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Birney Hill (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art)

A large cup-and-ring marked boulder was found in 2014 during building operations at Birney Hill just south of Darras Hall, an area of proposed housing development surrounding Birney Hall. It was acquired by the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne in early 2015. The building company whose workers uncovered the stone, Wardell Armstrong, transported it to a site near the south door of the Great North Museum (Hancock) in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The sandstone rock, weighing nearly 3 tonnes, is decorated with distinctive cup and ring symbols. Archaeologists thought that it was unlikely that the rock was originally from that location as it is clearly a part of a much larger rock that had been recut. It is possible that it was brought to Birney Hill from another location as quarried building stone.

Tyne & Wear Museums Blog:

Approximate find spot of relocated boulder already assigned location at Hancock Museum:

Bygate Hill (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Northumberland SMR abstract for Bygate Hill (10236)

(Marginal) A double circle of stones, reported by Mr Surtees to have stood until recently (1827) on Heddon Hill, a mile south west of West Belsay. The inner circle was 60 yards in diameter, and the outer, concentric with it, and from 15 to 20 yards from it. At the centre was a standing stone 10ft high. When Mr Surtees last visited the ground the circles had apparently been levelled, 'the large stone cut into gateposts, and the smaller ones into materials for and adjoining sunk fence'. The view is very extensive especially towards the east. (1)

(Marginal) 'Some ancient earthworks and hut circles' on Heddon Hill, now called Bygate Hill. 'These we believe to be the remains referred to by Mr Hodgson, which, if he had seen them himself, he would not have called them concentric circles. As we were accompanied by George Wilkinson, who built the sunk wall to which Mr Hodgson alludes, it is probable that we were on the right spot, indeed, our guide pointed out some holes from which the stones had been taken'. The remains consisted of an enclosure, hexagonal in shape and containing about 2.5 roods. 'The circular parts, which are formed, like the principal enclosure, of earth and stones, are placed together at the north west.... One, more elevated than the rest, has more the appearance of a beacon than a hut circle, and has not escaped the Ordnance Surveyors'. (There is no beacon marked on OS 6! 1865. The trig station at NZ 06817702 is possibly meant). The older inhabitants had no knowledge of the circles described by Hodgson. (2)

Bygate Hill was possibly an early camp. (3)

NZ 06837705. An earth bank, situated on the highest part of Bygate Hill in an all-round commanding position close to the trig station, probably represents the works referred to above. The hill is covered by a dense fir plantation. The bank is visible across a fire-break and can be traced for a few metres into the plantation, but the trees are too dense for a survey to be made. (4)

No trace of the earthworks can now be recognised owing to the density of the plantation. (5)

(1) Hodgson, J.C., 1827. History of Northumberland, part 2, vol.1 (363-4
(2) MacLauchlan, H. 1864. Survey of Eastern Branch of the Watling Street (Newcastle upon Tyne), 8-9
(3) Dodds, M.H. 1926. A History of Northumberland, vol.12 (Newcastle upon Tyne), 13-14

Russell's Cairn (Cairn(s))

Just south-west of the 619m summit of Windy Gyle is the place name "Split the De'il". David Dippie Dixon (Upper Coquetdale, 1903) describes this as an upright rock, some three feet in height. Another contradictory description (1915/16), reported by Rhiannon below, describes an upright slab of porphyry, about 6 feet high, on the southern slope of Windy Gyle, in a south-easterly direction from the cairns.

Pastscape describes it as a prehistoric standing stone at grid reference NT 8563 1502 a location where it is correctly shown on 1:10560 scale maps prior to 1925. However, it appears to have been descheduled (as a scheduled ancient monument) in 1998.

The place name has migrated to the west on modern large scale maps, where it has become associated with the cross border tracks, and the original map position marker (an open circle) which showed at its correct location, removed.

A recent visit shows that 3 feet is the more reasonable description of its size, the stone is no longer standing, and probably originally set up as a marker, rather than having a prehistoric origin. The place name though may indicate its former prominence.

