Clowder (1), Arncliffe, North Yorkshire

Enclosures:  OS Grid Reference – SD 9165 6968

Also Known as:

  1. Clouder

Getting Here

Looking down on Clowder-1

To the right of The Falcon Inn across from Arncliffe village green is a trackway called the Monk’s Way.  Walk up here for about 450 yards until there’s a stile on your right which is the start of the diagonal footpath SW up the hillside.  Once you hit the limestone ridge several hundred yards up, keep on the path that curves round the edge of the hill for 1.3 miles (2.1km), going over 5 walls until, at the 6th one, you should look uphill, east, at the small cliff-face 100 yards above you.  That’s where you need to be!

Archaeology & History

This is one of several clusters of large prehistoric enclosures and settlements in the expanse of land known as Clowder, on the hills 1.65 miles (2.63km) southwest of Arncliffe.  It’s in a very good state preservation and, surprisingly, almost nothing has been written about it.

Covered hut circle on NW edge
Cliffs & walls of Clowder-1

A multi-period site whose construction probably began  sometime in the Iron Age (although the old Yorkshire Dales archaeologist, Arthur Raistrick, thought the settlements up originated in the Bronze Age), we can say with some certainty that parts of this complex were definitely being used until medieval times due to the lack of growth on some of the walling.

The entire complex comprises of a series of interlinked walled enclosures running roughly north-south for a distance of more than 200 yards.  Along the 200 yards are at least eight conjoined walled sections of varying shapes and sizes.  Some of the walling, particularly along its western edges, measuring up to 10 feet across (some of this will be due to collapse) is very overgrown indeed and is probably the oldest aspect of the enclosure.  The inner walled sections, much of it leading up to the small cliff face, are rough rectangular structures, each of them averaging 30 yards from their western edge to the eastern cliff and rock faces.

Most recent walled section

Within the largest and best preserved section at the northern end, a smaller and more recent walled rectangular enclosure would seem to have been used for either cattle or storage of some form, as it’s on too much of a slope to have been viable as a living quarter.  Also on the very northern edge is a well-preserved but much overgrown hut circle, between 8-9 yards across.

Faint walling looking south

The entirity of Clowder-1 is difficult to assess without an archaeological dig.  Despite this, as half of the walled enclosures (in the northern half) are on slopes leading up to the cliffs they would seem unsuitable for people to live in.  It is more probable that these sections were used for livestock and other storage.  At the more southern end however, the land begins to level out and this would be feasible as good living quarters.  There was also once a good source of water immediately beneath the entire complex, but with deforestation the waters eventually fell back to Earth.Back to its southern end and down towards the modern-day walling, some 70 yards on we find more ancient structures of the same architectural form that we’ve just walked along.  This lower section has just one notable singular oval-shaped hut circle, 20 yards east-west by 29 yards north-south.  Other probable man-made structures seem to be just below this; and this part of the settlement then continues on the other side of the walling, into the large Dew Bottoms (5) settlement complex.

Folklore

Weather lore of the ‘Clauder’ hill tells that it “draws the skies down” – i.e., as Halliwell Sutcliffe (1929) put it:

“A deluge may be in process on each side of the Clouder when lower down the sun is hot on tired pastures.”

We encountered just such a truth when James ElkingtonChris Swales and I visited the sites up here just a week or so ago…

References:

  1. Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys through Brigantia – volume 2, Aussteiger: Barnoldswick 1990.
  2. Sutcliffe, Halliwell, The Striding Dales, Frederick Warne: London 1929.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to James Elkington and Chris Swales, without whose guidance this site profile would never have been written.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.122360, -2.128648 Clowder (1)

Briscoe Rigg, Rigton, North Yorkshire

Settlement (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference — SE 2581 5100

Archaeology & History

Briscoe Rigg on 1851 map

Highlighted on the 1851 OS-map of the area as a ‘Camp’, all trace of this ancient settlement would seem to have been destroyed.  It was already on its way out when the Ordnance Survey lads looked at it for a second time in 1888, finding barely a trace of it.  Thankfully though, when the clearer eyes of that great northern antiquarian Eric Cowling visited the site in the early 1930s, traces of it could still be made out.  Both he and fellow antiquarian, Mr B.J.W. Kent of Beckwithshaw, did their own investigations; and it is their notes we are most grateful for in describing this forlorn antiquity.  Mr Cowling (1946) wrote:

“On the highest point of the enclosed land on the east side of the Briscoe Rigg (to) Rigton road is a small entrenched site.  The enclosed area measures 130 yards from north to south and 70 yards from east to west.  The camp is six-sided, but this appears to be due to bad workmanship and layout rather than intention.  One gains the impression that the original plan was oblong and that the longer sides were bent to conform to the shorter ones.  It is slightly hollow and the whole area is almost levelled by heavy ploughing; the outer bank barely being one foot above the surroundings.  The ditch and outer bank now cover a spread of 60 feet.

“Recent hurried investigations by Mr Kent showed interesting details.  The area seems to have been occupied by hut-sites previous to the hurried digging of a trench some 16ft wide and 6ft deep, going down into the bed-rock nearly 6 feet.  Son after, the ditch was half-filled by boulders and earth amongst which was a fragment of pottery, black in colour and indefinite in type, but probably Roman.  When the ditch was half-full it was used for some time for cooking…”

Cowling’s 1946 site-plan

Cowling also told us there was “a tradition that tools, which by description appear to be socketed celts, were found here when the site was brought under cultivation”, in about 1840.  Mr Kent also discovered various flints hereby, many Mesolithic scrapers and “a fine Bronze Age barbed and tanged point and also a transverse cutting arrow point of the early four-sided types.”

Although these finds from much earlier periods show that people have been living and hunting in the area for an exceptionally long period, the settlement or camp at Briscoe Rigg was probably built in the early Iron Age period and continued to be used into Romano-British times (somewhere between between 500 BCE and 500 CE).

References:

  1. Cowling, E.T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.954511, -1.608033 Briscoe Rigg, Rigton

Horn Bank, Rigton, North Yorkshire

Horn Bank on 1910 map

Settlement (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 2905 5035

Archaeology & History

Upon the top of the old ridge where ran the ancient trackway between Rigton and Pannal, could once be found a multi-period settlement, long since gone – as happens all too often in this neck o’ the woods.  And unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any sketch plans of the site.  It was first described by Edward Hargrove (1789) in his historical old rambles around Harrogate and district.  When the scribe reached Horn Bank, he told that here,

“was lately discovered the remains of several entrenchments forming three distinct enclosures, two of a square and one of a circular form.  Not far from these entrenchments, which were probably of Danish origin, was found, in May 1787, the umbo of a shield, with several other fragments of gilt brass…”

In William Grainge’s (1871) magnum opus he told that,

“At Horn Bank, on the crest of the hill east of Rigton, near a farm-house, are the remains of three camps—two of a square, and one of a circular form; they are probably of British and Roman origin. The location is a lofty and commanding one; but the ploughshare has so often passed over them that they are nearly obliterated.”

Just below the settlements Grainge also said how, “a fine spring of water was formed into a bath here many years ago, but the whole is now in a state of ruin.”  This would have likely been the main water supply for the people living here.  Harry Speight (1903) implied the same thing when he investigated the site, saying:

“At a place called Horn Bank, near Rigton, on the west side of the parish, on the crest of the hill on the north side of the Horn Bank farmhouse, there were formerly to be seen very distinct indications of three camps, each encompassed with fosse and rampart. Hargrove supposed them to be Danish, but as two of them were of a square or rectangular form, and the other circular, they were in all probability relics of the Romano-British contest, at first occupied by the native tribes and subsequently as a temporary camp and look-out post by their conquerors. The site commands a wide and uninterrupted view in every direction, while close at hand is a copious spring of good water. This spot many years ago was converted into a bathing-place, but is now broken down and abandoned… The site has long been ploughed, and little or no trace of these earthworks is now discernible.”

The only thing Eric Cowling (1946) could find when he came to the place were faint scars of walling whose shadows were highlighted by the sun when the conditions were just right.  He thought the settlements were Iron Age in nature, but would have continued to be used in subsequent centuries by local people.  It seems a sensible suggestion…

References:

  1. Cowling, E.T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.

  2. Grainge, William, History & Topography of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, J.R. Smith: London 1871.

