On Monday the RAMP Team spent the morning at one of our target sites, Lordenshaws, near Rothbury. Lordenshaws has over a hundred carved stones, but also has many other archaeological features, including a variety of cairns, ancient field systems, an Iron Age hill fort, and a Romano-British settlement. We were fortunate to have an excellent guide, Chris Butterworth, the secretary of the Coquetdale Community Archaeology group. I had contacted the society looking for volunteers, and when Chris mentioned that she had given tours of the area, I couldn’t resist asking her to show us around. It was also a great opportunity to test the strength of the mobile signal.
The weather was a bit dull – not great for rock art as it’s best to have low sunlight to create shadows, so the carvings stand out better – but it stayed dry and clear so the views were excellent across the Coquet valley. The ‘Main Rock’ at Lordenshaws is easy to find, marked by a nasty metal sign put there by the ‘Commission for Ancient Monuments’ in the 50s. We also checked out the Horseshoe Rock (so-called because it has a u-shaped groove enclosing several cups) before heading up to the hill fort.
Debbie has recently joined the ranks of the Geocaching community, and had noticed on their website that there was a cache somewhere in the area. I had my trusty GPS to hand, so we tracked down the grid reference and managed to spot an old Tupperware box beneath a pile of stones! Feeling very proud of our discovery, we moved on to conquer the various banks and ditches that formed the hill fort. We found ourselves amongst a series of round circular stone-built features – the huts which once formed the settlement.
We exited the fort by the opposite, northern entrance and followed Chris along the path, past a Bronze Age cairn built on top of a cup-marked outcrop, until we reached a beautifully formed cist. A cist is a rectangular box made from slabs of stone which contained either a body or a cremation. I just had to try it out!On the way back to the hill fort, Chris led us towards some incredible outcrops of smooth, white, rounded stone – it looked as though some strange UFOs had landed amongst the heather. Some of these great outcrops were carved with large shallow cup-marks with very long grooves running down the slopes.
On the way back to the car park we stopped off to take a look at some features that have become quite controversial amongst archaeologists: tri-radial cairns, with their three ‘arms’ of stones (a bit like the Mercedes Benz logo). These are quite rare, and their age is disputed, but some researchers think they are variations of prehistoric burial cairns, and may have some astronomical significance with the ‘arms’ aligned to solar events.
So what did we conclude?
- The mobile signal for the networks we tested was pretty mixed in most places, some with no signal at all whilst others had full strength signal
- There are well established footpaths close to most of the interesting features, with a number of wooden posts which may be useful to us
- The main examples of rock art are fairly easy to find, and not too hidden by bracken or heather
- There are fantastic views, and lots of other archaeological features which help to put the rock art into a wider context
We grabbed a quick bite in Rothbury and then headed up to the National Trust house at Cragside – but I’ll let Debbie tell you about that.