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.
Red Grooves House sits high upon the windswept fell side of Newbiggin Common just west of the vast man made scar of Coldberry Gutter. The history of this house seems vague, and it is unclear wether it was built as a mineshop (bascially over night accomadation for the miners) or a farm, but it looks like it was occupied until the late 1950s early 60s. For its day the house was well-appointed with a barn, a stables, a large farmhouse kitchen with a coal-fired range and living room with an open fire. But for all this it sits in complete isolation surrounded by sheep cropped meadows and the remains of the lead mine which shares its name. For decades the building must have been battered from all sides by whatever the weather wished to throw at it, and with no road or track way to connect its inhabitants to the outside world it’s not surprising that living here proved too much to sustain. Now the ceilings have fallen and its windows are just empty sockets looking out across the dale to the distant brooding hights of Mickle fell.
Both photographs were taken with an old Ensign 820 folding camera that I’ve customised by fitting a 65mm Schneider Angulon f6,8 lens to create a very useful wide-angle 6x9cm camera. The film was Fomapan 400 which I developed in Pyrocat HD, mixed at a ratio of 1+1+100 for 16 minutes semi-stand with 60 seconds continuous agitation at the beginning, and then once every 3 minutes after that. This was the first time I’d used this method with a Pyro developer and I was really impressed with the tonal range and sharpness of the negatives it produced. With the print I decided to use some of my newly acquired expired Agfa Portriga Rapid Grade 3 paper. This paper was famed for the way it could be Lith printed and I couldn’t wait to experiment with some Fotospeed LD20 Lith developer, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
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!
I had probably been sat there for too long. The weather report had given me a brief window between the two weather fronts which were moving across the country from the north, but in my defense it had been a long haul up the steep fell side, and the giant gritstone boulder I had found provided the perfect shelter from the bitter wind which was sweeping across the moorland behind me. The day had started off fine and cold with a bright glishy sun which reflected off the tumbling waters of the Flushiemere Beck. With the stream gently chuckling between it’s frozen banks I walked along the icy track towards the old mine shop of Flushiemere House high above the small hamlet of Newbiggin, and from there I left the main path and started the climb to reach the weathered stones of Carr Crags. From my perch amongst these stones I looked out across the vast panorama of fells that make up the skyline of upper Teesdale, each peak carried its own snowy mantle which glowed in the low afternoon sun. But while I soaked up the mountainous vista, around me the clouds were quickly turning darker by the minute, bringing with them fresh gusts of snow. It was starting to look like I didn’t have much time left to explore before the weather would completely close in around me.
What had drawn me here was the hope of finding some relics of a long gone industry which existed here high up on the bleak shoulder of Jame’s Hill. For centuries the hard rough sedimentary rock these crags are made of had been used to make millstones. From what I had been told these stones were strewn throughout these outcrops like loose change, each one carved by hand but then abandoned before they could be completed. It seems strange to think that after all that hard work they should be left to weather and erode. It turns out the carvers where the victims of a changing market driven by a desire for softer flour that could be milled with fine-grained millstones imported cheaply from the continent. In the end it literally was just not worth the effort to get these stones down the hill.
The first millstone I came across was probably only 20 feet from where I had been seated. It lay on a broken stack of stones half buried in snow-covered turf, but as I started to compose my shot the snow which had been till then only falling as small flurries was quickly becoming a blizzard. Despite the worsening conditions I tried my best to capture the scene taking as many exposures as I could before deciding to move on.
Millstone on Carr Crags, Liquid silver emulsion on watercolour paper.
With my back to the now increasingly savage wind and snow I picked my way along the crag. Here and there I could make out more evidence of the people who spent their days working here. Tucked into a mass of rubble I saw a small circular cell, like a cist made of rough hewn stone it seemed most likely to have been built in an attempt to provide some protection asgainst the prevailing winds, a simple testament to the working conditions.
It was an incredible feeling to be enveloped in the squalling snow, watching it smudge out the landscape, there was an intense feeling of isolation, of being removed from the day-to-day world far below. Soon it became obvious that the weather was not going to break and I had run out of time to take more pictures. So I decided to head for the safety and comfort of home and by using the compass bearing which I had originally followed to reach the crag I descended through the swirling snow. Along the way down my mind kept drifting back to the millstone carvers and what they must have endured to hew these millstone from the hard unforgiving gritstone, only for all their endeavours to come to nought due to our love of soft white bread. Now the sound of pick and chisel has been replaced with the croaking call of the red grouse, and the stones have become home to the mountain hares.