It was a bleak, cold day in January when my dad and I decided to venture out in the hope of finding some fragments of Teesdale’s ancient past. Guided by the information in the fantastic book Prehistoric Rock Art of County Durham, Swaledale and Wensleydale written by Stan Beckensall and Tim Laurie we soon arrived at a small farm-house high above Hury Reservoir in Baldersdale. With the farmers kind permission and some friendly directions we made our way across the iron-hard frozen ground towards a small intake field where we were told our quarry would be. But it wasn’t until we where practically standing on top of it that we could see the earth fast stone we were looking for. It was probably around 5,000 years ago when someone decided to carve upon this piece of rough gritstone, and the weight of those centuries seemed to have pushed the boulder deeper into the marshy ground, so that now it’s broad flat surface barely showed above the sheep cropped turf. Gently we lifted off some of the frozen grass and sheep dung which had accumulated on the surface to reveal the beautiful design of cups and rings linked by deep grooves which decorated its coarse surface.
After spending some time admiring and photographing the boulder we explored a bit more of the field to discover the other two cup marked stones which it was said to contain. But as is often the case when out in the hills at this time of year what little light quality there was quickly started to drop and with it the temperature. A few snow flakes had begun to fall as we got back into the car, and with the heater on full to try and thaw out our frozen limbs we drove home pondering the mystery of the carvings and where next to explore.
The photograph was taken with my Rolleicord TLR with hand held fill in flash. The film was Fomapan 100 which I developed in Pyrocat HD 1+1+100 for 12 minutes and the Lith printed on expired Agfa Brovia Grade 5 paper.
My previous trip to the millstone quarry on Carr Crag had been incredible, but I couldn’t help but feel that the weather had cut my exploration a little too short and I knew there was still a lot more to be discovered. So a few weeks later with some better weather in the offing my dad and I walked down the now familiar track towards the ruins of Flushiemere House. Together we followed the path which slowly wound its way up the small dale past the old mine shop with the aim of reaching the northern most end of the line of crags. Here we hoped to find evidence of the people who visited this remote corner of the Pennines thousands of years before us, and like the millstone carvers that followed them they had left their marks upon its coarse weathered stones. These carvings known as Cup and Ring marks are thought to date to the early Neolithic period around 5,000 years ago just when humans began to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. Their original meanings are now sadly lost in the mists of time though the people who made them seemed to favour certain locations within the landscape. The most common places are on boulders and crags which overlook valleys particularly if there are springs near by, a few marked stones have also been discovered set into streams themselves. Archaeologists have also discovered mounds of burnt material close to certain sites, all these clues are thought to hint at the ritual importance of these areas. It is also worth remembering that the landscape of the Pennines was very different in the Neolithic period. Before the arrival of intensive pastoral farming and mining the dales were densely forested and the valley bottoms often choked with marshes and wetlands, Carr Crags and other similarly rocky outcrops could have formed clear ground above the tree line, a perfect location for hunters to watch the movements of game below or the early farmers to oversee their herds.
After negotiating our way through the snow-covered peat hags we reach the crags and soon started to see boulders covered in carvings. Ranging from small thumb size peck marks to large soup bowl sized cups that covered the surfaces of the massive stones. The the carvings seemed to be more primitive in their designs compared to the more complex patterns found on the boulders of Barningham Moor to the south but the sheer volume of markings was astonishing.
We worked our way along the line of the escarpment stopping now and again to examine the boulders as we went till we reached the location of my earlier visit. Now with the better weather conditions it was possible to see the full extent of the workings. Together we must have found over a dozen millstones all in different stages of creation from the roughing out all the way to the finished article. A few of the worked stones had obviously failed during their carving, an unforeseen fault in the fabric of the stone which led to all the carvers labour going to waste. Looking at the scale of the quarrying it left me wondering was this the result of a large workforce, or generations of small groups of people scraping out a living in these tough conditions? Who were these people who toiled up here on this exposed fell side 600 meters above sea level? Neither could I get over the thought that when the day came to stop work for the last time, what must it have felt like to just down tools and leave all their hard work to the elements? Once again Carr Crags left me with more questions than answers, holding onto is secrets until another visit.
I thought I would add little note about the pictures. A recent sort through my darkroom led to the rediscovery of a packet of very out of date Kodak Bromide Grade 2 photographic paper from the 1960’s. To cut a long story short I couldn’t help but give it a go, and I’m happy I did because the results were remarkable. Not only did they have a wonderfully warm tone, but also a fantastic textured finish which shows through even in the scans I’ve posted, sadly I only have two or three sheets left!