It’s a bittova pain-in-the-arse locating this site unless you’re into walking off-path, through excessive dense heather or burnt coarse ground. You can either follow the directions to the Black Beck tomb, or set off from Horncliffe Circle and walk up parallel to the fencing for nearly 300 yards (275m). From here, walk due east for nearly half a mile through the deep heather until you reach an overgrown track that keeps you eastwards towards a line of grouse butts abaat 275 yards (250m) on. Naathen, walk on the north-side of this path-track and for a few yards and you’ll begin to see either small piles of stones, or heather-covered mounds. Zig-zag about. You’re in the middle of the cemetery!
Archaeology & History
This cairnfield, or burial ground, or necropolis (choose whichever term you prefer) is a bittova beauty! Although some of the tombs here had been ‘officially’ noticed a few years back, the magnitude of it was understated to say the least. On a visit to the place a few months ago in the middle of one fuckova downpour, James Elkington and I found not only the large Black Beck tomb, but scattered clusters of many more cairns. But it wasn’t until a few weeks after that we got a longer time to check it over and, even then, I think the job was only half-done. So this site profile is merely an overview of some of what we found there. Along with the Black Beck tomb, we found more than thirty examples of prehistoric cairns—probably Bronze Age in nature—around the Hawksworth Shaw area near the middle of Hawksworth Moor, scattered around (seemingly) in no particular order.
Three types of cairns were identified in this large cairnfield. The majority of them are of the standard circular form, averaging 3-4 yards across and rising to about two feet high. They are of the same architectural form as those found in the Hawksworth Moor cairnfield 4-500 yards northwest of here (there is the possibility that the two of them are part of the same necropolis, but unless we can locate an unbroken continuity between the two groups, it’s best to present them as separate clusters). When we looked at them a couple of weeks ago, most cairns of the ’round’ type were overgrown, albeit in low growth, as a couple of the photos here show. The main cluster of the round cairns are just a few yards off the aforementioned track, but there are others scattered here and there at other points on this part of the moorland. A number of these cairns seem to have have been damaged and robbed of stones to build a line of grouse butts close by.
The second type of cairn in the necropolis—close to the main cluster of round cairns—are curious small, long cairns. Each one of them measures between 8-10 yards in length, are up to three yards across, and rise to a height of about one yard. They are built of the usual mass of small stones typical of the huge number of other cairns on Rombalds Moor, but have been constructed in an elongated form, in contrast to the more usual circular ones. Four of them are very close to each other with a fifth further away from this main group. A sixth one appears to be under the heather 50-60 yards away to the northeast. Unlike some of the nearby round cairns, this group looks as if it’s barely been touched by the hand of man, with only fallen scatters of stones around the outer edges of them. Tis an interesting group…
The third architectural cairn-types are scattered unevenly across the necropolis and are characterized as smaller, mini-versions of the round cairns, i.e, small piles of stones between 1-2 yards across and and just one or two feet high. Each of this type of cairn are more deeply embedded in the peat with more vegetational growth covering them due to their small size. This makes them much more difficult to see in comparison to their larger compatriots. One example (at SE 1423 4404) can be seen in the photo, above left, some 50-60 yards north of the Black Beck tomb; with another, above right, some 100 yards away to the southeast. There is the possibility they may be so-called ‘clearance cairns’, although I have some doubts about this and believe they are more likely to be individual graves…. but I could be wrong…
There’s little doubt that other tombs are hiding away in this area, waiting for fellow antiquarians to uncover them. Equally probable is the existence of hut circles or similar living-quarters lost beneath the heather. Two such sites have been found on recent ventures here: one a short distance west of the Black Beck tomb and another hiding away nearly 300 yards southwest, right beside the Black Beck. The main thing lacking up here are cup-and-ring stones. Apart from several uninspiring cup-marked rocks it seems few exist hereby; but there are, no doubt, some hiding away that have been hidden for millenia…
One final thing: the grid-reference given for this necropolis is based loosely on where some of the cairns can be found, but there are others whose positions lies slightly beyond that grid-ref, as you’ll find if you potter about.
Acknowledgements: With huge thanks, as always, for James Elkington for use of his photos. Also to the evolving megalith and landscape explorer Mackenzie Erichs; and to Linzi Mitchell, for additional input…
Probably the easiest way to find this is to use other sites as guides. From the Great Skirtful of Stones tomb, get over the fencing and follow it eastwards for exactly 500m (238 yards) where you’ll meet a small footpath on your right that goes southeast up the small slope of Craven Hall Hill and onto the moorland. Go along here for literally 0.2km (223 yards) and, just where the path bends slightly to the left, drop diagonally down the slope to where the moorland levels out close to the Craven Hall Hill (2) tumulus. From here walk WSW onto the flat moorland for literally ⅓-km (0.21 miles; 365 yards) where you’ll find either a large rounded mass of stones, or a large heather-covered mound—depending on whether there’s been a burning. Best o’ luck!
