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A week in Chatton

You'd be forgiven for thinking that a week's holiday in the village of Chatton, at the heart of the Till valley, surrounded by one of the densest concentrations of rock art in Britain, would offer quazillions of opportunities for the perusal of prehistoric petroglyphic peckings. However, in our case, this was not to be, as the constraints of family duties, combined with an inordinate amount of coursework marking, proved to put the kaibosh on trips to most of the sites Mrs Hob and I had hoped to visit.

However, that's not to say we didn't get to see any ancient stuff. There's just so much of it about in the area, that it's almost impossible not to visit at least one ancient site. This is so much the case, that were this to be a blog describing how many sites can be visited whist spending a week in Chatton, it would read like one of Stan Beckensall's pamphlets. Rather, this is a description of how it is possible to square the circle, and have a family holiday, relatively free from dragging one's kids around to see loads of boring old rocks, yet still manage to take in a fair few quality sites, all within walking distance of the village.

Our Sunday consisted of a walk over to Ros Castle, with Mrs H carrying the baby, my Brother pushing my niece and me pushing our eldest daughter B. It's only about 10mins by car, but seemed at least a couple of hours on foot, pushing buggies. To add to the exercise, B's 3-wheeler caught a flattie about half way there, and then the final ascent from the road to the hillfort on the summit proved impossible for the otherwise redoubtable 3-wheeler, necessitating the carrying of both the littlest bairns. It didn't look as if B would be able to make it, as she's too heavy to carry far, but she was determined to make it to the top, as she wanted to tell her Grandma that she'd been to the top (It's Grandma's favourite hill). So, to my immense pride, B slowly, but determinedly, walked to make it to the top, supported on the easier bits, and carried up the dodgier sections of the loose sandy path. It took a while, but she got there, and agreed that the view was worth the effort. Can you tell I'm chuffed? I do hope so, in which case I can stop waffling on about all this family orientated stuff and get on with the bits about prehistoric remains.

Ros Castle — Fieldnotes

As well as the rock art on the hill, Ros Castle (as the name suggests) also is the site of a prehistoric fort. The hillfort earthworks are difficult to discern, not helped by being sliced in two by a boundary wall, with a lot of heather on each side. The road runs quite close, and whilst there are a couple of steep patches, it's probably worth a detour this way for anyone heading from the Cheviots to the A1. The ground underfoot is loose sandy soil with rocky protuberances, not suitable for wheeled contrivances, and looks like it would need extra care in the wet.

The view is excellent, with the most of Bewick Moor stretching to the south, I think it's just possible to make out Old Bewick Hillfort. The vista is edged on the south east by Hepburn crags, with it's cupmarked cairns, cists, and a small hillfort. To the east, the coast is easily visible, and Bamburgh castle stands out like a sore thumb. To my minor chagrin, the long cairn at Ox eye isn't visible, though it may well have been if the trees weren't there. To the north, the lost carvings of Amerside Law also hide behind conifererous screening, with the Lammermuirs clearly visible on the horizon, I'd think it would be possible to see as far as Edin's Hall broch. To the west is the Cheviot Massif, an omnipresent silhouette, best viewed from the smaller hills to the east, such as Ros Castle.

Monday's visit to Chillingham Castle held very little prehistory. I was a bit saddened to see the poor presentation of the Berthele Collection, four goodly sized display cases containing finds containing the fruits of many years of patient fieldwalking by Fritz Berthele. There are some great bits and bobs in there, including a broken Langdale axe found at Chatton, oodles of nice flints, ceramics and a couple of enigmatic cup-like things.

Shame on you Sir Humphrey Wakefield…

But the whole collection looked as if it had been knocked about a bit, so everything was very jumbled up and impossible to tell what was from where. Bad show.

We also managed to miss the cup marked stone, which apparently requires getting in touch with the Castle staff beforehand and arranging to see it.

Monday night, having been mildly perplexed at not visiting any panels, I decided to go visit an old friend. This necessitated waiting until after the bairns had gone to kip, eventually meaning I didn't get out until it was dark. I was quite happy with this, as it meant getting the chance to try out the big lamp on the lovely outcrop on Chatton Park Hill. I was a bit worried that it would be awkward to find them in the dark, but happily managed to walk straight to them. The wind was a bit of a problem, as it blew the tripod over, but it didn't stop a few decent images being captured, leaving time to sit and ponder the chances of being mistaken for a poacher, what with all the lamp waving. Could have been partly psychological thing, as it was nightime, but the carvings took on a distinctly 'lunar surface' appearance.

