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Raving on the Moors Part I – Gibbet Moor 9 November 2016

The morning brings snow, the first of this season. It falls heavily on Bakewell, but doesn’t stick. Advice in the coffee shop suggests that if we want to see proper snow we should head northwest to the higher moors and sharper edges, but that comes with the risk of bus cancellations and a difficult journey back. Instead Gibbet Moor wins the right to be the first trip out of this Peak District break, a relatively low moor with an easy climb from the road to the north, perfect for legs reacclimatising themselves to the hills after absence.

We start with a bit of a road slog under light drizzle that takes us past Stone Low, perched on the lip of valley to the north of the road. This cairn, once large and impressive, is now little more than a slight rim, a rise in the grass beside fieldwall and beneath trees. Nice position, but little else to see now. Better things await though, and we’re keen to get off the road and onto the moor.

Stone Low — Images

12.11.16ce
<b>Stone Low</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Gibbet Moor North — Fieldnotes

23.11.16ce
Gibbet Moor is access land, and we make our way uphill, along a sturdy track running southwest from where the road crosses Umberley Brook. TMA shows all sorts of sites up here, but I only have eyes for the stone circle, three stones remaining of what might be a rare non-Scottish example of a “four poster”.

I know the circle is somewhere about 500m to the southeast of the point where the track meets a drystone wall. From here the tussocky, reedy grass and patches of heather look decidedly unappealing and lacking in paths, but this is where we need to go. Setting off into the slight unknown, the vegetation isn’t as bad as it looked, low enough to step through without snagging ankles and feet. But it is wet, and within 20 yards of leaving the track my feet are soaked in my old boots. Nice.

We wander around the gently sloping hillside looking for small stones in every reed clump and heather swell. There are plenty of stones, little stones, bigger stones, outcrops and individual rocks. But nothing resembling three stones of a circle. At one point I head towards an odd looking line of upright pallets, but nothing leaps out from the grasses.

We’ve been going around in circles for about 40 minutes before I finally decide to look properly at the photos on TMA. The first couple are by Stubob, one showing the recognisable dark swell of East Moor, the next looking north across the valley towards a distinctive clump of trees on the opposite hillside. The conditions are different to our dull grey skies and distant snow, but the landmarks are unchanged. Getting to a position where both photos match the view from where we are involves heading into a particularly soggy patch of reedy grass, close to one of the pallets I noticed earlier. And suddenly, there they are: three stones, unmistakeably slim and upright, their heads barely poking above grasses. Without Stu’s photos we’d probably still be there now, so much gratitude is due to the Peaks pioneer.

The lengthening grasses are threatening to drag the stones under, appearing quite a bit taller than in the previous photos. But despite the soggy setting and the even soggier feet, despite the small size of the stones and the absence of a fourth stone, I really like this site. Perhaps it’s partly the sense of relief and satisfaction at actually finding the circle, but it has a lot of charm. The views to the northwest and north are fine, across the valley and out to the distant edges. At this time of year the reedy grasses are a lovely shade of orange, which sadly the recalcitrant sun fails to properly light while we’re here. The stones are well chosen, shapely and lightly tapering. Whether this ever was a four stone circle, or just a three stone setting, I guess we’ll never know. But it’s well worth a visit, just wear something waterproof on your feet.

Gibbet Moor North — Images

12.11.16ce
<b>Gibbet Moor North</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Gibbet Moor and East Moor — Images

13.11.16ce
<b>Gibbet Moor and East Moor</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>Gibbet Moor and East Moor</b>Posted by thesweetcheat
Back on the track, the sun threatens to come out. We pass a linear stone built feature on our left, its end right up against the edges of the track and containing a couple of upright stones. At first I take it for a group of damaged hut circles, with the uprights marking an entrance, but it’s not obvious that it is the case.

Reaching the top of the moor, the views northwest open up to reveal a good coating of snow on the distant moors. The sky over us is closing in again, although there’s no sign of any rain or snow, just a dulling of the light giving the impression of dusk even at this early hour of the afternoon.

The track edges southeast alongside estate wall and dense treeline, gradually climbing to the crest of the moor. The snow cover is a little thicker here, although you would be hard put to find enough to build a snow fairy. The next stop-off comes into view, heralded by a boggy bit of path and an information board.

Hob Hurst's House — Fieldnotes

23.11.16ce
We came to Hob Hurst’s House on our second Peak District holiday, pretty much exactly 18 years ago to the day. I remember a walk through the woods above Chatsworth, then crossing a boggy and wet moor under increasingly heavy rain. We were ill-dressed for open November moorland in the rain, and our first visit to a chambered tomb left both of us soggy and underwhelmed.

