Hats off to the Women’s Institute for organising an excellent talk on Cumbrian Stone Circles last night at King’s Meaburn Village Hall. It was a great success. I found the talk itself fascinating, the atmosphere friendly and welcoming, the refreshments outstanding and the raffle prizes enticing but elusive.
I must admit that I’ve been looking forward to this event intensely. Anyone who has read anything about Cumbria’s Stone Circles will recognise the name Tom Clare. Amongst other things, he’s the man who restored the Goggleby Stone in Shap’s Prehistoric Avenue to its upright position. He also made ground breaking observations regarding the flattened side of Castlerigg circle. The popular literature is thick with citations from this accomplished archaeologist and not only does he know his subject very well, he demonstrated his ability to communicate it well too, no mean feat because it could easily be have been presented in a bewildering torrent of information, or merely a catalogue of dry figures.
In brief, without dispelling any of the wonder that most of us feel when we encounter these amazing structures, he grounded Cumbria’s rich stone circle heritage firmly within its surrounding landscape and gave examples of variants on which he has himself worked. He reminded us that our view of these places is filtered by the trials of time, we can see examples of surviving circles, but it is likely that others have been destroyed and are thus lost to us. He tantalised us with mention of ‘missing circles’, the Carl Loft circle of Shap and Sandford circle near the A66.
With fluid ease he taught us the likely architectural evolution from Mesolithic wood circles, through neolithic large scale circles and Henges to Early Bronze age funerary Cairn circles and mysterious D shaped Cursii. His slideshow presentation was richly factual but very digestible as his emphasis was not on the drier issues of dimensions and orientations for their own sake, but more on the human interest side.
Cumbria is heaving with accessible prehistoric sites, many are on, or are viewable from public land, and Prof. Clare identified our area of Crosby Ravensworth as having a particularly rich history. He discussed our circles of Oddendale, Iron Hill, Harkeld (Castle Howe) and Threaplands (a circle he rediscovered recently from a reading of Bland’s Vale of The Lyvennet).
I have since ordered a copy of Tom Clare’s book Prehistoric Monuments Of The Lake District , Tempus (2007 ), available on-line and also presumably from good bookshops. To read a review of it click here.