Chatton — Images

<b>Chatton</b>Posted by Hob<b>Chatton</b>Posted by Hob


Tuesday involved a trip to see another medieval pile, the still inhabited, Harry Potterised castle at Alnwick. Here, the Postern Tower holds a tidier display of Northumbrian prehistory than that seen at Chillingham, with many interesting bits, such as the Langdale axe shown in this photo.

Looks like a Langdale axe

I couldn't find anything that linked the reference numbers to where the finds came from, but the little tags next to each artefact indicates that someone somewhere is keeping track of them. At this point, I hit my maximum geek level, and didn't pursue matters further by trying to find out what came from where.

On the definite plus side, the Tower also contains three nice examples of portable rock art:
Two imaginatively named cist covers from Beanley Moor
Beanley portable b
Beanley portable a
Portable? Only just…
Beanley portable b

And a nice wee portable found in at wall near the Warrior Stone
Beanley portable b
Ingoe Wall

Newcastle University's Beckensall archive has a couple of images showing Beanley portable a, as drawn by Mr Collingwood Bruce (here) and as drawn by Stan Beckensall (here).

Wednesday involved another castle, this time over the border, to Floors, involving a fleeting glance of The King's stone and the chance to have a look at High Chesters, an eroded panel of rock art that I've been wanting to check out since it was re-uncovered a couple of years ago. Didn't have much time to ponder though, which was a shame as it's in a heck of a good spot to play the intervisibility game.

High Chesters — Fieldnotes

Visible from the road leading to Doddington, this bit of carved outcrop has been pretty heavily weathered, it's in a very exposed location. But this means the view over the Millfield plain is excellent, in the olden days, this would have overlooked a henge or three, as there's shedloads of the on the plain. The view also gives a nice profile of the Cheviot and her pals, whilst maintaining a visual link with the other rock art sites on Doddington Moor.

It's currently used as a soapbox by sheep who want to bleat at the passing traffic, and for target practise by the local avian community (Maybe they're actually aiming at the proseletising sheep?)

High Chesters — Images

<b>High Chesters</b>Posted by Hob<b>High Chesters</b>Posted by Hob<b>High Chesters</b>Posted by Hob<b>High Chesters</b>Posted by Hob<b>High Chesters</b>Posted by Hob
The quick stop at Cairnheads (High Chesters) was followed by an even briefer attempt to find the obscure, but interesting, cup marked slab at"> Hazelrigg. An unsuccessful attempt as it turned out. Oh well. At least I know where Weetwood is. So upon the onset of darkness, my Brother and I set out to walk west to indulge in The Way of The Big Lamp on some more unsuspecting outcrop.

Weetwood Moor — Images

<b>Weetwood Moor</b>Posted by Hob<b>Weetwood Moor</b>Posted by Hob

Dod Law Main — Images

<b>Dod Law Main</b>Posted by Hob

Dod Law Hillfort rock art — Images

<b>Dod Law Hillfort rock art</b>Posted by Hob
Once again, the carvings were located sans GPS. (I should damn well think so too…) We did wander in circles for a couple of minutes, having tussled with a scary gorsebush, but the little cairns help immensely. We resisted the temptation to try and set up a tripod under the gorsebush for panel 5, and copped out of trying the same on the uneven surface under the trees at panel 6. These are left for the next nocturnal visit. Besides which, the waving of the lamp seemed to attracted attention from the direction of Clavering, where someone had started waving a lamp back. Not wanting to either:(a) Get mistaken for poachers and end up being shot at, or (b) Disrupt a clandestine attempt to signal to flying saucers. So we skulked off back to Chatton, nonchalantly whistling the tune from 'Rhinocratic Oaths' by the Bonzo's.

Having seen two carvings on Wednesday, my rock art fixation remained sated right through until Thursday night, when following a day with nothing more prehistoric than the dusty pages of an old tome in Barter Books in Alnwick, It was time to drag tripod and lamp up to Doddington Moor to see what it looks like at after dark.
Thing is, I can't really say what it looks like after dark, as the fog was a bit thick, so I only saw the bits within lamplight of where I was. The general impression was one of big black inky nothingness, with a vague orange glow from the direction of Wooler. To err on the side of caution, we turned on the GPS, but (an honour impels me to stress the point) only to trace our tracks in case we got lost in the fog. We didn't have the co-ordinates of any of the panels entered into the device, so we had to locate the carvings Jedi fashion, by using The Force. This conceit being helped along nicely by the effect of a 500,000 candlepower beam lancing through the fog (Whhhaummmm, Nyowm-Tisch! Etc..). Brother Slabdragger only had a hand torch, but nevertheless, he valiantly avoided succumbing to lightsabre-envy. Ahem.

Anyway, we found the main panel easy enough (A first for me…) but discovered that the usual tripod and bulb setting technique was useless due to the moisture in the air. Long exposures and water droplets make for crap photos. The side fill flash sort of worked, but it's tricky to get the timing right when you're using shutter speeds of less than a second. Managed to get a couple of OK images though.