Since then we’ve been to a lot more prehistoric sites, and I’ve wanted to return here for ages. Funny how your memory is both accurate in details and completely faulty in the broader picture. As soon as we get here, I instantly remember the shape, size and layout of the mound with its squared-off bank and ditch. But I don’t recall the exposed stones of the chamber at all. I also have a recollection of a fairly flat landscape, perhaps the rain and cloud condensed the world around us that day. Today the views to the south are extensive and sweeping, taking in the deep valley of Beeley Brook, with the sharp line of Harland Edge above, then onwards to rising ridges and long hillsides fading into grey. The unmistakeable feature on the skyline is Minninglow, for all that I’ve never been there. For the second time today Stubob’s presence in these hills is palpable. Eyup Stu.

We stop here for a while and have a proper look at the chamber, noticing that the mound itself appears to be built at least partly of stone, another thing missed the first time. It’s too damp to sit and my wet feet are beginning to make me cold, and in any case there’s one more reacquaintance to be made today, so we head off downhill, following the line of the wood until we reach a field boundary.

Hob Hurst's House — Images

13.11.16ce
<b>Hob Hurst's House</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Minninglow — Images

13.11.16ce
<b>Minninglow</b>Posted by thesweetcheat
The direct route would be to carry on southwest directly across the open moor from here, but I decide to avoid another foot soaking and we follow the obvious path south instead until it drops into a holloway carved out by many feet, then joins a firmer track heading westwards towards Chatsworth.

Park Gate Stone Circle — Fieldnotes

23.11.16ce
Park Gate stone circle is not visible from the track, so it’s a matter of following the route until it starts to turn northwest, where another fainter path heads off north onto the moor again. There are a couple of stones in the circle that are big enough to stand above the reedy grasses, so it’s a lot easier to see than Gibbet Moor was earlier.

This is the second revisit of the day, as we came here in 1998 on the same day as Hob Hurst’s House. At the time it was the fourth stone circle I’d been to, after Arbor Low, Nine Ladies and Nine Stones Close, three of the Peak District’s big hitters. So it’s probably not a great surprise that it felt a bit of a disappointment after those sites. Although there are at least ten stones in the circle, many of them are small and overwhelmed by the tufty, reedy grass that surrounds the site. The biggest stone, on the southwest of the circle, is leaning at an alarming angle over the top of a pit that threatens to swallow it whole if it ever goes the rest of the way. The most striking stone is the one on the east, a shapely upright with what appears to be at least one cupmark and some other dents that are apparently bullet holes and do have a ragged outline. This is the stone I remember from our first visit, and indeed the only one that I have a photo of.

For all that, it’s actually a really good circle. In the 18 years since I last came, I’ve been to a lot of wrecked, dishevelled, uncared for, ploughed out, vandalised and generally unloved sites. So although there’s also been a lot of awe-inspiring, stop-you–dead-at-50 paces classics over the same period, my expectations are very different to how they were back then. Now, I see a fine circle in a good setting, looking towards Harland Edge particularly. It could do with a de-vegging, as the long grass is detracting from the sense of the whole site. Circle stones needn’t be enormous to make an impression, as anyone who’s had the pleasure of Cerrig Duon or Nant Tarw could attest. But they do need to be kept visible, and a judicious tidy up here would do it wonders.

The only disappointment really is the terrible dullness of the day. It’s not even 2:30 but it feels like dusk, as though the sun has given up and set early, leaving a crepuscular greyness to the scene, even with the autumn colours of the moor. We head back to the track and head west.

Park Gate Stone Circle — Images

13.11.16ce
<b>Park Gate Stone Circle</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Beeley Moor — Fieldnotes

23.11.16ce
The final site of the day is Beeley Moor ring cairn, an easy visit as it’s right next to the track. So near in fact that the track is slowly nibbling away at its northern arc. The monument itself is quite heavily overgrown with heather and scrubby grass on the circumference and bracken in the centre. Stones protrude from the bank here and there. It’s reasonably upstanding, but worth a stop off mainly for the excellent views down to the valley below.

Beeley Moor — Images

13.11.16ce
<b>Beeley Moor</b>Posted by thesweetcheat


From here the path starts to descend more steeply – I have no memory of this being an uphill slog on our first visit, where we came from the opposite direction. At length we reach a step stile over the estate wall, and head into the lovely woodland of the Chatsworth Estate, eventually emerging into the park for the last walk into Baslow as dusk falls, for real this time.

As well as the visit to Gibbet Moor, it’s been wonderful to return to Hob Hurst’s House and Park Gate after so long, the longest gap between visits of any sites we’ve been to. The intervening years have sharpened the interest, provided a lot more context and perhaps some better understanding. It feels rather like coming home.
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
23rd November 2016ce

Harold, Elvis, Athur and Samson - The men of Wales

I had been grounded for the rest of this year when a few days expectantly opened up and my wife urged me to make the best use of them, however, it meant setting of the very next morning. The weather was foul with snow forecast across the hills so I reluctantly left my van at home at took the car, which had the bonus of 4 wheel drive, and I would have to rely on finding budget hotels along the way. This turned out to be overcautious as the weather was glorious with sunny autumn days making it a pleasure to be out and about. I picked out a route which skipped along the South Wales coast and after an easy journey cross country started at the Harold Stones just South of Monmouth. Interesting alignment of 3 standing stones, difficult to imagine that that was all there was to it and impossible to guess what it might have been part of. The site itself is not very attractive, nor are the stones, being forged from the local puddingstone and looking like concrete reproductions (if I have offended anyone then apologies all round). Next it was off to Cardiff to see the Tinkerswood burial chamber. Nicely set a field away from the road with the reception and burial areas clearly defined. From here it was a pleasant walk down the narrow lanes to St Lythams. Despite the unfriendly warnings of dire retribution for anyone who steps of the defined footpath it is a pleasant place to visit and the chamber differs in the sense that the capstone is supported by huge stone slabs rather than columns, the right hand one with interesting cup markings (original or added later I don't know). A longish drive from here to the Gower peninsula for a brief visit to Parc le Breos, an interesting site, as if the top half has been sliced off with a huge knife allowing you to look at the inner construction, however, the real, and unexpected, gem was just a few miles up the road at Maen Ceti. The chamber here has the most huge unlikely looking capstone on very small stone pillars. The setting is wonderful with a well preserved cairn alongside and the hillside overlooking the estuary is a treasure trove of fallen stones, lost cairns and other evidence of the importance a scale of development that must have been in existence here. I ended up spending the rest of the day here just wondering around like the proverbial child in a sweetshop. The following morning turned into 'heaven on earth'. I drove into Manorbier in search of the Devil's Quoit and instantly fell in love with the place, down onto the beach up onto the coastal path, the sun was gleaming off the white horses breaking onto the beach, nothing could have been more perfect. Despite deciding I wanted to live there I forced myself on to Solva to visit the interestingly named St Elvis chambers. A longish walk down the farm track, through ankle deep shit and there they are, two chambers next to each other, nastily fenced off, however, they did include some information and I was glad I had made the effort. Carrying on around the coast I next visited Carreg Samson near Abercastle. I drove a little too far and ended up in the farm yard and decided to park there anyway, as it turned out right outside the gate that led into the field where Samson sat making it a pretty easy trip. This is a great site despite being intimidated by the local herd of cows, and a setting to die for overlooking the bay in one direction the hills behind. Next the road took me up to Carreg Coetan, now set within a modern development of houses and bungalows, however, afforded its own little garden and a pleasant place to visit. Further around the coast and I was at Llech y Drybedd. There is nothing to indicate its existence and I was pleased I had noted the name of the farm. I parked on the main road opposite the farm track and set off up the path past the farm and keeping left at the fork. The chamber sits rather lonely, unloved and unmarked in the corner of the field and I hope at least provides some comfort to the dairy cattle in bad weather. It couldn't be put off any longer, time to visit the mighty Pentre Ifan and I was pleased it did not disappoint. A well cared for site down some narrow lanes it is clearly part of some bigger development long since destroyed. This is a site to stop and linger at to walk around two or three times to try and assess the original dimensions, the approach, the landscape 5 to 6 thousand years ago and where the people lived. Before working my way home I had a couple of inland sites I wanted to visit, the first was Craig Rhosyfelin believed to be where at least one of Stonehenge bluestones came from. Parking alongside the Ford there is easy access into the site through a field gate. It is a beautiful site set into a narrow valley and the side wall has crumbled revealing and allowing the texture of the rocks to weather gracefully. To the layman it seemed a huge stretch to call this a quarry as opposed to a natural rock outcrop left behind by the ice age, however, that was not my concern, I just bathed in the beauty of the place and the overwhelming sense of history. My last stop was at the sprawling site of Gors Fawr, rather like a Preseli version of Stanton Moor ie there is evidence of neolithic activity everywhere, stone circles, standing stones and odd stones which may or may not have been part of a larger structure. The area was sodden and I couldn't get as far as I wanted so I left behind the perfect excuse to go back to this wonderful part of the country, if only to visit the Devil's Quoit one more time. A dash down the M4, M5, M6, A14, A1 and I was back in Lincolnshire in time to throw the cat out. Posted by costaexpress
12th November 2016ce

The Orkney Saga

This is a journey that’s taken two years to come to fruition and seemed like it might never happen at times. Two years ago we were all set to go, ferries booked, camper van sorted and routes planned and then a week before departure Mrs Cane slipped a disc and was advised not to travel. So we postponed and waited and waited and then work got in the way and then it was nearly 18 months before we thought it might all be back on again. So, literally a few weeks before a prospective date was selected, we started to re-plan the whole merry dance.