Archaeology & History
Very troublesome to locate when the heather’s fully grown, this large prehistoric tomb was uncovered very recently as a result of extensive moorland fires. It’s the largest such structure in a cluster of more than thirty cairns near the middle of Hawksworth Moor, many of which were rediscovered at the end of May, 2021. Due south of the Great Skirtful of Stones, this smaller skirtful of stones measures some 45 feet across and is more than three feet high in parts. Probably built in the Bronze Age, the tomb looks as if it’s been deliberately robbed at some time in the past, probably before the Victorians by the look of things—although only an excavation would tell us for sure. Primarily, the cairn has been robbed from its centre outwards mainly on its western side, where you’ll also see a small and rather dodgy cup-marked stone. Scattered into the surrounding peat are visible remains of where some of the loose stones have been cast.
A possible alternative to this being simply a large cairn, is that it’s a much-disturbed ring cairn. Some sections on the north and western edges give the impression that the mass of stones may be collapsed rubble walling. There are also a couple of internal features beneath the overgrowth of peat and compressed vegetation: one being a small circular piece of stonework that has either fallen in on itself, been dug into, or is the home of an animal; and a yard or two from this is what looks like another internal U-shaped stone structure – again, deeply encased by centuries of encroaching peat. But I must emphasize that these features are far from certain and can only be proven one way or the other by an excavation.
The site is well worth seeing, not only for its own merit, but also because of its place in a much wider prehistoric cemetery in the middle of Hawksworth Moor. There are at least six small single cairns (which may be clearance cairns) scattering this area—the closest of which from here is some 20 yards to the north. A more curious group of at least five small long cairns exist about 100 yards to the south; and below these is the largest cluster of standard tombs in the form of small round cairns. A curious D-shaped hut circle structure can be found less than 100 yards to the northwest, and what seems to be remains of a larger deeply embedded enclosure exists beyond the long cairns. Check ’em out!
Acknowledgements: With huge thanks, as always, for James Elkington for use of his photos. Also to the evolving megalith and landscape explorer Mackenzie Erichs; and to Linzi Mitchell, for additional stimuli…
From Bettyhill, go out of the village along the A836 Thurso road for just over a mile. You go uphill for a few hundred yards and just as the road levels-out, there’s the small Farr Road on your left and the cattle-grid in front of you. Just before here is a small cottage on your left. In the scrubland on the sloping hillside just below the cottage, a number of small mounds and undulations can be seen. That’s it!
Archaeology & History
Although this place was highlighted on the first OS-map of the area in 1878, I can only find one modern reference describing this somewhat anomalous cluster of sites. It’s anomalous, inasmuch as it doesn’t have the general hallmark of being a standard cairnfield or cluster of tumuli. For one, it’s on a slightly steep slope; and another is that amidst what seems to be cairns there are other, more structured remains. As I wandered back and forth here with Aisha, I kept shaking my head as it seemed somewhat of a puzzling site. As it turns out, thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who thought this…
In R.J. Mercer’s (1981) huge work on the prehistory of the region, he described the site as a whole as a field system comprising “enclosures, structures, cairns and field walls” and is part of a continual archaeological landscape that exists immediately east, of which the impressive Fiscary cairns are attached. In all, this ‘cairnfield’ or field system is made up of at least 23 small man-made structures, with each one surviving “to a height of c.0.5m and are associated with 11 cairns from 2-6m is diameter.”
In truth, this site is probably of little interest visually unless you’re a hardcore archaeologist or explorer.
Mercer, R.J., Archaeological Field Survey in Northern Scotland – volume 2: 1980-1981, University of Edinburgh 1981.
Acknowledgments: To the awesome Aisha Domleo, for her images, bounce, spirit and madness – as well as getting me up here to see this cluster of sites.
Drive from Milnathort SE down the A911 road towards Balgedie and Scotlandwell. About a mile out of the village, keep your eyes peeled on the farmed fields on your left. You’ll notice the standing stones a few hundred yards ahead and, if you, see them in time, will be able to park up by the track on your left a coupla hundred yards before Orwell Farm. Ensure you visit this site between October and March – otherwise the fields are in full crop.
