Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Birkrigg Common, Prehistoric Landscape to Quaker Burial Ground
Set to the East of Urswick village stretches Birkrigg Common, a vast amount of scrubland and limestone outcrops free for the public to explore. Well used by walkers and cyclists the Common has much to offer including an ancient past hidden amongst the bracken. Throughout Neolithic times and into the Bronze Age (roughly 4000BC to around 2500BC) the site of Birkrigg was used for ritual and funeral activity. The remains of some of this activity can still be seen today, some being much more obvious than others.
To help you locate the different features there is a handy aerial plan at the bottom of the page. Much more efficient than trying to list directions!
A ridge runs along the highest point of the common with limestone outcrops lining either side and upon this ridge are the remains of a Bronze Age burial cairn. In Neolithic times a stone circle stood here. The circle was at some point in filled and became a location for the deposition of various items. Later, in the early Bronze Age, it was covered by the cairn that is visible today. Two bodies were buried in this cairn that now looks like nothing more than a small mound (see left).
There are three other burial cairns that can be found along the ridge as well. These cairns aren't quite as noticeable as the one above but they can still be found if you look hard enough. They are of a similar size and shape to the pictured but some are covered in bracken and longer grass.
Across the road you can see a Disc Barrow, another Neolithic Monument. This raised earth platform with an inner ditch would have been used for burials and forms quite an impressive structure. (see right)
Elsewhere on the common there is evidence of more Bronze Age activity. To the North East of Birkrigg there is an area known as Appleby Slacks. Here there is a large circular enclosure, it can just about be seen amongst the bracken with a raised earth perimeter and a sunken interior. During archeological excavations in the past three hut circles have been found with in the enclosure suggesting domestic settlement. Near to the enclosure there is also a Late Bronze Age bowl barrow. When excavated the barrow was found to contain three cremation urns along with several flint objects believed to date to the Late Bronze Age.
There are so many other prehistoric sites dotted around Birkrigg, many difficult to find, but several can easily be seen! If you visit the common you should definitely take the time to visit the stone circle. It may not be the scale of Stonehenge but it is certainly worth a look!
Now, just for fun here's a little bit of local folk law. It is believed that sometime in the past a traveling circus came to town. An elephant was part of this circus and while here the elephant unfortunately passed away. It is rumored that one night the circus folk dragged the elephant's body up to Birkrigg and buried it somewhere on the common. If this is true then it means Birkrigg is not only the resting place for Neolithic, Bronze Age and Quaker people but also that of a circus elephant! If it's not true, what on earth did they do with it? If you've heard any other versions of this story please let us know! We would love to hear from you!
Next time you visit Birkrigg Common, be it for a leisurely stroll, a cycle on the open terrain or to play a game with the kids take a moment to think of all the history that the site holds and why not go for an explore to find some of the hidden heritage!
Check back for the next blog entry all about Market Place in Dalton on 29th October!
Aerial plan of sites -
Image courtesy of Google Maps