There’s no doubt that the people who lived in this country in what we call prehistory regarded the land as sacred. Just look around and see the stone circles, henges and stone rows they left behind. It is hard for us to enter their mindset, though most folk still experience a sense of wonder when they visit these historic sites.

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The Cockpit Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The question that often occurs to me is whether the places where the circles, rows etc. now stand were in some way held to be sacred before those structures were erected. That might explain why, in some cases, stones for these antiquities were often brought considerable distances to the sites where they now stand. Why bother? Why not just use the stones of the local area, or erect these monuments close to where the source stones were?

I’m an amateur antiquarian and not an archaeologist, so I’m not qualified to give an opinion. If you are please comment below with your thoughts…

But just look at the surviving sites – the great monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the rich archaeology of Dartmoor, the many stone circles of Aberdeenshire, the wonders of Kilmartin Glen in Argyll – the list goes on.

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The Copstone (c) John Bainbridge 2019

I often consider this when we are taking one of our regular walks on the edge of the Lake District, across the fells of Askham and Moor Divock.

There’s no doubt that this wide stretch of moorland was one of these sacred stretches of landscape – the evidence is there for all to see with the remnants of rows, an excellent stone circle now called The Cockpit, banks and ditches. In my Dartmoor days we would have described it as a sanctuary.

And where these ancient people went – and we should think of them not as savages but as human beings as mentally sophisticated as we are – we have a multiplicity of trackways. The ways that these men and women took not only to survive day to day, but to access sacred sites.

On the fells around Moor Divock, there are a great many tracks. Some undoubtedly of recent origin, but others which must have existed for thousands of years.

Crossing the hillside is the Roman road known as High Street. Was it built by the Romans? I don’t think so. I think it was a prehistoric way across the eastern Lake District fells, that the Romans adopted and probably improved.

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High Street (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Take a walk along it and consider that – High Street not a relatively recent Roman road, but one of the oldest roads in Britain. Perhaps dating back to Neolithic times when the men and women who dwelt in these hills first felt the need to travel regularly, unlike their ancestors, the hunters who had no defined routes, but simply followed the herds of animals they needed for food.

When we walk the old ways, we are often walking in the steps of the most ancient of our ancestors. So take a walk along the old tracks and visit these old sites – the circles, henges and row. Take a walk and wonder as well as wander.

9 thoughts on “Walking Through Ancient Landscapes

      1. I’d like to see a lot more of Aberdeenshire and Perthshire – I’m particularly interested in all the places the travellers used to go around the farms there as most of the books I read are from that area.

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      2. We’ve walked Perthshire quite a lot, but not very much at all nearer to Aberdeen. Worth seeking out Haldane’s book on droving routes.

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  1. Smashing post, John. I share your fascination with prehistoric sites and I’ve often wondered exactly the same thing, namely whether these places were thought to be sacred prior to the erection of the structures. Something must have drawn people there and marked them out as special in order for the constructions to have, as you rightly say, necessitated the transportation of materials from much further afield. I guess the same could be said for the materials themselves. A famous example of both of these aspects is, of course, the bluestones of Stonehenge, which came all the way from Wales. That must have been a colossal undertaking at that time, and I’d love to know a) why bluestone in particular, being so rare and only found in one distant area, and b) why take it all the way to Wiltshire? I wish I could throw more light on the subject, but I’m only an amateur in these matters too.

    One thing I do know is that these ancient sites – and trackways – do hold a charge that we can still feel today, and you do them justice to point us in their direction.

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