Archaeology & History
Stones marked on the 1857 map
These are impressive standing stones by anybody’s standards. Although we have two impressive uprights today on the highest point in the potato fields, in the 19th century the place-name writer Liddall (1896) told that “in this district are still three large pillar stones known as the Standing Stones of Orwell.” (my italics) Their existence was recorded, he said, in early topographical accounts in an obsolete place-name Mawcloych, or “place of the stones.” But if there were three standing stones here, they must have stood prior to the article written by the pseudonymous “W.H.”, who described them in the October edition of The Scottish Journal in 1847, saying:
“About half-a-mile above the old (Orwell) churchyard, in a field by the roadside, are two large upright stones, known as “the Standing Stones of Orwell.” They are placed east and west of each other about fifteen yards apart—that to the west is flat, and about six feet in height—the one to the east is of a round form, tapering slightly to the ground, and stands nine feet high. The latter, although still of considerable size, has lost somewhat of its circumference within the last ten years, and, at the present moment, there is a large crack down one side, which, by the action of the weather, will lead to a further diminution of its bulk. It has not been ascertained to what depth these stones are embedded in the earth, but it must be considerable, in order to retain them in the position they occupy.
“The common belief is, that these stones are of Danish origin, erected in commemoration of a victory, or to mark the spot where those who had fallen in battle were interred. This supposition is so far countenanced by the fact that a stone coffin, of large size, was found on digging up the space between the stones. Similar coffins have also been turned up in the same field, and, ten or twelve years ago, the ground was dug up in several places by a neighbouring proprietor, when large quantities of bones, much decomposed and mixed with charcoal, were discovered.”
Fred Coles 1906 ground-plan
Orwell Stones, looking north
This early description telling of the poor condition of one of the stones presaged its eventual fall in the late 1960s; but this thankfully led to an archaeological evaluation which gave us more information about the site. Before this however, the great northern antiquarian Fred Coles (1906) visited the stones in August 1904, describing them with his usual meritorious detail, telling:
“They stand on a very gently rising ground, the space between them and for some distance to the south being somewhat higher than the surrounding field. In ground plan they are related as shown (attached). The east stone is the higher, standing 9 feet 8 inches clear of theground, smooth-sided and hexagonal. At the base its girth is 9 feet 9 inches, swelling up at the 5-foot level into 10 feet 8 inches. The West Stone, very rugged and angular, is 7 feet 5 inches in height, girths at the base 11 feet 1 inch, and at about 3 feet upwards, 10 feet 5 inches, its broadest side facing the East Stone. Both are of whinstone. The shortest distance between the two Stones is in a line nearly north-west, and measures 46 feet 10 inches.
“Mr R. Kilgour, one of the oldest residents of Kinross, showed me a fine partially flattened oval pebble of dark reddish quartzite, measuring 5 inches by 2⅞ inches, which he found in the ground between these two Stones. The abrasion at each end clearly shows that this pebble has been used as a pounder.
“In a book which to some extent deals with local antiquities, occurs the following passage with reference to these two Standing Stones: ‘In the same field stone coffins have occasionally been turned up by the plough; and, about the beginning of the 19th century, the ground was in many places dug up by the neighbouring proprietor, when quantities of bones much decomposed and mixed with charcoal were discovered.’”
But after the west stone fell down, J.N.G. Ritchie (1972) and his team turned up to resurrect it—and also check out what might be underneath it. His initial notes of the findings were published in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, which said:
“Excavation at the bases of these two standing stones…was undertaken prior to the re-erection of the W stone and to the embedding of both stones in cement. The original position of the fallen stone could be detected only as a slight hollow in the natural gravel, but as this corresponded with the position of the stone on Coles’ plan…the stone could be re-positioned comparatively accurately.
“A cremation deposit was found in an insubstantial stone setting in a scoop in the natural gravel some 0.5m S of the stone. The E stone, which is an impressive whinstone 3.8m in total height, had been set up in a hole 1.5m x 1.4m and 0.75m in depth. Within the pit on the SW side of the stone there was an unusual two-storeyed cremation deposit; the lower cremation was contained within a rough setting of stones with one side formed by the standing stone itself, and was covered by a flat slab. On this slab and again surrounded by a setting of small stones was the upper cremation. It seems most likely that these were inserted into the stone hole at the time of the erection of the stone. Another cremation was found at the lip of the stone hole on the SE side. The discovery of cists and cremation patches in the same field in the early 19th century suggests that the stones have acted as a focus for such burials.”