As we were driving all the way from the South Coast we knew we couldn’t do it all in one day so we contacted our friend Karl the Viking in Derbyshire and another old friend Pip near Hadrian’s Wall as possible campsites en route. Day one and we’re driving up the M1 when the van’s automatic gearbox starts to misbehave. We come off the motorway at Chesterfield and by a stroke of luck there’s a Mazda dealer with a service department in the town centre, (Perrys - if you ever have problems with your Mazda ask to speak to Nigel He’s your man!) Luckily they diagnose it and say that the gearbox doesn’t appear to be wrecked, but can’t fix it today. So we have to ring up International Rescue who come and pick up our van, lend us Thunderbird 6 (like a Citroen C1) overnight so we can get to Karl’s and assure us that they’ll do their best to allow our Orkney dream to thrive.

The next day we call International Rescue and Mr Tracy says that the van should be ready by mid afternoon dependent on a quick road test. I decide that a trip to nearby Mam Tor is in order as we’ve never actually climbed up it, merely gazed longingly from a distance. Boy is it windy up there today and the higher we climb the worse it gets to the point where you feel you could almost lie on it, though not too close to the edge obviously. I’m not entirely sure about pavements up hills, even if they’re nice stone sets tastefully placed, but as Mrs C only has sandals on I’ll let that one go. You really can’t beat the Shivering Mountain for views, even the cement factory in Castleton looks enigmatic today and all around is a green heaven of loveliness. For a week day it’s surprisingly busy up here with people coming and going in every direction, well actually either up or down. We descend to the car park to continue our journey back towards Chesterfield and wonder how things will pan out over the next hour. Luckily the camper van is fixed and seems to have no further problems so we continue our expedition Northwards. Th,th,th,thanks Mr Tracy!

We arrive at Pip’s near Haltwhistle just as it starts to get dark and decide that we’ll stay an extra day rather than jump straight back into the van the following morning. We ring the ferry company to move our crossing date and luckily that’s ok. The next day we wake to a hot and sunshiny day and plan a days walk around the local area with a picnic and a chance to catch up on seven years of news. During the walk we find and pick a lot of wild mushrooms and bring them back with us to use in that evenings meal. Fungi collecting is something we’ve done for almost thirty years and never had a problem with so it’s a real shock to have Mrs C being violently sick at 2.00 in the morning. Eventually this stops and we all go back to bed but wonder who might be next, having consumed the same mushrooms. Thankfully it doesn’t happen, but Mrs C is still feeling a bit odd and we try to get medical advice. After numerous calls to local chemists, hospitals and NHS Direct, but not International Rescue, we are advised by RVI Newcastle to come into A&E and get some blood tests done in case something like kidney failure strikes 3 days later. Thoughts of making it to the Orkneys are now beginning to fade, but that’s really the last thing on our minds at this stage. The wonderful people at RVI Newcastle take good care of her but insist that she stays in overnight so they can keep an eye on her and get the results from their numerous blood tests the following morning. A tense 12 hours later Mrs C is feeling much better and the test results are fine. They think she probably picked and then discarded a particularly virulent mushroom (might have been a Destroying Angel) and should have cleaned her hands before we had our picnic, which might explain why she was the only one to get ill.

So, off we go again. We know we can’t make it all the way to Gills Bay by this evening but we get as far as Inverness and decide that we’ll over-night it at Clava Cairns. This is our first visit to a Scottish prehistoric site and what a great opener! This really is quite a spectacular place; cairns, stone circles, cup marked stones and all neatly contained in a leafy glade. I wander around excitedly photographing what’s on offer while Mrs C reads all the info which is conveniently supplied next to each cairn. After a while she heads back to the camper van in the car park to prepare our evening meal and I have to resort to flash and long exposures as the light dies. Then the first stars begin to shine through the cloudless sky and a real magic takes hold of the site. The next morning the magic is sustained with low raking Autumnal sunshine giving another chance to amble around the place viewing it afresh. I hadn’t realised the evening before that the road alongside the site actually passes through the stone circle of the Southernmost cairn leaving one of the standing stones isolated from it’s brethren.

