The Calanais Standing Stones

Our next destination was somewhere I was particularly keen to visit – the The Calanais Standing Stones. They stand on the outskirts of the small village of Calanais (Callanish in English) on the western side of the island so to reach them we had to drive through the increasingly heavy rain along the A858 which traverses the boggy interior of Lewis.

The monument is in the form of a cruciform with a central stone circle. All the stones are Lewisian Gneiss. It was erected about 5,000 years ago, during the late Neolithic era and pre-dates Stonehenge. This area was clearly of major importance during pre-historic times as there are a number of other circles nearby – 11 other circles and 9 individual standing stones have been discovered within a few kilometres of the main site.

The Stones are managed by Historic Environment Scotland and there is a Visitor Centre operated by Urras Nan Tursachan (The Standing Stones Trust).

The central circle comprises thirteen stones with a central standing stone. The cross is formed by five rows which connect to the circle – two of these running parallel to each other creating an avenue.

Plan showing the arrangement of the stones – By Henry Jamesderivative work: Pasicles (talk) – Rude Stone Monuments in All Countries: Their Age and Uses, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35571041

Today we think of Lewis and the other Scottish Islands as isolated backwaters, but in Neolithic to probably right through to the Medieval period times this was far from the case. Travel overland was difficult but communication by sea was much easier. The islands of the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland were at the heart of the sea lanes and trading routes. The presence of numerous prehistoric monuments like the Calanais stones and ancient structures such as the the many brochs on the islands is evidence that an advanced society developed on the islands during the Neolithic period. But why they built monument such as those in the vicinity of Calanais remains a mystery.

The original plan for the afternoon was to set out on a walk on the coast from Calanais, but with the weather having a turn for the worse we settled in the Visitor Centre and warmed ourselves with a brew!

Rejoining the minibus we drove a few miles further up the coast to take a look at another ancient structure, the Iron Age broch of Dun Carloway. Although a ruin, it’s an impressive structure which stands on raised ground overlooking the nearby countryside and the sea. Unfortunatly, it is undergoing restoration and much of it was shrouded in scaffolding, but it was still an impressive sight.

This impressive example of Iron Age architecture may have been designed to make a bold statement of status, wealth or power. It was also easily defended, sitting high on a rocky outcrop, with wide views for miles around. 

The broch tower is in an excellent state of repair. It’s the best-preserved Iron Age building in Lewis, and at 9m tall, one of only a handful of broch towers surviving to near its original height. 

The collapsed area of wall reveals  a perfect cross-section of the broch. Its main features include: 

– a double-skinned wall with two tiers of internal galleries
– a ground-level low entrance passage into the broch
– a small cell, possibly a guard-room, off the passage
– a stairway that originally led to the upper floor(s)
– a stone ledge, or scarcement, on the inside face of the wall which probably supported the upper floor

Historic Environment Scotland website

Looking down from the monument, close to the modern buildings, we could see the remains of a “Blackhouse“. The walls apparently intact and still at their original height, but with the thatched roof well gone

We returned to the minibus and set off back to Stornoway, taking the ‘Pentland Road’, over the peat moors, which follows the route of a proposed railway from Carloway and Breasclete on the west coast to Stornoway. The railway ran into legal and economic problems and was never built. Driving across the moors we passed evidence of former shielings and old and new peat banks, but there were no settlements until we neared Stornoway. The general feeling of the group was that it would be very unfortunate if the mini bus had broken down on this desolate wilderness! Fortunaely, we made it back in one piece!

LLigwy Monuments

Our route inland from Moelfre back to our accommodation took us past three ancient monuments, spanning a few thousand years from the Neolithic age to Medieval time. All three under the custodianship of Cadw

After a walk of about a mile on a minor road we took a path across the fields, emerging on a narrow country road. A short walk later we arrived at the LLigwy Burial Chamber, a late Neolithic burial chamber.

The structure with its massive capstone, weighing about 25 tonnes, would have originally been covered by an earthen mound with a small tunnel to allow access into the chamber. The capstone stands above a pit in the ground, a natural fissure in the limestone, and is supported by a series of smaller boulders. Consequently it has a more squat look than many similar structures known as cromlechs in Welsh.

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We think of Neolithic people as being primitive, but you can but wonder about their engineering skills and technology they had which enabled them to move such massive lumps of stone and to create structures that have stood for thousands of years. Shifting that capstone today would require some serious lifting gear.

Retracing our steps and walking a short distance further down the road we climbed over a stile and crossed a field to reach the second monument, the early Medieval Capel Lligwy. The Cadw website tells us that

Standing in a lonely spot overlooking Lligwy Bay, little is known about the history of this ruined 12th-century chapel. The stone structure that stands today was probably erected on the site of an older, timber-built Celtic church in the 12th century, when Viking raids on Anglesey came to an end and life on the island became more stable and prosperous.

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When we returned to our accommodation I realised we could see the chapel in the distance from the window in the living room.

After mooching around the remains, another path took us further across the field and into woodland. In a clearing we found the Din Llligwy Hut Group monument, the remains of a Romano-Celtic settlement which may date back further to the Iron Age.

The remains of several buildings, all surrounded by a perimeter wall, are clearly visible. “Din” refers to defensive wall.  The round structures were probably houses and the rectangular ones barns or workshops.