The southeasterly stone
The northwesterly stone
Ritchie (1982) later wrote how they had found “burnt dog and pig bones with the lower cremation deposit,” implying “rituals” at the site. He even posited how such deposits at standing stones “may have a bearing on their postulated use as astonomical markers,” although Alexander Thom’s (1990) exploration of the Orwell stones indicated no archaeoastronomy here. So it seems very obvious that these giant monoliths were markers for a neolithic and/or Bronze Age cemetery or necropolis in prehistoric times. Aubrey Burl (1993) defined the stones here as having “an Irish setting, with the east emphasized, as alway, by the taller stone.”
Fred Coles’ 1906 drawing
Unmentioned by the archaeologists in all of the references I have at hand, is the probable relationship the Orwell stones had with the rising background of the Lomond Hills to the east, with its archaic legends of cailleach, neolithic tomb creations and other geomantic indicators. These elements (and more) need to be explored more diligently by forthcoming students. It’s a remarkable setting as far as I’m concerned!
Burl, Aubrey, “Pi in the Sky”, in Douglas C. Heggie’s Archaeoastronomy in the Old World, Cambridge University Press 1982.
Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
Somewhere in the woodland park, before the area was “ruined”, as Moray Mackay (1984) put it, by “sand and gravel workings”, and within 100 yards of the re-positioned Trysting Stone, there once remained the ruins of ancient tombs—probably neolithic or Bronze Age in nature. The ‘cists’ as they’re known (stone-lined graves), were described in several short articles at the beginning of the 20th century, shortly after their rediscovery. Drawing upon the initial article by Joseph Anderson (1902) in the Scottish Antiquaries journal, W.B. Cook (1904) wrote:
“The doubling of the (railway) line from Dunblane to Callander has necessitated the altering of a road at the Crofts, Doune, and on Tuesday, 8 May, while digging, the navvies came across two stone cists containing bones. The cists were made of stone slabs. On Thursday, the men came on another cist about five feet from the surface. It was 3 feet long and 2½ feet broad, composed of round stones, and a quantity of bones were found in it, and also an urn. Unfortunately a cart-wheel passed over the urn, smashing it. The pieces were, however, carefully collected and cemented and they are now in the possession of Mr Smith, Clerk of Works to the Caledonian Railway Company, Doune. One of the cists first found was quite empty, but the other contained a large number of human bones, the largest about 1½ inches long. The coffins were about 15 inches from the surface, and lay from east to west. They measured 2 feet 9 inches in length, and in breadth and depth about 18 inches. They are constructed of local stone, and near the spot there has been a dyke running from the burgh to the sand holes, as the foundation was visible when the soil was being removed. Some of the stones indicate that a house might have stood near the spot, but there had been no public burying-place nearer than at Kilmadock and at the little chapel of Inverardoch previous to 1784.”
In Mr Joseph’s (1902) article, he told us there wasn’t one, but two urns which, after some considerable effort, were reconstructed. I’m not a great lover of urns misself, although when found in conjunction with the dead, we must ask, what was in them (if anything) when they were placed with the deceased? Food? Herbal beverages? Shamanic potions? In this case, we don’t know; and so all we are left with is Mr Anderson’s description of them:
“Urn No.1 is of the usual type of the so-called ‘food-vessel’, 4¾ inches in height by 5 inches in diameter at the mouth, the lip slightly bevelled inward, and the whole exterior surface ornamented. The ornamentation consists entirely of lines impressed into the soft clay with what seems to have been the roughly broken end of a small twig about ⅛-inch in diameter. On the level of the lip there are two parallel lines of short scorings going completely round the upper surface. On the exterior surface there is a kind of slightly concave collar half an inch in width immediately under the brim, which is ornamented with short perpendicular indentations about a quarter of an inch apart. Underneath the collar the vessel expands slightly to the shoulder and then contracts to a flattened base of three inches in diameter. The part above the shoulder is slightly concave externally, but the scheme of decoration above and below the shoulder is the same, consisting of a series of short impressed lines scarcely half an inch in length ranged round the circumference in horizontal rows about a quarter of an inch apart, and crossed perpendicularly by lines about half an inch apart, not impressed, but scored into the clay. The perpendicular lines above the shoulder are more divergent than those below the shoulder, which converge towards the bottom in consequence of the tapering form of the lower part of the vessel. The paste is coarse, and mixed with small stones; the wall of the vessel is about a quarter of an inch thick, and the colour a reddish brown on both the exterior and interior surfaces, but quite black in the fractures exposing a section of its thickness.
