Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Get your Kicks on the A66.


Get your Kicks on the A66. (It's all in the topography).
A few days ago I finally, though too hurriedly, visited Thornborough Henges, huge earthworks in the relatively rock-free flatlands of North Yorkshire.

Then I drove north towards the biggest "hill" fort in Britain, Stanwick Iron Age fortifications. To reach the middle of the site I still had more than a mile to drive when I stopped to ask a young couple what a line of ancient-looking earthworks might be. I was very surprised to be told it was all part of the same huge site. I drove around, then I walked around, and I came to an excavated section of wall so wide, so high, and so well built that, oh, the shame of it, I assumed I'd made a mistake and it was Roman. But it isn't - it's proper Iron Age British!

As I drove away I was letting the sat nav do the thinking, so I wasn't expecting to be driving on the A66, the central and western sections of which I know quite well. But soon there came a heavy clunk as the insightful penny dropped and I realised I was travelling along what I'd read about but hadn't got to grips with - the prehistoric east-west trade route across the northern Pennines. Over Stainmore Summit I went (and at Brough turned away south towards Tebay), but had I continued I would have been on more familiar territory.



Close by (the A6 and), the A66 at Eamont Bridge are two mighty henges, and further west, in different geology but still close to the A66, is Castlerigg's wonderful stone circle. (There's no need to dig huge ditches and banks when you've plenty of good quality rock for your civil engineering projects).

I suggest that, saving your energy as best you can, you now turn your prehistoric footsteps south, over Dunmail Raise, perhaps over Red Bank at Grasmere, into Langdale, home of some fabulous rock art and a very famous stone axe factory. Imagine your backpack soon loaded with stone axes, perhaps as yet rough cut, unpolished, and you've promised to take them to EastYorkshire. Trundle down Langdale to Ambleside, where you could turn back north to Castlerigg, or take the southerly route out of the Lake District and then east on past the hill fort at Ingleborough, but you head east up The Struggle. At the north-south Kirkstone Pass ignore the rock art down in the Ullswater Valley and climb east across the north-south High Street, down Mardale and eventually to Shap by which time you'll be crossing another major north-south route and be almost completely surrounded by stone circles, rows, avenues, and burial cairns.

Less than 20 more miles to the east you'll be back on the A66..
Whence. You. Came.