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Holm of Papa Westray</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Holm of Papa Westray</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Holm of Papa Westray</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Holm of Papa Westray</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

Holm of Papa Westray (Chambered Tomb) — Fieldnotes

Visited 13th June 20016

There are some places that you want to visit for so long that getting there becomes akin to a pilgrimage. Holm of Papay was one of those sites that took on an almost mythic quality for me. I’d figured that out of everywhere in Mr Cope’s big orange book, this would be one of the most difficult places to get to. I spend a lot of time on Orkney, but even from there it seems impossibly remote, and from the mainland a trip involves a jaunt on a number of ever smaller boat trips, like a matryoshka of ferries.

But today the stars are aligned, and we are standing under glorious sunshine outside the Co-op on Papay, looking down to sea, the holm dominating our view, with the distinctive green lump of the cairn unmistakable due to the curious chimney like structure poking out of the top.

Inside the Co-op a handy poster advertises trips to the Holm with a contact number to call, and an enquiry with the lady at the shop (whilst perusing the rather good selection of single malts) suggests that I first contact the Papay Ranger to see if anything can be arranged and she gives me his number. Outside I can just about get a mobile phone signal and eagerly enquire as to when it would be possible to get over to the Holm, ‘Well’, comes the reply, ‘I’m not sure whether anyone is heading over there today, and I’m not around this afternoon otherwise I’d take you over’, instantly my heart sank, with the reality that perhaps I should actually have tried to arrange things before coming over to Papay and expecting to automatically get a boat to the Holm, the luxury of being able to regularly hop onto ferries to pop over to the other islands having blinded me to this fact. ‘Leave it with me’, says the friendly neighbourhood Ranger, and I’ll phone Tim the boatman and see if he’s about’.

So with some hope restored we walk down to the shore, just to be tantalised further by the cairn smugly filling our view, across an achingly narrow gap of water. I’ve been in this position before, when we visited Shetland we tried to get across to Mousa broch, but the weather was so windy during our stay (what a surprise!) that all boats were cancelled, and we had to content ourselves with staring wistfully at the nearby object our quest. Today the sun sparkles off the sea and there is so little wind that for Orkney it may as well be dead calm, and to be prevented from a visit by my own lack of forethought would be the final irony. We daren’t wander too far away, as the vagaries of the phone reception means that the signal bars on my phone are flashing on and off like a strobe light. We decide to head back up to the Co-op, feeling a bit in limbo, but at least there we know we can receive calls.

It isn’t too long before the Ranger calls back, to tell me that Tim is going over to the Holm later to shear some sheep, so to head down to the pier at the allotted time and we could come along.

We have a wander around Papay for a couple of hours while we wait for our trip before making our way to the pier. Moored at the end is a small boat, The Dunter, looking like a mini landing craft, with around eight seats and a small ramp at the front, and soon a lady accompanied by a sheep dog turns up and introduces herself as Tim’s partner, and we chat amiably for a few minutes until Tim turns up accompanied by his son and daughter, also here to help with the shearing.

We clamber down some very sleep and slippery steps at the end of the jetty, and step into the boat, doing our best not to plunge into the water, and then donning life jackets we set off! The crossing is a short but exciting one, the small size of the boat makes you feel very close to the water, as small waves slap against the bow spraying us all with salt water, and Tangle the sheepdog stands at the prow like a figurehead. We pass close to seals hauled out on the skerries, who regard us curiously, and Tim slows the boat to give us a better look, also pointing out gannets, terns and eider ducks as we pass them.

Nearing the beach the chambered tomb looms ahead of us, looking longer than anything else I’ve seen on Orkney (save for Midhowe, concealed within its shed), and as the boat grounds on the sand and the front ramp is lowered we step gingerly through the brine onto the island.

At first it’s hard to believe I’m actually here. Tim and family head off to a ruined shieling along the coast, and we are left alone, with just the sea birds wheeling overhead. Trekking up the short distance to the tomb we get fine views out to sea, the water deep ultramarine around us, and Papay and Westray both visible behind . The original low entrance on the east side of the tomb is now blocked to access, instead relying on ingress through a ladder from the roof. Atop the mound I’m surprised to see the brick ‘chimney’ structure, so visible on the tombs profile, is actually just a plinth for an information board! It strikes me as somewhat bizarre that wasn’t placed at ground level set back form the tomb itself, rather than going for the silhouette of a submarine look, but I suppose the roof isn’t original anyway so it doesn’t really matter.

