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

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White Light

We travelled to St Margarets Hope spending the hour or so on deck. I was very moved by the abandoned houses on Stroma, the island looked so strange. A fellow passenger was also strangely moved after sliding across deck cos the idiot Paddy ( our friend) was hollering about spotting a whale..needless to say no such creature was visible. We saw plenty of puffins though.
We were lodged at Birsay with good views of the Brough. I thought I'd miss the trees but I didn't; I missed their shelter though. We were blessed with bright days on the whole & the wind cut through like knives; the old woman whose cottage we stayed in said she didn't notice it anymore.
Straight out to Stenness, Barnhouse, the Ring of Brodgar & Scara Brae. I've seen these places so often on the telly & in photos but what can't be properly captured is the wild, wild surroundings. The water everywhere is wonderful. The big big sky. I cried at Stenness cos it didn't feel real; they're like a modern sculpture reaching for the heavens. The settlements ground me with their beds, hearths, alcoves & cupboards..layouts that feel so familiar.
(What's with the trapezoid like stones? There's one at Stenness, one at Brodgar & one at the Clava Cairns.)
The Ring of Brodgar has some preservation work going on so we couldn't full circle. It's surrounded by mounds; one of which is overrun with rabbits. There's really well chiselled graffiti on some of the stones; also at Stenness & Unstan burial chamber. There were lots of folk about; coachloads of Americans.. I do admire their enthusiasm, but boy can they yatter, mind you Paddy saw a few of em off spouting his usual half baked bollocks. I loved the lonely Comet stone & the huge witchy stone as I saw it; I couldn't get near to kiss it though cos of aforementioned works. We walked round & round, sheltering behind the mounds. We gazed at Maes Howe across the landscape. It was glorious.
At Scara Brae the guide/ guard showed us the drains..drains! He explained that the rectangular boxes were watertight; that the beach had been a fresh water loch untill the sea encroached. He was a good lad but looked slightly blue; it was freezing in that wind.
The Maes Howe tour was ok. A lovely guide called Sharon. The carved out platforms are larger than I'd realised & so exact. The chamber itself is smaller than I'd thought. I impressed the Yanks by declaring that the Vikings came through the roof. Paddy waffled on about about blocking stones shielding us from the underworld much to their bemusement; our embarrassment & Sharon's irritation.
Next we visited Unstan; these chambers are set out like stalls in a stable, with little hidey holes. Paddy sought to frighten me by crawling in first but I could see his feet sticking out; still he was quiet for a bit as he waited to strike out. Small mercies.
The situation of Cuween is spectacular; the views from here & Wideford Hill are spectacular. We only drove to the top of Wideford Hill; not visiting the chamber. When we stepped out to explore I was literally blown sideways & some driving rain set in. There was a chap arriving back to his car from the direction of said chamber with various digging implements who looked like he'd been to hell & back. I didn't ask him what he was up to cos I couldn't move my lips. We resloved to go back but didn't. A regret.
Off topic but I found a sea glass beach at Stromness & spent a happy couple of hours adding to my collection. Sea glass to me is precious.
Next to the Broch of Gurness where the fog set in & swirled about. We spent a happy hour discussing all things past with the brilliant guardian here. The enthusiasm of most officials encountered on Orkney is great. The brochs are marvellous, they shout out solidity, safety & status to me. We saw two seals here out to sea, their heads bobbing up & down.
Next to South Ronaldsey of course; the Tomb of the Eagles.I have some splendid photos of Nick & Paddys arses as they crawled in & out. I chose to slide in on the trolley lying on my back. Much hilarity on my part ensued as Paddy "assisted" Nick out of the tomb. What a pathetic display.
Anyway the tomb itself is grand, with the "stalls" & it's situation. The talks prior to the actual visit were informative but perhaps a little overdone? I don't know, I just got a bit impatient. Two young girls who spoke to us were very impressive though. There was a chap who kept asking questions about craniotomy & tethering poles who grated somewhat. His wife was allergic to milk & various other foodstuffs we discovered later when they plonked themselves at the table behind us at Skerries Bistro. What a waitress! The grub was scrummy.
Here we met Hamish who told us the full saga 're the Tomb of the Otters. He's awaiting DNA results from the bones of the inhabitants. He said we would be able to boast about having visited the tomb on the verge of game changing discoveries. This is a dark wet place but amazing inside. It was stated that Ronnie ( the finder of tomb of the eagles) wasn't called Fox for nothing! Hmm!
So, Orkney my lasting impression, wild, bright, beautiful & haunting.
Stopping briefly at Inverness we got to see the Clava Cairns which are magical. Lots of cupmarks. The lovely little round cairn with its pink quartz. The stone pathways to the middle cairn. A trapezoid stone again. Some trees..yeah. Up the road another standing stone & cairn. Some suspicious stone jumbles in surrounding gardens & the ubiquitous Paddy informing some Outlander trail Americans that our ancestors on Orkney lived with & amidst sea otters in blissful harmony.
Posted by carol27
17th May 2017ce