“Urn No.2 is of the same wide-mouthed, thick-lipped form of the so-called food vessel type, 5 inches high and 5½- inches in diameter at the mouth. The lip is bevelled inwards, and the general shape of the vessel somewhat resembles that of No. 1, except in the lower part, which, instead of tapering to a flat bottom, narrows from the shoulder in a much more gradual curvature to the bottom. The ornamentation also is much more elaborate, though partaking of the same general character, inasmuch as it is a scheme of impressed markings, in bands arranged alternately in vertical and horizontal directions and covering the whole exterior surface of the vessel. On the bevel of the rim is a horizontal band of three lines of impressed markings, surmounted on the upper verge of the rim by a row of shallow oval impressions less than ⅛ of an inch apart. Under this there is a horizontal band of impressed markings as with the teeth of a comb, and below that the general scheme of ornament is carried out in alternate bands of about half an inch in width, running vertically from collar to base. The one set of these bands consists of three parallel rows of impressions of about ⅛ of an inch in width, and ⅛ of an inch apart, which seem to have been produced in the surface of the soft clay by a comb-like instrument, while the other set of bands has been produced by marking the spaces between the triple bands in the same way with a similar instrument, but placing the lines horizontally and closer together.”
A short distance from here, more cists were found. It’s possible that a prehistoric graveyard this way lay, countless centuries ago…
Moray Mackay (1984) reports that the Doune fairs used to be held here.
According to a Mr Abner Brown (1846), this was one of two prehistoric cemeteries that once existed in Pytchley village, but very little seems to have been written about it. Found on the north side of the village in the field where an old limekiln once stood, this “apparently pagan” site was “about 350 yards northwards of the church.” From his brief description it seems that a large barrow here was accompanied by other smaller ones of the same period. They have all been destroyed.
From Bettyhill village, take the road east towards Tongue and Durness. A half-mile out of the village, at the bottom of the hill, just before you cross the small metal bridge across the River Naver, a very minor road, left, takes you to Skelpick. Go down here and follow the directions to reach the giant long cairn of Skelpick Long. Once there, walk east up the moorland hill (there are no footpaths) for about 150 yards. Once on top of the rise, the moorland levels out a little and there, before you, amidst the small overgrown undulations of many old cairns, a giant one rises up to greet you about 100 yards away. Y’ can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
Neolithic in nature, this giant circular cairn, standing on the ridge above the hugely impressive chambered long cairn of Long Skelpick, isn’t quite as grandiose as its neighbour below, but it’s still an impressive feature in this beautiful moorland landscape. Comprised of tens of thousands of small stones raised to a height of 10 feet above the moorland peat, several ‘pits’ have been dug into the top of this undoubted tomb of regal nature; but whether it was originally the burial-place of a single person, to which were later added members of the same family, is simply unknown.
On the top of the cairn, at least one of the ‘pits’ that drop into the centre is covered by a large heavy tombstone with a small upright monolith at its side. Although the late great Miss Henshall (2005) thought no ‘chamber’ was here, it is very likely that a chamber will be found beneath this large rock-covered flat stone (see photo). In our visit, a hollow seemed to be apparent beneath this.
Highlighted on the earliest Ordnance Survey map, it was shown to be just one cairn amidst the mass of other smaller surrounding tombs—most of which were probably built for people from the same tribal group. None of these small cairns have been excavated, but they were probably built after the construction of the major Queen’s Cairn.
The Royal Commission lads visited the site in 1909, but said very little of the place (probably over-awed by Long Skelpick, Coillie na Borgie and other nearby giants!), merely that this large circular cairn has
“a diameter of about 54′. It is about 8′ high, and though the stones have been pulled about here and there on the top, it does not appear to have been excavated.”
And so it remains to this day—although the cairn is slightly larger than the dimensions given by the Commission boys. Beneath the encroaching heather, the cairn is closer to 67 feet (10.23m) across, with a circumference of 210 feet (64.25m).
The monument sits on a plateau immediately above the giant Long Skelpick cairn—although neither can be seen from each other. But if you walk only a short distance from the Queen’s Cairn towards the long cairn below, a very notable and extensive line of ancient walling runs along the edge of the geological ridge separating the two tombs, as if deliberately keeping them apart. Other lines of ancient walling run closer to the cairn, seeming to indicate that a settlement of some form was also apparent on this ridge, in close connection with the group of smaller burial cairns.
It’s a gorgeous arena with many prehistoric sites and puzzles to behold, and plenty of unrecorded ones nestling quietly in the heather. It’s bloody superb to be honest!