Hauling open the hatch I’m into the tomb like a rat down a drainpipe, and in the cool dim interior I drink it all in. It’s lot lighter than I was expecting, several skylights providing a good level of illumination, but just in case, tucked onto a ledge, is the good old municipal torch, so beloved of sites in Orkney. Also though just like the vast majority of such civically provided accessories the batteries have run out. I ponder on whose job it would be to change them, and whether there is a position vacant within Orkney Islands Council for a Chambered Tomb Torch Maintenance Operator (if so can I put in my application now please). Rather more helpfully there are also several rolled up sleeping mats, not for those who fancy overnighting in the tomb, but to lay on the gravelly floor in order to enable you to crawl into the very low side cells within suffering multiple puncture wounds.

The plastic sheeting mentioned in the Fear’s fieldnotes is nowhere to be seen, but it’s still a little damp in here, and once again I’m disappointed to see that a build-up of green algal growth is starting to accumulate on the stones, a sight seen across all of the concrete topped chambered tombs in Orkney. It’s doubly tragic here, where it makes the unique carvings found within the tomb all that much harder to make out, and I wish the roof had been re-constructed in dry stone instead. I’m not too disheartened though for this place is still amazing!

There are seemingly endless chambers to explore, and with my phone’s flashlight in hand I inch into the low openings to several of them on my back, the mats definitely proving their worth. As I shine the light around inside the dark side cells, scanning for carvings, shadows fleeing across the walls, all of my Indiana Jones fantasies come to life and I’m elated. Scurrying from one chamber to another (there are 12 to choose from) I try to pick out any patterns or carvings amid the slimy green film covering the walls. It’s then I find it, the unmistakable ‘eyebrows’, along with some cup-marks on a lintel of one of the side chambers. There are also hatched, vaguely diamond shaped scratches into the stone, visually reminiscent of some of the carved stones recovered from the Links of Noltland that we saw in the visitors centre on Westray a few days ago.

We end up spending some considerable time in the tomb, its light and roomy interior making it a pleasant place to spend a while (if you’re into ancient burial sites that is), but with always half an eye on the clock, we know there is still a plane to catch back to Kirkwall later, and we will need to go and find Tim to interrupt him from his shearing before he can take us back, so regretfully it soon becomes time to leave.

I hope to try and catch a glimpse of the remains of other two chambered tombs as we walk across the island, but the large cleft of a geo cutting across our path on the way to forces us to backtrack and there’s just not time.

Before long we’re climbing back aboard The Dunter, on our way back to Papay. The trip to the Holm has cost £25 each, the flights from Kirkwall another £35, but the experience is priceless.

I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who gets a thrill out of these ancient places, and more than likely you’ll have the island to yourself! My one tip would be to plan the trip way in advance though. Luckily everything fell into place for us, and although the whims of the Orkney weather are not something you can plan on you can at least check things out with the Papay Ranger (he’s on Facebook) or phone 01857 644224, you won't regret it!

Knap of Howar (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork) — Fieldnotes

Visited 13th June 2016

The Knap of Howar is somewhere that captivated me as soon as I saw it in the papery TMA. A finely preserved ancient house seemingly perched at the edge of the world, inviting exploration. So it was with no little sense of excitement that as an anniversary treat Ellen had booked us a flight to Papay and a visit was on the cards.

Flying to the island is an experience in itself, and a flight from Kirkwall actually costs no more than taking a car on the ferry to the outer islands, but the small size of the aircraft and limited number of flights mean that it gets fully booked very quickly, so it pays to plan ahead and book well in advance. This meant we had to take a gamble on getting a good days weather, but fortunately this gamble paid off handsomely.

After only twenty minutes in the air, the Orkney's spread below, verdant islets amongst the shimmering sea in this beautiful clear weather. After landing on Westray we get to stay on the plane as it makes the world's shortest scheduled flight to Papay, a mere five minutes, barely seeming to get airborne before putting us down again in this remote rural enclave.

The Knap of Howar is only a few minutes walk from the airfield, and after disembarking along with the two other passengers aboard the tiny eight-seater aircraft we turned one way down the road along the spine of the island whilst they headed off in the opposite direction, and within minutes we were alone.

It's hard to describe just how peaceful it is, there's no sound of vehicles, and no-one else in sight, only the calls of the birds and the gentle susurration of the sea. It's also distinctly warm, especially so for Orkney, and I begin to regret bringing my coat.

Soon we reach a crossroads around which are clustered some historic looking farm buildings. One direction seems to lead towards civilisation, or at least a couple of houses and the Papay Community Co-op shop, the other, helpfully signposted to the Knap of Howar, leads through the farmyard. It all seems strangely quiet here, no sign of animals or people, but soon a fenced off part of the field near to the shore is visible, which obviously contains the structure themselves, and they're every bit as good as I'd imagined.

The two buildings form a dwelling with attached workshop/barn, right at the edge of the sea. The low doorways and the way the buildings seem to settle into the ground are reminiscent of Skara Brae (minus the crowds), but here you are free to explore the interiors at will, and really get a sense of the place.

The interior is finely preserved, a large worn saddle quern sits opposite a recess in one of the walls, which I lean against and look out through the doorway to the sea. The thought of someone thousands of years ago bending down at this very spot to grind grain, with perhaps an occasional wistful glance outside just as I'm doing now, is really affecting. It's also the little details you spot that really bring the place to life, such as a recessed shelf, the backing of which is a darker slab than the rest of the wall, a fine piece of flagstone covered with fossilised stromatolites, providing a rich textured backdrop against which to display some treasured possessions.

As Kammer says in his fieldnotes it is serene here, you feel completely cut off from the modern world, and I could happily hang out here all day, especially in such lovely weather. I settle for having a sandwich whilst sitting by the quernstone, and thinking of those people who would have spent their lives here so long ago. But the lure of possibly visiting an even more remote and exciting site soon pulls us on, as we set off in search of someone to take us across to the Holm of Papay...

Knap of Howar (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork) — Images

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Sorquoy (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

Visited 12th June 2016

Now how have I missed this place before! It was only on a trawl through Canmore, trying to establish just how many standing stones remained in Orkney, that I noticed one on South Ronaldsay I’d previously missed. A further check on TMA showed this stone looked rather good, and armed with Wideford’s directions, on another fine sunny day, we headed off over the barriers towards St Margaret’s Hope.

The single track lane signed to St Peter’s Kirk leads you down toward the sea, the grey stone of the kirk itself soon appearing on the horizon, seemingly floating on the sea like grey stone ship. To the left of the road as we descend the slope the towering megalith of Sourquoy stands proud, furred with sea moss, and keeping its lonely vigil.

Down at the end of the road there is plentiful parking at the kirk, the stone clearly visible on its hillside just up the road. A short walk back up the lane shows the stone stands in a narrow gap between two fields now separate from the fence line. The narrow path seems to form some sort of drainage ditch, a gully running up the side of it, currently dry due to the recent fine weather, and there is just enough space to either side of the ditch to walk next to the fence towards the stone, and shortly the drainage channel ends allowing more space to approach the megalith.

And a fine stone it is, towering above you and with that particular aspect that South Ronaldsay stones have, whereby they appear to be standing sentinel and staring out to the ocean. Like the Moai of Easter Island they all seem to be faced toward the sea, in some way to watch out over the shore and peoples of the island, and perhaps the reasons for their erection were not dissimilar to those of the inhabitants of that far flung island.

There is certainly a fine view from the stone, the lucent sparkle of the sun on the sea causing me to don my sunglasses (who’d have thought I’d need them on Orkney!) and the warmth of the stone on my back promoting an overall sense of serenity.

Pulling myself away we wander back to the car, and just off down past the kirk is the lovely sandy bay of Newark. Sand Martins skim the beach and Oystercatchers nest in the fields along the shore, and I catch a glimpse of some chicks as they run between the shelter of overgrown tufts of vegetation, the warning peeps of the adult birds echoing across the sands as they wheel overhead. Just behind the church on the shore line stands a modern standing stone, erected to commemorate the millennium, a fine memorial carved with a variety of Pictish symbols and well worth a visit. It stands almost in line with its ancient neighbour, a handful of millennia separating the two, but the sense of sacred place remains, a connecting thread through the ages.

