Goodness, what a long time since I last posted!
It’s not that I haven’t thought about it – or been without topics to write about. It’s more that I have questioned the whole raison d’être of personal blogs …. the internet seems so crowded … who am I to add to the general digital busyness ….
I have sort of resolved this in my own mind. I can’t resolve the problem of internet busyness, but I do really love blogging when I get into my topic. And right now, that seems a good enough reason …
So here I am, with a wonderful wonderful walk from last week, in one of our very favourite parts of North Northumberland – the lands about the Cheviot Hills and the Milfield Plain.We were looking for something, something that we had looked for before and not found. Would we be successful this time …. ? Hmm, you’ll have to wait and see!
Our walk started from the village of Doddington, parking not far from what appeared to be a Holy Well. I would guess this was an ancient sacred spot, Christianised perhaps in the 19th century with the addition of the cross …A trickle of fresh water running gently at the foot of the cross … this is a mysterious and elemental place – a good start for a walk into mystery …Not far up the road we found a worn and shabby signpost, barely legible for the lichen … but it’s definitely pointing the way to Dod Law … just half a mile up the hill!So up we go! You’ll remember that I’m always behind …
Into the gorse …Where pretty soon it becomes clear that this path isn’t walked often …. the gorse so overgrown even the sheep are finding it tricky to get through … But then it opens out, and really this is the best sort of walking, the ground springy underfoot, the bracken too young and freshly green to give anything but pleasure …And the flowers! Foxgloves looking statuesque amid the gorse …Little white starry flowers underfoot … I wish I knew what they were!
Even more delightful when mingled with small blue flowers, some of which are Speedwell (thank you, we will) but I can’t identify the others. Any ideas?
And the bell heather is just coming into bloom …Just when it all seemed to be going so well, we hit a problem … This stile has collapsed. As I said earlier, this route no longer seems to be much walked. The path over the stile takes us onto Access Land (private land where permissive walking is granted but no right-of-way footpath exist). The unrepaired stile is probably a reflection not of landowner disinterest but austerity. Footpaths such as these were once the responsibility of local authority councils but their budgets have been so heftily slashed that footpaths must be bottom of their to-repair list.
Never mind – I did get over it, but only just. Lucky there’s no barbed wire on top!
Onwards and upwards … you can clearly tell which way the prevailing wind blows …Exposed they may be, but these trees clearly offer welcome shelter to sheep …
Onwards and upwards again … And then up to scrubbier ground – with providentially a bench for respite …
With what a view!The land stretching down and round over the Milfield Plain …Gaps in the bracken show clearly where the farmer has burnt back growth – so much preferable to treating the bracken with herbicidal sprays …Just a little further and we find ourselves at the hill fort – that’s Stephen ahead, just entering it. This hill fort is thought to have been constructed about 300 BC.Sadly it’s very difficult for an amateur photographer such as I am – and on the ground too – to give a real impression of the magnificence of these remaining earthworks. But the farmer’s trackway gives an idea as it runs through the inner and outer ramparts.Over on those hills in the distance were many many other hill forts … An almost unimaginable world …Just as we are immersing ourselves in the magic of this place, we look back to see somebody spraying the adjoining golf course! Aagh! is not even a spot as wild and beautiful as this safe from the common use of pesticides?!The hill fort is a magnificent distraction, but it’s not what we’re really here for … We’re looking for rock art! Some of the most intriguing and fine specimens are to be found on Dod Law.
Well, apparently so. But last time we visited we couldn’t find them. On that occasion we approached Dod Law through the golf course (a route almost parallel to the more circuitous one we had taken today), and we walked round and round and round and round – and found nothing.
You see everywhere – all over Dod Law – there are stone slabs lying exposed to the elements … You can ramble around here, through the golf course, over the hills – and find nothing .. Despite having Ordnance Survey maps, mobile phones, and hand-drawn maps from the master, Stan Beckensall’s Prehistoric Rock Art in Northumberland …OK, we did find the trig point – and were pretty pleased with that.And – just above the Shepherd’s House – we found some very moving modern rock carvings …
Bless you, Sadie and Tom Young – what a place to be remembered! You must have loved it very much up here …
And then suddenly it clicked! And the maps made sense, and I found the three clearly exposed pieces of rock art on Dod Law!
This is the first we found, and probably the most indistinctive of them all. The problem isn’t just that my iPhone wasn’t really up to the task. A June day – even if cloudy is not a good time to see the markings clearly. Best days to see the rock art are in the low light of autumn and winter.
However, if you look very carefully you may be able to make out the cup and ring marks near the top.You can see the engraved spiral much more clearly on this slab.And it’s not too difficult to make out the patterns on this so called Main Rock. These are the most distinctive and unusual patterns.I can’t quite tell you how mind blowing it is to see these carvings, worked so many thousands of years ago (latest thinking is that they were made by Neolithic people between 6,000 and 5,000 years ago). But to stand on Dod Law with these very ancient rock messages and the Cheviots in view and a lark singing takes you, I reckon, almost as close as it is possible to our very distant ancestors …Nobody knows what our ancestors meant with these rock carvings. There has to be a religious element, surely – some expression of peoples’ relationship with place and nature and life and death?
I’m intrigued to have read recently that a new project, Belief in the North East, has been set up under the aegis of Durham University “to explore the rich archaeology of the belief, religion and ritual of North-East England”. Studying the local rock art will be part of their brief. I wonder what they will come up with ..
Back down the hill – just as pleasing as coming up, if not more so for mission accomplished – and the views as good as ever!