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Broomend of Crichie (Henge) — Fieldnotes

05/01/2004 Update to my local plan objection regarding development plans for the Broomend of Crichie site:

The council have "partially" accepted my objection, and have ammended the structure plan to show the full scheduled area including the henge as protected from development in this plan's life. It is not clear to me for how long this will protect the monuments.

I have decided to present my arguments to the report enquiry so that the objection is noted more clearly on the public record, and I obtain clariy as which parts of the objection the council do not currently accept. The hearing has been delayed until April 2004 on a public communications fasilure technicality.

I have heard annecdotally from a 70 year inhabitant of the village, that this is not the first time that developments have been attempted on this site. I have no documentary proof of this assertion however, and the local paper office could not help me with an archives enquiry when I visited their office recently.

Jon Metcalf

Lengthy posting follows, for which all due apologies, however I bring good news.

I wasn't happy about just fearing for the future of this site, so have done something positive about it.


The two plots of land (P1 and P2) which make up this site are listed in the Aberdeenshire Local Plan for "access" and "environmental" developments. This plan was posted on the council website for consultation in the 6 weeks ending 11/10/2002.
http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/localplan/maps/Garioch%20main/Inverurie%20and%20Port%20Elphinstone.pdf

The nature of the developments are not detailed in the plan. I visited the local council planning office in Inverurie to try to find out more, but the people working there didn't have any detail. They did suggest that landscaping and a children's play area may be involved however. The prospect of landscaping raised grave concerns for me since since most of the henge monuments in Scotland have been obliterated as surface features by ploughing.

The site contains several Scheduled Ancient Monuments, which are therefore subject to National Planning Guidelines (NPPG5 para 17), and the protection afforded by the 1979 AMs act. Most of the site has been owned by Aberdeenshire council since 1967, during which it has been benignly neglected. In the two hundred years or so before this, the site has a history of abuse of nationally important archeology for building stone and railway aggregate.

I questioned the development using the formal objections procedure. I copied the custodian of the National Monuments Record of Scotland, the Aberdeenshire county Archeologists Office, and Historic Scotland for information purposes. The NMRS people said thanks for the warning, however legally they could not express an opinion on the plan. The council planners said they had contacted the county archeologist who had checked my points, agreed them all and could not understand how they had missed the monuments when OK-ing the draft plan.

They acknowleged that for any development to go ahead on the site, that Historic Scotland would have to give the go ahead (the protection afforded by the 1979 act with a presumption of no development). Ominously HS were consulted on the plan and did not raise any concerns about this site, though hopefuly that was just an oversight as it is a several hundred page document. I copied HS on my email to the council, but have yet to receive a response from them.

Here are my questions and contextual material sent to the council. They phoned to say they had checked my points out, agreed them all, and couldn't understand why development had been proposed. The guy who made the proposal was on holiday, but will be back and will revert in w/c 28/10/2002. I will try to report further to this site.

I made the point verbally to the council that not all development was necessarily bad. If the site were grassed undamaged, and some interpretive boards put nearby, that could be an improvement over the rusty fence and scrubland currently in place for example.


"Questions:

1) In more detail, what specific developments are planned for the P1 and P2 sites, and when.

2) What protection will be afforded to the following monuments, and how will they fit into the proposals.

RCAHMS NMRS NJ71NE 6 (Scheduled monument - one of just twelve 1:50,000 mapped henges in Scotland)
Stone Circle (two original stones remain, plus symbol stone RCAHMS NMRS NJ71NE 8 moved during railway construction), Class II Henge diameter 33m approx, and 2 Cists 100m South of henge. Stone avenue sockets leading to henge from south (all 72 stones bar the three remaining today destroyed in 19th century). Most recent excavation of stone sockets 2001.

RCAHMS NMRS NJ71NE 7
Site of three concentric rows of erect stones with a small cairn in the middle, and a flat altar-stone, with a cavity in the upper part, raised on a rough cairn (recorded 1757). Now the site of a derelict sandpit.

RCAHMS NMRS NJ71NE 8 (Scheduled monument - one of 30 scheduled Pictish Symbol stones in Aberdeenshire)
Class I symbol stone : South face shows an elephant above a crescent and V-rod. Having visited most of the known pictish symbol stones of Scotland, I can confirm that this is an exceptionally well preserved example. Moved to current location during construction of the railway as the rock under its original site was quarried for ballast.

Square Barrow structure
At the original location of the above symbol stone (NJ 7798 1970) on CUCAP air photograph BVD 083.


Context

In the whole of Scotland, just 75 henges or suspected henges are recorded in the National Monuments record. Of the ones not dismissed as miscataloged natural features, just 42 are scheduled, just three of which are in Aberdeenshire. The majority of both scheduled, and unscheduled henges in Scotland have been severely damaged over the past 100 years, as successive site reports in the NMRS demonstrate. Most have now been completely obliterated as surface features by ploughing, and can now only be detected by crop variations from aerial photographs. Although it beggars belief, a further group have had modern buildings or forestry put on top, or metalled roads put through them. Just 12 remain as sufficiently distinctive features to be mapped by the OS as henges at 1:50,000 scale, 11 of which are scheduled, one of which is in the P2 area of Port Elphinstone. A monument of this rarity, and comparatively excellent preservation must be protected.

In the whole of Scotland, there are fewer than 250 pictish symbol stones, of which a fifth are in Aberdeenshire. Just 30 of the Aberdeenshire stones are scheduled, including the well preserved example on the P2 site. Given that the symbols on some of the Aberdeenshire scheduled stones are completely illegible (eg NJ53NW 1 at Huntly), have been smashed up comparatively recently (eg NJ72SE 23 at Brandsbutt), or defaced by later carvings (eg NJ71NW 12 in Monymusk church with a hideous OS benchmark), then protection of the few known clear and uncompromised examples is very important. "


What I hadn't realised before sending the above, is that henges are unique to the British Isles (according to the Time Team website). From this Head Heritage website I can see there are a bunch beyond Scotland, but wonder if anyone knows how many, or how many are scheduled, or even if there is an online way of determining this? My main research source for the above objection was the brilliant RCAHMS website listing the archeological records of all known Scottish sites, and featuring a brilliant GIS search engine to see exactly what has been recorded in any Scottish location on any scale of mapping. Free accounts at http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/canmore/login.show .

Go use this. You'll find out a bunch (11 pages from 1856 surveys onward for this site alone) and UK tax payers pay for it!

Jon Metcalf


Declaration of Interest:

I'm a keen armchair student of OS maps and visitor of ancient monuments, particularly pictish remains. I've lived about 3km from Broomend of Crichie for a decade, so care about this site in particular. I work for BP, and both researched and made the above objection on their time between day job tasks, with the organisation's support. It is easy to be cynical about any large organisation's line on caring about the environment, however in my 15 years at BP, I have found that it "walks the talk", for example offshore putting emissions limits above production, despite investor pressures.

The garage cited in earlier postings has had no impact on the monuments at all. Hopefully the objection above, made on BP's time, will have a lasting positive effect.
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