The Vale of Lyvennet

Its Picturesque Peeps and Legendary Lore

By John Salkeld Bland

 

ANCIENT BURYING PLACES.

The remains next under consideration are the cairns or burial mounds. These have been very numerous on the high grounds and unenclosed moors around the source of the Lyvennet. Thirty or forty may still be found perched upon the highest peaks, or otherwise on commanding situations, others on the overhanging banks of the streams, while some have been placed without any characteristic choice of site. Some of these bear significant names or more often the name is applied to an extended area of the hill or plain on which they are found; and others there are with which no name can be connected. The word How, Danish – a hill, is generally significant of a mound, but is often applied to the whole, as Sill How, Raise How, Bousfield How, How Arcles, How Neuk and How Robin; on each of which are mounds. Raise is an older word of similar meaning, and is applied more directly to a mound, as Raise How on Bank Moor. This name is more common in the neighbourhood of Shap. Pen, of Cambro-Celtic origin, having the same meaning, is found in Penhurrock. Others again bear the ordinary name of Hill, as Iren Hill, Round Hill, &c. Though these mounds have been raised by different people each in their day, yet they are often found to have been named or rather called Hills by whatever word in the language or dialect of the succeeding races expressed the same. Others again there are bearing names peculiar to themselves, as Iren Hill, Sill How, Hollingstump, Penhurrock, Robin Hood’s Grave, Lady’s Mound, &c. Though they are numerous, yet many of them have been opened by the hill-breakers of the last century, or been more or less ravaged for the sake of stones, earth, &c.; for this reason it is difficult to distinguish those belonging to different ages, though it is highly probable the great majority are British.

On Gaythorn Plains – an extensive tract of comparatively level moor on the north side of Orton Scar, are two mounds 100 yards apart, respectively fourteen and [     ]1 yards in diameter; the larger of these, on being opened by Rev. J. Holmes, was found to contain in the centre an urn of baked clay, ornamented with rude zig-zag work on the outside; this was broken but had contained ashes; besides this the mound contained remains of five different skeletons which, from the wear of the teeth, had been of different ages; some being sharp and pointed, while others were worn quite flat. It is a remarkable fact that no teeth found in any mounds show the slightest symptoms of decay.

At the extreme edge of the Plains on the brow of a cliff overlooking Sale Bottom is another mound composed solely of stones; it is twenty-six yards in diameter, and has originally been about seven or eight feet high. It is known as Hollinstump, a corruption, as some think, of Llewellen’s Tomb. Llewellen was the last of the Welsh Kings, and was beheaded about 1280 in the reign of Edward I., but it is improbable the King would trouble to send his mangled remains for interment to such a distant part. It was opened by some gainseeking hill-breakers, who say they found a large slab of sandstone, under which was a full length skeleton and a small implement – in the words of the finder: - “He seemed t’eve been buried in his cleayse wid a jack-a-legs knife in his waistcwoat pocket.”2  Of the sandstone slab: - “They brak it up an’ gat three carfull o’t finest sand et iver was carried to Appleby Low Brewery.”3  Bone dust was not then come into fashion, or else we may be certain his bones would have been sold to the crushing mill. This place is said to be haunted, the apparition being a headless horseman who dashes along at a furious yet noiseless speed. Those who have seen him describe him as having in place of a head something like a blaze of fire, and others like a backboard laid upon his shoulders – perhaps the distinguished spirit of the wronged and headless Welsh King, whose sole revenge is to dash on the midnight wind around his tomb, to the terror and dismay of each benighted wanderer.

Round Hill near Towcett, was opened by a similar class, out of which was got a sandstone slab of large size, afterwards made into a chimney-piece; under it were also found human bones. A like one existed at Flatt Neuk on Bank Moor, but is now removed; within it was a cist formed of rude stones set up edgewise, in which was the  skeleton, and alongside a bronze spear-head; this cist was covered by a large sandstone slab, over which had been heaped, as in the others mentioned, earth and stones even to hundreds of cartloads in quantity; in some cases brought from a large distance.

Penhurrock, the highest point by the road leading from Crosby to Orton, was a large mound of stones, but it has been removed and broken up for road metal, with the exception of a few boulders of granite. Its diameter was about twenty yards, having in the centre a cist surrounded by an irregular circle of stones about eleven yards across; the boulders are only very small, and have been covered up in the mound. A quantity of bones was found, some of them of gigantic proportions: and what is rather curious, in a small cavity on one side were found a quantity of ashes, remains of the fire by which the bodies had been consumed. As no account was kept of the deposition of its contents, in what position the entire skeletons were found, or where the ashes of those consumed had been placed, we can form no decided opinion respecting its age; but from its mixed contents it was probably used as a burial place by different succeeding races.