After a quick breakfast we do the last part of our journey through the Highlands and get to Gills Bay at lunchtime. It’s so well timed that Pentland Ferries allow us to travel on the next sailing in 45 minutes even though we’re 2 days late arriving there, though we had kept them informed of our predicaments and they are a very understanding and flexible company. After disembarking we immediately head to the bottom of South Ronaldsay Island to visit The Tomb of the Eagles. One of the great things about this site is that you get a comprehensive talk with it and are allowed to handle some of the finds from the tomb. After that you make your way to the tomb via a Bronze Age building which once functioned as a sauna! It’s difficult to know whether this theory is true or not but considering the burnt mound next to it and that it was connected to a source of fresh water, that would appear to be a reasonable bit of guess work…or maybe they were just steaming their vegetables to retain some of the vitamins that we modern people simply boil away. Clever. The tomb itself is quite impressive with great sea views from the edge of the cliff and you have a choice of rolling through the entrance passage on an oversized skateboard or squatting down and shuffling through while banging your camera against the wall. Sadly I chose option two. You can only truly appreciate the space once everybody else has departed, which after about 20 minutes they do, and then you can marvel at the workmanship and thought that went into this 4500 year old architecture and the man hours it took to produce it. They either took a very long time with few people or maybe life was good and the population relatively high during this period? Judging by the sheer amount of monuments and settlements spread throughout the Orkneys you’d like to think it was the latter. Walking back to the museum you can take the cliff edge route which gives you an insight as to the building supplies available, i.e. tons of stratified sandstone that was easily quarried. Back at the museum we enquired about Banks, another nearby tomb, only to be told that it had just closed for the season. Damn.

The next day is the Autumn Equinox (timely!) and we head off from the campsite at Kirkwall for Maeshowe. Due to it’s extreme popularity and the fact that it’s about to be closed down for some time we have to reserve a time slot 2 hours later. We’re also advised that there’s a ‘no photography inside the tomb’ policy in place, which although making sense in terms of crowd numbers, leaves me feeling a bit dis-heartened. I’ve driven 750 miles and this was on the top of my list! We head off for the nearby Stones of Stenness and that too is fairly brimming with people, but at least you can take photos. These are rather fine stones that wouldn’t look out of place in a sculpture park; tall, thin, elegant slabs with interesting angles. Were they always that shape and where are the rest? Presumably once a beautiful circle, now a whimsical arrangement. It just doesn’t seem to look old, though apparently it pre-dates it’s neighbour The Ring of Brodgar and that’s where we’re off to next.

By the time we’ve parked up at the Brodgar Neolithic car park we only have time to walk to the ring, circle it once and then head back to the car park and back to Maeshowe. We’ll return to Brodgar later. Maeshowe. Well what can you say? It really is something else. Firstly there’s that amazing tunnel entrance, which I avoid banging my camera into, and at first assume it to be modern and quite tastefully rendered, but no, it’s four very long slabs of stone set at right angles delivering you to the heart of the huge mound. Once we’re all safely in and our eyes have adjusted to the weak light we can begin to understand this marvel. Yesterday I’d been impressed by The Tomb of the Eagles, but Maeshowe makes it look like a Wimpey home, but to be fair, it’s not as old and the Orkney tomb builders had probably had a decent amount of practice by then. Precision seems to be the order of the day here and every slab of stone fits neatly to produce perfect recesses for the remains of the ancestors (again like the entrance way with single slabs for walls, floor and ceiling), perfectly arced walls head to what would originally have been a beautiful, high corbelled dome. It is stated by the guide that the four upright stones that make up the corners of the tomb are actually not supporting anything and of no architectural importance and there is the possibility that they were there before the present tomb or were at least nearby and had some significance and were incorporated into the tomb. Again they’re all of a similar size and shape. Also of interest are the Viking Runes and pictures scratched into some of the slabs during the 12th Century which can only be properly seen by the guide sweeping the light from her torch across them. If there was ever anything of interest or value within the tomb it had certainly disappeared by 1861 when it was first excavated and there is the possibility that it was never used at all, though to my mind that seems doubtful with all this dextrous handiwork and a Winter Solstice sun shining brightly down it’s passage. Probably those pesky Vikings.

After a brief chat with the guide at the end of our session I’m surprisingly permitted to take a few pictures of the interior, but only on condition that they don’t appear anywhere and are just for my own personal use. Fair enough. After this we continue our whirlwind tour with a quick stop at Unstan, yet another chambered cairn which is smaller and more cute than either Maeshowe or TTOTE. The interior is very similar to Eagles with its stalls but, in this case, only a single recess off the main chamber. I have the whole place to myself, which is nice, until I hear voices outside, a woman urging her partner to go inside and have a look and his reply with an Estuarine twang of “Nah, looks f**kin’ borin’ ”. They’re obviously having a great time on the islands.