Gourlay, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
Henshall, Audrey S. & Ritchie, J.N.G., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 2005.
Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland, HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
Take the same directions as if you’re visiting the Great Skirtful of Stones giant cairn on the boundary of Burley and Hawksworth. Cross the wire fence on its southern-side and, cross the (usually overgrown) prehistoric trackway 50-60 yards away. Keep in the same direction onto the pathless moor for about the same distance again, zigzagging back and forth, keeping your eyes peeled for some small overgrown rocky rises. You’ll find ’em.
Archaeology & History
Not to be confused with the much larger Bronze Age graveyard further south on the same moorland, this little-known prehistoric cemetery has had little of any worth written about it since the 19th century and—like many sites on these moors—has received no modern archaeological attention.
On my last visit to this site with James Elkington in 2015, only four of the heather-clad cairns were visible; but if you explore here after the heather has been burned away, a half-dozen such tombs are found in relatively close attendance to each other. They are each about the same size, being roughly circular and measuring between 3-4 yards across, 10-12 yards in circumference and a yard high at the most. As you can see in the attached images, they are quiet visible even when the heather has grown on them.
This small cairnfield may stretch across and link up with the secondary cairnfield a half-mile to the southwest. More survey work is required up here.
As with the circle of Roms Law and the Great Skirtful of Stones, this relatively small cluster of cairns seems to have had a prehistoric trackway approaching it, running roughly east-west. A short distance west are the much-denuded waters of the Skirtful Spring.
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Faull, M.L. & Moorhouse, S.A. (eds.), West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Guide to AD 1500 (4 volumes), WYMCC: Wakefield 1981.
Wardell, James, Historical Notes of Ilkley, Rombald’s Moor, Baildon Common, and other Matters of the British and Roman Periods, Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1869. (2nd edition 1881).
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to James Elkington for use of his photo in this site profile.
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.
From the Askwith Moor Road parking spot, walk up the road for about 500 yards and head to your right (east) onto the moor. Walk past the upper side of the disused quarry and through the heather for about 200 yards until the moorland slopes down and you’re on another flat moorland ridge. You should now be stood on the edge of the Snowden Crags Necropolis or cairnfield. There’s a large patch of bracken near the top of Snowden Crags in the middle of the prehistoric cemetery. That’s the spot!
Archaeology & History
Very little has been written of this site and for years several of us have wondered whether or not a stone circle was the antiquity that was being described in the only singular reference of the place, mentioned almost in passing in Mr Cowling’s (1946) fine survey of this area more than fifty years back, where he reported:
“A large circle of heavy material, some thirty feet in diameter, is isolated on the shelf above Snowden Crags to the west.”
But despite the various explorations of me and a number of other students on these moors over the last 20-30 years, Cowling’s curious singular reference (which some have taken as an error of judgement on his behalf) has remained a mystery. Until now!
Thankfully, with the help and attention of the hardworking Keighley volunteer Michala Potts on Thursday, 20 May, 2010, this large and very well-defined antiquity has been relocated — and a damn fine find it is indeed! It would appear (unless someone has notes to the contrary) that when Cowling did his extensive walkabouts on these and adjacent moors, this Snowden Crags Circle was much overgrown in heather and bracken; and I think we can safely assume this due to him making no further remarks regarding the site. Indeed, it would seem that Cowling’s consequent silence on the matter would lend us to think he never caught good sight of this “large circle” ever again. And upon these moors, that’s easily done when the heather gets deep up here! (numerous cup-and-ring stones on these and other northern moors still lay hidden amidst moorland undergrowth, awaiting rediscovery as a consequence of the deep vegetation) But thankfully now we have a good view of the place.
Wrongly ascribed by Neil Redfern of English Heritage to be a part of Scheduled Monument Record number 28065: Cairnfield, Enclosures, Boulder Walling, Hollow Way and Carved Rocks (it’s actually a short distance north of SMR 28065), the site here was relocated during one of The Northern Antiquarian exploratory walks, assessing the extensive walling, settlement pattern and prehistoric graveyard that scatters the central and northwestern section of the moors here. Michala Potts stopped and shouted for Dave Hazell and I to come and have a look at something she’d found whilst we were carefully peeling turf back from a previously unrecorded site about 100 yards away.
“What is it?” I asked; expecting just another small tomb or new cup-and-ring stone. But her tone of voice was different this time.
“I think you’d better take a look at this,” she emphasized.
As we walked through the shallow heather towards her, it became obvious she was standing in a rough circle of dead bracken, unbroken by the lack of rain over the previous months. We’d actually walked past it a couple of times the previous week and gave it no attention due to the depth of the dead vegetation covering the area. But this time it was different. I got within 50 yards of where Mikki was stood and my footsteps slowed; a couple more steps perhaps; then I stopped dead in my track. My arms lifted up and I held my head gazing at what she appeared to be stood in.
“Aww my god….” I said — transfixed at what was in front of me (I’m easily pleased aswell!).
I’m not quite sure how long I stood there with my head in my hands. Ten seconds or so. I couldn’t really say. I think it was when Dave caught up to where I stood, rooted, and appeared at my side. We walked a bit closer to make sure that what we could see wasn’t just another one of those curious shapes in the landscape that you find when seeking out prehistoric sites and turn out to be bugger all — but it wasn’t. Instead, Mikki Potts had stumbled upon an average-sized ring of stones, between 1-3 feet tall, and about 13 yards across, with what seemed like an entrance on its southern side, seemingly untouched in the middle of the mass of decaying bracken! It was an exciting find — as it’s not everyday that you come across a previously unrecorded stone circle. But, once we’d calmed down and walked round and round the site to make sure that something man-made was under our feet, we decided to make our way home (we’d been on the moors all day) and get back up to have a more detailed look at the place in a few days time. On Tuesday, May 25, we went back up for a second time and had a better look at the place…
It was another lucky day. For before we even reached Askwith Moor, Mikki pointed out what looked like a small cup-marking on a stone yards from the edge of the River Wharfe. We brushed off a bit of the dusty earth and were greeted the single cup-marked stone we’ve named the Riverbank Stone. It sat there all alone and dusty and we were very tempted to look for more potential carvings along the riverbank, but the Snowden Crags site was calling for attention and so up the hill we walked.
The ring of stones was still covered in a carpet of dead bracken and also had the new shoots of Spring emerging from the Earth, so we spent the next few hours picking up much of the dead bracken and carrying it beyond the outskirts of the circle, hence enabling us to see with greater clarity the monument Mikki had found a few days previously. The hot sun shone down on us all day and it took longer than we expected to shift all the bracken; but eventually, once we’d done it, we were looking at a very distinct man-made circular monument, measuring 13 yards by 12 yards across and, at its highest point, not even three feet above the present ground level. But today’s ground level is certainly much higher than it was when these stones were first placed here — at least 12 inches higher.
When Mikki first clapped eyes on the place, only a few small upright stones were sticking up amidst the mass of compacted bracken, but once all this had been brushed off we could see the stony earthworks averaging 18 inches high around the edges; and in places this outer ring is nearly 6 feet across. The ring consists mainly of smaller packing stones (perhaps thousands of them) between a number of larger upright stones — a dozen of them — making up the perimeter; but much of this perimeter is still considerably overgrown in compacted vegetation that’s prevented us seeing the ring in its proper glory: what archaeologists in the past have called a rubble bank. On its southern side is what appears to be an entrance, i.e., in this part of the circle there are no larger stones at all and only a handful of small stones have been noticed; but we must take into account the fact that we’ve done no excavation work here and this “entrance” may in fact be illusory, as the centuries of compacted vegetation (in all probability at least 12 inches deep) could be overlaying an unseen portion of the ring. This “entrance” is about 2 yards across.
The circle has similarities in size and design to the better-known site of Roms Law on Ilkley Moor. The difference between the two however is Roms Law has been robbed, whilst the Snowden Crags circle hasn’t even been catalogued. Yet there is a distinct anomaly here.
As we walked through the southern “entrance” and into the circle, we noticed what seemed to be some form of internal walling running roughly north-to-south. This “walling” started about three yards between the southern “entrance” and the inside of the ring, but then it ran roughly through the centre and all the way to the northern perimeter. This was indicated by a distinct rise in the ground which, as you walked over and stomped your feet, proved to be a mass of numerous small stones seemingly a few inches under the ground, some of which were poking through the Earth’s surface. This ingredient alone made me stop and wonder about the nature of the site. Had we come across a cairn circle of some sort? Or were we in fact stood in the middle of a small walled enclosure, which itself sits in the middle of this prehistoric graveyard? Indeed, was this walled enclosure a potential living quarter: some sort of large hut circle with a wall through the centre splitting it in two? It was hard to say for sure. On another visit to this site a couple of weeks later, in the company of Geoff Watson, Paul Hornby and Dave Hazell, this potential internal walling was given a bit more scrutiny.