On Long Scar Pike is a large mound of stones twenty yards in diameter, and eight or nine feet high. It has been opened, but no account kept. There is another on How Nook Pike, a little further south; these are the highest points in the parish of Crosby Ravensworth, and are positions truly worthy as the resting-places of some ancient chieftains or warriors, overlooking as they do the vale of Orton, the Lune and their tributary dales of Bretherdale, Langdale, Wasdale, and the vale of Birkbeck with its far-famed medicinal spa, backed by the bleak and rugged peaks of Shap Fells.

On Wicker Street, near the stone circle, is a large irregular oblong mound, twenty-four yards in length, and another at no great distance, but small and circular, on the east side of the Roman road. A more remarkable one is on a limestone cliff overhanging the Lyvennet, in Crosby Gill; it is an oval, or keel-shaped, ten yards the longer diameter, and six the less, and about seven feet high.

Robin Hood’s Grave is an oblong mound, seven yards by three. It is situated at the bottom of a narrow rocky dell at the head of Crosby Gill, where the footpath from Orton to Crosby enters the woods, once the chase of Sir Lancelot Threlkeld. It is noticed by Mr. Sullivan in his “Cumberland and Westmorland,” but he speaks of two heaps: this is, however, a mistake, there being only one. Of this mound he says “It was once customary for every person who went a-nutting in the wood, at the south end of which this heap is situated, to throw a stone on Robin’s grave, repeating the following rhyme:-

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, here lie thy bones;
Load me with nuts as I load thee with stones.” 

Whoever was the original of the famous outlaw, and whether he was properly Robin of the Wood or Robin with the Hood, his name is now connected with mounds and stones innumerable in various parts of England.  On Ploverigg Edge are two large stones, known as Robin Hood’s Chair and Punch Bowl; in short, too much popularity has converted him, according to the view of critical investigation, into a myth. Probably the well-known rhyme of schoolboy notoriety may be in allusion also to the famed outlaw of Sherwood Forest:-

Robin a Ree, Robin a Ree, if I let thee dee
Many sticks, many steanes be heaped o’ my weary beanes
If I sud set Robin a Ree to dee: 

This game is usually attendant on bonfires, near which, those joining the game stand in a row; the first then takes a fiery stick, and whirling it round and round repeats the rhyme, then handing it to the next, who repeats it, and so on till the stick dies out; the unfortunate individual, in whose hand this happens, is then at the mercy of the grimy sticks and wet sods of his companions.

Not far from Robin Hood’s Grave is a spring known as “King’s Well,” which is supposed to bear its royal title from being visited by King Henry VII,; but of this we have no more reliable proof than we have that Robin Hood’s remains lie beneath the mound, which, on being opened, was found to contain only an old sheep’s skull.

There are three mounds near to each other on the east bank of the stream near Gilts; they are about seven or eight yards in diameter each. None of these have been opened. Between Gilts and Lodge is one; below it are a number of parallel and other earthworks, suggesting to the mind of some antiquaries the idea of its having been a maze; a dilemma in which antiquarians are often found.

A little south of How Arcles is a mound near which are circular and square entrenchments.

Lady’s Mound is near the high road over Meaburn Moor, from which it is said the Countess of Pembroke once stood and remarked that she could see from that point three of her ancient castles, namely, Brough, Appleby and Brougham.

On the east side of Morland Bank is a mound on the edge of what has once been an extensive marsh now known as Redmires. It is here worthy of remark that Morland Bank is a corruption of Mere or Mireland Bank, from mere, a marsh; literally meaning “the bank amongst the marsh lands.” It is a tongue of high ground which has at some time been almost surrounded by marshes. These though now drained still retain the significant names of Redmires on the east side, through which runs Lyvennet, and Eelmires on the west, drained by a tributary stream. That these have been more extensive and of a more marshy character is proved by the fact that when Redmires was drained in 1863, at the depth of 4 feet, in black marshy earth, was found part of the head and horns of a deer. The skull has been forcibly broken from the neck, while the horns have been cut round with some sharp instrument and then broken off;  the four tips on the part of the horns left are also cut and broken off. The remainder of the horn, being useless, has been thrown away into the marsh, on the banks of which would have been the scene of the slaughter; whether by Briton, Roman or Saxon we know not: but it is certainly a relic of the chase when the native deer of Westmorland ranged wild and free over its forests and fells. In the same drain and about the same depth was also found a small stone ornament. It is best described as half of a large marble one inch in diameter, with the top flattened and a hole made through it about a quarter of an inch in diameter, slightly wider on one side than the other; it is of blue slate. These, by some, are called Druids’ rings.