  3. Hargrove, E., The History of the Castle, Town and Forest of Knaresborough with Harrogate, W. Blanchard: York 1789.

  4. Speight, Harry, Kirkby Overblow and District, Elliot Stock: London 1903.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.948414, -1.558830 Horn Bank, Rigton

Overlee, Clarkston, Renfrewshire

Souterrains & Settlement (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 577 572

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 43802

Archaeology & History

Overlee Farm in 1896 – no remains highlighted

This was an astonishing-sounding place, little-known beyond the pages of specialist historians.  It has been described in modern terms as simply “subterranean structures”, “weems”, or “prehistoric underground houses”; but were this site still in evidence it would be a huge attraction!  From the literary descriptions we possess, the extensive remains found and destroyed sound very much like the much-visited fogous found throughout Cornwall, or more commonly known as ‘souterrains’ in Scotland—although there’s no mention of the place in Wainwright’s (1963) singular study on such monuments.  Despite this, here, on the south-side of modern Clarkston, it seems we once had a Renfrewshire equivalent to the prehistoric Cornish village and fogous known as Carn Euny.

The first known account of this site was written by James Smith (1845) in the survey for the New Statistical Account, who thankfully gave us a reasonably lengthy account of what was once here.  He told:

“About thirty years ago, on the farm of Overlee, which lies on the north bank of the river Cart, in the south-west angle of the parish, Mr Watson, the proprietor, on removing the earth from a quarry which he wished to open, discovered a great many subterraneous houses ranged round the slope of a small swelling hill. Each house consisted of one apartment, from eight to twelve feet square. The sides, which were from four to five feet high, were faced with rough undressed stone, and the floors were neatly paved with thin flag stones which are found in the neighbourhood.  In the centre of each floor was a hole scooped out as a fire-place, in which coal-ashes still remained, and seemed to indicate that their occupiers had left the place on a sudden.  That coal and not wood or peat had been employed as fuel, seemed at first an argument against the antiquity of the houses, until it was remembered that many seams of coal crop out on the steep banks of the river in the immediate vicinity, which may have been picked out for firing by the aboriginal inhabitants, as is still done to a limited extent by a few of the poorer classes in the neighbourhood. Near the fire-places were found small heaps of water-worn pebbles, from two to three inches in diameter, the use of which it is difficult to conjecture. They may have been used as missiles for attack or defence in the rude warfare of ancient days, or more probably they served the purposes of an equally rude system of cookery, by which meat was prepared for being eaten by heated stones placed round it, as is still done in many of the South Sea islands.  The floors of the houses were covered to the depth of about a foot with a rich black vegetable mould, which was in all likelihood the decayed remains of the roofs mixed with soil filtered from the surface.  As was gathered from the different appearances of the soil, in and over them, the houses were partly excavated from the hill and partly built above ground, and a level approach to the entrances was dug out of the slope.  The number discovered amounted to forty-two, of which thirty-six formed the arc of a lower and larger circle, and the remaining six, also circularly ranged, stood a little higher up the hill.  The writer is informed that the ruins of villages of a similar description have been discovered in several parts of Scotland; and there is an account of one very much the same as the above, recorded in the third volume of the Transactions of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland.  About twelve querns or small hand-mills were found near the site of these houses, and a grave lined with stone containing a rude urn filled with ashes.  These latter relics, however, may have belonged to a still distant but less remote antiquity. The old castle of Lee or Williamwood was erected near the place, and it is not improbable that, in procuring materials for the building from the freestone, of which the hill consists, the soil, which for so many centuries concealed the remains of the village, was thrown down upon it. Several years ago, the proprietor, in clearing away the old foundations of the castle, which interfered with the rectilineal operations of the plough, found within the square which they enclosed many human bones, which he avers were of almost superhuman magnitude.

“If the natives of the village, described above, deserted their homes hastily, as may be conjectured from the fact of the fuel remaining on their hearths, it may have been in terror of the Romans—one division of whose invading army must have passed not far from the place. In a direct north-east line from this hill, without any intervening eminence, and at the distance of about two miles, there are still very distinct traces of a small Roman encampment on the summit of a hill, the name of which, from the circumstance, is Camp Hill…”

Although the modern official description of these remains is simply that of “a settlement”, the idea that some of the remains here were souterrains seems beyond doubt.  The comparison James Smith makes with remains that were found shortly afterwards that were “very much the same”, unearthed at Cairnconon—or the West Grange of Conon, as Canmore call it—northwest of Arbroath, confirms this idea.