Sorquoy (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Images

<b>Sorquoy</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Sorquoy</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Sorquoy</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

Quoybirse (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Images

<b>Quoybirse</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Quoybirse</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Quoybirse</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Quoybirse</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

Quoybirse (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

Visited 9th June 2016

A glorious sunny day on our trip to Westray with barely a cloud in the sky, and in my continuing quest to track down all of Orkney’s standing stones I notice one marked on the O.S. map enticingly close to the road. I try to spot it in the fields at the side of the road whilst simultaneously trying not to fall off my bike or veer into oncoming traffic (fortunately not much of a problem on Westray) but the stone proves elusive, and I figure it’s probably one of those small stones not easy to spot unless you’re right on top of it, how wrong I would turn out to be!

The rest of the day is pleasant though, visiting some of Westray’s other archaeological treasures and on our way back down the island I cast a final longing glance towards the spot where the map indicates the standing stone and just spot a tantalising glimpse of what could be the tip of a menhir peeking above a rise in the field. We are next to a farmhouse called Braehead Manse & Reid Hall, and propping the bike at the side of the road I follow a rough track up the side of the farm buildings which seems to lead toward another derelict house. Soon though I encounter a barbed wire fence across the track, placed to corral a herd of somewhat truculent looking cows who now seem to be the derelict building’s inhabitants. Although there is no way through I get a better view of the stone, and it looks a whopper!

Not to be defeated in the hunt for a site I head back to the road, where Ellen points out a gate into the field to the south side of the farmhouse, a field thankfully free of bovine interlopers, and just visible ahead the top of the stone. And what a stone it is, a slate-like finger, squared off and rising around 11 feet from its base of packing stones. The top is covered with a bristly growth of lichens, whilst the lower corners are rubbed to a polished smoothness due to its use as a cattle rubbing post. The menhir stands atop a small rise close to a stone fieldwall, looking down to Pierowall to the north.

The ‘front’ of the stone, or at least its widest face, draws the eye toward the western hills of Westray, hills that are topped with a line of cairns. I wonder if this stone sentinel in some way was meant to delineate this area, signifying a boundary with the sacred high grounds beyond. In this way it reminded me of the Stone of Setter on nearby Eday, which also seemed to signify the start of an area rich in ritual sites. Standing here I can see the cairns atop the hills to either side framing the stone.

There’s nothing better than finding a site for the first time, particularly when it exceeds your expectations, like this stone has. The calls of Curlews and Oystercatchers, for me the soundtrack of Orkney, ring out around us, the sun warmed stone on my back providing a sense of snugness, and I think how perfect it is to be here. It’s more than just having ‘bagged’ this stone, but instead having found somewhere I’m captivated. One day I’ll return and walk to the cairns in the hills, to look down on the stone from above, but until then we’ll have to leave, with just enough time to spot some Puffins on the rock stack of the Castle O’ Burrian nearby.

The Fairy Knowe (Chambered Cairn) — Fieldnotes

Visited 6th June 2016

Cuween hill is one of the most wonderful chambered tombs on Mainland, like a scaled down version of Maes Howe, without the attendant crowds of that site, and somewhere you can spend time to take in the atmosphere of the place.

Today is a glorious sunny day, with no wind, almost unheard of on Orkney. I take the opportunity of the fine weather and long northern summer days to cycle from the house, out along the Old Finstown road, passing the brooding flanks of Wideford Hill, its chambered cairn hidden from view at this angle, towards the hills surrounding Finstown and my destination. Soon the great bowl of Heddle quarry becomes visible, like a giant bite taken out of the hillside, and in the foreground the green lump of the Fairy Knowe, highlighted by the strange piles of rocks which have been constructed behind it. When I first visited Cuween Hill I got very excited by what looked like a line of standing stones arrayed above the top of the chambered cairn, only to find stacks of stones instead of fine megaliths.