Our final destination for the day is Skara Brae just a few miles up the road from here. We arrive to find a car park almost full to the brim with coaches and cars and I’m beginning to think this is not such a good idea. However, once we’re through the visitor centre, cafe and shop we realise that they’re not really that interested in the main attraction which is almost deserted. Strange! Why would you pay to get in and then blow all that money on the side shows? My first impressions are that the village is actually quite small and incredibly compact. Were there any other similar structures nearby I wonder? The preservation of the interiors is quite amazing and it’s a real shame you’re restricted to viewing it from a short distance. Why don’t I have long black, flowing hair, a Scottish accent and a film crew behind me? Then I’m sure it would be just fine to have a good nosey around. I wonder how dark this semi-troglodyte world would have been with it’s narrow openings into restricted alley ways and probably only a fire to light the interiors and a tiny opening in the roof to let the smoke out, rather like the tombs they built for their dead. Before we leave there’s just enough time to have a quick look around Skaill House, home to the discoverers of Skara Brae on whose land it sits. There’s an illustration there of the ‘Stones of Stennis, Orkney’, dated December 7th 1820, which is a little mystifying as on closer inspection it’s quite obviously The Ring of Brodgar. When did the names change? Or were both the circles generalised as the ‘Stones of Stennis’? Answers on a postcard please to…… As it’s now getting late and I think Mrs C probably can’t take a revisit to The Ring of Brodgar today without serious matrimonial breakdown we head to Stromness to find a camp site for the night.

The next day is mostly taken up by a visit to The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness which is a fantastic building and has some very interesting work on show. Thoroughly recommended, but it lacks a cafe. After lunch we head off to the Brough of Birsay in the North West of Mainland. This is a small island separated from Mainland at high tide, but at low tide you’re afforded a few hours to cross by foot onto the island where you can frolic around the remains of a Pictish/Viking settlement and a wee church. When we arrive at the car park there are a number of Norwegian tourists (Vikings I believe) waiting for the tide to go out while consuming local whiskey. I ask them what they’ve done with the contents of Maishowe, but they just look at me blankly, or drunkly. A nice evening is spent at the Brough of Birsay watching the sun set.

We awake to leaden skies, have our breakfast and head off to the Broch of Gurness. It’s not open when we arrive and we make a mug of tea and wait. Eventually a man on a bicycle arrives and opens up and let’s us in. Luckily the sun breaks through and all is wonderful. Being a Broch virgin I take my time wandering around noting the double skin walling of the broch itself (what’s that all about? Insulation? Storage? Somewhere to hide should your enemy penetrate the inner sanctum?). I’ve noticed previously from photographs that they’re all built in almost exactly the same way and probably similar sizes and proportions. The interior layout and stone furniture doesn’t vary much from what was evident at Skara Brae, but possibly 2-2,500 years separate them and things won’t change significantly until the Vikings and IKEA arrive. The siting of the broch is nice too, with views across a narrow stretch of water to Rousay Island. It seems that nearly all brochs and ancient settlements were situated at the waters edge and that all communication between people was by boat and, in fact, that carried on until fairly modern times. Just before we leave Mrs C points out a strange piece of stone furniture in one of the outer dwellings which can really only be interpreted as a ‘sofa’. Well I never.

Our fleeting Orkney saga is almost complete now, but we have one more crack at visiting The Ring of Brodgar. By now the sun has disappeared into a murky, flat grey sky and although that’s not conducive to interesting photography, it’s still nice to wander around the circle and some of the surrounding mounds. We know we have to make the most of this moment as this evening is going to bring heavy rain and local people say that most of August was wet and windy, so we’ve been tremendously lucky with our weather. The afternoon is spent in Kirkwall and a visit to the Museum, which is excellent and has a huge amount of prehistory on offer. The rain arrives as predicted and the next morning we head back down to St. Margaret’s Hope to get the ferry back to the Scottish mainland and start the long journey South. We’ve enjoyed our stay and it would have been good to explore some of the smaller islands and also some of the lesser monuments in this fascinating place, but that’s for another time.