Just over a decade after Mr Smith’s initial account, the Glaswegian historian James Pagan (1856), in his huge History of Glasgow, included another description of the place from the pseudonymous 19th century writer “J.B.”  In what were called Desultory Sketches, much of what he wrote merely echoed the original notes by Smith, but they are still worth repeating:

“Specimens of the winter houses, or weems, were to be seen, till recently, in our own district, at Cartland Craigs, near Stonebyres, on the Clyde; and one very interesting example of the pit-houses was revealed in 1808, on the farm of Overlee, near Busby, in the vicinity of Glasgow.  The following particulars regarding these were communicated to the writer of this sketch, by the parish minister of Cathcart, who had his information from an eye-witness.

“While the farmer was removing soil to get at freestone, for building a new steading, he came on a cluster of subterranean aboriginal huts. They were forty in number, and ranged round the face of the hill on which the farm-house of Overlee now stands. These huts were of the most primitive kind. They were mere semicircular pits, cut out of the hillside, with a passage to the door, also dug out of the slope, on a level with the floor, as indicated by the different colour of the soil. Each consisted of one small apartment, about twelve feet square, five feet high, and faced with stone. The floors were neatly paved with thin flag-stones, found in the neighbourhood. In the centre of each was a hole for a fireplace, in which ashes were still visible. Near the fireplace were small piles of water-worn stones, two or three inches in diameter, probably for cooking food, by placing heated stones round it, as is yet done by some of the islanders in the Pacific Twelve hand-querns of stone for grinding grain were found in the houses. At a short distance, a grave was discovered, lined with stone, and containing rude urns filled with ashes, thus indicating that the inhabitants of this primitive cluster, near what is now Glasgow, burned their dead. Unfortunately, the whole of these curious pit-houses were ruthlessly destroyed.

“In some of the weems and pit-houses, small groups of pretty oyster-shells have been found, perforated with small holes, as if they had been strung together, and formed an ornamental necklace—shall we say for the lady-savage of that distant epoch?  In others were discovered bodkins and skewers, made of horn, probably to hold together the folds of the wild beasts’ skins forming the savages’ winter covering; the bones of oxen, neatly notched, as if for ornament; bowls made of stone, the hollow having been drilled out by the circular action of another stone, sharper and harder, aided by the grit of sand (one of which is now before me); arrow-heads and lances formed of flint or bone, some of the former of which I happen to possess; —nay, swords have been found, fashioned from the bone of a large fish! Heavy oaken war-clubs, too, must not be omitted from this curious catalogue.”

Although highly unlikely, there is the remote possibility that some remains of these underground ‘houses’, or souterrains, could possibly still be unearthed hereby.  In recent years we’ve encountered a number of good farmers and land-owners who’ve told us about souterrains beneath their fields that are not in any record-books.  Intriguingly, each one asked us, “who are you working for?” – and when we’ve assured them that we have nothing to do with the ‘official’ bodies, they’ve opened up and showed us.  In one instance, a land-owner in Angus told us how he was farming the field as he’d always done, “when my tractor fell into a huge hole in the ground – and there was another souterrain!”

Why am I telling you this?  Well, if you’re a local, maybe get round to Overlee and ask around some of the olde local people.  You never know what you might find!  And we could perhaps try find more about the other souterrain which the pseudonymous ‘J.B.’ said was “at Cartland Craigs, near Stonebyres, on the Clyde.”

References:

  1. McBeath, H.D., Walks by Busby and Thorntonhall, with Historical Notes on the Area, EKDC: East Kilbride 1980.
  2. Pagan, James (ed.), Glasgow, Past and Present – volume 2, David Robertson: Glasgow 1856.
  3. Ross, William, Busby and its Neighbourhood, David Bryce: Glasgow 1883.
  4. Smith, James, “Parish of Cathcart,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 7: Renfrew, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.
  5. Stuart, John, “Notice of Underground Chambers recently Excavated on the Hill of Cairn Conan, Forfarshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland – volume 3, 1862.
  6. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland. RKP: London 1963.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.787536, -4.270462 Overlee souterrain

Shealwalls Enclosure, Alyth, Perthshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid reference – NO 23922 51484  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Aerial view of the oval, at centre

Aerial view of the oval, at centre

Take the B954 north out of the Alyth, up through the hills.  After just over 2 miles (3km), take the left turn up to Bamff.  Go along here and past the copse of trees on your right for literally three-quarters of a mile (1.2km), where a gate takes you into the overgrown meadows on your right.  Walk back on yourself for about 100 yards or more, across the boggy stream and up the slope.  The embankments of this enclosure are right under nose!

