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Ancient history in the Northumbrian hills

Lordenshaw

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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 …

Lordenshaw

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.

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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!

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A dwelling house

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

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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).

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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.

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Ditch to the south of the eastern entrance

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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.

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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!

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Carved stones (?) at Lordenshaw

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Grouse shoot beaters and dogs, Lordenshaw

Posted by ToonSarah 07:23 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged landscapes people history views dogs archaeology customs Comments (14)

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