Uphall Camp, Ilford, Essex

Hillfort (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference –TQ 4383 8510

Archaeology & History

Uphall Camp, 1893

This prehistoric site was a giant – a huge colossus of an ‘enclosure’, a ‘settlement’, a ‘camp’—call-it-what-you-will.  More than a mile in circumference and with an internal area of 48 acres (big enough to hold 37 football fields!), archaeologist Pamela Greenwood (1989) told us, not only that it was “the largest recorded hillfort in Essex”, but that it compared in size with the immensity of Maiden Castle in Dorset!  Yet despite it being cited by the Oxford Archaeology report of Jonathan Millward (2016) as “the most significant archaeological site within the Borough” from the Iron Age period, it has fallen prey to the thoughtless actions of the self-righteous Industrialists who, as usual, have completely destroyed it.  It was already in a “bad” state when the Royal Commission lads visited here around 1916, saying how it was “in some danger of destruction.” Thankfully, in earlier centuries, we did have more civilized and educated people who seemed proud to describe what there was of their local history.

Early literary accounts seem sparse; although in Mr Wright’s (1831) huge commentary to Philip Morant’s (1768) Antiquities of Essex, he thought that the adjoining parish of Barking—whose ancient boundary line is marked here by the southern embankments of the enclosure—derived from the Saxon words burgh-ing, which he transcribed as ‘the fortress in the meadow’.  The same derivation was propounded in Richard Gough’s 1789 edition of Camden’s Britannia, from the “Fortification in the meadows.”  It seems a more reasonable derivation than that ascribed in the Oxford Names Companion (2002) as the “(settlement of) the family or followers of a man called *Berica” (the asterisk here denotes the fact that no personal name of this form has ever been found and is pure guesswork).  But according to the English Place-Name Society text on Essex by Paul Reaney (1935), the early spellings of Barking implies a derivation from ‘birch trees.’  Anyway….

Uphall Camp c.1735

A fine plan of the site was drawn by John Noble some time around 1735 although, curiously, he seems to have written no notes about the place.  The first real citation of Uphall Camp as an antiquity seems to have been by Morant himself (1768).  In a work bedevilled by genealogical and ecclesiological tedium, he occasionally breaks from that boredom to tell of the landscape and the people living here, mentioning our more ancient monuments—but only in passing, as illustrated here:

“Near the road leading from Ilford to Berking, on the north west side of the brook which runs across it, are the Remains of an ancient Entrenchment: one side of which is parallel with the lane that goes to a farm called Uphall; a second side is parallel with the Rodon, and lies near it; the third side looks towards the Thames; the side which runs parallel with the road itself has been almost destroyed by cultivation, though evident traces of it are still discernible.”

Just over thirty years later we were thankfully given a more expansive literary portrayal by Daniel Lysons. (1796)  Lysons was drawing some of his material from a manuscript on the history of Barking by a Mr Smart Lethieullier, written about 1750 (this manuscript was unfortunately destroyed by fire, and no copies of it ever made).  He told us:

“In the fields adjoining to a farm called Uphall, about a quarter of a mile to the north of Barking-town, is a very remarkable ancient entrenchment: its form is not regular, but tending to a square; the circumference is 1792 yards, (i.e., one mile and 32 yards,) inclosing an area of forty-eight acres, one rood, and thirty-four perches.  On the north, east, and south sides it is single trenched: on the north and east sides the ground is dry and level (being arable land), and the trench from frequent ploughing almost filled up: on the south side is a deep morass: on the west side, which runs parallel with the river Roding, and at a short distance from it, is a double trench and bank: at the north west corner was an outlet to a very fine spring of water, which was guarded by an inner work, and a high keep or mound of earth.  Mr. Lethieullier thinks that this entrenchment was too large for a camp: his opinion therefore is, that it was the site of a Roman town.  He confesses that no traces of buildings have been found on that spot, which he accounts for on the supposition that the materials were used for building Barking Abbey, and for repairing it after it was burnt by the Danes.  As a confirmation of this opinion, he relates, that upon viewing the ruins of the Abbey-church in 1750, he found the foundations of one of the great pillars composed in part of Roman bricks. A coin of Magnentius was found also among the ruins.”

But this is a spurious allusion; albeit an understandable one when one recognizes that the paradigm amongst many writers at the time was to say that anything large and impressive was either a construction of the Romans or the Danes, as the early British—it was deemed—were incapable of building such huge monuments.  How wrong they were!

In Mrs Ogborne’s (1814) description of Uphall Camp, she thought that its form and character betrayed anything Roman and—although she wasn’t specific—seemed to prefer the idea that our earliest Britons had built this place.  And she was right!  She wrote:

“There is, about a quarter of a mile from Barking, adjoining Uphal farm, on the road to Ilford, an antient entrenchment, a mile and 32 yards in circumference, with the corners rounded off; the west side, parallel with the river Rodon, has a double trench and bank, and a high keep, or mound of earth, about 94 yards round the base, about nine in height, on the side of the river, and seven on the opposite side: there was an outlet to a spring of water at the north-west corner; the south side has a morass; the north and east sides are single trenched, which is almost lost by cultivation, and in some places barely discernible.”