Archaeology & History

Some 70 yards west of the little four-poster ‘stone circle’ of Shealwalls, is this previously unrecorded enclosure.  Oval in shape and well-defined at ground level, the great majority of the inside of this enclosure is relatively even and flat.  Around its perimeter there are, at intervals, a number of small stones defining its edges along its internal embankment, but these are intermittent and seem to have no deliberate architectural regularity: they may simply be elements of an internal raised platform that have become visible due to erosion processes.

Northwest section of ditch

Northwest section of ditch

At its greatest width from the edges of the outer ditch to outer ditch, the enclosure measures more than 22 yards (20.3m) east-west, and at its longest it is 30 yards (27.3m) north-south.  The circumference of the enclosure is between 88-89 yards (80m).  The average width of the surrounding or enclosing ‘ditch’ is between 2 and 2½ yards (2m) and it has a depth of no more than 2 feet all round.  All along the southern side, very little remains of the ditch and in sections it has been eaten into by foraging rabbits and cattle.  The most conspicuous section of the surrounding ditch and embankment is along the eastern length (where it gives the impression of being hengi-form in nature); the more rounded northern section of the ditch is very distinct, but is overgrown in Juncus reeds; whilst the western section of the ditch is clear until reaching its southernmost part, where its outer edges become less visible.

SW edge of enclosure

SW edge of enclosure

NE arc of ditch, looking west

NE arc of ditch, looking west

There seemed to be no visible structures within the enclosure itself, which added to my thoughts that the site was hengi-form in nature, as defined in the surveys by A.F. Harding (1987) and Jan Harding (2006).  However, it is best to maintain a simple description regarding the nature of the site until archaeological evaluation can give us a more accurate assessment.  Without excavation it is obviously impossible to give an accurate idea of its age, but its architectural form and similarity with other enclosures would seem to place its construction in the late Bronze Age to early Iron Age period.

The monument proved very difficult to photograph with any success as it is much overgrown and the bright sun was in the wrong place! (serious) So, another visit is needed in the hope that we can get better images.  A fascinating little site!

References:

  1. Harding, A.F., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  2. Harding, Jan, The Henge Monuments of the British Isles, Tempus: Stroud 2006.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Shealwalls enclosure

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Shealwalls enclosure 56.648920, -3.242303 Shealwalls enclosure

Conichan East, Glen Almond, Perthshire

Settlement:  OS Grid Reference – NN 84645 32074  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

The setting of the remains

The setting of the remains

Park up and walk the long estate track up Glen Almond for nearly three miles until, on your left, you’ll see a small pond.  From here, walk up the slope and, about 100 yards above you, note the large solitary boulder ahead, above the dyke of a small walled stream, where the land levels out.  Just past the rock itself is the first of several remains.

Archaeology & History

First things first: the grid-reference cited here is centred upon the largest of several rings of stone found on this small grassy plateau, 150 yards north above the River Almond, just past the huge boulder.  It’s an impressive site – and a previously unrecorded one.

The raised ring of Conichan

The raised ring of Conichan

Looking southeast

Looking southeast

At least three large hut circles can be clearly seen on this small ridge, amidst a sea of prehistoric sites scattered all down this lonely Scottish glen.  When Paul Hornby, Lara Domleo and I meandered up here the other day (to visit the Clach na Tiompan megaliths), extensive prehistoric walling called my nose up the slopes to see if anything was hiding away—and a large prehistoric ring, more reminiscent of the Derbyshire stone circles and ring cairns than any hut circle, appeared before me.