Clava Cairns — Images

03.11.16ce
<b>Clava Cairns</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Clava Cairns</b>Posted by A R Cane

Tomb of the Eagles — Images

06.11.16ce
<b>Tomb of the Eagles</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Tomb of the Eagles</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Tomb of the Eagles</b>Posted by A R Cane

Ring of Brodgar — Images

11.11.16ce
<b>Ring of Brodgar</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Ring of Brodgar</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Ring of Brodgar</b>Posted by A R Cane

Comet Stone — Images

11.11.16ce
<b>Comet Stone</b>Posted by A R Cane

Barnhouse Settlement — Images

17.11.16ce
<b>Barnhouse Settlement</b>Posted by A R Cane

The Standing Stones of Stenness — Images

23.11.16ce
<b>The Standing Stones of Stenness</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>The Standing Stones of Stenness</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>The Standing Stones of Stenness</b>Posted by A R Cane

Unstan — Images

30.11.16ce
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Maeshowe — Images

08.12.16ce
<b>Maeshowe</b>Posted by A R Cane

Skara Brae — Images

08.12.16ce
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Broch of Gurness — Images

14.12.16ce
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A R Cane Posted by A R Cane
30th October 2016ce

Autumn sun over Brittany

Well the Tom didn't do what a Tom is supposed to do and so there is no firm date for our new kitten which meant my negotiating power was at a minimum just at a time when the sun was due to shine over Brittany for a full week. So, rather nervously and with a slight twitch I approached my wife and said 'weather good in Brittany and it will be quiet, perfect time to go on a field trip' 'Whatever, just don't forget I have my own trips planned in November and I am expecting you to be Homo Domesticus for the full month'
so, slightly reeling from this response I packed my things, watched Peterborough beat Bury 3-1 and set off for the eurotunnel straight after.
Following an easy run through Normandy there was two sites I wanted to visit near St Malo before heading deeper into Brittany, the first was the Menhir of Champ Dolent, a huge standing stone set on open ground making it look even bigger, then on to the House of Fairies neat Tresse, the first of many Allee Couverte Graves I had planned to see on this trip. Set 150m or so into the forest it was a true fairy glen and a great start to the trip.
It was now time to head towards the coast to the region around Kerguntuil an area rich in megaliths and in particular covered alleyways perhaps the most famous one being the Prajou Menhir. All the locations were well signposted and the sites well cared for, could have spent days or maybe weeks in this part of France. Next a pleasant drive around the coast to the huge cairn of Barnenez with its visitor centre and paid access. As I was the only person there the security warden was more than happy to show me around in particular focusing on the way architecture changed from megalithic to stone block as the building of the cairn and its extension progressed. This is a wonderful site, however, something about paying and visitor centres puts me off a bit and I decided our very own Grey Cairns of Camster were equally as impressive and won hands down in terms of location and access.
The next two sites were to be a minor challenge as they could only be reached at low tide and I would find out if I had read the tables on French coastal tides correctly (available on the web of course as is everything). First stop was Kernic where the covered alleyway is engulfed by the tide twice a day, assuming it wasn't built this way there must have been some movement in sea level, in any case it is an absolutely beautiful site to visit and somehow I read the tides correctly and so off to Ile Carn Island only accessible at low tide. Like a small version of Barnenez you can still crawl into the left hand passage. The tide was out, however, there was no path it is a case of picking your way over the rocks and seaweed, paddling through the tidal pools and finding your own way across all the time worried that the tide would come in and cut you off. On my return to the safety of the deserted white sand beach I felt hugely elated and was punching the air when I noticed an old woman out walking her dog looking rather oddly at me!
Time to start heading back taking in a number of inland sites the first being the incredible Kerloas Menhir, the tallest standing stone in Europe, a full 9.5m and that's after having part of it blown off in a lightning strike. Very nicely set in a small thicket very much a must see site (no one there of course). A longish run across country to find the alleway of Mougau Bihan, perhaps the finest I visited complete with decorated stones showing axe and dagger, original or added later difficult to tell. Another longish run to the Necropolis of Liscuis, three covered alleyways sat on the plateau above the cliffs rising from the village. This was a long steep walk and after huffing and puffing for what seemed like miles I was rewarded with the most fantastic views and three wonderful examples of this kind of megalith. Now surrounded by trees and gorse they would have originally been in prominent positions looking out over the valley below.
Sadly it was time to head off to my last site the megalithic centre of St Just. There is a megalithic trail here which links a number of the key sites together and forms a most enjoyable walk past standing stones, stone alignments, graves, natural stone block alignments and much more a great way to end what turned out to be one of my favourite field visits. Of course Carnac is incomparable, however, Northern Brittany is certainly not to be ignored. Pointed the van North and home today just trying to find a way to tell my wife I'm heading up to Fleetwood tomorrow for an away game!
Posted by costaexpress
14th October 2016ce