We were dying to get our hands and feet digging at the heart of this ring of stones but — as yet! — we’ve managed to restrain ourselves. Although carrying off the mass of dead bracken has dislodged a couple of the small fist-sized stones at the edge of the ring (we carefully placed ’em back into position; yet it was only as much as you’d unintentionally disturb if you walked over the place a few times), we needed to use a couple of small brushes to have a look at this apparent internal walling running through the middle of the ring. But after carefully brushing off the dry dead earth, we found this “walling” was nothing of the sort! Instead, it seemed, someone at some time in the past had beaten us to this place! The central walling was, in fact, where someone had dug into the central region of the circle — probably looking for treasure or other wealthy valuables — and in doing so had dislodged a great number of the small stones that were initially in the middle of the ring, and in doing so pushed them up into small piles of stones, away from their original central position, creating an obvious long line of rocks which, once covered with dead vegetation, gave the impression of it being a length of walling. We also found that the mass of rocks that were around the centre of the ring also spread outwards covering all of the ground inside the outer kerb of stones — probably thousands of them. Geoff called this trench in the middle, the Robber’s Trench!
This begged the question: who the hell had been here, dug out a trench in the middle of this cairn circle (possibly taking out whatever remains were in the middle) centuries before the site had even been catalogued? It didn’t seem like it could have been Mr Cowling, as the covering vegetation was much more than a mere 50 years of age; and Cowling would very likely have reported any finds that he might have made here. So it is a mystery that needs solving.* Again, an accurate archaeological excavation would be invaluable here — but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Archaeological officials don’t seem interested in helping here. I was informed by Neil Redfern of the archaeology department of English Heritage for North Yorkshire that they are unable to support any funding that might help towards any decent analysis of this important archaeological arena (probably spent all their cash on prawn sandwiches and tedious autocrats, as usual).
So what we have so far is this: a large flattened circle consisting of at least a dozen upright stones that define the edges. Between these uprights are hundreds, perhaps thousands of smaller stones, making a rubble bank of a near unbroken circle, apart from where there seems a small entrance on its southern side. Inside the circle is a scattered mass of many small stones, typical of cairn material, filling the entirety of the monument; but the central region has been dug into at some time in the past, by persons unknown. It sits on a flat plain of moorland amidst the Snowden Crags Necropolis with around 30 other small cairns. But this particular site is several times larger than all the others, probably indicating that whoever was buried/cremated here was of some considerable importance in the tribal group: a local king, queen, tribal elder or shaman. Whoever it was that this monument was made for, the landscape reaching northwards from here looks across to the giant morphic temples of Brimham Rocks and the heavenly landscape beyond and above them. It is very likely that the Lands of the Ancestors this way beckoned…
Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way: A Prehistory of mid-Wharfedale, William Walker: Otley 1946.
Huge thanks for the help, assistance and photographs of this newly discovered site — and others nearby — to Michala Potts, Dave Hazell, Paul Hornby and Geoff Watson.
* There is a legend that tells of gold and treasure found at a nearby pre-christian well, but this site is a mile to the north of here. Another nearby treasure legend is that of a chap called “Robinson”, who came upon tons of wealth from an unknown source, enabling him to build the eloquent Swinsty Hall a mile northwest of here (though such a chap didn’t actually build Swinsty!). Perhaps there’s some grain of truth somewhere down the line about someone finding some treasure hereby…perhaps here…perhaps not!
AN APPEAL TO SOME DECENT RICH CHAP FOR SOME MONEY TO ENABLE EXCAVATION HERE!
This site and the surrounding monuments have received no archaeological attention of any worth. If it wasn’t for the fact that us amateurs had explored these (and adjacent) moors, this cairn circle would remain unknown, many of the cup-and-rings upon these moors would remain unknown, the extensive enclosures and walling (of indeterminate age and function) would remain unknown, many prehistoric tombs would remain unknown, etc. It is clearly evident that we have quite extensive domestic and ritual remains covering this small moorland region, from the neolithic period onwards. In the event that anyone reading this with a healthy financial backing behind them could work out a financial strategy enabling us to accurately excavate this and the adjacent monuments, please get in touch. We need an archaeologist to be paid for in order that we can do the duties correctly, but there is a group of a dozen volunteers willing to put a lotta work in to do the right job in this and the surrounding sites. Is there anyone out there who has the finance to enable this? I’m serious! Or are these important sites merely going to be left alone for the elements to consume and disappear over time? Surely there are one or two rich antiquarians left in this country who, as in times of old, are willing to help in the investigation of our country’s ancient monuments? Does anyone out there know how we can get the ball rolling?