The first and largest that I came across is the one immediately north of the huge boulder (which may have slight traces of ancient walling running up to it).  The large ring is clearly raised onto a flat level platform, with an entrance on its southern edge.  The ring itself measures, from outer-wall to outer-wall some 12 yards wide (E-W) and 11 yards N-S.  The northernmost section of the walling or stone embanked structure is built into the sloping hill to the rear, with the east and western walls constructed simply onto the flat land.  The walling itself is typical of prehistoric structures, comprising the usual mass of small stones packed within a number of larger upright stones; although much of it is very overgrown with centuries of vegetation.  The walling that constitutes the ring itself is between 1-2 yards across and about two-feet high above the present ground-level.

Second circular remains

Second circular remains

...and from another angle

…and from another angle

To the east of this is a smaller, roughly circular construction of similar form.  The rocks that make up this site are much more visible and may have been robbed and used in the more extensive walling above and the dykes below.  It is unclear whether the nature of this site is the same as that of the more defined circular enclosure we have just described.

The remains of a third structure was clearly evident a short distance to the east of this, but I didn’t have much time here and another visit is needed to make further assessments.  Iron Age walling and other undocumented prehistoric remains were also found close by.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to the noses of little Lara Domleo and Prof. Paul Hornby for their bimbling aid to relocate this site – and one or two others that have been off the radar for many-a-century.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.466712, -3.873784 Conichan East

Talmine (west), Melness, Tongue, Sutherland

Settlement:  OS Grid Reference – NC 5764 6248 

Getting Here

Large arc of low walling, across upper-centre

Along the A836 road between Durness and Tongue, take the minor road north to Melness and Talmine. 400 yards or so past Talmine Stores shop, walk left up the track onto the moor. Half a mile on, walk straight uphill on yer right for about 150 yards until it levels out.  Look all around you!

Archaeology & History

This is a fascinating new find, explored under the guidance of Sarah MacLean of Borgie.  After looking at the nearby cairnfield and hut circles to the southeast, our noses took us onto the hilltop, where an extravaganza of curved and straight walling, hut circles, denuded cairns, cists, possible chambered cairn remnants and even unrecorded stone rows had us almost bemused at the extent of the remains.  A lot of it has been severely damaged and robbed – but in the low vegetation scattering the hilltop, it became clear that a lot of activity had been going on in the ancient and perhaps not-too-ancient past, with a social and/or tribal continuity stretching way way back (as found at Baile Mhargaite near Bettyhill).

Straight line of low walling

As we walked up the unnamed hill (well, to be honest, we zigged and zagged, or bimbled, until we got to the top), above a line of prehistoric cairns on the slopes below, small lines of walling barely above ground-level stretched out before us.  Structurally akin to the neolithic and Bronze Age features found from northern England to this far northern region, they are low and deeply embedded in the peat, but are quite unmistakable.

In following the first real line of walling near the eastern edge of the hill, a flat panorama eventually opened up as we reached the top and there, in front of us, appeared arcs and lines of more walled structures, thankfully unobstructed by vegetation.  A few expletives came out of my mouth (for a change!) at the remains we could see right in front of us—and then we set walking in different directions and began to explore the remains beneath our respective feet.

The first main element on the southeastern top of the hill was a wide curvaceous arc of walling, undoubtedly prehistoric – in my opinion either Bronze Age or neolithic in origin.  As I was looking at this section, Sarah walked only a short distance to the northwest and, with some excitement in her tone called out, “there’s some here too!” And so we continued, back and forth to each other as we zigzagged across the tops.

Stone row or denuded walling?

Intersecting lines of walling

Much of what we found (as the photos show) were low lines of settlement walling—some dead straight, others curving to form denuded hut circles and larger domestic forms. A lot of the walls had been knocked down and scattered on the hilltop, making it troublesome at times ascertaining precisely what we were looking at: but a settlement or large enclosure it certainly is!

The south and western edges of the hill itself seemed to be marked by low sections of walling, again deeply embedded into the peat; and on the same two sides are what appear to be remnants of stone rows leading up onto the top.  As with other stone rows in this region, they are defined by low upright monoliths.  The one that runs north-south runs into a low section of walling that cuts right across the top of the hill and away into the deep peat, roughly NNE, where we lost sight of it (where some old peat-cutting is evident).  The stone row running up the western face of the hill seems to begin near the bottom of the slope and is defined by a leaning standing stone that Sarah found.  Looking uphill from this there’s a gap of roughly fifty yards, where a small stone sits on the near-horizon; and from this small stone is a clear line of small stones, ending (it seems) at a stone less than three feet tall.  Just past this is the denuded remains of what seems to be a cist and a small robbed cairn, clearly defined by a curious rectangle of base-stones, barely 5 feet by 3 feet wide.