A small cluster of other stones around the toppled slab may however indicate that it could have originally been part of a cairn. Many of its stones could have been depleted by the habit of generations of walkers removing stones to place on the greater eminence of Russell's Cairn just to the north. Interestingly, Sir W Aitchison described a Bronze Age burial mound just south of this location in 1951, something that later surveyors couldn't subsequently find

A medieval cross known to have been set up somewhere in the vicinity, named as Maiden Cross, is discussed here

Greenlee Lough (Cup Marked Stone)

The cup marked stone (Greenlee Lough a) is 16m S of the southern entrance to a Roman Camp midway between the current field walls where the land slopes up to the N to crags overlooking Greenlee Lough. This area does not have free access to the public (which ends at the E side just beyond the Ridley Common stone circle) and permission must be sought at West Hotbank.
An area of cord rig (which was shown by excavation to predate the camp) is visible as parallel bands of vegetation (mainly rushes) from the S side of the stream in an area just below the cup-marked rock. This makes up part of the field system of a farmstead which is located in a field 200m to the west, on a protected site just above a steep gorge where the Jenkins Burn flows N to join Greenlee Lough. Although it has been described as Romano-British, it is circular in shape, and may be earlier. The Ridley Common stone circle is approximately 400m NE of the cup-marked rock and has been interpreted as a Bronze Age cairn as many of its 15 stones are small.
Flash Earth shows all these features well, including a hollow-way extending from the E side of the farmstead and another defended settlement, attributed to the Iron Age, situated on the top of the crags, immediately N of the stone circle. Shielings were constructed in its enclosure and in the Roman Camp in the Medieval period showing that this area has had a long history of settlement.

Greenlee Lough panel b is located at NY 78060 69988, 6m NW of corner in the boundary wall of the group of ruined shielings at Cragend just W of the Pennine Way footpath where it crosses the track, 400m NE of the Ridley Common stone circle. The outcrop is at the E end of the crag line which is the location of the Iron Age settlement and is at the top of a steep slope overlooking marshy ground lying to the E of Greenlee Lough. There are two basins (clearly man-made) connected by a shallow, curved groove. A 10p coin found (and left) in the bottom of the larger water-filled basin perhaps indicates a local tradition. The basins may have had a prehistoric origin as suggested by Beckensall but this can't be certain. The larger of the two is little eroded and maybe of fairly recent origin, possibly connected with the shielings which are very close. Its likely purpose will probably remain a mystery.

Howden Hill (Northumberland) (Cup Marked Stone)

Visited this site just south of Hadrian's Wall at Shield on the Wall to look for a cup-marked boulder given in the Beckensall Archive as 'Round Cairns west of Middle House'. According to the Archive, an English Heritage Field Warden had found a boulder with 16 cup-marks as part of the round cairns but only an approximate grid reference is given and no photographs. Although the moor is access land, getting to the site is problematical due to difficult car parking on the Military Road and a walk of about 1 mile over rough tussocky and often boggy terrain. Three round cairns dated to the Bronze Age stand on a slight ridge just south of Settlingstones Burn. Keys to the Past describes them as being between 8 and 10m in diameter and 1m high with one disturbed in the centre due to excavation, but I found the archaeology difficult to interpret on the ground. After a search of the numerous boulders, I eventually found a cup-marked stone, mostly turf-covered, about 40m east of the sheepfold fairly close to a stone setting which might indicate the original centre of one of the cairns. A second cup-marked rock can be found about 1m north of the first rock.

Hawick (Bavington) (Cup Marked Stone)

