This was an expedition that had been long in the planning, and that’s why I’ve written such a right old lengthy load of waffle. I’m chuffed, and I can’t help it, I don’t get out much. Anyone who reads this entry right the way through, in one go, wins a packet of winegums.
The fact that these carvings were effectively lost had rankled for many a year. Since the area of Drakestruther Moss had been ploughed and planted, a number of attempts had been made to try and relocate the carvings, Ian Hewitt being the last person to find anything, namely the small enclosed cup motif which Stan Beckensall lists as being ‘Near’ panel 3b.
Previous to that, at some point in the 1980s Maarten Van Hoek tracked down panel 3a:
However, the ‘main’ panel, (On the Beckensall Archive here) is located in an area in which the trees thrived. The density of planting being that characteristic of the 1970s and early 1980s, when the idea seemed to be ‘cram as many in as you can’. The trees are less than 1m apart in places, and consequently, within a few years an impenetrable barrier of interlocking larch had formed, effectively scuppering any attempts to see the carvings. As Stan remarked, the it was impossible to find the carvings, even if one knew where to look. It must have been quite frustrating, but this would have maybe been ameliorated by the knowledge that the carved outcrop had at least been spared from planting and ploughing. The one nagging concern being that when the trees were one day felled, would the outcrop be recognised as such, to avoid the possibility of damage. Though the plantation looks to have a good few years of growth, In the 26 years since these carvings were last seen, it has changed hands, and the current landowner has widened the forest trail around the edge of the plantation. Satellite images available initially on CD-ROM and more latterly on the internet via Flash Earth, showed that the width of the trails indicated that some serious amounts of wood may be due to be shifted. This made the accurate relocation of the carved panels a tad more needful.
Fortunately the same images that showed the wider trail also showed a shadow in the approximate location of Stan’s grid reference for panel 1. If the trees avoided the outcrop, it seemed likely that this shadow was the result of a gap in the trees around the outcrop. More recently, the updated, higher resolution images on Google Earth show the shadow to be still there, and also showed up enough detail to allow the line of the tree furrows to be extrapolated west towards the forest trail. A virtual pin placed at the intersection of this line and the trail allowed a longitude and latitude to be calculated in GE, which was then converted to the correct map datum for a Garmin E-trex. After testing that this convoluted method of getting a grid ref worked ( I now know exactly where both my backyard and the local bandstand are, in a variety of map datum sets).
A date was then set for Messrs Curtis, Parry, Stroud and myself to go see if the clearing on the satellite images was actually the outcrop. By general agreement, Feb 29th seemed like a suitably anomalous date to go on a wild goose chase. Mr. Stroud negotiated permission for access, and although unfortunately both he and Mr. Parry were forced to call off their visit due to some extreme weather conditions, Mr. Curtis and myself, having a lesser distance to travel, managed to sneak around the bad weather due to some accurate info from the BBC’s very useful animated online weather forecast.
Upon reaching the point where the gps told us we should leave the trail and head into the trees, Andy and I realised that a programme of brashing (tree thinning) has been initiated, and as a result, every five rows of trees had been thinned or felled, making it a bit awkward, to get into the trees, but not so awkward that one had to crawl on hands and knees. As we got about 20m in, we saw a large boulder at about the right distance into the trees Andy remarked that if this was the right spot, these had to be the easiest found ‘lost’ carvings ever. But there were no cup and ring marks, though Andy did notice a strange squiggle carved into the side of the boulder, though it was obviously modern, so we paid it no attention. A search of the clearing yielded no evidence of outcrop whatsoever, and it seemed that the clearing was the result of tree felling, not as we had hoped, as the result of an absence of tree planting. The whole of the clearing was filled with discarded branches, obviously where someone had decided to harvest a few trees early and left the useless bits in a great big tangled heap. So that explained the shadow on Google Earth.
We were slightly disheartened, but not completely so. The carvings had to be around here somewhere, and we’d dragged ourselves here, so we might as well have a look. There then followed an hour or so of crawling about on elbows and knees, through a thick bed of Larch needles, with the lower branches of each tree, interlocking above our heads, scrambling up and down in and out of the furrowed surface left from the forestry commission’s muckle great ploughs. Round and round we went, in circles, in lines, finding nothing. Just trees. No outcrop. After a while, a quick conflab led us back to the boulder we’d seen when we first went into the trees. It seemed odd that a marked stone was there, even though it was a modern marking. Once we got there, we agreed that it could be a marker. but where was the outcrop? A bit of rooting about in the pile of discarded branches had showed no outcrop, but a bit more rooting showed no evidence of tree stumps either. Therefore this area had not been planted, and the outcrop could well be underneath the forest refuse. Annoyingly, neither Andy nor I had thought to bring any implements that would be useful in clearing forest detritus. So it was that I was reduced to sticking a bit of branch into the needly carpet to see if there was anything below. And there was. But was it marked? A bit more scratting about showed what could be a cup mark. But were there any rings? A bit more scratting and there was a ring.
There then followed a hour or so of dragging slimy, half decomposed branches from their interlocking 3D jigsaw puzzle, and scraping away the decomposed sludge that had formed in the however many years since this outcrop had last been exposed. Eventually, we uncovered all the motifs shown on Stan’s illustration. It’s quite a large panel, and there are a few things that seemed worthy of note:
- The majority of the motifs are quite eroded, but one is an exception, which begs the question, was it more protected over the years, or is it a later addition? Or was it just carved a bit more deeply? As usual, more questions than answers.
