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Andy Hemingway - Folklore in the Landscape (pt 1)

Blog Posted on 14 Jul 2011


Besides landscape photography, one of my other long-term interests is history, particularly how the landscapes of our isles were formed. Like many of Britain's rural areas, the Peak District has a wealth of archaeology and folklore that takes us deep into Britain's history. At first, this may seem to have little connection with photography but it is something that I find richly enhances and informs my work, as much as studying the behaviour of animals does for a wildlife photographer.

On the surface, folklore seems to be a collection of fairy tales populated by mythical beings, designed to scare or fascinate children at bedtime. However, there is often a grain of truth in these tales. In pre-literate societies, oral traditions package events and deeds into easily remembered stories that are passed down and modified by succeeding generations. Folklore is the history and traditions of the common people of these lands.

When you look out over the splendid vistas that the Peaks have to offer, bear in mind that as little as 100 years ago, the landscape was viewed very differently to how we approach it today. In the past, much of the Peaks were working landscapes populated by masons and miners. Cross-country packhorse routes were often dangerous and slow. People moving over the moors between villages often became lost in bad weather and sometimes died. This resulted in the stoops and way-markers that we see dotted around the Peaks today. For every millstone that you find up on the edges, abandoned due to a flaw in the stone, this represents a significant loss in wages for one unfortunate mason, as they were paid by piece rate.

Going further back, into prehistory, before a decline in climate during the Bronze Age into the Iron Age, the moors were cultivated by farmers. Many of these field systems can still be found in places such as Hathersage Moor, Big Moor and Gardom's Edge. It seems that nearly every hilltop has a cairn and stone circles are scattered throughout both the White and Dark Peaks. Thousands of years of occupation have left rich layers of history and folklore behind.

Win Hill from Bamford Edge

The Battle of Win Hill

Win Hill forms one of the most recognisable points of reference in the Dark Peak. Its distinctive shape is visible for miles, dominating the view from the surrounding edges. Its shape is said to be mimicked by the tallest stone of Hordron Edge Stone Circle. It is the legend of an ancient battle that gives both Win and Lose Hill their names.

Following the withdrawal of the Roman Empire, Northern Britain divided into thirteen regional kingdoms. Probably along similar tribal boundaries as before the Roman occupation. German Angles held the north eastern kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. Throughout a number of battles in the 6th century, the Angles extended their influence over neighbouring Celtic kingdoms. In the early 7th century, Aethelfrith of Bernicia usurped the crown of Deira and created the united kingdom of Northumbria. Following Aethelfrith's death at Bawtry in 616, Edwin of Deira seized the throne and continued to expand Northumbrian territory.

Such power attracted the jealousy of his rivals and in 626, Prince Cwichelm of the West Saxons (Wessex) sent an assassin to kill Edwin. The attempt was unsuccessful and resulted in Edwin marching south to take his revenge on the Saxons. Prince Cwichelm and his father, King Cynegils of Wessex marched north to meet him (possibly with King Penda of Mercia). It is reputed that they met at Win Hill.

The army of Wessex and the Mercians was much larger than that of the Northumbrians and it seems that the battle began to go against them. According to legend, the Angles had built a wall at the top of Win Hill on which they were camped, behind which they withdrew. The Saxons, sensing victory charged forward but were crushed when the Northumbrians rolled boulders down the hillside on to them.

No actual evidence has yet come to light, either in scripture or archaeology that confirms beyond doubt that a battle took place at Win Hill. It is surprising also that no evidence of the wall mentioned in the story has been found on the hill. There is a place nearby however, where an ancient wall very definitely exists. Carl Wark.

Carl Wark and Higger Tor

Carl Wark

Carl Wark has long been classified as an Iron Age hillfort. It certainly sits in a landscape dotted with Bronze Age and Iron Age remains, such as a round house near Toad's Mouth, a ring cairn and possible standing stone on the slopes of Winyard's Nick, along with clearance cairns and field systems. Carl Wark would certainly have been used in some manner during these periods. The interior of Carl Wark is unlike any other hillfort that I can think of. Compared to Mam Tor for example, the interior of Mam Tor contains a number of foundations of huts. This is common among hillforts in that they defended some form of living quarters, be they permanent or temporary. No such space exists within Carl Wark for similar structures. When Carl Wark was excavated in 1950, archaeologist Stuart Piggot noted that the wall and earthen bank was very similar to structures dating from the Dark Ages at forts in Scotland.

The name Carl Wark is said to derive from 'Carl's Work'. Carl not only being an old name for the devil but also a name of German origin. Could it be that the battle didn't take place at Win Hill but on Hathersage Moor? There is a defensive position with a wall that is thought to date from the right period. The interior of Carl Wark is strewn with boulders that could certainly be levered off of the edges and the name of the place could link it with builders of Germanic origin. I must point out that there is no hard evidence to support this, it is a highly subjective personal theory that stands to be corrected. But it is a tantalising thought non-the-less.

Carl Wark entrance

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