A search of Keys to the Past, the Northumberland & Durham archaeology site, for other rock art in the Ray-Sunniside area produced two possibilities. One of these looked quite interesting: 'Iron Age defended settlement and Neolithic cup marked stone on Great Wanney Crag (Kirkwhelpington). The crag is certainly an impressive place, regularly used by climbers and a good viewpoint. Despite its view of the Simonside Hills to the NE, I couldn't onvince myself that the cups and grooves on rocks at the crag edge were anything other than those produced by natural erosion. Perhaps there are some that started as artificial carving but it would be difficult to tell now. Maybe another visit in better light or more optimistic mood would show something up.
The second record, this site, certainly lived up to its description and there's certainly no reason to suspect that the cups here are anything other than artificial carvings. Hawick Farm is situated to the E of Sweethope Loughs about 2.5km S of Ray-Sunniside. The cup-marked panel is in a field close to a footpath some 200m E of the farm and lies on the E side of a grassy mound, partially turf covered (possibly a cairn?). 8 cup-marks were exposed, the largest 10cm diameter, the others about 5cm and between 2 and 3cm deep. I resisted the temptation to take anything more than a restrained peak under the edges of the covering vegetation and this only revealed some smaller cups. The horizontal rock surface appears to be partly rounded but its overall extent is hidden.
The surrounding land is gently rolling, improved pasture, mainly given over to sheep. The map shows enclosures and a tumulus two fields to the NE in the direction toward the deserted medieval village of West Whelpington.

Ray-Sunnyside (Cup Marked Stone)

The region between the convergence of the A68 and A696 main roads on their way to Scotland is not known for its rock art and the cluster of 13 panels at Ray-Sunniside in the Beckensall Archive stands out. It is lovely walking country of rolling heather moorland and recent forestry blocks dotted on the map with cairns and ancient settlements of all kinds.
Although only 4km south of the impressive multiple cup and ring carvings of Tod Crag, all 13 rocks at Ray-Sunniside were described as having just single or multiple cup-marks, most were portable but probably associated with cairns. It's often hard to prove cup-marked rocks as being artificial and not natural features so I visited with an open and largely sceptical mind.
The site is approached from the minor road which runs between Ridsdale on the A68 and Knowesgate, just north of Kirkwhelpington on the A696. The main ridge is about 260m above sea-level and runs SW to NE on a slope south of Ray Fell.
There proved to be a large number of cairns, old boundaries and enclosures with a few remains of round-houses.
Of the Beckensall panels, I failed to find two (b and m) and six (d, e, g, h, k and l) were unconvincing as definite rock art as the cups were shallow. h is a strangely grooved rock but may be the result of natural erosion along the bedding planes. The others though have deep cups and several are located close-to or were closely-ssociated with the cairn-field.
Although many of the cairns may have been for field clearance, a few may have been used for burials and the incorporation of portable cup-marked rocks in such Bronze Age cairns is a well known phenomenon. Rock i, for example, which has a single cup-mark about 8cm diameter and 4cm deep, lies close to a prominent cairn. The Archive entry quotes Phil Deakin that the stone was used as the end stone of a burial cist, facing inward. The cup-marks on a, c, f, and j, and also b and m on Archive evidence, are similar in size and form and I reckon are convincingly genuine rock art, albeit of the not very exciting kind!
A search of the area on Keys to the Past showed two records under Canny Cleugh (the name of a small stream to the north). One is for an enclosure, field system, cairns and hollow ways of unknown date and the other for a field system, clearance cairns and the ring banks of round houses (seen on aerial photos) and assigned to the later prehistoric period. At the west end of the ridge is a very prominent rectangular-banked enclosure with the remains of round houses and a field system (given the name 'Sunnyside near Ferneyrigg') which links to a similar site to the SE ('Ray Burn') by a hollow way. These are both described as Roman-period native farmsteads.

Titlington Mount (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art)

Friday proved to be a windy day up at Hunterheugh and the rock art team decided to try a bit of exploration. My main motivation for visiting this site above Titlington Mount farm was to compare the millstone extraction that we had been previously told about here with the two large carved rocks in the Hunterheugh settlement area. The locals refered to these as millstones too and that had never seemed particularly satisfactory.

Luckily, Dave T didn't let me dismiss the cup marks on the E side of the same outcrop as natural erosion and showed that at least two of them have eroded rings. The simple nature of these motifs and the pattern of erosion makes them similar to those of Hunterheugh 4, nearly 2 km to the east. As well as the two cup and rings on the N side, there are other cups (which may be natural features) along a narrow area of rock bordered by raised veins, on the S side of the veins, and on the SE edge adjacent to thin turf cover. It is quite possible that some of these had also sported rings removed by erosion and now obscured by the lichen cover.

