The hillfort at Lordenshaws is a real gem. It has the easiest access of any of the sites in the Northumberland National Park. The fort is only 400m or so from an area set aside for car parking along a good road.
The climb to the fort is in no way strenuous. Lordenshaws is surrounded by a wealth of archaeological remains and not far from the fort itself lie some spectacular examples of rock art.
There are ancient trackways, burial carirns and earthworks and, by arrangement with the Duke of Northumberland and the tenant farmer, you are free to wander around them in an agreed access area.
Lordenshaws is a roughly circular fort and has two entrances facing East and West. The outermost defensive ditch has a diameter of around 140m and is one of the best preserved features of the site.
In the South and South East this ditch has been disturbed by later development but to the North the ditch has a very steep V shaped profile and is up to 2.5m deep and up to 9m wide.
Inside this is a less well preserved inner ditch with a broader, more shallow profile. This inner ditch, in places, also manages a width of 9m but never gets any deeper than 1.3m. In the South East the outer ditch actually crosses the inner ditch suggesting the inner ditch was not associated with later phases of the fort.
If any form of rampart ever existed between the inner and outer ditches then there is no sign of it. There are signs of a short irregular bank, around 0.5m high in the middle of the inner ditch close to the Western entrance to the fort. It is possible that this is the remains of a rampart but it appears only in this one spot. The defences may never have entirely enclosed the fort as there is a natural outcrop to the South East which seems never to have been disturbed by the ditches.
The entrances to the fort simply cut through these defences. The Western entranceway is the least well preserved but the Eastern entrance is 3m wide and there are some facing stones visible. Where this entrance cuts through the second defensive mound there are some prominent stones still standing 0.8m high.
The innermost part of the site, the inhabited area, has a diameter of roughly 70m and is on two levels as the site is crossed from East to West by a natural scarp.
The usual way into the fort is from the Western entrance as this is the way a visitor would normally walk up from the National Park car park. From the West entrance the path takes you into the Southern half of the fort. Along the South facing edge of the fort there are four small circular features. I say 'features' as they seem too small to be huts. They vary in diameter and, in one, the stonework has been exposed.
Further into the fort is a very prominent hut. The interior of this has been cleared at some point and the stonework is visible. This hut has a diameter of 5.3m and the walls are around 1m high. There is no obvious entrance to this hut as the walls are continuous.
In the Northern half of the hillfort are the circles of two huts. It is possible that more existed but the ground here is very disturbed.
Standing outside the Western entrance to the fort you can see a large rectangular enclosure. It is enclosed by an earth and boulder wall which still manages a height of around a metre in places. The enclosure must have been constructed late in the life of the fort as it cuts into the defences. The enclosure shows prominent lines of medieval ridge and furrow plough marks and was recorded as a 'cornfield' in 1825.
There is other evidence of later development at the fort, especially in the South East. Here the defences have been overbuilt with an extension to the inhabited centre of the fort. There are circular features here but they are not prominent.
There is, also, a notable defensive outwork about 30m to the South and South West of the fort. It consists of an earth bank roughly 7m wide the outer profile standing up to 1.8m high. There is an outer ditch associated with the outwork but this is not easy to see. There is a gap in the earthwork which leads to the Western entrance to the hillfort yet does not exactly line up with it. It seems to accommodate the line of a trackway which runs North East from the existing road and turns East after passing to the North of the main cup marked rock on the site.
There have been no properly recorded excavations at Lordenshaws. A detailed survey of the hillfort and its surroundings was undertaken in late 1990 by RCHME.
Without doubt a wealth of information lies in wait at Lordenshaws. As I have said access to the site is relatively easy, though choosing when to visit can be important too. In the summer, for example, when the bracken and ferns are at their tallest, some of the lower lying ground features around the fort may be harder to pick out. For me the topography is best revealed by a light covering of snow. Later in the day a low angle of sunlight helps reveal the more subtle rock carvings.
The National Park car park is also a good base for walking in the Simonsides.
Yeavering, Ad Gefrin, Lordenshaws and the North Cheviots with original photographs and panoramas. Ths site is under development by BoC (Modern Antiquarian member) in collaboration with Paul Frodsham, archaeologist with the Northumberland National Park.
To the north of the Wooler to Kirknewton road, in a lay-by with the bulk of Yeavering Bell to the south, stands the Gefrin monument. The plaque tells us this was the site of Gefrin, but we look upon an empty field. Some sheep graze peacefully. Yet this is the site of, probably, one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the century.
St. Bede in his Historia Ecclesiastica gives the township of Ad Gefrin its only real historical reference. Even then he is vague as to its actual location, saying only that it stands near to the river Glen in what is now known as the Glendale area. He links Ad Gefrin with the baptisms performed in the Glen by the missionary Paulinus in 627AD. In the thirteen centuries that have passed since, according to Bede, the palace was abandoned and with no visible evidence for its existence, Ad Gefrin became a place of legend.
In 1949 Dr. J.K.St.Joseph, Curator in Aerial Photography at Cambridge University was looking for previously unknown Roman military sites in northern England. A severe drought made conditions ideal for aerial archaeology. As he flew over the Glendale area he noticed, and photographed, an impressive series of crop marks in an otherwise innocent field. More crop marks were seen further north near Milfield. In time a full aerial survey was made.
Between 1953 and 1962 a detailed archaeological excavation to the site was undertaken led by Brian Hope-Taylor of Cambridge University. Although marks of buildings were observed to both the north and south of the present day road it was in the field to the north of the road where attention was focussed. Here the land rises and forms a gravel whaleback which would have stood clear of the marshy terrain present in the area when Gefrin was conceived. This area would have been the natural through route for travelers at the time. Today, with efficient field drainage, the Milfield. plane is a lot dryer than it once was. The excavations revealed a complex of great halls or palaces, some over eighty five feet in length, of timber construction and built to a very high standard. Ancillary buildings such as kitchens, a weaving shed and buildings with probable religious significance were identified.
A large timber theatre or outdoor assembly building is one of the remarkable features of the site. The rotund nature of this structure has sparked the speculative and fanciful Arthurian link to Gefrin.
Although there is evidence of older, Neolithic, remains on the site (burials and traces of a stone circle) it is thought work on Gefrin could have started in around 600AD. The site was in use for over 150 years and there were distinct phases of construction, the theatre, for example, being extended at one point from six to nine rows of seats, thereby doubling it's capacity. Some of the halls were modified and some demolished entirely.
Often found wandering in the Cheviot hills claiming to be not lost at all.
Author of http://www.gefrin.com
One half of experimental electronic music duo Liquid Bridge.
Website at http://www.liquid-bridge.com