Returning again to mounds, one was removed in Reagill Croft, in which was found what was called a bronze spear-head. On Wickerslack Moor another was removed, having on the original surface a layer of black earth surrounded with boulders, but all covered up. Others of various sizes may also be seen on Ploverigg Edge, Hardendale Nab, near Murbur, Potrigg, near Starbey Field &c., possessing no features particularly worthy of remark. Near Harberwain Plantation was formerly a circle of stones eight yards in diameter, within which had been a mound; but it is all now removed.

On Harberwain Rigg is a remarkable mound occupying a very elevated position; its diameter is fourteen yards, and surrounded by eighteen large boulders. It was carelessly opened a few years ago, and in the south-west side was found a human skeleton of gigantic proportions; but whether he had been in a cist of how laid was not noticed. Along with the bones were found portions of the horns of the red deer. The mound is called Iren Hill, doubtless a corruption. Half way between it and the stone circle was found in a cleft of the rock a bronze dagger blade, thirteen inches in length and four inches broad at the hilt. It is of very good workmanship. Whether it is coeval with the mound is doubtful; but it is a good specimen of the weapon which supplanted those of the stone age, and in the hand of the Briton opposed the advance of the Roman legions. Another relic of the same age is a small bronze celt three inches in length, which was ploughed up in a field near Blinbeck, and now in possession of Mr. Markham of Morland. Iren Hill is the only mound now left in the neighbourhood having a circle of stones round.

Orton Scar, an extensive tract of high ground, is a dreary wilderness of rocks, extending for many miles, presenting little more than the bare limestone cut up in its original formation by deep chasms into blocks of various sizes. These again are carved and worn into most fantastic shapes by the wearing power of winds and rains. The only form of vegetable life flourishing in the crevices are of the fern species, some of which are peculiarly rare in other localities. Here and there are patches of earth affording a scanty herbage of bent and moss for the few hardy mountain sheep. These rocks break off on the south-east side forming bold escarpments overlooking the vale of Orton, while on the other side they slope away in the opposite direction for a mile or more, variously broken up into rocky valleys and ravines unadorned by either bush or brake. The scenery is, of course, in the immediate neighbourhood, of a wild and dreary character; but is high situation affords a wide panoramic view of the surrounding country, bounded all round by the more or less distant mountains, even to the blue line of the Cheviots. Of archaeologic interest there are a few mounds located in different parts on the high elevations; but the observing eye cannot but note that it has been more a place of refuge and safety in life to the ancient inhabitants than a resting place after death; and in such localities would we expect to find the fastnesses of the Celtic races to which they would fly when the Roman armies made their appearance through the gorge at Borough Bridge, and also the people of after ages seeking safety from the marauding Scots or Danes up to the last Border foray. Associated with the last-named times is the highest point: from which often has blazed the beacon fire signalled from other heights, and warning the inhabitants below to prepare for the approaching danger.

Castlesteads, about half a mile further east, is an elevated plateau of rock, having a sloping level surface of about half an acre, covered with bent and moss. On nearly every side it presents an escarpment of rock from three to fifteen feet high; along the top of this has been a rude wall or barricade of stone to serve partly as a defence against attack, or more likely as a fence to enfold horses and cattle. Within it on the south side are two oblong enclosures about twenty yards long by eight each, and on the north-west side is a large pile of stones as though it may have been a rude tower. The elevation is situated in a hollow and immediately all round it is an impassable plain of rocks and chasms. These are continued, more or less similar, for a mile or more on every side; so that this stronghold could only be gained by horses and cattle by circuitous windings, known only to those most familiar with the locality. In this place and others similar, then, in ages past, we may conclude that in times of invasion or when marauders ravaged the country, the inhabitants of Orton and Crosby would remove their cattle and other goods for security, which it certainly would afford, if such were to be had; first, from its secluded situation, for, unless previously known, it would escape discovery, and if known, a few men well armed and familiar with the crags would have baffled and perhaps overcome a whole army. Some authors suppose the word Castlesteads to be associated with Roman works, and possibly this place may have held out and been reduced by them. However this may have been, at no great distance to the north were found in April 1847 a beautiful silver brooch (Fibula Vestiaria) and a silver torque, in a crevice of the rock at a depth of about five feet. Possibly these may have been in the possession of some reckless Roman captain whose hardihood and reckless daring led him amongst the treacherous scars and hardy Britons, which when he discovered, in his haste to retreat flung away his cloak to free himself of its encumbrance, unmindful of its valuable ornaments.*

