Great Asby Scar Season 2 Week 2

The highs and lows of upland survey


Events & Outreach


Lydia Loopesko

Penny Middleton

The second week of survey is now complete and the team have made very good progress. COVID-19 was obviously on everyone’s minds and before setting foot on site we ensured that suitable safety measures were in place in accordance with government guidance at the time. The week began with a cracking group of volunteers working alongside Lydia and Oskar from NAA, as well as the team of apprentices from the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership (WDLP). Unfortunately, as the risk of the pandemic escalated, and following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday night the difficult decision was made to cancel volunteer participation. The apprentices were still keen to continue until the end of the week, with social distancing protocols in place. The third and final week of the survey has been postponed until later in the year. Please keep watching the NAA and WDLP websites (or social media) for further updates. Any volunteers already signed up will be contacted when work begins again.

Despite the diminished numbers of people, the team still found a plethora of interesting archaeological sites. We finished off surveying a large area of open access moorland (Zone M) and some of the enclosed, lowland fields (Zones L, K, and H).

Zone M comprised the north quarter of the open access land bounded by two tracks running diagonally across Gaythorne Plain. We already knew from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Historic Environment Record (HER) that this zone contained two Bronze Age cairns and a number of sheep bields, which are low walls built to shelter stock from the prevailing wind. The cairns did not disappoint and consisted of large (c.12m diameter) raised mounds showing evidence of antiquarian excavation. These were located very near the road with tremendous views toward the Pennines and the Lake District hills.

Other sites on the moorland included marker cairns, quarries, and some old walls hidden among the tussocks and moss. As might be expected, the marker cairns were easier to spot as they were often located in prominent places on hillsides. Quarries create depressions much akin to sink holes, but with evident worked faces. The relict walls were predominately associated with livestock management, including possible shieling sites (see week 1’s blog). Some of these were accompanied by low cairns, probably relating to field clearance. It is interesting to note that all except one of these structures were on the north side of the fields, on the down-wind and more protected side of the slope.

Away from the high ground, the lowland fields offered more protection from the elements for livestock and were also closer to major settlements. As a consequence, a higher number of sites were recorded in these areas. The majority of these were quarries or related to sheep farming. However, we still found a number of sites that predated field enclosure, these included a burial cairn, a hut circle, two Romano-British settlements, and standing stones.

Again, the lowland fields were dotted with relict walls, some more evident and recent than others. A hut circle (prehistoric settlement) was identified, visible in the landscape as circles of large boulders. Other low earthworks, denoting structures, garths (a small enclosed yard), and larger enclosures, probably pertained to Romano-British settlements. One of these was already recorded on the Yorkshire Dales’ HER but the Great Asby Scar survey has now identified two more (one of which was last season).

As elsewhere on the Scar there were a number of tracks and quarries in the lowland area, showing a long history of stone extraction. Some of these quarries are rectilinear in shape and clearly visible on Google Earth. The stone from these would have been used to build field walls and gates. Unfortunately, some of the stones for these walls are also likely to be from pre-existing prehistoric sites. We found significant evidence of robbing of one of the burial cairns and some of the hut circle. Yet we can’t really blame our predecessors for taking the ‘easy option’ when presented with such an accessible, ready-quarried source of building stone.

The weather this week has been mostly mild although we were hit with some rain. The milder weather does make surveying quite a bit more fun. It can be hard to appreciate the potential views from a prehistoric cairn when you can’t see more than 20 metres in front of you! The Scar has offered tremendous views and really made us appreciate the unique landscape of the Westmorland Dales. Between the Lake District, the Pennines, and the Yorkshire Dales, this ‘hidden landscape’ has long been appreciated by the people that occupied it, and now those who have surveyed it can be added to that number. We all really look forward to coming back to complete the final week of survey later in the year. We hope everyone keeps safe and healthy until we are back out on Great Asby Scar again.


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