Couldn't see ABBA anywhere

As we were unpacking our suitcases I asked my wife had she enjoyed her stay in Warsaw, she said yes, a fabulous time although it would have been better if you hadn't been humming ABBA tunes all week, you don't even like them. I then asked her did she still want that kitten, she slowly said yes, I replied good, so with that out the way I felt I could finally tell her. 'I'm planning on going off to Sweden before the colder weather sets in'. 'When?' 'Friday' Expecting the normal expletives and abuse worse than a Jeremy Corbyn critic I was taken off guard with 'I see, well say hello to ABBA for me just don't backtrack on the kitten'. (We already have a Dog and an older cat which I think is enough)
So come Friday evening with the week put to bed and the weather forecast looking excellent I packed the van up and set off for Sweden.
Three immediate points 1) Its a long way, I set off at 8.00pm on Friday and it was 9.00 pm on Saturday before I settled down in in Ystad on Swedens Southern coast. 2) Julians book is unusually light on Sweden and therefore quite a bit of internet planning is required ahead of any visit. 3) It was obvious that if the crops had not been harvested a number of these sites would have been inaccessible.
I decided I would follow Julians journey along the Southern coast before heading North to Falkoping, the Neolithic heart of Sweden, and finally pick off a few sites on the West coast as I headed home.
Early morning start and I visited two modern sites (estimate around 500AD), Disa Ting a stone square located on the shoreline and the mighty Ales Stenar. This may be a modern stone ship, however, it is a very powerful place. As I climbed out of the van I could feel myself being pulled towards the site, as I moved around and up the mother earth site it is located on I felt my pace quicken and as I ascended the final ridge I broke into a trot and there they were, heart breakingly lonely overlooking the sea and crying out to distant lands. Inside the 'ship' the hairs on my legs, hands and neck all began to feel the static given off by this place, the stones are all different materials, lovingly shaped from bright pink to dark blacks, they begin to morph into people, small people, fat people, tall people, people with helmets, people with beards. I became aware of a dog fighting with my walking boots and decided it was time to return to the van. On the way back I felt strangely emotional, what had taken place back there, had I somehow seen my future, was I to be part of those stones in some way, for ever? Shaking all such feelings off I moved on past the Trollasten, Tagarp Fem and off to Gardlosa, easier to find that reports suggested, and then Gladsax, here it feels a little uncomfortable as you simply drive up to the farmyard, dump your vehicle and set off across the fields, no one batted an eyelid and it was well signposted so assumed everything OK, and what a site, the burial chamber sits on top of a circular stone wall and commands the countryside. Believed to be one of the oldest sites in the area. Quick stop at the huge Kings Grave and onto the beach for Harvangsdosen. A wonderful sight with the sea crashing in as a backdrop discovered after a storm rather like our own Scara Brae. What I had not expected was the whole area was littered with Neolithic to Iron age remains and where ever you walked you discovered something new and unmarked.
Time to head North to Falkoping, the town itself has remains of passage graves everywhere, on roundabouts in front of banks and in parks. Just North of the town is the important site of Ekornavallen. Nothing could have prepared me for this. A huge site sloping down to the river just covered in standing stones, stone circles, passage graves, cairns, stone triangle and every sort of monument between neolithic and iron age. Swedens Kilmartin! Like a child in a sweetshop, where do you start, just wallow in the joy of zig zagging from one feature to the next. Too soon it was time to move on which raised an important question, quantity or quality, was I trying to see too much and not spending sufficient quality time at the individual sites? Should I pencil in fewer sites for my visits and get to know fewer sites better, but which ones, how do you know before you get there? Any way I did go on, to Karleby and the Luttra, both multiple sites with prominent megaliths situated atop of small hills and all perfectly aligned. Time to head South to the Varberg area to visit Klastorp and Blotabordet, however, the really fascinating site was the hillside of Grimton, a huge burial ground used from early neolithic and up to 500 AD (or so). Here there was a huge boulder circle, numerous stone circles, cairns, a stone traingle and various other standing stones covering the hillside and clearly little visited, in fact, and as is usual, I had nearly all the site completely to myself. Finally I stopped at Gillog on the way home just North of Malmo. Here it is an easy crawl/stoop down the passage into the main chamber of this wonderfully preserved burial mound. The scale and quality of this site would not look out of place on Orkney and a great way to finish my visit. Sadly time to head home, pleased to be seeing the family again but sad to be saying farewell to this warm welcoming country. I placed the van in the direction of Calais, set the cruise control and let the gps navigate the intricate motorway network back home to Lincolnshire. I never did say hello to ABBA, I did however, stop at Brugge for chocolate and that seemed to work just as well
Posted by costaexpress
25th September 2016ce
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