Intersecting arc & line of walling

Outline of robbed cairn?

My personal favourite of all the things on top of this hill has to be the small sections of interconnecting walling that we found on the more northern portion of the settlement.  At first glance, it seemed that we were just looking at a small hut circle; but then we realised this initial ‘hut circle’ was linked to a slightly larger ‘hut circle’, which was linked to another, all in a linear east-west direction (roughly).  As I saw looked at it from the western-side (looking east), Sarah was on its east looking west.  This difference in visual perspective gave us a wider view of what we were both looking at.  The easternmost section comprised of an arc of walling that joined into another ‘hut circle’, neither of which had axes any greater than 3 yards.  As we stepped further and further back from this, it seemed that other walled sections ran into it, expanding it into a form which I can only describe as a ‘stripped long cairn’, down to its initial architectural basis, upon which you’d construct the larger monument—but it was only 10 yards long at the most.  Most odd…  Sarah pointed out what may have been a stoned-lined trackway running parallel to this neolithic curiosum.  It still puzzles me as to what it may have been.

This short description doesn’t really do this site justice and, in truth, it needs a more competent survey than I could give it in just one short visit.  It’s very probable that a lot more is still to be found on these hills, from prehistoric all through to post-medieval (pre-Clearance) times.  So if you live in this part of Sutherland, get yer twitching noses and boots on and bimble with intent to find!  There’s still plenty of stuff hiding away…

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray of Borgie for putting me up (or should that be, putting up with me?!) and equally massive thanks to Sarah Maclean—also of Borgie—for guiding me up here and being an integral part of rediscovering this site. Without them both, this place would still be unrecognised. And thanks to Miles Newman too. 😉

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.526901, -4.446172 Talmine (west), Melness

Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1, Bettyhill, Sutherland

 

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  58.519653, -4.236361 Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69843 61228

Also Known as:

  1. Bail Margait
  2. Margaret’s Town

Getting Here

Baile Mhargaite 1 enclosure, looking NW

Baile Mhargaite 1 enclosure, looking NW

Take the A836 road west out of Bettyhill, down the road and cross the river on the tiny bridge.  From here, go over the gate on the right-hand side of the road and follow the edge of the river towards the sea. Crossing the large extensive sands, you’ll reach a large sand and gravel rise ahead of you. Once on top of this natural feature, walk NNE for 550 yards (0.5km) until you reach one of many extensive sandy expanses in the grasses (and pass tons of archaeological remains as you walk!).  You’ll get there!

Archaeology & History

Arc of south, west & north walling

Arc of south, west & north walling

On this naturally raised sand-and-gravel platform at the edge of this beautiful sandy coastline in the far north of Scotland, walking in search of this particular enclosure, you’ll meander past a whole host of prehistoric sites and remains – some of which are plain to see, others hiding almost just above ground level, barely visible.  But if you’re an antiquarian or historian, this plateau is a minefield of forgotten history!

The site is shown on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map of the region as a “hut circle”, which it may well have been—but this is a large hut circle and was more probably a place where a large family would easily have lived.  When I visited the place the other week, there were no internal features visible.  It is a large ring of stones made up of thousands of small rocks whose walls are low and scattered, barely a foot above present ground-level in places, and barely two-feet at the very highest.  It has been greatly ruined or robbed of other architectural elements and an excavation is in order.  My initial evaluation is that this structure is at least Iron Age in origin.  In Angus Mackay’s (1906) venture here in the early 1900s, he suggested that this and the other “circular rings” were “cattle folds.”

Aerial view, looking straight down

Aerial view, looking straight down

Looking down from the broch above

Looking down from the broch above

The enclosure measures, from outer-edge to outer-edge of the walling, 16.5 yards (15.1m) east-west by 18 yards (16.5m) north-south, and has a circumference of roughly 52.5 yards (4mm); although an accurate measure of its circumference is hampered by the scatter of spoilage from the collapsed walls stretching outwards.  Only the western walled section remains in reasonably good condition.

