A few weeks ago I posted some pictures from Abor Low, Gib Hill and the Nine Ladies stone circles in Derbyshire. A little while after a friend emailed me and mentioned another small local stone circle and also Creswell Crags. i looked them both up and once I read about Creswell I knew a visit would be in order. So using the excuse of another school inset day and a long weekend I took the two older boys on a road trip. Creswell is a little way outside of Worksop on the Derbyshire / Yorkshire border. Here is a natural Limestone gorge pock-marked with caves and hollows. Whilst the gorge was at some point damned in order to form a shallow lake the hill sides themselves are very much unchanged since their formation.
The area has been partially excavated by archaeologists both amateur and professional over the last hundred & twenty years or so but the recent more systematic methods have yielded the more interesting finds. The evidence indicates that the gorge has been inhabited by ancient forna visited by nomadic people as far back as 100,000 years. Finds in and around the caves indicate that area was inhabited by Neanderthals during the Palaeolithic period (60-40K years ago) at the beginning of the last Ice Age and there is also some evidence of early humans form finds of tools and weapons. Towards the end of the Ice age (a little over 12K years ago) there are signs that during the summer months early humans returned to the the area probably travelling north from southern France following herds of reindeer & bison. It is probably during this period that the cave engraving were made. These were only discovered on 2003 and archaeologists from various academic institutions continue to search the area and hypothesise on the meaning and derivation of the artefacts.
The area is stunningly beautiful and incredibly atmospheric. The Creswell Crags organisation have created an impressive visitors centre with a permanent display of artefacts and the local staff lead very informative and enthusiastic tours of the the Ice Age Cave and the Rock art cave. You can read much more about the site on their website here.
For my part I took a couple of hundred photographs, some of which you can see here.
I was particularly stunned by the cave art. This is apparently the only discovered cave art in the UK and bears similarity to images found in areas of France.These are wall engravings and are not pigmented. Despite more recent marks made by visitors prior to their discovery they remain in reasonable repair. The pictures I took use a Low Light app on my phone and have been edited in Snapseed to try to reveal the images. They use excessive sharpening and adjustments in tone and contrast to achieve this.
The centre is currently open at weekends only but I very much hope they can get enough interest to attract more visitors and further invest in the research carried out in the caves and surrounding areas.
The ticket we bought which was in itself pretty good value for the beauty of the site and organisation and quality of the tours allows for a subsequent free second visit which we will definitely take.
To conclude here are two bits of commentary, one positive and one less so.
I love ancient history. When I outgrew Marvel comics and read about the mythologies of the Vikings, the Egyptians, the Greeks and and the Babylonians. What I realised is that mythologising is ubiquitous and generally consistent. Stories explain those difficult to understand realities and the there is almost no end to the capacity for invention. Pre history and the surrounding artefacts illustrates the birth consciousness and awareness of the world we inhabit. Some while ago I saw the Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog‘s stunning documentary about the discovery of the Chauvet Cave in France. These artefacts pre date Creswell by about 10.000 years and are stunning in there representational skill. I recommend watching this if you haven’t seen it. It’s one of the most dizzying representations of the human spirit in its purest form you could experience. Before Creswell the most impressive thing I was fortunate to see was Akrotiri on Santorini and my next ambition is to take the boys to see this. One consistent theme between the two is that the Minoans (a late Bronze age culture) was probably matriarchal.
One suggestion that came out from the Creswell conversation and that relates to the Chauvet Cave is that, contrary to most illustrations you have ever seen of cave men, it’s not unreasonable to think that caves with art had significance in that they may have been used for birthing. If this was the case, that the ultimate great mystery and event in a life cycle was specific to a particular place, is’nt it equally likely that during the process the midwifes or expectant mothers killed time with creative endeavours, conjuring up the beasts that would feed their children.
On the down side….