I leave my bike in the small parking area at the foot of the hill, and head up to the tomb, the heat of the sun, and the echoing call of a cuckoo, give the evening a very summer idyll. Clambering over the stile allowing access through the fence which surrounds the tomb I notice the little municipal torch provided outside the entrance is still in situ, but lacking in batteries. No matter, the sun directly over the mound is bright enough to illuminate the entrance passageway, and even provide a dim glow into the interior.

A low shuffle down the entrance passage brings you into a surprisingly tall chamber, the ceiling arching overhead in a wonderful corbelled construction. My eyes adjust to the gloom enough for me to make out the darker squares of the small openings of the side chambers, one on each wall of the tomb. I crouch down and enter the side cell opposite the entrance. Inside this side chamber opens out, a smaller cell partitioned by a low stone step, and now turned away from the main chambers tenebrous interior the blackness ahead of me becomes almost tangible. It’s difficult to know how far this chamber will extend, I reach out gingerly, touching the wall, further away than I thought, and hunker down. Now the sensory deprivation seems total, sounds muffled to an almost inaudible extent, and the darkness enveloping me like a shroud. I relax, the stone beneath me not uncomfortable, and the chamber dry for once due to the lack of rain over the past week. Soon I think I hear the sound of dripping water, although none is there, and small dark shapes seem to flit before my eyes. Oh yes there are fairies here, though not the twee winged creatures of children’s stories, but the needle teethed mischievous peedie trows of the Orcadian landscape. Visions come easily here and as I mediate time seems to take on a fluid nature, and I’m unsure how long I’ve actually been here.

Eventually it’s a cramped feeling in my legs that brings me back to reality, and I uncurl myself and stumble outside into the sunlight. The site of cars on the road below reassure me that I’m still in 2016, and the sun overhead doesn’t even seem to have moved, although a glance at my watch shows I’ve been inside around half an hour.

I sit atop the mound to write my fieldnotes, And gaze down to the Wide Firth below, and try to make out Wideford cairn hunkered into its hill to the east. Whatever our distant ancestors had in mind when designing these tombs we will never know, but what’s clear to me is that they still retain an ability to affect us in the here and now, whether in wonderment at the dry stone construction, or as a place of shamanic journeying, they are still places of inspiration seen through whatever filter we want to put on them. For those venerable people who were buried here along with their dogs, a finer resting place can’t be imagined, and our continued wonderment now is surely a testament to the ancient builders.

Before I set out for home I soak in some more of the evening sun, the cuckoo has stopped now, but it still feels like summer.

The Fairy Knowe (Chambered Cairn) — Images

<b>The Fairy Knowe</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

Great Urswick (Burial Chamber) — Images

<b>Great Urswick</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Great Urswick</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Great Urswick</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

Great Urswick (Burial Chamber) — Fieldnotes

Visited 30th April 2016

I would never have known about this place without the handy ‘sites nearby’ drop down on the TMA website. I’d been looking to see if there was anywhere to combine with a visit to the Druids Circle at Ulverston, and being only a couple of miles away this seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I’d done a bit of Google Streetview scrying before we set out and located what looked like a suitable layby to park up in on Hooks Lane just to the south of the village on the way towards Little Urswick. Being too busy scanning the fields for the chamber we initially overshot the site, and if you reach a crossroads on Hooks Lane you’ve definitely gone too far. Managing to turn the car around in the narrow lane we eventually made it to the pull in, and walked back down the road looking for the chamber.

It’s difficult to spot from the road but soon we reached a likely looking gate with pubic footpath sign, directly opposite a small stone building and noticed that actually there was space to park the car right next to the field gate. It’s always nice when a site can be accessed via a public footpath as it just makes the whole visit more relaxed, allowing you to enjoy the place without feeling like an intruder. So crossing the field we soon reached a stile over a stone wall with the slope on which the burial chamber stands behind it.

The burial chamber is cunningly concealed by a tree, which not so much as hides the chamber but erupts from it, pushing aside the stone orthostats as if in a time-lapse arboreal explosion. From the blocky stone facade the burial chamber resembles the result you’d get if you asked someone to build a chambered tomb in Minecraft, chunky stone slabs of grey stone forming the proud remains of a frontage, whilst behind the chamber layers of limestone outcropping rise in a wide shelf.

