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Ancient history in the Northumbrian hills


Looking out from Lordenshaw Hill Fort

The hills to the south of Rothbury in the heart of Northumberland are known as the Simonside Hills. The area is scattered with pre-historic remains, showing that man has inhabited this region for thousands of years. According to the National Park website:

‘Ancient cairns mark the summit of the ridge. Below, in the forest, there is a Bronze Age cemetery and swords from this era, unmarked by fighting, have been found on the lower slopes of Simonside.

Below the ridge lies Lordenshaw hillfort.

The beacon of Simonside was used to warn of a Scots invasion during Tudor times.’

The same website also says that, ‘Today, Simonside appears as an open expanse of wilderness, with a great deal of modern forestry planting in evidence. It is however a managed landscape in the truest sense and regular burning of the heather in the interests of promoting a healthy game bird population lies at the heart of its maintenance as a "wild" open space.’ I will say a little more about that game bird population later …


We visited this site in late August, when the heather was at its most glorious and on a beautiful sunny (albeit windy) day. It’s an easy climb up a wide grassy path to reach the hillfort.

The path to the fort

The hill fort was built around 350BC. It is roughly circular and has two entrances to the east and west. It is surrounded by two concentric ditches, the outer one of which has a diameter of 140 metres. The innermost part of the site, the inhabited area, has a diameter of roughly 70 metres and is on two levels. It contains the remains of several dwelling huts and what appear to be smaller structures, the purpose of which is unknown.

As a non-expert the site can be difficult to visit and interpret, as there is no signage at all. That helps to preserve its special atmosphere but makes it hard to work out which stones are significant, and which might just have been left lying there! However, I have done my best to work out exactly what it was I photographed!

A dwelling house

The above photo shows the most clearly defined of the several dwelling houses that have been identified at the site.





Lordenshaw Hill Fort - burial cairns?

I think the above photos are some of the burial cairns on the hill top which pre-date the fort, being from the Early to Middle Bronze Age (between 3000 and 4000 years ago). According to one source I found, ‘it was around this time that a change came in the way the dead were interred. Rather than placing the bodies or cremations in elaborate long-barrows, the inhabitants of the northern England usually placed the remains in simpler stone or earth mounds’ (see http://www.gefrin.com/lordenshaws/lordenshaws.html).



The eastern entrance

The above photos were taken at the eastern entrance to the fort, where three large stones mark where the pathway cuts through the ramparts.


Ditch to the south of the eastern entrance

Ditch to the north of the eastern entrance

Above you can see the ditch surrounding the fort, looking in both directions from the eastern entrance. This is the outermost defensive ditch with a diameter of around 140 metres. Below is another section of the ditch, on the north side.

Surrounding ditch

Prehistoric rock art

Lordenshaw is known particularly for the large number of rock carvings in the vicinity of the fort, which pre-date it by at least one thousand years. It is difficult to say exactly how old they are, and no one is sure of their function. Some sources I’ve come across say that they date from the Neolithic or New Stone Age and are about 5,000 years old. Again, without signage we found it hard to search them out, and we missed the most famous examples – we will have to go back! But many of the decorated rocks were used in the building of the fort so are scattered around the hillside. Here are a few photos of some we did find - I think!




Carved stones (?) at Lordenshaw

Scattered stones

Views from the fort

It is easy when you are here to appreciate why those Iron Age people chose this spot for their fort, as it commands wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. From the south side, where we ascended from the car park, you can look across to the next ridge of hills and see south east to the lower land there – nowadays dotted with wind turbines.

View to the south east

As we rounded the hillside to its northern flank we could look down over the small town of Rothbury and see the imposing Cragside House nestled among the trees. Cragside was the Victorian home of was the home of William Armstrong, the first Baron Armstrong, who founded the Armstrong Whitworth armaments firm. Armstrong invented the hydraulic crane, among other things – you can read more about him in my Newcastle blog, https://toonsarahnewcastle.travellerspoint.com/19/. Thanks to his inventiveness Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit using hydroelectric power.

Cragside House seen from Lordenshaw

The ‘glorious’ twelfth

While exploring Lordenshaw we could hear the intermittent sound of gunfire. At first I thought we must be near a military firing range, but we later realised that the shooting was coming from the hillside to the south where a grouse shoot was taking place. The law in the UK prohibits the shooting of game before certain dates, and in the case of grouse that date is the 12th August – known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ although it is far from glorious for the grouse themselves! It may be of some comfort to learn that according to a cousin of my husband’s, who works for a gamekeeper in the Tyne Valley, the shooters are usually so poor that very few birds are actually hit!

Distant view of grouse shooters on the Simonside Hills

As we returned to the car park after our walk around the fort, the grouse shooters were doing the same, descending the hillside opposite. I grabbed a few candid shots of this very English scene!




Grouse shoot beaters and dogs, Lordenshaw

Posted by ToonSarah 07:23 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged landscapes people history views dogs archaeology customs

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You really took me back over thirty years with this blog Sarah. When my husband got the job of first Press Officer at the (then) new "Pink Palace" BBC centre in Newcastle, one of the houses we looked at (and fell in love with) was one of those just as you leave the main road to enter the grounds of Cragside. We did choose elsewhere in the end as we like our privacy and did not think we could cope with all the visitors that would be passing our front door.

by Yvonne Dumsday

Thank you for your very prompt visit and comment Yvonne :) Glad to have brought back great memories

by ToonSarah

Beautiful views and heather for sure, but as a visitor I would have appreciated some low profile signage or at least a returnable/recyclable handout map that would have made identification of what you're seeing easier as the stones appear a bit scattered. Can't say that I am enamored with hunting of any kind, BUT I can appreciate the British tradition of it, and the traditional clothing worn. It reminds me so much of "Downton Abbey" that I wonder if the shooters were wearing Edwardian gentlemen's hunting attire -- tweed jackets and caps! Great history and photos, Sarah!!

by starship VT

Hi Sylvia, and thanks for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the views :)

Apparently there is one sign next to the main carvings site, which we missed. I guess as a free sight we can't expect too much in the way of maps etc - unlike in the US, we don't pay to access our National Parks.

I know exactly what you mean about both hunting and the Downton 'look'. I suppose the arguments for grouse shooting would be that a) the people who pay to go on these shoots are contributing financially to the upkeep of the natural environment; b) the wild appearance of the landscape owes itself to its maintenance for shooting; and c) the birds are bred for shooting, yet most dodge the bullets as the shooters are for the most part inexperienced 'townies'! But I don't like the idea myself, I have to say. By the way, the men in my photos are not shooters, they are 'beaters' - their job is to move through the heather beating the ground so that the grouse fly up to be shot at. You can see some in the foreground of my distant view, while the shooters are up on the ridge. And yes, their clothing is a deliberate nod to more traditional styles of the past :)

by ToonSarah

Sarah, I'm sure we also have some parks without signage or handouts depending on what kind of park it is. Actually, I'm glad our National Parks charge for admission because those fees goes to upkeep as well. In England, I probably have confused the National Parks with Historical Trust properties which do charge admission, correct??? BTW, I knew those young men were beaters and not shooters -- their clothing and long sticks for beating the bush were a dead giveaway. (PS, hope this reply is not a duplicate of a kind as I tried to reply and thought it had been sent but it didn't appear here.)

by starship VT

HI again Sylvia :) Yes, this did duplicate an earlier comment but it was hidden awaiting my moderation as you'd used a different email address (with a 'You' where you normally have a 'Me', if that makes sense?) so I deleted it rather than have the two very similar comments - hope that's OK?

I think by 'Historical Trust' you mean the National Trust? Yes, the national parks are different. They are designated protected areas but the land in them is still for the most part owned by farmers, residents, land-owners etc. No admission is charged although there can be car parking charges (there weren't here). On the other hand, the National Trust is a charity that actually owns the land and properties it protects. Confusingly it doesn't always make a charge for properties that are mainly open land (I'll be posting about one such here soon) but it does for stately homes, gardens and historical properties. Just to add to the confusion, we also have English Heritage which is similar to the National Trust but with a stronger focus on properties rather than country-side or gardens. They too charge for admission.

As to the young men, you'd called them shooters in your comment I believe, which is why I thought you were maybe confused?! And you're right, the sticks are the giveaway ;)

by ToonSarah

Love the heather. We've always wanted to see it in full bloom but are never there at the right time of year . . . the pitfall of travelling off season. Beautiful photos.

by Beausoleil

Hi Sally - yes, August is the time for the heather and it seems to be especially good this year :) Thank you for the compliment on the photos

by ToonSarah

Beautiful photos as always! :)
We have similar laws here about shooting game, for goose 10.8. :)

by hennaonthetrek

Thank you Henna Interesting to hear about the similarities

by ToonSarah

The heather in your pictures is just stunning - so colourful.

by irenevt

Gorgeous, isn't it Irene?! Thanks for stopping by :)

by ToonSarah

So much stunning pictures and the english dudes look really posh!

by Ils1976

Haha Ils - they are just the beaters, working guys who wear those clothes as a sort of uniform ;)

by ToonSarah

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