This can take a little bitta finding if you don’t know the area. So it’s best starting from Hartshead church, right on top of the hill here. From whichever direction you’re taking to reach Hartshead, ask a local when you get close and they’ll direct you there. From here, walk out of the churchyard and turn left. Walk barely 50 yards and turn left again along Lady Well Lane. Past the old houses and bear right where it becomes a dirt-track. This then turns left, then again right and – with the fields on either side of you – note the single hawthorn tree ahead of you by the walling. Go into the field at the back of the hawthorn and look under its shady bough. Tis there, I assure you!
Archaeology & History
Emerging at the edge of the field beneath an old hawthorn tree at the side of the track running to the adjacent church, the waters from here are clean and fresh—though the stone trough into which it flows is constantly clogged up and the ground around it very boggy. The well has given its name to Lady Well Lane, which leads to the 12th century St. Peter’s Church, with its own ancient and legendary history. The well is thought to derive its name from ‘Our Lady’, the Virgin Mary, indicating it would have had considerable importance in the religious traditions of the christians who named it, but moreso the original animistic traditions of normal local people who would have used it for much longer…
Close by this old stone trough appears to be another one, covered by moss and the encroaching field. Whatever medicinal properties the waters may once have had, have long since been forgotten. Around Lady Well is a healthy abundance of flora: elder, chickweed, nettle, clover, bramble, dandelion, sow thistle, dock and shamanic species.
Marion Pobjoy (1972), like her predecessors, suggested that this was one of many sites in Calderdale used by St. Paulinus to perform baptisms. Local folklore tells that Robin Hood stopped here to drink the waters—but then we find an abundance of the pagan outlaw’s activities all round here. The nearby church of St.Peter is aligned to the equinoxes and may well be an indication of when pre-christian celebrations occurred here. The yew tree in churchyard was where Robin Hood was supposed to have taken wood to fashion one of his bows. Modern folklore also ascribes the well to be along a ley line.
Heginbottom, J.A., ‘Early Christian Sites in Calderdale,’ in Proc. Halifax Ant. Soc., 1988.
Pobjoy, Harold N. & Marion, The Story of the Ancient Parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Riding 1972.
From the railways station, walk to the dual carriageway (crossing the road) and walk on the A907 road to your left; cross the next road & walk round the corner, crossing the next road by the zebra crossing. OK, walk to your right, bearing immediately left down Devon Road, then just 20 yards on take the footpath up the side of the house on your left, and keep walking until you go into the trees. Then keep your eyes peeled for the fairy mound with a rock on top of it!
Archaeology & History
This is a large rounded, almost archetypal tumulus, sitting just a couple of minutes walk out of Alloa town centre, sandwiched between streets in the remaining copse of trees running east-west along Hawk Hill. Although the mound is of considerable size—with a large curious block of stone plonked on top—it hasn’t always been like that and has evidently been rebuilt sometime in the 20th century, for when the Royal Commission (1933) lads visited the site in July 1927, they reported only a bare trace of the old tomb, saying:
“The site of the cairn at Hawk Hill lies about 100 yds SSE of the lodge gate. The position is marked by a setting of young trees, but the ground has been cultivated and no definite outline of any structure can now be traced. A few loose stones of no great size, lying scattered about, are the only signs of a cairn.”
But the site is quite large, being more than 4 feet high and about 18 yards across, with a large flattened circular top. Nearby there was reported to have been another cairn, but this turned out to be little more than some recent debris.
Local folklore tells that this monument is along a ley line that links it with the Hawk Hill Cross and destroyed stone circle east of here and the remains of a little-known standing on the outskirts of Alloa, to the west. I’ve not checked the precision of this alignment, but a quick scan of it looks pretty decent!
Arabaolaza, Iraia, “Hawk Hill, Alloa,” in Discovery & Excavation in Scotland, New Series volume 10, 2009.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Clackmannan District and Falkirk District, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1978.
From Blackford on the north side of the A9, cross over and take the small B-road which quietly runs up and over Sheriffmuir towards Dunblane. After a mile, keep your eyes keen for the approaching woodland on your right-hand side; for in the field just before the woods, you’ll see a patch of grass near the corner of the field with a long stone poking out of it. That’s it!
Archaeology & History
It seems that very little has been written about this monolith in any of the archaeology texts, but it’s ascribed locally to be a fallen standing stone. The site’s described in Finlayson’s (2010) fine local megalith guide where he points out how it’s in line with other nearby standing stones at Gleneagles and the White Stone – and the line is damn close!
With a quartz vein running through it, the stone lays some thirteen feet long and was, at some time in the not-too-distant past, readied to be quarried, as evidenced by the chisel-marks cut into it, prior to the usual destruction. But this time, for some reason, someone must have come to the rescue and prevented its demise…thankfully…
The farmer annually cuts around the fallen stone, shaped like a long boat (hence the name), near the top corner of the field. It would have looked damn good when stood upright, standing about ten feet in height and visible for a good distance. But today it’s quite forlorn laid here, seemingly alone, in this quiet part of the country, and is probably only one of interest to hardcore megalithomaniacs amongst you!
Finlayson, Andrew, The Stones of Strathearn, One Tree Island: Comrie 2010.
Along the A9 dual carriageway between Blackford and Auchterarder, take the A823 road south, up Glen Eagles towards Pool of Muckhart and Dunfermline. Less than 100 yards up the road, turn immediately right and go past the standing stone of Gleneagles B for a coupla hundred yards or so, where there’s a left turn (down to Peterhead Farm). Stop here and look into the field in front of you. You can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
This short standing stone, more than 3ft tall, has an elegance about it which megalith lovers alone will understand! Maybe it’s the setting; maybe the feel of the land; or maybe something else. I dunno… On my first visit to the site, Nature was wearing a grey overcast cloak, but the site and I didn’t seem to care; and although the view from here doesn’t have the same grandeur of Glen Eagles to view as its companion stone a few hundred yards to the east might have, there felt a greater welcoming at this smaller stone. Odd, considering this monolith had been knocked over and re-positioned by the farmer in the not-too-distant past. Anyway…less of this subjective nonsense of feelings from the landscape and megaliths! Utter drivel all of it!
The earliest measured account of the stone is to be found in Mr Hutchison’s (1893) essay, where he notes this and its companion close by, giving us the dimensions of this monolith:
“This (stone) is roughly columnar in shape, but wider at the base than above. Its height is 3ft above ground; circumference at base 6ft. 5in., diminishing to 4ft. 2in at the top. It is of metamorphic schist. The line of direction between these two gives a horizontal angle of 260°.”
Since that day, in the mass of archaeology essays that have been scribed, this smoothed upright gets only a minimal description. Charles Calder’s (1947) account is typical, saying simply that it is,
“Somewhat cylindrical in form with a girth of 7 feet at the base, it rises with a decided tilt towards the west to a height of 3 feet 10 inches above ground-level.”
The stone fares better in Andrew Finlayson’s (2010) fine local survey of megalithic ruins, where he points out that this and its compatriot stone Gleneagles B, are in an alignment with the fallen Boat Stone and the upright White Stone, a few miles to the southwest. This line works on 1:50,000 map, but when transferred to larger-scale surveys, the alignment misses each outlying site by 20-30 yards here and there.
Of at least 26 prehistoric barrows or tumuli in close proximity on the grasslands immediately west of the Badbury hillfort, this particular ‘Badbury Barrow’ as it’s generally called, was the most intriguing of the bunch. Intriguing as it was found to possess a very rare carved stone near its centre, and had the elements of the dead laid out in a quite fascinating manner, with a large inner wall that surrounded the dead. Grinsell (1959) posited that this site may be the same one described on the 1826 Greenwood Map of the region as the ‘Straw Barrow’ – in which case I’d love to know if there are earlier place-name references to the site and see what its name is thought to mean. (Mills’ PNs Dorset, 2, could be helpful – though it could be just ‘straw’!) However, the Straw Barrow is some distance to the west of here.