Looking south, thru the enclosure

Looking south, thru the enclosure

Close by are many cairns, some of which are prehistoric.  A chambered cairn  on the same ridge less than 200 yards away, with another enclosure of the same type yards away, clearly shows that people have lived and used this raised section of land for thousands of years.  We know that people were still living here at the end of the 18th century which—for me at least—begs the question: what ancient traditions, customs and lore did these people know about, which may have dated back into truly ancient history?  …And then the english Clearances destroyed them…

References:

  1. Mackay, Angus, “Notes on a Slab with Incised Crescentic Design, Stone Mould for Casting Bronze Spear-Heads, a Cup-Marked Stone, Holy Water Stoup, and other Antiquities in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, 1906.
  2. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Power Station Road, Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey, Kent

Settlement (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 932 733

Archaeology & History

An extensive site that was uncovered when a housing estate was being built on the south-side of Power Station Road at the end of the 20th century.  During the Spring and Summer of 1998, the Canterbury Archaeological Trust began cutting trenches across the land and did some minor excavation work on the west side of the area, finding some traces of early human activity.

A second series of investigations was then undertaken by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust  over the Autumn and Winter months of 1998-99, with the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit then taking over for the rest of the year.  Their team split the land into eight large sections and began a more detailed analysis and uncovered a huge number of finds.  Amidst this, wrote Brian Philp (2002), there

“included an important collection of Bronze Age material, including large clay-weights, perforated baked-clay slabs and a good range of pottery types.  Of special interest was the spinal bone of a large whale, perhaps washed up on the nearby shore.

“The picture now emerging is that of a substantial Bronze Age settlement site, spread across several acres and probably farming the adjacent land… It seems likely that three large ponds and…eight stone-lined pits were primarily for water-storage, both for watering cattle and for other agricultural or semi-industrial purposes… All this seemed to be happening about 900-400 BC on what still appears to be the largest Bronze Age settlement so far discovered on this important island.”

The archaeocentric place-name of Barrows Hill rises a mile to the southwest.

References:

  1. Philp, Brian, Archaeology in the Front Line, KARU: Dover 2002.
  2. Schuster, Jorn, “The Neolithic to Post-Medieval Archaeology of Kingsborough, Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey: From Monuments to Fields,” in Archaeologia Cantiana, volume 130, 2010.

Links:

  1. Kent Archaeological Review

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 2016

Power Station Rd settlement

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Power Station Rd settlement 51.426422, 0.778371 Power Station Rd settlement

Baston Manor, Hayes, Kent

Settlement:  OS Grid Reference – TQ 407 649

Archaeology & History

This settlement site was found thanks to the good work of the Bromley & West Kent Archaeology Group in the 1960s, when they decided to do follow-up work to what Brian Philp (2002) described as “doubtful sites reported mainly in the 19th century.”  Time and again these “doubtful sites” at least turn into something of value — and such was the case here!  The group commenced digging selective trenches in July 1964 in a small wooded area near to Baston Manor and they soon came across “a stratified deposit of late-Neolithic (2500 BC) pottery and flint.”

In successive returns to the site over two years, 5630 items—primarily fire-cracked stones, flints and more than 200 pieces of pottery, some of which was highly decorative—were unearthed and the site was recognised as an important settlement arena many thousands of years ago.  In Kent, this was a rarity!  Philps’ resumé of the site and its many remains told,

“Sometime about 2500 BC, a group of late-Stone Age farmers had selected this quiet hillside (now just in Hayes) to settle and live.  Here they must have farmed  small cultivated areas close to their huts and herded sheep and cattle to fresh areas and nearby streams.  These were the first occupants of the West Wickham valley over 4000 years ago…”

References:

  1. Philp, Brian, “The Discovery of a Secondary Neolithic Site at Hayes,” in Kent Archaeological Review, no.5, 1966.
  2. Philp, Brian, Archaeology in the Front Line, KARU: Dover 2002.
  3. Smith, Isobel, “Prehistoric Pottery from Baston Manor, Hayes,” in Kent Archaeological Review, no.18, 1969.

Links:

  1. Kent Archaeological Review

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Baston Manor settlement

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Baston Manor settlement 51.365455, 0.018667 Baston Manor settlement