We probably know more about our distant ancestors now than we ever have. The efficacy, honest, quizzical nature and wide eyed wonder of serious academics and scientists lead us to more reasoned understanding of the past and it’s people. Unfortunately these learned endeavours are undermined by the profit hungry, the imaginatively inhibited fundamentalist and down right disgusting efforts of the warmongers and land grabbers. Sites of international human importance are bombed out and occupied by troops (Ur in Iraq) and war and idiocy continues to destroy the seats of civilisation in Syria, Iran and North Africa. Indigenous people are displaced across the pacific and South America and the need to mine, drill and defecate on the landscape for vested interest is consistently supported by international government (including our own shower of miscreants) ahead of learning and reason. We are ruled almost exclusively by the worst amongst us and our great weapon is the opposite of generally present silence in the face of this worst of all worlds. Speak up for our ancestors and those that will have to live here after us. Failing that……
The Grey Ladies & Arbor Low
On Saturday we took a road trip out to the White Peak area of Derbyshire to try and find another of its megalithic treasures.
The Grey Ladies is a small monument near to the Nine Sisters and Dol Tor. It is located on private land a little distance from Youlgrave. Like the the Sisters and Dol Tor its proposed age is between 3000 & 4000 years. All that now remains are four large up right stones (so really a stone square). Previous investigations suggest there were once nine stones. Those remaining are a little over 6 foot tall and more imposing than the smaller stones of the Sisters and Dol Tor.
Standing high above the Ladies is the natural rock point of Robin Hoods Stride. From the top of this you can get a good 360 degree view of the local area.
I took a couple of rolls of 120 & 35mm film as well as the digital images below. I’ll post those separately at a later date.
As shown above, on the day we visited the land owner had decided to park is trailer in the middle of stones which didn’t afford the best overall views of the stones but I’ve tried to make the best of the situation.
The image above looking through two of the stones and up Towards Robin Hoods Stride.
The view below is a panorama from the top of Robin Hoods Stride looking down into the field where the Grey Ladies reside.
And the image below, standing on the incline leading up to Robin Hoods Stride.
The informative Northern Antiquarian blog suggests the following about the area;
“One of the old names of this site was The Grey Ladies. This came from the well known tale found at other sites across the world, that some ladies were dancing here at some late hour and were turned into stone. A variation on this theme told how Robin Hood stood on the nearby rock outcrop to the south and pissed over the landscape here, “where seven maidens upon seeing it turned to stone.” In this case, Robin Hood replaced an older, forgotten account of a giant, who forged the landscape and the sites around Harthill Moor. and also another tale — whose origins and nature are allied to that of the petrification of the Grey Ladies — narrated with considerable sincerity by local people, was that the circle was a place where the little people gathered and where, at certain times of the year, “fairy music and the sight of hundreds of dancing shapes around the stones” would happen.”
Moving on from the Grey Ladies we went to Arbor Low. This is a large Stone Age henge high on the White Peak with dramatic views across the valley. The site is managed by English Heritage. this Northern Stonehenge has a deep circular ditch and high barrow, its also overlooked by a large Bronze Age buried mound known as Gib Hill. The wind is biting when standing on the high border mound but disappears when you walk down into the ditch. All of the stones now lie flat to the ground but its theorised that they would have been upright and greater in number when it was originally in use. Its a dramatic and impressive site.
Below is a panoramic view from the head mound, looking down across the valley below.
Two further images here, the second from inside the circle.
I’m constantly intrigued by the ancient history in the region just north of Nottingham, including the amazing Cresswell Crags which has some of the oldest Ice Age cave markings in the country. The combination of isolated and often unaffected landscape and the effort of our ancestors to produce works of mysterious significance and great permanence resonate with living history.
Below are some links to further information.
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Tagged as Arbor Low, Bronze Age, Derbyshire, Dol Tor, English Heritage, Gib Hill, Grey Ladies, iPhonography, Robin Hood, Robin Hoods Stride, Stonehenge, the Sisters, White Peak