About a mile from Castlesteads, descending by a rocky ravine in an easterly direction, is a remarkable hollow called Sale Bottom, where are the remains of mounds and earthworks, to all appearance of a strategic character – perchance the battlefield on which the owners of the fold of Castlesteads have struggled to defend themselves and their property. It is a narrow area of level land, bounded on the north side by an escarpment of limestone more or less bold; on the opposite side is a more regular slope, while the ends are gorges more or less rocky. Across the level area of this bottom have been formed five or six embankments of earth and stones running from the rocks on one side and on the other ending in counter entrenchments, two of which, at about twenty-five yards apart, run parallel along the slope of the hill, and so defending the most approachable side. The entrenchment at the upper end has also a ditch on the outside and runs between the cliff in one ravine over a hill to another ravine. Scattered over this area are also seven or eight mounds, which lead us to suppose that after the action was over the dead were buried on the field. The principal mound is circular, nine yards in diameter; near it is another, forty yards long and about five broad. These are of earth and stones, and have been made of the materials forming one of the breastworks, parts of which are still left at each end; besides these, further up, are three irregular shaped ones, about ten yards long each by five; there are also three other smaller ones in different places, all within the area of the entrenchments. These mounds have never been opened, so that no idea can be formed of the people by whom they were formed. The word Sale is by some supposed to mean strife or battle, and possibly the various forms of Sel and Sill may be of similar derivation, for example, Sill How, near Odindale.

On the eastern slope of Sill How are the remains of raised banks of earth and stones running in different directions, apparently for a similar purpose to those in Sale Bottom – defence against the attacks of horsemen or chariots. Crowning the hill, not far from the stone circles is a mound which, on being opened, was found to contain in the centre a small chamber formed by four flat stones set edgewise, making a cavity about eighteen inches by ten and six deep; this contained a quantity of ashes and charred bones; over it was laid a rude limestone slab about three feet long by two. Upon this was loose earth and then another much larger stone.

Outside in the body of the mound were also found quantities of human bones and teeth and also the teeth of horses. Amongst the earthworks are one or two mounds, one of which contained human bones, miscellaneously thrown in at a slight depth. The south-west slope of the hill is called “Outliers Brow,” on which, on making a road, a bronze spear-head was found.

In Stony Gill, near Winter Tarn, are also similar remains of irregular earthworks, running from one steep breast of rock to another, the scene of another of those struggles constantly occurring in savage ages. The most remarkable feature is a mound on the top of which has been erected a memorial or bauta-stone commemorative of victory. This has fallen from its erect position, and a portion of the top having broken off is still lying at no great distance. This again illustrates Ossian when commemorating a victory. He says:- “I took a stone from the stream amongst the song of bards, we raised the mould around the stone, and bade it speak to other years.” Then contemplating of what would happen in after years he says:- “Prone from the stormy night the traveller shall lay him by thy side: the whistling moss shall sound in his dreams, the years that are past shall return. Battles rise before him. Blue-shielded kings descend to war. The darkened moon looks down from heaven on the troubled field. He shall burst with morning from his dreams and see the tombs of warriors round. He shall ask about the stones.” But the time is now too far past; the chief is forgot – and who shall reply?

On the high ground east of Winter Tarn is a mound ten yards in diameter, near to which are some faint traces of an irregular oblong enclosure. Within this are two circles, respectively fifteen and eleven yards in diameter and three yards apart. The traces of these are very slight, as though a small trench had been made around some temporary camp. To the south-east of this, on what is called The Edge, is one of those large circular ramparts of earthwork; it is nearly obliterated by the plough, but seems to have been about fifty or sixty yards in diameter. There is another similar near Hard Ing, much more perfect, with a mound and ditch; some antiquarians attribute these to be the work of the Danes, as strongholds in their forays.

The last remains of a strategic character to be enumerated are on Bank Moor. Here there is a level plateau of land which has been fortified on the west and north by a deep ditch, formed along the brow of the hill. When the brow is a rocky crest no ditch is made, but it is continued across the north end to another breast of rock. This extends still higher, away at about an average of 150 yards, parallel to the other, to Raise How, a large mound at the southern extremity. The whole length of the plateau is about a quarter of a mile.

 

*More probably both are pre-Roman. They are now in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries.

 

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The Vale of Lyvennet, Its Picturesque Peeps and Legendary Lore, By John Salkeld Bland, 1910.


Notes

1. Gap left by original author.

2. "He seems to have been buried in his clothes with a jack-a-legs knife in his waistcoat pocket." This type of knife is referred to here as typically used in wood-carving, but needn't necessarily have been restricted to this use.

3. “They broke it up and got three cartfulls of the finest sand as ever was carried to Appleby Low Brewery.”


19 June 2015.

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