This find extends the rock art found in the Hunterheugh area west along the ridge which culminates at Titlington Pike (above Glanton) which sports two large overgrown Bronze Age cairns and provides fine views of the Cheviot Hills. The remains of a circular Iron Age fort is also present on the spur ridge just west of the farm.

Four 'burnt mounds', now covered by vegetation, lie on the banks of a small stream just below the cup-marked outcrop. Two of the mounds were excavated by Peter Topping in 1992-93. (Northern Archaeol, 15-16, 1998, 3–25). Both mounds contained hearths, troughs and other stone-built fixtures. Radiocarbon dating demonstrated that the sites had been in use in the Bronze Age over 3000 years ago. Pollen and other biological evidence showed a landscape changing from scrub woodland to moorland at this time along with some evidence of possible local cereal cultivation during the earlier phases of the mounds.

Rough Castles / Roughley Wood (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art)

This area lies between Thrunton Wood and the main A697 roads which bounds it on the E side. Its location is north west of the Millstone Burn rock art site and west of Corby Crags and Caller Crags which are hidden by intervening high ground. It is effectively a poorly drained large sheep field with a few marshy streams feeding north into the Coe Burn which, further north joins the River Aln. Two Iron Age Enclosures are known on the ridge of Rimside Moor just west of the minor road, and adjacent to the main road, just north of the rock art, are another Enclosure and Settlement of undetermined age. There is no outcropping bed-rock but a large number of sandstone boulders of all sizes, several showing signs of quarrying.
The Beckensall Archive shows 5 marked boulders in this area, although even rock art enthusiasts would only get excited by two of them, Rough Castles 1 and 4. The former must have been a much larger boulder which has been cut by quarrying on two sides. The south side slice appeared to have broken when extracted and the central part removed. A series of wedge cuts have also been made from the top through the westerly face and carve straight through the main cup and ring motif. It is possible that a second ring is also present, although highly eroded. Clearly a large amount of carving has been lost both from this rock and possibly from others in the vicinity.

Cladh Chlainn Iain (Chambered Cairn)

This is the only chambered cairn known on Jura. It is situated on a cliff top on the west side of a stream that runs into the bay Poll a'Cheo - the Bay of the Mists. It can be approached either from Strone via the standing stone (although the last part is quite rough) or along the cliff path from Ardfin (Jura Gardens).

Strone (Standing Stones)

The stones are in a field called Achadh na Lice - the field of the slabs. The easiset approach is from the road near Strone house or through the alder wood from the chambered cairn above Poll a'Cheo - Bay of the Mists, an extension of the cliff-top walk from Jura Gardens.

Morwick (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art)

A new rock art panel at Morwick Crag has been found by Team 2 of the Northumberland & Durham Rock Art Project (Special Boat Unit). The vertical rock face lies directly between Stan's 1 and 2 series on a vertical part of the cliff that overhangs the river, facing due north. On the east side of this panel round the corner (left hand side on the photos), panel 1f is about 3m high above the path that ducks under this overhang and carries a nice array of horned and linked spirals.
The new panel probably continues this theme although the motifs are hard to see as they are completely covered in a uniform yellowish lichen similar to congealed custard. There are hints that multiple similar motifs lie on this new panel. Better light and some ladders will be required for a closer look.
Our early analysis is that all the motifs on Morwick Cliff may have been made from a path running along the crag line and would not have required any climbing or ladders by their original carvers. This path has now been severely eroded by the river leaving a few of the panels more than 3m above ground level. Futher river erosion and rock falls are a continued cause of concern at this site.

Ox Eye (Long Cairn)

Northumberland & Durham SMR Ref No: N13330 says of the Ox Eye long cairn, near Chillingham (Chatton):

"The Ox Eye long cairn has only fairly recently been recognised as such. It was first noted in the early 1990s and was surveyed about ten years later by members of the Border Archaeological Society. The prehistoric cairn is trapezoidal in shape and measures 55m long by 22m wide and stands just over 2m high. The edges of the cairn are quite difficult to see as they have tumbled and are covered in bracken. This is one of only a handful of long cairns in the county."