The Cunning of a Fox, the Smell of the Wind & the Lips of a Fish....

I might also add, the Light. The light on Orkney is white light, apart from when the fog, sea frets are blowing through. The wind makes sure I'm awake at all times. I've never known wind like it; not even on top of the White Horse. My senses have been battered. It's absolutely beautiful.
The landscapes of Scotland are stunning. Driving to Ullapool ..Well I'm used to Yorkshire moors, but the mountains, the water ..Glencoe. I struggled to comprehend the majesty. The absolute majesty. The water is the deepest blue, like a sapphire. Water everywhere.
The trip over to Lewis was good; laughing like schoolkids as we rolled with the boat. Callanish in the sunlight, white light, wild wind. What do I think? Beautiful glittering stone.; a cist so precise it could come from Ikea; bewilderment (I like bewilderment), & more water. I started to see the hill woman; when we got to Achmore I saw her get pregnant.
Callinish two & three, four or whatever.. great traipses across the land; major Callinish always in view. I don't have sufficient enough language skills to describe this place.
My first broch..I mean, come on. Dun Carloway. Seriously one of the most beautiful, awe inspiring situations & buildings I've ever seen. It stands so proud. The staircases , the thickness of the walls, the spiralling of construction, it's outlook.
Next, going back, the Hill of many Stanes. I loved this place..like a beautiful garden with stones instead of flowers;The Grey Cairns of Camster ..whoa, monster stuff. I loved the boardwalk; crawling/ crouching through narrowing passages made me feel a bit anxious & I wasn't sure about the juju. Idiot.
Anyway.. Orkney. I'll attempt that tomorrow. Still here, still being battered:)
Posted by carol27
14th May 2017ce

Ireland - At last!