Gled Law — Fieldnotes

Gled Law is the name given to the southern side plateau of Doddington Moor. From the moor, up on the hillfort, or by the main panel of rock art at Dod Law, Gled Law seems to be low lying, but this is deceptive. From the fancy panels on the edge, the view across to the Cheviot massif gives the opposite impression.

It's possible to approach from the north, dipping down off the edge of Dod Law via the path down from the sheperds house, or it's just as straightforward to park a car down at the bend between High Weetwood and Weetwood Hall.

The path up from Weetwood involves clambering over a strange raised metal sheep-baffling device, which also serves to make buggy/wheelchair access a bit of a serious (but not insurmountable) problem.

There were once a number of cairns in the field, which were still there when Canon Greenwell did his stuff, but which are now untraceable.

The carvings are excellent examples, and in a good light are easily spotted, amongst some of the finest in Northumberland. In a poor light, they seem to recede into the surface of the rock, not in the same ghostly way as those at Chatton, seeming more camouflaged than faint.

Gled Law — Images

<b>Gled Law</b>Posted by Hob
It seemed only right to try and find the carvings in the Hillfort (Doddington excavation site), which are a bit more tricky. They took some finding, so long that Gled Law was deemed infeasible for the time being. The tracks on the GPS looked like the doodlings of a deranged spider. We found the carvings and photographed them in a cursory manner, so as not to disturb the earthworm slithering around one of the rings (Wasn't one of Morris's '100 reasons for rock art' something to do with worms?).

Despite having gone to look at the rock art, the best thing about the visit was the sense of how different the fort seemed in the dark. It's a nice enough place by day, but in the midnight mistiness, the lumps and bumps really took on a life of their own in the scanning beam of the big lamp. The total quiet afforded by the fog just added to the sense of a thinning of time's barrier. A part of me is earnestly keen that the new inhabitants of the Shepherd House will have noticed the lights, peered outside and been confronted with the 100ft tall shadow of my brother, cast by the lamp into the fog. Whilst the looming shadow figure looked snazzy from my perspective, had I not known there was a hippy with a lamp in the area, I may have fallen prey to the intense atmosphere of the place and assumed the ancestor spirits were abroad that night. We didn't get down to Cuddy's Cove as we'd hoped, but we had an excellent evening's wandering.

On Friday, Mrs H and I dragged our poor kids up a hill to look at Gled Law. It didn't take long, and they managed to contain the boredom for an hour or so. The light was about as bad as it gets for highlighting rock art, and B wasn't at all impressed. In retrospect, hoiking two buggies over the rough ground involved rather more effort than I'd care to expend again, unless perhaps the light was low enough to pick the carvings out nicely.

Kettley Stone — Fieldnotes

This is an odd one.

I've seen a few cross sockets in Northumberland, and I can see why some people have suggested this could be one, as it's probably been on one of the St Cuthbert pilgramage routes. The one time spring may infer some kind of fonty-ness, and whilst it does have metal chisel marks on part of the groove, it just doesn't fit the bill as either a font or a cross socket. Not the ones I've seen in these parts.

But it doesn't look like any of the prehistoric RA nearby either, but the area is dripping with such. So I'm going to hedge my bets and say that it's a prehistoric jobby that's been co-opted for early christian religious malarky.

Notes in the night

It serves as a very effective marker to let you know you're on track to get to Ketley Crag after dark. It looms out at you, and the hollow in the side of Chatton Park Hill becomes a yawning gulf of shadow.

Kettley Stone — Images

<b>Kettley Stone</b>Posted by Hob
there was only one way to top the previous night's daftness in the Doddington Fog, so after another rock art free day, as soon as it was dark enough, Brother Slabdragger and I headed out past the Ketley stone:

Kettley Crag — Images

<b>Kettley Crag</b>Posted by Hob

Countryside Gateway Walk — Links

"A short walk around Chatton through open countryside, fields and farmland."

A 2 page pdf guide outlining public access to the Rock Art, as part of DEFRA's Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
Once past the Ketley Stone, we made straight for the Megalithic Linoleum:


We were wary of disturbing the badgers, but they wee nowhere to be seen. Only the jawbone of a small mammal (a rabbit?) hinted at their presence. Ketley Crag is a powerful spot at any time, and in the dark, even more so. I think I've run out of words, hopefully the photo conveys enough of the sense of it. In retrospect, I should have set the camera up at a distance, so the effect of the light is in scale with the landscape. Next time mebbe.

Easter 2006
Hob Posted by Hob
13th June 2006ce
Edited 3rd August 2007ce

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