The cairn lies in the centre of a large clearing in the dense forest plantation of Ros Hill Wood. The quite prominent raised shape is surrounded by a larger ring of bracken contrasting with the surrounding deep heather.

The Ox Eye natural boundary stone lies to the SW and has eroded in one part into several tubes, which pierce, in an unlikely manner in at least one case, straight through the rock. Perhaps these are the origin of the Ox Eye name.

The Beckensall Archive describes two cup-marked outcrops between the cairn and boundary marker but these I couldn't find. They weren't revisited for the Archive project and Stan says that they are usually buried in deep heather. The Ox-Eye 1 slab is described as having scattered cup marks, most of them in a cluster at one end. Ox-Eye 2 has a scatter of 28 cups, some of which may be paired like those at Ros Castle.

Comparison with old OS maps of the area shows that before afforestation the area was called Lousy Law and the cairn was given as Shepherd's Cairn. Two more Shepherd's Cairns are shown on the ridge at Millstone Hill so perhaps this name is more to do with (apparent) origin. Recent maps apply Shepherd's Cairn to only one point of the ridge midway between Ros Castle and Millstone Hill. The large Ox Eye stone, however, appears to have been one of the several boundary markers along the parish boundary.

Millstone Hill (Cup Marked Stone)

It was a horrible day with rain (sleet on the hills) and mist. However, the trusty hound wanted to go out and see some rock art, so I gave in and we went up to Ros Castle.

Millstone Hill is just over 1km NE of Ros Castle through deep wet heather and along the overgrown ?path on the E side of the substantial wall that makes the boundary of the Chillingham Castle estate and keeps you away from the wild white cattle. Fallen trees with wet branches, bog and heather made this a memorable experience.

We were heading for one of the more obscure panels of rock art in the Beckensall archive. This had not been revisited (probably never since 1990) and the grid reference given (actually very accurate) was based on the OS map, not a GPS. Just like the old days!

I give two pictures but apologise for the quality. Someone will just have to go back there, won't they?

The rock is a gently sloping outcrop surrounded by deep heather which has been carved with cups linked by grooves; as Stan Beckensall says "like strings of beads". This motif, although rare, is found elsewhere in Northumberland and further afield.

There are many cairns in the area - some probably from field clearance, but also a few kerbed cairns used for cremation burials. George Jobey excavated some on Millstone Hill in 1980 before afforestation but I don't know how their position relates to that of the cup marked outcrop which wasn't recorded at the time. Mr Berthele subsequently discovered a large triangular cup marked slab in a plough furrow when the forest was planted close to the excavated cairns. This portable stone is illustrated by Beckensall (1983 p.43) and is now at Chillingham Castle.

I took the way back through Ros Hill Wood to the E down the much easier system of forest rides. Don't attempt this without a GPS. This lets you visit the Ox Eye long cairn on the way back.

Heddon Hill (Cup Marked Stone)

Of the two cup and ring marked rocks recorded in Ilderton parish in the Beckensall archive this site gave me two problems. Firstly, it lies a good 1km NW of Heddon Hill close to the promontory Iron Age hill fort just SE of Middleton Dene. Secondly, I wasn't completely convinced it showed anything other than natural erosion cups and grooves although the Archive record describes a minimum of 27 cups.

The weather wasn't good as you could barely stand up in the cold wind blowing off Cheviot and perhaps on a better day I might have been more amenable. Clearly the experts believe it (at least partly) artificial. The nearby site at South Middleton Moor is undoubdetly a carved cup and ring and the area is rich in ancient settlement, clearance and burial cairns.

The two sites are well to the west of the main cup and ring areas of Northumberland and the rock type here is mainly volcanic. The land here was clearly well settled and cultivated for a long time period although at above 200m now given over to sheep grazing.

Whitton Burn (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art)

I added this site for consistency with the Beckensall Archive although, as Stan states, it is really just an extension NE of the North Lordenshaw area of cup and ring marked rocks, close to the B6342 road S of Rothbury.

The Archive describes 6 panels, but in the way of these things, several have just a few isolated cup marks and don't make interesting photos. The best panel is Whitton Burn 2a, located just SE (uphill) of the fence and shown as a cup and ring marked rock on the 1:10,000 OS sheet. The outcrop has two cups with rings (the one illustrated is deep and roughly cut, the other faint) and 12 prominent single cups arranged in arcs.