I am sat here writing this feeling very, very lucky, I have been fortunate enough to visit Carrowkeel, a totally magical, unforgettable location equalling anything in Europe; anyway, more of that later. I had postponed visiting Ireland on more than one occasion due to bad weather, however, this time there was no turning back, the van was packed and the ferry tickets were in my hand. It was a quilt free trip as we had recently had 2 weeks in the sun and a short break to Cornwall and so a quick dash from Lincolnshire to Holyhead and I was soon heading for the Hill of Tara. I arrived to an empty car park just before 7.00am on a very blustery day, the rooks were screeching, diving into the wind only to be swept back to the trees surrounding the church and graveyard, all very eerie. Even as a total non believer I could feel the power and the energy radiating from this site as I walked up the ceremonial route to the mound of hostages and the stone of destiny, ancient voices carried on the wind, only they were speaking English, more people had arrived and I realised I was standing on a grassy mound in Ireland, nothing more, nothing less, time to move on. A short trip to the Boyne valley were I was going to visit Newgrange and Knowth. I had read that the only way to enjoy these sites is to accept that they belong to the day tripper and that you are their visitor not the other way around and to just relax and become a tourist yourself, and I have to say I had a thoroughly good day out. A very pleasant visitor centre a nice run around the countryside in the transit bus and perfectly manicured site and pathways to walk on. I didn't even get upset by the controversial quartz wall at the front of Newgrange, its there now, no one is going to knock it down or change it we have to live with it and just hope they do not employ the same team to give Stonehenge a makeover after it sinks into the tunnel beneath. Back in the van and off to Loughcrew where I spent the night before exploring the following day. It was Bank Holiday Monday and I guessed it might attract a few people so I organised with the local guide Fechin to go up Carnbane in the morning before it got too busy. Armed with the key to Cairn T we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day, the views were spectacular and the artwork inside the cairn stunning. I could see across the valley to Carnbane West where Cairn L is located, I had also read that public access has been denied for a number of years following the last outbreak of foot and mouth. Given that it was starting to get busy I decided to head off in that direction. A quick hop over a locked field gate and a surprisingly tough little hill and I was looking into Cairn L an immaculately preserved cairn, possibly better than T, however, the real shock was to discover that there are 6 or 7 Cairns in various states of preservation up there and I had the whole place to myself, not a single fellow trespasser nor angry farmer. I ended up staying there for the afternoon soaking up the warm sunshine. Next day it was off to Carrowkeel. I had read that approaching Carrowkeel is like entering a lost valley and that is exactly how it felt, cliffs to either side, road just wide enough for the van and no one else in sight. The walk up to the most visited cairns G, H, K, L is nothing short of stunning and the cairns fabulous with no barrier to entry, you can crawl through the passage and play around inside to your hearts content, further on there is a large sinkhole and on again standing stones. On the way back down detours to the seldom visited Cairns C and D and then a scramble up to E and F provided even more stunning views. A word of caution if visiting these last 4, the paths are ill defined due to lack of visitors and its easy to miss them coming back, there a cliff hedges and sink holes around so please take care. I really did not want to leave this beautiful valley nor the mountains, I loved every moment there and every part of it and will definitely go back to explore the cairns I could see on neighbouring mountain tops. With a heavy heart I headed for Carrowmore which I didn't really enjoy after Carrowkeel, it was far too manicured and sterile, however, redeemed to some extent by the way it sat in the shadow of Knocknarea as indeed did everything. Overnight in Strandhill and ready to tackle the hill in the morning in order to visit Queen Maeve's grave. A walk from the beach at Standhill to Sligo rugby club and then up what is called the 'New Walk' up Knocknarea, actually very exciting as it gains height quickly and then follows a 300m board walk up through the trees before gaining open mountain. I didn't stay too long as no one seemed to understand the 'Do not climb' signs and for some reason I found it upsetting. Back down to the beach and a quick visit up the road to the famous court tomb of Creevykeel. Next day a longish drive down to the Burren to see the famous Poulnabrone dolmen, why this should be the most photographed dolmen in Ireland escaped me, however, the barren lunar like landscape was a most enjoyable drive. Next day was a tour through Carlow (nostalgic as I used to visit with work) and stops at the incredibly impressive Brownes Hill dolmen with its huge capstone and Haroldstown dolmen situated on a nasty bit of road. Finally I headed back towards Dublin viviting the 3 stone circles of Castleruddery, Athgreany and less visited Broadlees on the way. Castleruddery was particularly fascinating being a henge as well as a circle. Anyway it was all over bar the shouting, ferry back to Holyhead and dash home. Cannot wait to go South to Cork on my next visit just need to keep the home points building up Posted by costaexpress
8th May 2017ce

Winter sun gods

It was mid January, Christmas and New Year were well and truly over, my curfew was lifted and wife said I could go out to play again. My New Years resolution is to visit Ireland and I was keen to get on with it, however, the weather was atrocious. A quick look at the weather map indicated Portugal was the only place basking in sunshine, fearlessly, after tea, 'I softly mumbled, I'm going to Portugal on Sunday', 'Thought you were going to Ireland?' 'It's the weather', 'For Gods sake do what you want just don't involve me in it' With that ringing endorsement I threw some warm bedding in the van, food in the fridge and set off for the euro tunnel on a cold Sunday afternoon. Non stop driving through the night and following day found me nicely tucked up in bed just outside the Orca complex ready for an early start on the Tuesday morning. The jewel is the Orca dolmen itself, however, there are around 10 other sites scattered across the hillside between the villages of Fiais and Azenha. The sky was a cloudless blue and the sun bright and warm despite the low temperatures and I decided to walk. The hillside is covered with ancient trees and natural rock outcrops some with early Neolithic artwork etched into them, all in all one of the most pleasant 4 hours I have spent anywhere. Next day down to the Alpalhao region of Portugal to visit a grouping known simply as Alta 1 to 4. An unfortunate encounter with a farmer and I was off to visit more friendly sites. It was soon time for another trip further south first to the Pavia district and then on to Evora itself. In my humble opinion this area rivals Brittany, Wiltshire and Orkney for the range and close proximity of the megaliths among them the better know 'Anta Grande do Zambujeiro' and 'Almendres stone circle' although by no means the jewels in the crown, these belonged to the amazing stones at Cromeleque da Portela de Modos and Cromeleque de Vale Maria do Meio. A few wonderful sunny days in Evora and I was beginning to understand why our ancestors would want to worship the sun. All to soon it was time to point the van North. There had been some disappointment, some sites I could simply find no way through the fences and one site the long horned inquisitive cattle destroyed any bravado I had left, other than that I would gladly do it all over again, however, not sure how I am going to swing that particular trip at the moment Posted by costaexpress
4th February 2017ce