The first lengthy description of the site was done very soon after the near destruction of the place in 1845. A local man called John Austen visited and described the old tumulus in some considerable detail, and I make no apologies for adding his complete description of the barrow, as he found it, just before the land-owner levelled the place. He wrote:
“On Nov. 1, 1845, I accidentally ascertained that a barrow situated about five miles from Wimborne, Dorset, upon the road leading to Blandford, and in the immediate neighbourhood of Badbury camp, was in progress of being levelled. The circumstance which chiefly attracted my notice was the vast quantities of large sandstones and flints which had been taken from it. Unfortunately nearly two-thirds of the tumulus were already removed. From the remainder, however, I have obtained a tolerably accurate idea of its interior arrangement, which, with perhaps the exception of the ‘Deverill barrow’, opened by W. Miles, Esq., in 1825, is more highly interesting than any yet examined. The labourer employed could give me but little information respecting the part already destroyed, further than that he had thrown up many pieces of pottery, and found one urn in a perfect state, but in removal he had broken it; sufficient however remained to enable me to ascertain its form and dimensions. It measured 8 inches in height, 6¾ inches at the mouth, and at the bottom 3½ inches. The colour of the outer side was more red than is usual, and within it had a black hard ash adhering to the side, It was inverted, and contained only a few white ashes. It was ornamented with lines of from nine to fourteen fine pricked dots, as if made with a portion of a small tooth comb. Such an instrument was discovered a few years since by some workmen, whilst lowering a hill midway betwixt Badbury camp and the village of Shapwicke, having at one end a small circular hole, and at the other eight short teeth like those of a comb. It was four inches long and one inch wide, and was part of the rib of a deer…
“The barrow was circular, measuring about eighty yards in circumference, the diameter sixty-two feet, and the height nine feet; it had however been considerably reduced by the plough. Upon clearing a section across the centre, the following formation presented itself. The outside circle or foot of the barrow was of chalk, occupying a space of fifteen feet towards the centre. There was then a wall extending completely round, and enclosing an area of about thirty feet in diameter, composed of large masses of sandstone brought from some part of the heath, probably from Lytchett, a distance of not less than five miles, and across the river Stour. These stones were well packed together as in the foundations of a building, and the interstices tightly filled with flints. Within this wall, for the space of three or four feet, was a bed of flints, without any mixture of earth or chalk, packed together from the floor to the surface of the barrow, having only a few inches of earth above. The remainder of the interior was occupied by large sandstones, serving to protect the various interments.
“About the centre I found six deposits. The most northern of these was the skeleton of a young child, by the side of which, proceeding west, there was a cist containing a deposit of ashes and burnt bones; and near it another, rather above the floor, containing burnt wood. Immediately beneath this was a cist containing an urn, placed with its mouth downwards, and filled with burnt bones, which were perfectly dry and white. It was without any ornament, and measured in height ten and a quarter inches; the diameter at the mouth, which turned outwards, was eight and three-quarter inches, and at the bottom four inches. The other cists contained burnt bones and ashes. Sandstones had been placed over them, but were removed without my having an opportunity of ascertaining their position. A short distance south of these deposits there was a cist containing the bones and skull of a young child, over which had been placed a flat sandstone, and about a foot from it appeared a deposit of small bones, occupying a space of only two feet ; these were apparently the remains of a woman. Immediately above was a row of sandstones, resting, as was usual throughout the barrow, upon a thin layer of burnt wood. At this spot the barrow appeared to have been opened after its final formation, as if for the purpose of a subsequent interment, and filled up, not with the earth of which the remainder was formed, but with loose chalk, there being no stones or flints above those which lay immediately upon the deposit. At the extreme south of these cists was a large sandstone, three feet in diameter by sixteen inches in thickness, placed edgeways. The above-mentioned cists were circular.
“A few inches west of the cist described as containing an urn, was the lower half of another, measuring in diameter five and a half inches, inverted, and placed upon the floor of the barrow, without any protection, merely surrounded by a thin layer of ashes and then the solid earth. It was filled with ashes and burnt bones, and rested upon the parts of a broken skull. Near this was an urn, also unprotected, and consequently much injured by the spade. It was placed upright, and measured in diameter nine and a half inches, by about ten inches in height. In form it resembled the urn first described, marked with impressed dots, but it was without any ornament. A short distance from these was a deposit of burnt wood at the west side of a large flat stone, placed edgeways, which measured three feet four inches by two feet ten inches, and thirteen inches in thickness. From its appearance it would seem that the fire had been lighted by its side. Immediately beneath the edge of this cist, and resting upon the chalk, was a small urn inverted, and by its side some small human bones. It was wholly unprotected, and unfortunately destroyed. South-east of this was a cist sixteen by twelve inches in diameter, and eighteen inches in depth, containing ashes and a few burnt bones, with a large-sized human tooth. Close to the edge of this cist, upon its western side, was placed in an upright position, a large stone measuring in diameter three by two and a half feet; and leaning against it another of still larger dimensions, inclining towards the north. This measured six and a half by four feet, and fifteen inches in thickness. About three feet further east were two large stones set edgeways, and meeting at their tops. Beneath them was the skeleton of a small child with the legs drawn up, lying from west to east. At the north-west side of the barrow, about five feet within the wall, was a cist cut in the solid chalk, measuring sixteen inches in diameter by sixteen in depth; it contained an urn inverted, and filled with burnt bones. Though carefully bandaged, it fell to pieces upon removal, being of more brittle material than any previously discovered. The clay of which it is formed is mixed with a quantity of very small white particles, having the appearance of pounded quartz. It measured in height nine inches by nine and a half in diameter, and is ornamented by six rows of circular impressions made with the end of a round stick or bone of a quarter of an inch in diameter. The cist was filled up with ashes.