- Another salient feature of the overall composition is the way in which many of the rings and grooves seem to overlay some of the cups. Again questions regarding the chronological development of the panel as a whole spring to mind. In this sense, Amerside 1 is more akin to the main panel at Hunterheugh, and quite possibly Clive Waddington would pontificate at length upon the possible temporal ordering of the various elements. And why shouldn’t he, it’s one of those things you’ve got to do every now and then.
- Another feature that stands out on this panel is the profusion of random grooves running out from the motifs. They don’t link the different CnR motifs, but do seem to follow the pattern of heading downwards following the declination of the outcrop surface.
- Although the outcrop is now surrounded by the trees, if you can ignore them, or use your 4-D laser-X-ray vision to see through them, Amerside 1 has an excellent view of the Cheviot massif, across the till valley. You can get a rather pixelated virtual version of it if you zoom in on GE and tilt the horizon. From some angles it looks like the outcrop may have been chosen as it’s at the right point to make Cheviot seem to ‘float’ on the horizon, much in the way some sites further south in Northumberland are placed to make the distinctive profile of Simonside do the same landscape levitation trick. I can’t vouch for sure though, as the view in the real world is only available from the edge of the scarp, and so it’s also hard to say if the outcrop has a decent view of the sites around Fowberry and Weetwood, though it’s quite possible as they are all at lower altitudes.
- In terms of visible (or not as it stands right now..) landscape features, the other two ‘significant hills are Ros Castle, looming large, and the distant silhouette of Simonside. This trio are also visible from other complex panels such as Chatton and Weetwood.
By the time Andy and I had finished our bit of impromptu landscape gardening, the panel was still filthy, but some attempts at photos did show up the hints of the carvings beneath the sludge.
Buoyed up by the whole thing, we headed off to the north edge of the plantation in search of panels 2 and 3. I’d identified another patch of unplantation about 60m east of Stan’s grid ref for panel 2. When we got there, we found a previously unrecorded small standing stone, and what could have been a very eroded cup and ring on the outcrop. But it didn’t match Stan’s description of the panel 2 motifs, there was no sign of the Christian cross Stan mentions, Stans later confirmed that he has no recall of the standing stone, which implies it’s unlikely that this is panel 2. However, as was pointed out by Mr Stroud the following week, Stan’s 6 fig grid refs for panel 3 are only about 10m more off than his ones for panel 2. So it’s equally possible that the cross is hiding under the turf, and maybe the stone was obscured by heather when Stan visited (It’s not very tall). To add to the confusion, Stan has no photos, and he gives no info about the nature of the rock panel 2 is carved on, so more research is needed, and possibly more scrabbling about under the trees. As it was when Andy and I were there, a quick glance at the thickness of trees in the area where 2 should be persuaded us that we’d be making better use of the time remaining if we went off in search of panel 3. (In other words, we copped out…)
Happily though it was a way off from the 6 fig grid ref, Panel 3 was exactly where it should be according to Stan’s sketched map, i.e. at the intersection of a line extrapolated from the path to Oxe Eye long cairn, and a line following up from the small burn running down the north side of the scarp. A handy drainage ditch lets you get within about 20m, with minimal scratches. Though the vegetation has thickened in the vicinity of panel 3 since the conifers were planted, the area is relatively free of trees, being mostly heather and boggy moss. There is evidence that the forestry commission workers who planted the area did plough this part of the plateau, but the water table is obviously too high here for the trees to thrive. This might also afford a clue regarding the placement of panel 3. The carvings are placed at the head of a small burn, and the immediate locale of panel 3 forms a collect for the run off down of rainwater from the rest of the plateau. This makes for a few small pools, one of which is a god marker for panel 3, being only a few metres away. The association of rock art and watersources is of course well documented, and when this is combined with the good viewshed the burn would have once afforded this spot (prior to planting, the trees now obscure the view up to Chatton moor), panel 3 seems to be in the right kind of place.
The next week, Messrs Stroud and Parry accompanied us on a return visit, where we met up with Messrs Deakin and Jones and Ms Walker. Thus mob-handed, this time armed with what Mr. Parry referred to as the ‘full artillery’ of water sprayers, brushes, tripods, monopods, flashguns, centimeter scales, measuring tapes, recording forms, north-arrow indicators etc. etc. Mr. Deakin was a superb source of information on the area, as he clearly recalls the days before the plantation appeared, and showed us maps drawn up by the mighty George Jobey, indicating the prevalence of prehistoric cairns in the immediate area.
This time, we did venture into the thickness around panel 2, but once more, nothing was found. A revisit to the outcrop with the standing stone and possible cup and ring did show that the possible cup and ring is worthy of an upgrade in status to probable cup and ring. Then as bonus, another definite cup and ring was uncovered just a few centimeters away. All agreed that these two were not the motifs recorded by Stan, and were thus a new find. Panel 3 proved just as amenable to revealing itself as it had the previous week, and it consequently got the full photogrametrical treatment as befits a prehistoric carving being visited by the Durham & Northumberland Rock Art Project.
It seems to me to be a timely thing that the position of the main panel has been pinned down once more. Whoever dumped those offcut branches on top of the panel probably had no idea that there were carvings under the needle carpet. It would be very easy for whoever eventually turned up to fell the trees to have driven right over the panel, with a vastly increased probability of damage. Added to this the corrosive effects of a few decades of acidic decomposition, and the already faint carvings may have been reduced significantly, even without their ever being uncovered again. As things stand now, the current landowner is keen to protect and preserve the carvings, and now this should be a much more easily attainable goal. Panel 2 is still in hiding though, so more visits to Amerside Law need to be made. The little extra panel found by Ian Hewitt (The first image in this Blog entry), eluded us on both recent visits. So next person up there, get yersell’ looking 🙂