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

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Fourknocks (Passage Grave) — Fieldnotes

This is a very odd site. When I was last here (winter 2000) it was the most completely off the beaten track, non-touristy place you could find, and yet the central chamber of the passage tomb is larger than Newgrange! The rock art too is of a standard that could hold its own against the best Brugh na Boinne could offer (especially the weirdly anthropomorphic 'hag stone', is-it-or-isn't-it a portrait of the grinning winter death goddess?). It's up to your imagination really! The main downside is that the caved in roof has been repaired in 'concrete pillbox bunker style' instead of trying to replace the original corbelling. The effect of so much brutally modern building material in such an ancient place makes you wonder if it couldn't have been done with a bit more sensitivity.

Things might have changed since last time, but you definitely needed a torch as there is no lighting inside. Also as it is usually locked you have to get the key from a local guy called Mr White (if you follow the instructions to his house on the notice you drive down this little side road, it seems to go on for miles and you think you must have gone past his house, but don't give up! His house has a big plaque with 'White' set into the garden wall. I think it's a tenner deposit for the key.) Anyway, if you like the idea of having an entire neolithic passage tomb to yourself, this is the place, especially in the evenings or out of season.

Hill Of Uisneach — Fieldnotes

Ah, childhood memories... (despite being a national monument, the Hill of Uisneach was where farming realations of mine used to graze their cattle.) When I was a kid, long before I knew anything about history, I remember standing on the summit, absolutely gobsmacked by the view. On a clear day you can see landmarks in twenty counties, and many of the locals will claim to have seen the gleaming white Round Tower over O'Connell's grave in Dublin's Glasnevin cemetary. This is a nice link to the past as one of O'Connell's monster meetings for Catholic Emancipation was held at Uisneach (the remnants of an iron flagstaff are still embedded in the catstone).

The idea that the souterrains represent in plan form the stallions of the dagda, I'm inclined to take with a pinch of salt as one of Michael Dame's more dubious ideas.

For fellow holy well afficionado's, St. Bridget's well at nearby Killare Village is a perfect, barely christianised remnant of the sacred landscape.

The Goatstones (Stone Circle) — Fieldnotes

The Goatstones are are on a wild and rocky hillside called Ravensheugh crags just a few miles north of Hadrian's wall. We thought we were lost until the weird rocky face of the Crags appeared in the windscreen and we all went "Woh! This is it!".
The Goatstones are a tiny four-poster circle, so dinky it could fit in your living room. One of the stones is peppered with cup-marks. The whole of the escarpent of Ravensheugh Crags is another Mother's Jam of weird erratics and rock formations poking through the heather. Its hard to say if some of them are man made or not, but it makes an impression.
Aubrey Burl derives 'Goatstones" from the saxon 'Gyet stanes' meaning 'wayside stones', though in my opinion if any Saxons were making their way across this eerie landscape they were seriously lost.

Old Bewick (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art) — Fieldnotes

Incredibly bleak (and wet!) when I visited last month. You can't miss the big old mother hill looming above you though, it draws you in like a magnet. A pair of wellies is essential at this time of year as we waded through muddy farmtracks knee-deep in cow-cacca and barely avoided falling into a few bog holes.
An eerie place once you get up to the top plateau, massive iron age ramparts and rather bizarely, two WW11 style pill boxes (were the Nazis planning to invade Northumberland?). We got a good view of the (slightly worn) carvings lit up by mellow winter sunset over the Cheviots.

The Matfen Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

Situated down a side road on the left about 1 mile south of Matfen village on the edge of an impeccably manicured grass verge lies the Matfen stone. A strange fortified house/farm is across the road and whoever owns it obviously likes to keep the stone from becoming overgrown which is cool (although their reuse of the old pump down the road as a flower basket hanger is a tad twee).

The stone is about six foot high and has the same deep harsh vertical grooves caused by weathering as the Devil's Arrows. What's different about the Matfen Stone is the many cupmarks carved around the base (well over thirty).

Not really a place to stop and linger (you have the uncomfortable feeling someone is tut-tutting at you from behind a curtain across the road), but a good antidote if you've had too much of Hadrian's Wall.

Doddington (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art) — Fieldnotes

Roughting Linn is the most famous of the Northumberland rock carvings, but it would be a shame to pass by some of the less well known rock art in the area. Doddington is one of those sites that is well worth the effort and its a perfect place for a picnic as well if you've got kids in tow.

Doddington is a small village on the B6525 out of Wooler. Travelling north through the village you'll see a sign to the right for Wooler golf club. Park somewhere safe in the village and walk up the country lane to the golf course. Once at the clubhouse a path cuts straight through the course to the stones (beware of bad golfers though!).

The best and most richly carved stones are in the rough at the southern end of the course. In front of you is a small cottage (Called Shepherd's house on the map) and to the right is a big iron age earthwork called Dod Law. Once you're in this area search among the grass until you find the main carved rock and its smaller satellites. The main rock is a large flat outcrop, with not just cups-and-rings, but ovals, rectangles and heartshapes. Its quite unlike any other examples I've seen. Roughting Linn is claustrophobic, enclosed within its woodland glade. Doddington is the exact opposite, wide open skies, the Cheviots to the west providing a spectacular backdrop. This is a perfect chill-out zone (weather permitting).

The main carvings are the best and most impressive, but the area is full of other examples. I totally recommend anybody thinking of visiting the area to get hold of "Northumberlands Prehistoric Rock Carvings" by Stan Beckensall, a real labour of love and with good maps and directions for all the Doddington sites. Northumberland Rock art is one of Archaeologies big secrets (I live in the area and even I didn't realise how much there was!) perhaps Julian's next book could include some more sites. The area is so wild and unexplored, new sites are being found every year which is crazy.

(Incidentally a headline on local news recently, "Rock star joins campaign to preserve Rock art", which I tuned into thinking it might have been JC on one of his rambles turned out to be Bill Wyman of all people, puffing on a fag in the midst of some carvings! I suppose if you were in a band called the Rolling Stones its only natural!)

West Kennett (Long Barrow) — Fieldnotes

While visiting the West Kennett barrow a worthwhile diversion is to check out the Swallowhead spring nearby. According to the speculative reconstruction of the Silbury/Avebury rituals by Michael Dames this spring was the original focal point of the whole complex and provided the baseline for the sacred geometries used to construct relationships between the various monuments. During the summer months (when incidentally the spring is dry)its a bit hard to spot from the path due to trees etc. Take the path from the road up to the west barrow until it takes a hard left,in front of you is a field gate which the more energetic may shin over or just follow the hedge around to the left until it finishes. Last time I was here (june 99) the field was under crops so keep to the fallow ground at the edge. Follow the edgeof the field to the right of the gate and Swallowhead is in the bottom right hand corner of the field.
I'm not a mystical person but this place is one of the few in Avebury which retains some of the original sense of being a sacred place (the lack of daytrippers is also something to do with it). If you climb down into the dried up spring an old willow tree is festooned with rags and small tokens of previous pilgrims. Sadly last time I was there the remains of some unidentified dead animal probably a cat, together with variousparaphenalia meant that some dodgy pagan nonsense has been going on. Especially during the hectic tourist season this is an oasis of calm with Silbury rising serenely above you in the distance.
Since its located on private land the access may have changed so if anybody has been there more recently please post a follow up.
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