“A few inches from this was a cist differing in form, being wider at the top than beneath, in diameter eighteen inches by eighteen in depth; a flat stone was placed over it. It contained the skeleton of a young child, laid across, with the legs bent downwards. Lying close to the ribs was a small elegantly-shaped urn, measuring four inches in height by four in diameter, and made of rather a dark clay. It is ornamented with a row of small circular impressions, similar to those mentioned in the last instance, close to the lip, which turns rather out: beneath is a row of perpendicular scratches, and then two rows of chevrons, also perpendicular. At the feet of the skeleton was a peculiarly small cup, measuring in height one and a half inches by two and a quarter in diameter. It is ornamented with two rows of pricked holes near the top, beneath which is a row of impressions, made probably with an instrument of flat bone, three-eighths of an inch in width, slightly grooved across the end. The same pattern is at the bottom and upon the rim.
“Near this, towards the south-west, was a deposit of burnt wood, situated above the floor of the barrow, and immediately beneath it were two cists. In one of these, which measured two feet in diameter by one and a half in depth, were a few unburnt bones and several pieces of broken pottery, with a small cup, ornamented with three rows of the zigzag pattern, betwixt each of which, as well as upon the edge, is a row of pricked holes, and at the bottom a row of scratches. It measured in height two and a half inches by three in diameter, and had two small handles pierced horizontally: there appeared to have been originally four. In the other, which measured two feet in diameter by one in depth, were a few unburnt bones and a small urn placed with the mouth upwards, measuring four and three-quarter inches in height by the same in diameter. The lip, which turned very much out, is ornamented with a row of scratches, both within and upon its edge, a similar row also passes round near its centre. Close upon the edge of this cist was another urn of similar dimensions, inverted, and embedded in the solid earth without any protection. It is of much ruder workmanship than any of the others, and wholly unornamented, measuring five inches in height by five in diameter. Both these urns inclined equally towards the south-east. These last cists were partly, if not quite, surrounded by large sandstones set edgeways, and smaller ones built upon them, forming as it would seem a dome over the interments, filled with earth, and reaching to the surface of the barrow, where these stones have been occasionally ploughed out. From this circumstance, as well as the general appearance of the excavation, added to the description given by the labourer of the other part of the barrow, I am induced to suspect such to have been the case throughout… I found many pieces of broken pottery, and a part of a highly-ornamented urn. There was a total absence of any kind of arms or ornaments. The labourer however shewed me a round piece of thin brass, which he had found amongst the flints within the wall, measuring an inch and five-eighths in diameter. It had two minute holes near the circumference. It was probably attached to some part of the dress as an ornament. Teeth of horses and sheep were of frequent occurrence; I also found some large vertebrae and the tusk of a boar. Upon one of the large stones was a quantity of a white substance like cement, of so hard a nature that it was with difficulty I could break off a portion with an iron bar.
“If I offered a conjecture upon its formation, I should say that the wall, and foot of the barrow, which is of chalk, were first made, and the area kept as a family burying-place. The interments, as above described, were placed at different intervals of time, covered with earth (not chalk) or flints, and protected by stones. And over the whole, at a later period, the barrow itself was probably formed. My reason for this opinion is, first, that all these deposits, including, as they do, the skeletons of three or four infants, could scarcely have been made at the same time. And in the second place there was not the slightest appearance (with one exception) of displacement of the stones or flints in any way. As these circumstances then would suggest that the interments were formed at various periods, so the general appearance leaves no doubt as to the superstructure of flints, and surface or form of the barrow itself having been made at the same time and not piecemeal.
“I have met with no instance of a British barrow containing any appearance of a wall having surrounded the interments. Pausanias, in speaking of a monument of Auge, the daughter of Aleus king of Arcadia, in Pergamus, which is above the river Caicus, says, ‘ this tomb is a heap of earth surrounded with a wall of stone.’ And in the Saxon poem, ‘Beowulf,’ mention is made of a similar wall as surrounding the tomb of a warrior.”
One of the stones inside here was later found to possess “carvings of five cupmarks, two bronze daggers and two flat, triangular axes of early Breton type,” (Burl 1987) which Austen didn’t seem to notice at the time of his investigation. A profile of the Badbury Barrow carving can be found here.