Uphall Camp on 1873 map

Uphall Camp on 1897 map

When the Ordnance Survey lads gave the site their attention in the 1870s, they showed its real size for the first time—cartographically at least!  As the two old maps either side here show, it was a big one!  Although some sections of the edges of the ‘camp’ were diminishing at the time, much of it was still in evidence.  And when the local writer Edward Tuck (1899) wrote about it, he told us,

“On the north and east sides the ground is dry and level (being arable land) and the trench from frequent ploughings is almost filled up. On the south side is a deep morass; on the west side which runs parallel with the river Roding, and at a short distance from it is a double trench and bank; at the north-west corner is an outlet to a very fine spring of water, which is guarded by an inner work and a high keep or mound of earth designated “Lavender Mound.”  Mrs. Ogborne in her History of Essex gives a charming drawing of this mound as it was in 1814, and says that the mound was then about 94 yards round the base, and about nine yards in height, with trees growing upon it, and its surface covered with soft verdure.”

Uphall earthworks in 1893

Several other writers mentioned the remaining embankments of Uphall Camp, which was beginning to fade fast as the city-builders spread themselves further afield.  A chemical factory did most of the damage (as they still do, in more ways than one!).  When the Royal Commission (1921) lads came here they curiously deemed it as an “unclassified” structure; but in those days unless things were Roman in this neck of the woods, it could unduly puzzle them!  Their account of it told that,

“the remaining earthworks consist of a short length of rampart with an irregularly shaped mound at the north end, which is known locally as Lavender Mount, and another short length north of the farmhouse; there are also traces of the east side of the camp running parallel with Barking Lane.  An early plan shows part of the north and east sides of the earthwork and suggests that it was roughly rectangular in outline.  In 1750 the north, east and south sides are said to have had a single trench, and the west side a double trench and bank.

“The mound is 21 ft. high and 85 ft. in diameter at the base. The date of the earthwork is doubtful, but it does not appear to be pre-Roman.”

1908 photo of Lavender Mount

1814 sketch of Lavender Mount

The ‘Lavender Mount’ aspect in this monument, seemed a peculiar oddity.  Even modern archaeologists aren’t sure of what it might have been, erring on the side of caution with interpretations saying it was a keep of some sort, or a small beacon hill.  It might have been of course; but if it was a beacon hill, there would very likely be some written account of it – but none exist as far as I’m aware.  Initial impressions when just looking at the images is that it was a tumulus, but the position of the mound on top of the raised earthen embankments tells us that it was constructed after the Iron Age ramparts.  Writers of the Victoria County History (1903) said the same, suggesting a Saxon or more likely Danish origin.  The area around Lavender Hill was eventually explored by archaeologists in 1960, and several times thereafter – and what they uncovered showed us a continuity of usage that spanned several thousand years!

The 1960 excavation took place where, adjacent to the embankment, “the bank and ditch contained middle-Iron Age pottery”, along with traces of the large wooden fencing-posts (palisade) that initially surrounded and protected the enclosure. In Pamela Greenwood’s (1989) archaeological report, she told us that in further digs in 1983-4 there were discoveries of neolithic and Bronze Age flint remains.  The finds included,

“a leaf-shaped arrowhead and a discoidal scraper… fragments of an Ardleigh type urn, probably from a middle Bronze Age burial disturbed by later activity.  An L-shaped ditch, possibly part of an enclosure or field boundary, was found during the watching-brief. It contained flint-gritted pottery, perhaps attributable to the Bronze Age.”

But the majority of the finds at Uphall came from the mid-Iron Age period.  Greenwood continued:

“The settlement, judging from the relatively small area of the fortification actually excavated, was laid out in a regular way.  As might be expected, the round-houses appear to be aligned, indicating some sort of street-pattern.  ‘Four-poster’ structures have been located in particular areas, again pointing to some sort of designation of special zones of activity. Large quantities of charred grain from the post-pits and surroundings would confirm that these structures are granaries….

“The middle Iron Age structures are of several types: round-houses or round-buildings, pennanular enclosures, (wooden) ‘four-posters’; rectangular structures, ditches, post-holes and innumerable and ill-assorted small pits, small gullies and holes dug into the gravel.  Many of the last three types are undatable and could belong to the Iron Age, Roman, medieval or later activity on the site.”

I could just copy and paste the rest of Greenwood’s report here, but it’s quite extensive and interested readers should refer to her own account in the London Archaeologist .  It’s a pity that it’s been destroyed.