Although now largely hidden amongst ash and sycamore woodland, it is likely that it originally stood in open countryside.

There’s more information on the ancient settlement here.

Anglezarke

The last Sunday in May was another hot and sunny day so I decided I should make the most of it and get back up the moors before the rains arrived and turned the currently dry blanket bogs back into a quagmire!

I decided I’d park up n the outskirts of Rivington and then walk round the Upper Rivington and Anglezarke reservoirs before heading up on to the moors. I set out early but when I arrived at my intended destination the car parks were all pretty full even at 9 o’clock in the morning. I parked up on the dam separating the two Rivington reservoirs and set up along the path on the west shore. It was very busy with cyclists, runners and dog walkers, none of whom seemed to think it was necessary to move over to keep 2 metres apart. I was glad when I reached Anglezarke reservoir. It was considerably quieter walking along the shore.

Looking over towards Black Coppice and Great Hill

At the top end of the reservoir by Healey Nab I walked along the minor road across the top end of the reservoir and then took the path along the eastern shore.

About a third of the way along the lake I took the path up the hill towards the moors. Past the old farmhouse

A short walk along Moor Road and then I climbed over the stile onto the moor.

As I climbed higher I could see cloud in the sky over in the east beyond Great Hill. That wasn’t forecast.

As I got closer I realised that it was, in fact, a cloud of smoke. The barbecue brigade had been out and set fire to the peat over on Darwen Moor.

The moorland up here is a classic “Blanket Bog” of peat covered by sphagnum moss, heather, bilberry and cottongrass. With the recent long sunny dry spell the peat has dried out and it doesn’t take much to set it alight leading to the sort of highly damaging fires we witnessed a couple of years ago up on Winter Hill.

The fire did, indeed, appear to have been started by a disposable barbecue. It’s incredible to think that people are stupid enough to think that it’s appropriate to use these things up on the dry moorland. Luckily the local fire brigades managed to get the fire under control so it didn’t spread too far. There’s been a fire the day before up on Winter Hill and Rivington Pike. again the Fire Service managed to put it out before it spread too far.

The view towards Winter Hill and Rivington Pike

Anyway, carrying on along the moor I walked over Hurst Hill and on to Round Loaf, believed to be a Neolithic or Bronze Age bowl barrow or burial mound – the first of three prehistoric sites I’d visit during my walk.

On top of Round Loaf

From Round Loaf I headed south over the Moor, crossing over Devil’s Ditch which is thought to be the remains of a Neolithic boundary

Looking back over the moor to Round Loaf

and across to Redmond and Spitlers’ Edges

reaching Lead Mine’s Clough, rather than walk down besides the brook I took the past heading east back up onto the moorland

and made my way towards Pike Stones, the third Prehistoric site up on Anglezarke

The site comprises a collection of stones that used to be a Neolithic burial mound. There are several large slabs of millstone grit which at one time would have stood upright to form a burial chamber. Its a scheduled Ancient Monument

The stones themselves don’t look much, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to picture what they looked like when they were upright. Originally they would have been covered over with earth to form a mound and the stones themselves wouldn’t have been visible. However, the mound must have been a fairly impressive sight when it was standing, especially given the prominent location on a high ridge overlooking the South Lancashire Plain.

From Pikestones I set off towards Jepson’s gate

then cut back east along the track

then took the path south across the fields

towards Yarrow Reservoir

Reaching the road, I crossed over Allance Bridge

and took the path through the fields on the east side of the reservoir

passing a few locals

It had quiet for most of my walk – I’d seen few people – but reaching the track at the end of Yarrow Reservoir it became very busy. There were groups of people, many who didn’t seem to be concerned about maintaining “social distancing”. I was glad to finally get back into my car.

Overall it had been an enjoyable walk, but I’d learned a lesson. keep away from Rivington on a fine day

Up on the moors

It was a beautiful sunny day yesterday so in the afternoon we decided to make the short drive over to Anglezarke to take a walk up on the moors. This was my stomping ground when I was a teenager. I spent many an hour up here, sometimes with friends and sometimes on my own walking our pet dog. It’s a wild, desolate place, only a few miles from several south west Lancashire towns and a good place to be on a sunny afternoon.

We parked at the viewpoint overlooking Anglezarke Reservoir, with views right across the Lancashire plain down to the sea. Visibility was reasonably good and we could just make out the Welsh and Cumbrian hills on the horizon.

Taking the path from Jepson’s Gate we passed the remains of the ruined Neolithic burial at Pikestones.

 

The going was muddy underfoot s we decided against “yomping” through the boggy peat over to the Round Loaf tumulus and instead made our way over to the memorial to the Wellington bomber that crashed on the moors during WW2

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where there’s a great view over to Winter Hill and Rivington Pike

We crossed over the river and followed the well defined track up onto the moor

There are several ruined farmhouses out on the moor. It must have been a lonely and desolate place to live, especially during the winter months.

There are limited opportunities to create a circular route on the moor.  There’s a good circular walk up along a ridge to Great Hill, on to White Coppice and back along Anglezarke Reservoir, but it’s a long walk and time was limited, so after a few miles we turned round and retraced our route back along the track.

Reaching Lead Mines Clough we decided to follow the river down the valley

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eventually reaching the road at Allance Bridge where the River Yarrow enters the Yarrow Reservoir.

A short stroll along the road and then we took the path up through the bracken back up to the car.