In Peter Knight’s (1996) survey of megalithic sites around Dorset, he includes the Badbury Barrow along a ley line that begins at the tumulus just below (south) Buzbury Rings and then travels ESE for about 5 miles until ending at another tumulus at ST 006 996.
Austen, John H., “Archaeological Intelligence,” in Archaeological Journal, volume 3, 1846.
Burl, Aubrey, The Stonehenge People, Guild: London 1987.
Grinsell, Leslie V., Dorset Barrows, Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society 1959.
Knight, Peter, Ancient Stones of Dorset, Power: Ferndown 1996.
Piggott, Stuart, “The Badbury Barrow, Dorset, and its Carved Stone,” in The Antiquaries, volume 19, 1939.
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset – Volume 5: East Dorset, HMSO: London 1975.
Stone, J.F.S., Wessex Before the Celts, Thames & Hudson: London 1958.
Warne, Charles, The Celtic Tumuli of Dorset, John Russell Smith: London 1866.
A couple of miles west of the Hutton Moor henge we find the faint remans of another large prehistoric ritual site, soon to fade from existence. Although the local farmer was aware of the existence of this ‘earth circle’ in his fields in the 1940s, the place wasn’t officially catalogued until Prof. J.K. St. Joseph noticed it following an aerial survey of the region in 1951 (from whence the aerial photo comes). Today sadly, much of the site has succumbed to the ravages of excessive agricultural activity and is all but destroyed. Faint traces of it can be seen at ground level when the crops are down, but most of it’s gone. Even when first discovered, the remains were sparse, as the photo (below) shows.
Neolithic in origin, the site was excavated in 1961 by D.P. Dymond who explored a portion of the bank and ditch and stripped a small internal section. His findings showed it to be structurally similar to the other henges in the area and of considerable size. Measuring 690 feet across, the henge spread across two fields and was bisected by a hedge and farm track. When Dymond first explored the henge he reported how the surrounding bank was between 1-3 feet high and had been spread to a width of 120 feet; the ditch was just a couple of feet deep; and the original ‘entrances’ north and south of the ring were still just visible as “slight depressions in the bank.”
The Nunwick henge was classed as a Class II henge (after Atkinson). Five feet smaller than the Thornborough (south) Henge, its entrances are close to north-south. The River Ure is less than half-a-mile from the site and the presence of other streams close by further emphasizes water as a potentially relevant ingredient. This element seems to have had some factor in the structure of the henge as there were many water-worn stones found in the embankment, which probably came from the nearby river. However, like many henges, very few remains were discovered upon excavation here, as Mr Dymond’s (1963) account tells:
“The 1961 Excavation was restricted to a single long section through the northwest side of the circle, to examine the structural details of the bank and ditch, and to confirm the apparent absence of an outer ditch.
“A small area, 22ft square, was stripped inside the ditch to test for pits or postholes, but nothing was found in the sandy silt which covers the gravel deposits. Air-photographs gave no indication of a former presence of standing features within the enclosure.
“The ditch was found to be 45ft wide and 5ft 10in deep, with a wide, shallow profile. Allowing for the destruction by ploughing of the upper edges of the ditch, the orignal dimensions of the ditch were undoubtedly greater. The edges of the ditch were not easy to see in excavation, as the fill was similar to the natural gravel subsoil and some slumping had occurred on the loose gravel faces. The ditch had apparently silted slowly with material washed in from both sides. At an early stage in the silting, when the accumulation was about 1ft, there had been occupation in a limited area, revealed by a circular patch of burnt material, 10ft in diameter, which contained many split pot-boilers reddened by fire.
“Between the ditch and bank there was originally a berm of 30ft. On the surface, this is not visible as the bank shades imperceptibly into the ditch. The bank was originally about 60ft wide, but is now considerably spread on both sides. In the 1961 section the bank survived only 18in high; this was sufficient, however, to show clear traces of tip-lines and the interleaving of loads. The lowest two inches of bank material consist partly of turf… Under the bank, the original turf-line was visible as a purple-black line, 1-3in thick, with traces of a weakly developed iron-pan. In the original composition on the bank there were many water-worn stones (3-9in across), now in the outer spread and in the bottom of the ditch; on the northern side of the circle where the bank is best preserved there are large quantities of these stones on the plough soil. Quarried from the bottom of the ditch, where the aggregate of the gravels was much larger, these stones were probably on the top of the bank.
“Two square were dug outside the bank, on the line of the section to text for an outer ditch. This confirmed the evidence of air-photographs that no such ditch existed. Of the six henges in the Ripon area, Nunwick is therefore the only one without two ditches.