It’s really peaceful here, a few cows going about their business cropping the grass in a nearby field, and I squeeze into the remains of the chamber and sit in the dappled shade soaking up the atmosphere and writing some fieldnotes. Although small and ruined this is a lovely place. It’s certainly an unusual site, of what I’m sure antiquarians would have referred to as a ‘rude’ construction, and reminded me a bit of the Brane burial chamber all the way down in Cornwall. The top stone of the chamber seems to support a little ecosystem of its own, with various mosses, ferns and even a small tree growing there, and standing back from a certain angle the chamber resembles a giant turtle, the bushy greenery of the central tree forming the shell.

Decamping over to the limestone ridge to survey the view the sun is out, and the chamber blends nicely into the landscape, almost as if it’s a natural feature. I could happily stay here all day, I just wish we’d got a picnic with us, as it’s getting late into the afternoon now and we’ll need to move on soon to find somewhere to eat.

Crossing the field back to towards the car we encounter a couple of walkers examining an O.S. map, ‘Don’t suppose you know where the burial chamber is?’ they ask, I point them in the direction of the tree hiding the stones, they initially look at me askance, probably having expected something more along the lines of West Kennett, but head off anyway another two visitors for this engaging little site.

Alignements de Kermario — Images

<b>Alignements de Kermario</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

The Druid's Circle of Ulverston (Stone Circle) — Images

<b>The Druid's Circle of Ulverston</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>The Druid's Circle of Ulverston</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>The Druid's Circle of Ulverston</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>The Druid's Circle of Ulverston</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>The Druid's Circle of Ulverston</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

The Druid's Circle of Ulverston (Stone Circle) — Fieldnotes

Visited 30th April 2016

The Druids circle always strikes me as a bit of a Cinderella site, always overlooked for the more glamourous sites of Castlerigg, Long Meg and Sunkenkirk that lie further within the heart of the Lake District. It’s always been the case previously for me too, with never time to detour off as there always seemed bigger sites to see. Now it’s time to put this right and the circle is first on our itinerary for our weekend in the Lakes.

Engaging in the traditional British bank holiday pursuit of dodging both the showers and the traffic it’s not long before we turn off at Ulverston and are on the A5087 hugging the coast. I’d previously Google Street Viewed the hell out of this road, to make sure I’d recognise the sharp turning onto Birkrigg common, and so had no trouble in finding the un-signposted lane we needed. Pulling in on the grass next to a couple of other cars I was amazed to find I could just about make out the low shapes of the stones. I’d worried it might be harder to find, having read some of the previous fieldnotes, and the ominous pronouncement ‘needs an O.S. map’ from the papery TMA, but it seems the previously obscuring ferns have been quite brutally hacked back.

It’s a lovely setting for a site, and the circle’s not bad either. Blue skies stretch over the expansive stretch of Morecambe bay, and the tower of Bardsea church in line with the circle draws the eye, a fine juxtaposition of the old gods and the new.

The circle itself is intriguing, the small pristine ring of pockmarked stones initially looking like they tell the whole story, and only at a closer glance do you make out the outer circle of recumbent stones around the perimeter. It may be natural, but it almost looks like the circle sites on a henge, vague traces of a raised platform and embanked ditch catch my eye, but it’s probably wishful thinking on my part. As a site it makes a complex picture, and I sit amongst the stones and ponder.

The breeze is mild and the warmth of the sun is pleasant when it makes an appearance between the scudding clouds, and I’m struck by how nice it is here. Sadly there is still some traces of red paint on the stones, but it’s barely visible, and the circle will persist unbowed long after the existence of the idiotic vandal responsible is forgotten. A small piece of amethyst has been left in the centre of the circle as an offering, but it’s nice to see everything else is clean and tidy with no signs of litter about.

I walk to the nearby limestone pavement to get a slightly elevated view, serenaded on my way by a skylark, and have to concur with Mr Cope, that this truly is a ‘righteous hangout’, even in this region of spectacular circles the Druid’s Circle holds its own. It retains a certain charm of the plucky underdog, and is surely worth the visit in its own right. I like it here!