Raving on the Moors Part III – Big Moor 11 November 2016

The third and final day of our Peak District trip is the Big One, the day out we were going to fit in no matter how bad the weather turned out to be. And in the end it’s a beautiful day, blue skies and barely a nip of autumn wind. After a revisit to Bakewell church to see the green men and huge collection of early medieval stones, we’re heading off to Owler Bar, little more than a pub and bus stop at the northeastern corner of Big Moor.

Big Moor is a sea of umber and orange at this time of year, and despite the busy A road running along its edge, it manages to feel like a remote place. Features are limited, just a gentle rise to the high points, the curve and dip of the course of Bar Brook, occasional lone trees, and the glint of sun on the half-empty Barbrook reservoir.

It’s towards this last feature that we head first, following a wet and muddy track running alongside Bar Brook itself. There are a few other walkers about, but they remain distant and unintrusive, leaving us to contemplate the gentle expanse of emptiness on either side as we head south.

Barbrook III — Fieldnotes

01.12.16ce
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.

Barbrook III — Images

16.11.16ce
<b>Barbrook III</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>Barbrook III</b>Posted by thesweetcheat


We retrace our steps towards the reservoir, then rejoin the course of Bar Brook heading south once more. The valley deepens slightly, the sides blocking the views and channelling us into a place of even greater quiet and solitude. We see no-one now, except a single doe silhouetted on the skyline to the southwest, watching our strolling progress. Closer inspection reveals the antlered head of a stag, keeping below the crest, and soon we pick out many moor of the herd, blending into the browns of the hillside across the valley.

As the path curves southeast, we leave it and cross onto the open moor. The sites here are concealed from the level of the track, but a substantial round cairn, covered only in a thin layer of turf, is the first obvious sign that we’re in the right area. We’ll have a look at the cairn group a bit later, but the next objective is something a bit more unusual.

Barbrook II — Fieldnotes

01.12.16ce
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 II — Images

20.11.16ce
<b>Barbrook II</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Barbrook cairns — Fieldnotes

01.12.16ce
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 cairns — Images

20.11.16ce
<b>Barbrook cairns</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Barbrook I — Fieldnotes

01.12.16ce
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 I — Images

20.11.16ce
<b>Barbrook I</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>Barbrook I</b>Posted by thesweetcheat


So we bid goodbye to Big Moor, a brilliant introduction to some of the best sites I’ve been to. We head across the A road and skirt the edge of Ramsley Moor, our progress temporarily halted by a herd of cows that really would prefer not to get out of the way. Once these are safely persuaded to give us passage, Gardom’s Edge lies ahead of us. The sun is sinking low now, our eyes dazzle.

After crossing a slightly boggy patch of open moor, we head into the long shadows of a birch wood, stark black and white trunks surrounded by the darkening reds of dying bracken. There are a few people about, children’s voices carrying through the trees from somewhere ahead, unseen.

Gardoms Standing Stone — Fieldnotes

01.12.16ce
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.

Gardoms Standing Stone — Images

20.11.16ce
<b>Gardoms Standing Stone</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Gardom's Edge — Fieldnotes

01.12.16ce
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.

Gardom's Edge — Images

20.11.16ce
<b>Gardom's Edge</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

The Three Men of Gardoms — Fieldnotes

01.12.16ce
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.

The Three Men of Gardoms — Images

20.11.16ce
<b>The Three Men of Gardoms</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Gardom's Ring Cairn — Fieldnotes

01.12.16ce
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.

Gardom's Ring Cairn — Images

20.11.16ce
<b>Gardom's Ring Cairn</b>Posted by thesweetcheat


We drop down to Robin Hood, for the final bus journey back, near where we started the first walk of this break under snowy skies.

I’ve been re-energised by these last three days, a shot in the arm of prehistory. Revisiting the area where it all started, finding so much still to see for the first time, a reminder why these wonderful, enigmatic sites captured my heart in the first place.
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
1st December 2016ce
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