North Lordenshaw (Cup Marked Stone)

A search of Lordenshaw rock-art in the Beckensall Archive gives over 100 panels ranging from small boulders bearing single cup-marks to intricately carved outcrops and long grooved slabs. Best known are the main outcrop with an ancient Ministry of Works sign and the 'Horseshoe Rock' both west of the hillfort and easily accessed from the carpark at the east end of the Simonside Hills.

A large number of panels are situated east of the hill fort and continue north-easterly down the ridge to Whitton Dene above Rothbury. Some 30 panels north of the NZ/NU grid boundary make up the Beckensall 6 cluster designated as North Lordenshaw in the region of the standing stone. Convenient access is from the bridge over the Whitton Burn on the B6342, 1 mile south of Rothbury.

It is an area of boulders, quarried outcrops and large flat sandstone slabs. Many of the rocks have multiple cup-marks, some with faint rings. Large basins and long channels (possibly accentuated or eloborated natural features) are also a feature similar to those futher south. Views are predominantly to the north over Coquetdale and north-west to Cheviot with Simonside largely hidden behind the long ridge which rises toward the hill fort.

Dervaig A (Stone Row / Alignment)

I thought I would cut through the forest to find these stones which was not a good idea. I was relieved to have my GPS in the rucksac which let me find the site and get back to the car via the path I should have followed in the first place. Caught a glimpse of a wild-cat too. Good views from the rocky knoll above the forest clearing which houses the stones.

Whitley Pike (Carving)

This site is included in the Beckensall archive although hadn't been visited. I had just read the description of a bleak, boulder strewn hillside and five panels with basins. It was discovered by R Charlton and described and illustrated in the magazine of the Redesdale Society in 1983. I was expecting to find a few basins like those common as natural erosion features on fell sandstone outcrops and boulders. To my surprise the motifs are amazing, thought provoking and very unusual.

The site is close to the Pennine Way, between Bellingham and Kielder, just W of Whitley Pike. The ridge has the extensive views common to other rock-art sites and is a remote and wild place. More traditional cup-marked rocks can be found about 1km NW on Padon Hill.

Five boulders or outcrops have markings which are nearly all recessed circular dishes or basins. One of the largest curves over the bend of a outcrop on both vertical and horizontal faces like the Dali watch in his painting: The Persistence of Memory.
The excellent Charlton drawing is given in:

There is some confusion over the Beckensall Archive decsription, grid references and illustrations, and I haven't been able to match all 5 panels. There are about 10 basins, some very faint and possibly others that are either highly eroded or possible natural features. Two of the circular features also run to the rock edges and may continue on another face like the Dali watch motif. One groove shows what may be pick marks but some of the basins look too clean to be prehistoric.

It's all very interesting, but is it rock art? I've not seen anything else similar in Northumberland. If it's not rock art, what is it? The rock has many inclusions and nearby shake holes may indicate the presence of limestone. Some of the basins appear much too finely made to be natural inclusions.

If they are man-made who made them, when and why? As usual, more questions than answers. Just another typical day out among the rock art of Northumberland.

An Carn (Cup Marked Stone)

There are 9 groups of cup-marks on horizontal or gently sloping outcrop very close to the deserted village of An Carn, 50m above sea level. The settlement was cleared by 1868 according to oral tradition and now lies abot 1km from the road. It seems unlikely that the inhabitants could be unaware of the carvings so close to their houses. One cup-marked outcrop has a larger bowl-shaped carving, 20cm diameter, that may have been used for grinding corn in this modern phase. A corn-drying kiln has also been found in the adjacent woodland. The total number of cup marks is about 100. Many are highly eroded and cut through the rock strata but some examples are up to 5cm deep.

A small bay some 250m NE of the township affords one of the few safe boat landings on the NE coast of Jura. Excavation of a cave at the head of the bay produced finds of late medieval date. There is a Bronze Age cairn about 1km to the NE at Cnoca'Churn Mhoir.
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