Long Meg & Her Daughters (Stone Circle) — Images

<b>Long Meg & Her Daughters</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

King Arthur's Round Table (Henge) — Images

<b>King Arthur's Round Table</b>Posted by Ravenfeather

King Arthur's Round Table (Henge) — Fieldnotes

Visited 2nd May 2016

When visiting King Arthur’s Round Table I’d make two suggestions. Firstly the little village of Eamont Bridge is surprisingly busy, and there isn’t really anywhere designated to park if you’re coming to see the henge. We squeezed in amongst some other cars at the side of the A6, outside what seemed to be a rather busy hair salon and garage that seemed to be holding a yard sale. In hindsight it would probably have been better to park up at one of the two nearby pubs, where a leisurely drink, as opposed to a continual fear of getting the car bumped, might have proved more conducive to a pleasant visit.

Secondly make sure you come here first before visiting Mayburgh henge. Having just come from there it’s fair to say that after the grandeur of the amazing Mayburgh, which exceeded all expectations, there’s a palpable sense of let-down when you first see King Arthur’s table. Huddled between the intersection of two busy roads, on first appearances it bares more resemblance to a village bowling green, or King Arthur’s picnic spot perhaps? Like Carl before us we were somewhat disappointed with this place.

Shadows from the late afternoon sun pick out the gentle undulations of the earthworks. It’s a shame the northern edge of the henge seems to have been barbarously shaved off, along with the second entrance, but walking around the neatly trimmed grass of the lumps and bumps of the ditch and mound everything was pleasant enough, there just seemed to be something missing. The tree adorned top of the bank at Mayburgh is visible on the horizon, and as I wander around the circular centre of the henge I try to imagine how the sightlines must once have been between the two monuments, but it’s hard to strip away the modern trappings of the road and village.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I’m not so taken with this place, perhaps if it sat in splendid isolation, with just the majestic embankments of Mayburgh on the horizon, or in a way just felt a bit more ‘wild’ I’d appreciate it more. I was interested to read in Fitzcoraldo’s notes that it was once turned into a tea garden, as it still feels a bit like that now, perhaps just a little too manicured?

Still it’s so close to the road and near to Mayburgh it seems rude not to at least pay a visit when passing, but I think it’s perhaps best taken as an appetiser to the wonderful Mayburgh just up the road.

Orkney — News

Two Finds in One at Harray Chamber

From the Orcadian:

"A prehistoric underground structure has been rediscovered in Harray – rediscovered in that the archaeologists found it to be full of Victorian rubbish!

But although it had obviously been opened, entered and used in the 19th century, the chamber appears to have gone unrecorded.

Martin Carruthers, of the Archaeology Institute UHI, and county archaeologist Julie Gibson made their way out to the site, near the Harray Manse, last weekend.

Martin explained: “It’s either a souterrain or a ‘well’ and, given similar examples elsewhere in the county, probably dates to the Iron Age"

Read More:

Machrie Moor — Images

<b>Machrie Moor</b>Posted by Ravenfeather<b>Machrie Moor</b>Posted by Ravenfeather
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Megalithic wanderer and modern day pagan.

I've always loved anything historical, particularly megalithic sites (I've many a fond memory of visits to Stonehenge in the mid 1970's as we used to stop there every year on the way to the annual family holiday down in Bournemouth, which I think started it off), and the discovery of a certain book by Mr. Cope set off an obsession in the late 1990's to see as many of these wonderful places as I can.

Enjoys walking in the wildnerness and climbing mountains (currently on the worlds slowest round of Munroe bagging), travel, playing guitar, real ale and malt whisky, historical re-enactment, fencing and wargaming (although not all at the same time!) Also adores small furry critters (particularly cats)

Spends most of the year in the megalithic desert of the Midlands, although fortunate enough to live part of the time in Kirkwall in the megalithic oasis of Orkney, with my lovely (and very patient) wife Ellen, and the cute furball that is our cat Hecate.

Favourite sites would be Callanish and Ring of Brodgar (where I was handfasted) in Scotland, Les Pierres Platts in Brittany, Havangsdosen in Sweden, Glavendrup in Denmark, and Sunkenkirk in England.

My TMA Content: