Often out on the hills you see sights to take the breath away. And usually these are due in no small part to the natural beauty of the landscape. On Easter weekend, I met my good friends Geoff and Dave for a 2 night wild camp in the Peak District. However, the main objective of this trip was Geoff to guide us to some sites (and sights) on the moors and elsewhere which were quite simply humbling, awe-inspiring and baffling.
We were off to explore a few of the many ancient monuments and stone circles to be found in the eastern Peak District hills.
After a peaceful camp in some woodland (can’t say where) not many miles from Hathersage, me and Geoff made our way up to Carl Wark
fort to not only inspect this most puzzling of places but also meet Dave who had driven up from “darn sarf
Carl Wark fort is situated quite high up on the moors giving a fantastic viewpoint of the surrounding valleys. The fortifications are thought to date from the iron age of which a wall can still be clearly seen on it’s western side. Indeed this facade is impressive considering it’s age and survival but more so in that it’s construction is so clear.
“It’s a strange one this” informed Geoff. “Although it complies with the general rules of what a hill fort should be – steep sides and defensive walling – it’s unusual in that the interior is boulder strewn with no real room for occupation, there’s certainly no room amongst the boulders to allow even the smallest of dwellings to be built.”
This only emphasised my interest and curiosity with the location. Geoff went on to say that despite many archaeological digs at the site, nothing has ever been found. It’s what they call a “clean site”. No remains – not even axe heads or flints – absolute bugger all.
We wandered around some more and contemplated about why Carl Wark was built while we waited for Dave’s arrival from down below.
The weather was a bit mixed so far that morning – blue skies and sunshine, overcast spells with rain – but this didn’t deter the three of us as we then made our way out onto the big Peak District moors.
Hiking through bogs and groughs in persistent drizzle it did spring to my mind as to what the landscape must have been like for tribal folk round here thousands of years ago. They clearly had an affinity with the land and I suppose this influenced how they thought, felt and treated the area.
Where once there may have been settlements there are now roads. Where once were places of worship – now a field for grazing sheep. It’s bizarre when you think about it. All the history and heritage to be found and still to this day more sites of interest are discovered but sadly not so many uncovered for future records and learning.
Heck! Most of what is known to exist out in the hills of the Peaks are yet to have any formal investigation.
Given how much talk there is in this day and age about being environmentally friendly it is somewhat surprising we don’t seek to understand our ancestors more as they lived off the land. Visiting these ancient places one cannot help but feel that there was some kind of equilibrium – man and earth in harmony. OK, that might sound like a romanticised point of view but believe me walking amongst the stone circles and cairns touches a few primeval nerves and thoughts.
Some hours passed where Geoff guided us to some of the less obvious stone circles in the Peaks, be it because there are no paths and hard to get to or simply because they are now ruined and therefore difficult to see and locate.
It certainly helps to have someone of Geoff’s knowledge by your side. His eye for detail is excellent – often inspecting obscure rocks for any prehistoric art or even locating the banks and hollows of a ruined circle.
“Today, people may visit a church for worship or celebration. We have graveyards for visiting and remembering dead relatives. Well, just past this main road is a very special place. This was a place of worship and burial….you wait to you see this” Geoff teased me and Dave.
He wasn’t wrong! This moor in particular did not disappoint. Littered all over amongst peat, grass and stone were dozens of burial cairns. Some more elaborate than others due to status (perhaps) and time.
Geoff lead us to one in particular and made for a quick inspection amongst the many stones piled on top.
“Have a gentle and respectful nose around and you will discover many strange objects on some of these cairns.”
Sure enough, Geoff picked out some crystals and other objects clearly of some sentimental value. “People tend to leave them here as gifts and marks of respect.”
I must emphasise that in no way should any reader of this post go digging around any such site mentioned above. There are strict laws and punishments to any persons vandalising ancient monuments. So, in this case I thought it quite odd that people should leave trinkets here. Though I have to add they are shall we say of the image I’d normally associate with certain “peace-loving” groups. And to that end it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Evidently they respect the place and so Geoff carefully put back the objects where he found them.
On we moved and we passed many more burial cairns in varying states until we came upon the highlight of the day for me.
A large ringed stone circle.
“This is unlike any other “circle” I’ve ever seen” said Geoff, “imagine digging a flat bottomed pit with a diameter of around 15 metres, lining the interior earth walls with dry stone walling and then placing uprights within the walling that’s how this circle appears – a unique site indeed and unlike anything else within Derbyshire.”
“Some have suggested it’s a sheep pen, hut circle and even a burial enclosure which is somewhat backed up by the small interior cairn and cist. Upon a part of the cists broken cap stone is a cup mark, maybe two and a small “chevron” carving.”
“Due to vandalism in the late 80’s the site was extensively restored to it’s present state, other excavations took place in 1850 and 1967 through to 1970, amongst the finds were 4 human cremations with carbon dating evidence dating the burials to the Bronze age.”
Dave and myself commented on how special this circle was and how it had genuinely moved us emotionally. All sorts of thoughts go through your head – a bit like when you walk into a spectacular cathedral, if you like.
It certainly was very humbling.
Anyhow, we all had a quick snack and drink, consulted the map and made way to one of the Peak Districts many fine “edges”.
It was here we were to make our camp for the night in now heavy rain. But before that, again Geoff lead us off the well-beaten track to another ancient delight.
This time it was some prehistoric rock art.
After the initial “Holy ****!” and “What the ****?” – Trust me! It was amazing to see – Geoff pointed out that the rock the elaborate carving is on is actually a fake.
A fake as in the real rock with this carving is buried beneath for protection and conservation.
“When the rock was first discovered it was noticed after a while that the drawing was beginning to erode quite severely. So, in the end they made a plaster cast of the rock and re-constructed it into this fibre-glass model!”
“Looks real, dunnit?”
It certainly fooled me and Dave until we gently tapped the fibre-glass and noting the hollow knock.
Nevertheless, it was impressive but on we went to make our pitch for the night and a few alcoholic beverages.
That part of the story shall remain private though saying that some would suggest it’s because I don’t remember! But a good laugh and evening was had by the three of us.
The next day we packed up early and headed off back onto the moors and edges – this time with the aim of enjoying expansive views at a leisurely pace on our journey home.
This was another highlight of our weekend – Curbar Edge especially. The views are far and wide and give a fantastic perspective of the Peak District National Park.
Again, ancient sites are high in number in this area and though we sought them out for inspection many other walkers just wandered on by.
Perhaps they had seen these places a million times? Or they just are not aware of their existence?
Either way it made for a reminder of what can be discovered out on the hills.
There is often so much more to our landscapes in the UK that I feel is often overlooked. Which I think is a crime.
Understanding our history and heritage can often open your mind and soul to many aspects in the world we live. Furthermore, they give you a clear appreciation of how much of our land has come to be.
Be it forest clearances which lead to peat and heather moors – most of the worlds heather moorland can be found in Britain, for example.
We can see how by peeling back the layers how people lived, worshipped and shaped the land we love to this day.
And often we can appreciate not only their spirituality but intellect and skill, too.
These tribes were not unlike ourselves in many respects. They just didn’t have the tools or knowledge we have today.
And so it is perhaps fitting that we should look back to how they respected themselves and their place with the lie of the land. Their sense of awe for nature.
Of which we all could probably learn a great deal today.