“No dating evidence was found in the 1961 excavation. Three worked flints however, were picked up from the plough soil of the southwestern field near the henge. They consist of two waste flakes and a small flake scraper of opaque brown flint.”
Archaeologists and ley hunters alike have described how the Nunwick Henge aligns with the three prominent Thornborough Henges to the north. Significant…?
Dymond, D.P., “The Henge Monument at Nunwick, near Ripon – 1961 Excavation,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 161 (volume 41), 1963.
Wainwright, Geoffrey J., “A Review of Henge Monuments in the Light of Recent Research,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 35, 1969.
Another stone for the rock art purists amongst us: a singular cup-marking near the edge of the rock. Although the photo here seems to show three cup-markings close to each other, only one of the three is in fact real. The other two are simple geological creations. But this fact seemed to go over the heads of some English Heritage archaeologists who reported to Boughey & Vickerman (2003) that this was a stone “with three cup markings” on it. I’m not sure who trains EH rock-art enthusiasts, but they seem to have a tendency to mistake natural features with artificial cup-markings and their evaluations should be treated with considerable caution (you’ve gotta wonder who the students are that are teaching them).
The rock itself is found in close association with other prehistoric remains and may have been a part of enclosure walling. Very close by are numerous well-preserved settlement remains, cairns and other cup-and-ring stones.
Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Wakefield 2003.
The site has been known about for nearly 150 years, albeit mistakenly as a series of prehistoric barrows that William Greenwell (1877) told were “near the division between the parishes of Rudston and Burton Agnes” near the crest of the hill. He further told the place to be,
“Two long mounds, almost parallel, their northern end gradually losing themselves in the surface-level, but connected together at the southern end by another long mound.”
Then in 1958 when C. & E. Grantham of Driffield did the first modern excavation here across a section of the western ditch, they found that the long embankment went on much further than ever previously anticipated, for more than half-a-mile downhill in the direction of Rudston village. It wasn’t a long barrow or tombs of any sort, they found! Then in 1961 when Dr. J.K. St. Joseph did aerial survey work over the area, he and his colleagues established that this monument consisted of extensive parallel ditches stretching for at least 1½ miles towards and past the eastern side of Rudston village. It’s nature as a cursus monument was rediscovered after several thousand years in the wilderness… (on St. Joseph’s survey, two other cursus monuments were also found in the vicinity, being Rudston Cursus B and Cursus C) Readers will hopefully forgive me for quoting at some length Mr Dymond’s (1966) article on the site (with minimal editing!):
“The southern end of the cursus lies in the western angle of two roads, Woldgate and Burton Agnes Balk. In plan it is square with rounded corners and consists of a bank with outer ditch. Although the bank has been ploughed for many years, it still remains substantial; it stands up to 4 feet high from the outside and 1-2 feet wide from the inside. The east and west banks decline in height northwards and are now at their greatest height where they join the southern end. The profile of each bank is smooth and rounded and merges on the outside with the broad shallow depression of the silted-up ditch. The south bank is now 170 feet long overall, and spread to a width of 60-80 feet. It stands higher at both ends than in the middle. This fact was noted by Greenwell, who also recorded that at the southwest angle “there was the appearance of a round barrow raised upon the surface of the long mound.” There is no surface evidence today to suggest a secondary round barrow, and to some extent at least the greater height at the angles is probably due to the concentration of upcast inside a fairly sharp corner.
“The south arm of the ditch has been largely destroyed by a chalk-pit, but the southeast turn is quite clear on air-photographs. There is no suggestion on the ground or from the air that the cursus had ever extended further to the south.
“The cursus begins its descent in a due northerly direction, and loses its eastern side for approximately 600 feet under the enclosure road, Burton Agnes Balk. The ditch can be traced intermittently on the western and eastern verges. It then swings gently NNW around the head of a small slack draining northwest. Thus far the cursus is traceable on the ground. The ditches are the most consistent feature, showing as broad shallow depressions 20-40 feet wide and 70-80 yards apart, which when in fallow attract a dark coarse vegetation (particularly thistles and nettles. The banks inside the ditches are sometimes visible in relief though considerably spread. Where the banks have been almost entirely ploughed out, a chalk spread usually marks their position.
“There is a suggestion on the ground that the banks and ditches may have been separated by berms, particularly on the east side near the square end. This appears to be confirmed by the silting of the ditch in the excavated section…
“Proceeding further downhill in the direction of Rudston village, the cursus quite suddenly swings north-NNE, finally crosses Burton Agnes Balk, and passes to the west of Pits Plantation. On the west of the road both banks and ditches are still visible in relief, and the ditches produce a firm crop-mark. East of the road no surface traces are discernible, and only the eastern ditch shows intermittently as a crop-mark.
“For ½-mile across the floor of the Great Wold Valley, there is no trace of the cursus. The area has been ploughed since medieval times, and there is in addition a considerable Romano-British settlement. It is worth noting that in this length, the cursus must have crossed the stream of the Gypsey Race, surely a fact of some importance in any discussion of the function of cursuses.
“Two parallel ditches c.60 yards apart, visible on air photographs in a field immediately north of the modern Rudston-Bridlington road, seem to represent the continuation of the cursus. The ditches travel for approximately 300 yards and end at the Bridlington Gate Plantation. There are no surface traces in the field, but a depression in the plantation may represent the eastern ditch. This depression is crossed obliquely by the remains of a low bank and ditch running along the length of the plantation WSW and ENE. This latter (part) is probably part of the supposedly Iron Age entrenchment system, and has certainly been used as a road from Rudston to Bridlington, as the name of the plantation implies.
“The northern end of the cursus cannot be traced. Possibilities are that the end was in the plantation and has been destroyed by the later earthwork, or that the cursus proceeded NNE for an unknown distance. If the latter hypothesis is accepted, the western ditch must be under the Argam Dykes, a double entrenchment which appears to terminate at the northern side of the plantation, and the eastern ditch is indistinguishable from ploughing lines to which it is parallel…
“Cursus A has its southern end at a height of 254 feet OD, on the forward face of a long chalk ridge running WSW and ENE. From this point the course of the cursus is visible, except for that part west of Pits Plantation. The last known part in Bridlington Gate Plantation, 1½ miles off, is clearly visible. Seen against the contours of the area, the cursus has one end resting on a high ridge, crosses a broad valley, and climbs at least in part, the far side. It appears to pass approximately 300 yards east of the monolith in Rudston churchyard.”
The presence of this and three other cursus monuments close by (Rudston B, C and D) indicates that the region was an exceptionally important one in the cosmology of our prehistoric ancestors. Four of these giant linear cursus monuments occur in relative proximity, and there was an excess of ancient tombs and, of course, we have the largest standing stone in the British Isles stood in the middle of it all. A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue. To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a relationship well known to students of comparative religion and anthropology who understand the socio-organic animistic relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.
…to be continued…
Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harvest: New York 1959.
Greenwell, William, British Barrows, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1877.
Hedges, John & Buckley, David G., The Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
Nicholson, John, Beacons of East Yorkshire, A. Brown & Sons: Hull 1887.
Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.
One of the four (known) cursus monuments around Rudston: this one stretches between the Ordnance Survey coordinates TA 081669 near Kilham Grange on the southwestern edge of Rudston, then heads northeast towards the village itself at TA 094675. Described briefly in D.P.Dymond’s essay on (mainly) Cursus A, he said how Cursus B was part of,
“a large complex of crop marks. The largest feature is the squared, tapering end of Cursus B, which can be traced for 700 yards in a north-easterly direction. No surface remains seem to survive in an area intensively ploughed, except for a swelling under a hedge on the line of the south-eastern bank (at TA 0834 6703). West of the square end and partly overlying it, are several small rectangular enclosures, which are probably part of a later (?Romano-British) settlement and field-system. Also in this tangle of crop-marks there are four roughly circular shapes, which may well be barrow circles associated with the end of the cursus. On certain barrow just south of the end of the cursus has an inner ring of pits. Where the cursus is lat visible to the north-east, it is headed roughly for the monolith ¾-mile away. The width of Cursus B is approximately 90 yards between ditch centres. It has its square end on the forward slope of a ridge (like Cursus A) at a height of 180 feet OD, and descends towards the village, which is visible from the end, through a shallow valley.”
Dymond’s note about the alignment feature of this cursus, towards the gigantic Rudston monolith, was one echoed in the Hedges & Buckley (1981) survey. They noted:
“At Rudston, the B cursus extended eastwards aligns upon the Rudston monolith in Rudston churchyard. Destruction of standing stones elsewhere may have removed similar associations between the stones and cursuses.”
This alignment feature was also confirmed by cognitive archaeologist and alignment specialist, Paul Devereux (Pennick & Devereux 1989) in his survey of cursus monuments.
Typical of these fascinating antiquities, nothing of any worth has been found along the length of the cursus that can give us any clues to its nature and function. However, the presence of this and three others close by indicates that the region was an exceptionally important one in the cosmology of our prehistoric ancestors. Four of these giant linear cursus monuments occur in relative proximity, and there was an excess of ancient tombs and, of course, we have the largest standing stone in the British Isles stood in the middle of it all. A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue. To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a phenomenon long known to comparative religious students and anthropologists exploring the animistic natural relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.
Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harvest: New York 1959.
Hedges, John & Buckley, David G., The Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.
This all-but-destroyed megalithic ring is all-but-unknown in most of the archaeological gazetteers — including even Burl’s (2000) magnum opus! But we know it was there. And according to the Avebury authority Pete Glastonbury , there “are a couple or three small stones buried on the hill but nothing else to see.” Which is a pity, as the site sounds like it was something to behold in bygone times. Although it seems to have been described initially by the legendary druidical antiquarian, William Stukeley, a more lengthy description followed in the 19th century by the reverend A.C. Smith (1885), when he and a friend took it upon themselves to cut back some of the turf that was covering a number of stones — and they weren’t to be disappointed!
The site itself appears to have stood right on the southern boundary line of Avebury parish, meaning that the site could have been named and cited on any early boundary perambulation records that might exist of the parish. (do any of you Wiltshire folk have access to any such old records?) But if there are no such early accounts, the earliest record we’ll have to stick with is good old Mr Stukeley (1743), who only gave it a passing mention, saying:
“Upon the heath south of Silbury was a very large oblong work like a long barrow, made only of stones pitch’d in the ground; no tumulus. Mr Smith before-mentioned told me his cousin took the stones away (then) fourteen years ago, to make mere (boundary, PB) stones withal. I take it to have been an Archdruid’s, tho’ humble, yet magnificent; being 350 feet or 200 cubits long.”
Nearly 150 years later Reverend Smith gave us a more detailed account, and ground-plan, describing the place as,
“a stone circle, of considerable dimensions, though imperfect and formed of very small sarsens, but which I believe to have been in some way connected with Abury. Though it appears to have been mentioned by Stukeley one hundred and fifty years ago, it had been long since buried, and completely forgotten till I was fortunate enough to discover it by digging in the year 1877. I was led to the discovery by the suspicious look of certain stones which, though scattered in no regular form, appeared as if they might have once stood erect, in some sort of order, on the segment of a large circle. I had often stopped to examine them as I wandered over that part of the downs; till at last previous suspicions ripened into conviction, as closer observation revealed sundry other stones just showing above the ground, and there also seemed to be faint indications of a trench, all pointing, with more or less accuracy, to the supposed circle. Not to dwell upon the details of the investigation, which, however, were of singular interest to me, the result was that (with the permission of both owner and occupier of the land, and assisted by Mr William Long), I probed the ground in every direction, and uncovered the turf wherever a stone was found: and on our first day’s work we unearthed no less than twenty-two sarsen stones, all forming part of the circle, and lying from two to twelve inches below the surface. These stones were all of small size, some of them very small, but that they were placed by the hand of man in the positions they now occupy, in many cases nearly touching one another, and that they formed part of a large circle or oblong, admits, I think, of no doubt. I say part of a circle, because, though the northern, southern and eastern segments are tolerably well defined, I could find scarcely a single stone on what should be the western segment to complete the circle. That the area thus enclosed is not insignificant will appear from the diameter (in length, or from north to south, 261 feet; and in breadth, or from east to west, 216 feet). Again, its position (due south of Silbury, and within full view of it, as well as the Sanctuary on Overton Hill, and with Abury immediately behind Silbury, due north of it, from which also Silbury is equidistant) seems to intimate that it may have had some connection with the great temple.”
Smith then proceeded to query the nature of the monument, commenting on how Sir John Lubbock and members of the British Archaeological Association were intrigued by the remains, but a little perplexed and unable “to form any opinion” as to the exact nature of the site. But this didn’t stop mythographer and historian Michael Dames (1977) who, in his classic Avebury Cycle, suggested that the site “marked the navel of the landscape goddess” in the region.
The site didn’t go unnoticed in Devereux and Thomson’s (1979) classic Ley Hunter’s Companion, where it plays an important point along a ley that runs north-south for 13 miles between Bincknoll Castle at the north, to Marden Henge at the south. Such an alignment had been noted much earlier by other archaeologists and historians.
The site does look strange for a stone circle in Smith’s ground-plan and has more the hallmarks of a type of enclosure or settlement of some sort. It certainly wouldn’t be out of place, design-wise, as a prehistoric settlement in our more northern climes. However, without further data it seems we may never know the true nature of this old stone site…
Dames, Michael, The Avebury Cycle, Thames & Hudson: London 1977.
Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.