The Great Asby Scar Archaeological Survey-Week 1

The Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership (WDLP)




Lydia Loopesko

Penny Middleton

It’s been a terrific first week of surveying and we have identified and recorded quite a variety of archaeological sites.

Our first few days of survey have focused on the south-western part of the Scar, in an area known as The Knot (Zones). Much of the Great Asby Scar has been used for quarrying over the centuries and numerous examples were identified in this area, varying in size from a large industrial quarry producing material for building stone and lime burning, to smaller pocket quarries associated with wall building in the immediate locale. Evidence of substantial extraction was recorded all along the Scar with some quarries stretching significant lengths along the limestone outcrop. These were generally accompanied by tracks that were used to transport the stone off site. Some of these were quite substantial, with an aggregate surface and low revetment walls.

Other sites recorded include a number of stone cairns. It is quite difficult to date these, but those observed so far appear to be post-medieval or modern in date. Several have been recorded near to tracks, acting as waymarkers for those travelling across the upland. Three cairns were recorded on top of the Knott, and are visible from the valley below.

A large collection of rocks formed during glacial ice erosion, known in geological terms as an erratic, are marked as a ‘Thunderstone’ on historic OS maps. The erratic is located along a prominent track, to the south of the village of Shap, and have a rough south-east to north-west alignment. Fourteen stones have previously been recorded by Historic England in the group, of which The Thunderstone is the largest, but others may remain to be identified. The name perhaps derives from a traditional belief that erratics of this sort formed part of a meteorite, although in reality they have been moved for some distance from origin on the glacial ice flows.

Potentially the oldest man-made site identified so far is an early field boundary, now little more than a low earth bank that stretches north up the Scar and disappears into an area of limestone pavement. Another wall identified on the limestone pavement further up the Scar comprises a rubble-cored wall with orthostatic faces, which suggests a medieval date. This stretched for about 30m and appears to post-date the earlier boundary.

As might be expected, we found a number of features relating to sheep-farming, including a shieling site – a shepherd’s summer camp. This survived as little more than lines of stones creating the outlines of a structure, complete with a hearth, and two enclosures to hold livestock. We also found the remnants of what was marked as a sheepfold on the first edition ordnance survey map dated to the mid-19th century. However, the complexity of the building (having 3 cells) had some volunteers unconvinced and we settled on calling it a structure. Evidence of sheep grazing is clear from the many hogg holes, or small passageways for sheep, located in walls, most of which had been blocked, although some remain in use. Further evidence of stock management on the Scar included a drinking trough, located in the base of a small quarry.

One type of natural feature specific to the limestone regions are sinkholes or ‘shakeholes’ as they are known locally. These are formed when surface water washes down into cracks or fissures in the limestone under the upper mantle of boulder clay. They are usually found in groups and can sometimes be mistaken for a quarry, resulting in much debate in the field. We have found a few over the course of the last few days, some of which have shown visible fissures in the limestone descending into the bedrock below.

The weather over the week has been fairly mixed. It was beautiful and sunny on Monday, which we enjoyed thoroughly, all the while knowing that the forecast on Tuesday and Wednesday was not at all promising. Fortunately, the survey gods were in our favour and though we did get wet on Tuesday, it was considerably less than we were expecting. Things are looking good for this week, particularly on Wednesday which promises to be a glorious day weather-wise. If you are interested in joining the survey, please email or phone on 01539 756624.

For a weather update please click here.

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