References:

  1. Crouch, Walter, “Ancient Entrenchments at Uphall, near Barking, Essex,” in Essex Naturalist, volume 7, 1887.
  2. Crouch, Walter, “Uphall Camp,” in Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, volume 9 (New Series), 1906.
  3. Doubleday, H.A. & Page, William (eds.), Victoria History of the County of Essex – volume 1, Archibald Constable: Westminster 1903.
  4. Greenwood, Pamela, “Uphall Camp,” in Essex Archaeology & History News, 1987.
  5. Greenwood, Pamela, “Uphall Camp, Ilford, Essex,” in London Archaeologist, volume 6, 1989.
  6. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  7. Kemble, James, Prehistoric and Roman Essex, History Press: Stroud 2009.
  8. Lysons, Daniel, The Environs of London – volume 4, T. Cadell: London 1796.
  9. Millward, Jonathan, London Borough of Redbridge: Archaeological Priority Areas Appraisal, Oxford Archaeology 2016.
  10. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of Essex – volume 1, T.Osborne: London 1768.
  11. Norris, F.J., “Uphall Camp”, in Gentleman’s Magazine, 1888.
  12. Ogborne, Elizabeth, The History of Essex, Longmans: London 1814.
  13. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, England, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex – volume 2, HMSO: London 1921.
  14. Tuck, Edward, A Sketch of Ancient Barking, Its Abbey, and Ilford, Wilson & Whitworth: Barking 1899.
  15. Wilkinson, P.M., “Uphall Camp,” in Essex Archaeology & History, volume 10, 1979.
  16. Wright, Thomas & Bartlett, W., The History and Topography of the County of Essex – volume 2, G. Virtue: London 1831.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Uphall Camp

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Uphall Camp 51.546450, 0.072906 Uphall Camp

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

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

Modsary, Tongue, Sutherland

Hut Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NC 65189 61639

Getting Here

Faint outline of Modsary hut circle, across centre

Along the A836 between Tongue and Bettyhill—nearly 5 miles (7.75km) east of Tongue—take the minor road north to Modsary and Skerray.  Some 1.75 miles along you’ll notice an inland loch to your right, and where the loch finishes, take the minor track up on your right to Modsary.  Walk past the cottages, through the gate and walk diagonally left down onto the moor. A small cave is across in front of you. Head towards that, but on the flat-ish piece of heathland barely 50 yards before it, above the small burn, look around for the low circular walling.

Archaeology & History

This previously unrecorded prehistoric hut circle was rediscovered in May 2018 by Sarah Maclean of Borgie during a brief excursion here, looking at the ancient clearance village of Modsary (which appears to be Iron Age in origin).  In walking onto the moor, shortly before leaving me to my own devices, she pointed out this low ring of barely discernible stones, wondering, “is this another hut circle?” (there are some on the western-side of the road from Modsary)  It would certainly seem so!

Grass showing centre of hut circle

It is constructed upon what seems to be a natural platform of earth above the slow-running burn.  A low ring of stone walling defines the construction: visible in parts, covered in vegetation for the most.  With an entrance on its southeast, the ring measures roughly 9 yards by 10 yards in diameter; with its outer walls being less than 2 feet high all round; but the width of the walls in some places measures up to 3 feet across.  It is certainly man-made and is certainly olde.  It requires excavation to assess its original construction period, although based on others I’ve seen that have been dated, would seem to be Iron Age in origin.

From this to the small cave that I mentioned, a most peculiar rectangular stone construction is evident 2-3 yards below it; and heading 40 yards south, beneath a craggy hill, a line of ancient walling runs SE-NW, with a much overgrown semi-circular arc of large stones, seemingly artificial in nature.  It would seem there is a lot more hiding beneath the heather hereby than official records suggest…

Acknowledgements:  Massive thanks to Sarah Maclean for locating and showing me this site; and also to Donna Murray for giving me a base-camp. Huge huge thanks indeed.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.521903, -4.316398 Modsary, Tongue

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

Baile Mhargaite Cist (01), Bettyhill, Sutherland

Cist:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69908 61102

Getting Here

Get yourself to the Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1 and walk less than 150 yards southeast.  Keep your eyes keenly peeled on the ground as you can easily miss this one!

Archaeology & History

One of Baile Mhargaite's cists

One of Baile Mhargaite’s cists

The only archaeological note I can find of this small singular prehistoric grave is in the Canmore entry, which is far from clear as to the position and situation of many sites hereby.  They described this small sand-filled grave (which they describe as ‘Cist b’) as being “on a gravel ridge and is oriented N-S. It measures 0.8m by 0.6m.”  That’s it!

Looking down on the tomb

Looking down on the tomb

But saying that, it is a small single little thing amidst a huge mass of material.  It may well have been covered by a larger cairn at an earlier date, as there are many such monuments on this elevated sandy plain and the slight surround of smaller stones at, and just beneath the surface may validate this.  It is also possible that this was the spot where “beaker fragments…found in a cist at Bettyhill” came from, but the archaeological records (Abercromby 1912; Mitchell 1934) are not accurate.  Two other cists close by are the other potential candidates!

References:

  1.  Abercromby, John, A Study of the Bronze Age Pottery of Britain and Ireland – volume 1, Clarendon: Oxford 1912.
  2. Mitchell, Margaret E.C., “A New Analysis of the Early Bronze Age BeakerPottery of Scotland,”in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 68, 1934.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.518699, -4.235258 Baile Mhargaite Cist (1)