Cartington Cove, Rothbury, Northumberland

Cup-and-Ring Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NU 0444 0186

Archaeology & History

In an area teeming with prehistoric sites from the neolithic and Bronze Age periods, we had a rare example here of some cup-and-rings that had been carved within a small cave or rock shelter of some kind.  Sadly it got destroyed in the mid-19th century due to quarrying operations—but not before George Tate (1864; 1865) had a final sniff of the place and was very lucky to see some of the remains before they finally bit-the-dust.  He told us:

“The great sandstone ridge ranges from Eglingham and Beanley across the central part of the county towards Rothbury, near to which is a cave in the rock called “Cartington Cove;” concentric circles with central hollows were incised within this cave.  Mr. Williamson of Alnwick, from whom I had this information, played around them when a boy more than fifty years ago; and they were then popularly called “Cups and Saucers.”  Nearly all of them have been destroyed by the wedges and hammers of quarrymen; but on visiting the spot in 1859, I found sufficient traces to confirm Mr. Williamson’s testimony.”

But they were gone a few years later thanks to the lads at the quarry.  Although the site was subsequently described in Beckensall’s modern surveys (1992; 2006), nothing more was found about them.


Whilst David Dixon (1903) reiterated Mr Tate’s notes on the “series of incised concentric circles and central hollows” here, he also mentioned an old piece of folklore:

“At Cartington Cove (is) a recess or cave which, local tradition says, is connected by a subterranean passage with Cartington Castle, three miles distant!”

Intriguing ingredients: caves – Underworld journey – north – all symbolic of Death in pre-christian lore.  Just saying…


  1. Beckensall, Stan, Prehistoric Rock Motifs of Northumberland – volume 2, Abbey Press: Hexham 1992.
  2. Beckensall, Stan, Circles in Stone: A British Prehistoric Mystery, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  3. Dixon, David D., Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland, Robert Redpath: Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1903.
  4. Tate, George, “The Ancient British Sculptured Rocks of Northumberland and the Eastern Borders,” in History of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club, volume 5, 1864.
  5. Tate, George, The Ancient British Sculptured Rocks of Northumberland and the Eastern Borders, Henry Hunter Blair 1865.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian