Archives for the month of: March, 2015

We’ve had a planting party, extra WWOOFers (one for a day here and there, one for five days), a rural studies class from Kirkcudbright Academy, and friends dropping in every so often. So that leaves us with 200 or so trees left of the original 1020. Here is the finished marshy area at the far west of the field.

P1030335 (Large)80ish of the remaining trees are to go into the large area next to the existing trees, next to the drainage ditch. The rest of this area was planted by the Kirkcudbright Academy pupils, their teachers, and our WWOOFers in a riot of tree planting (Veronika on the left and Korrasut the five-day WWOOFer on the right):

P1030337 (Large)The final 120 are going into the area next to the burn at a much slower rate; our WWOOFers leave on Wednesday and are cutting the grass and mulching tomorrow.

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A closer look - the shiny object is a 50p piece.

Plunton has provided food and shelter for humans for at least 4,000 years, despite its apparent remoteness. On Thursday we had a visit from Andrew Nicholson, Dumfries and Galloway’s Historic Environment Record Officer. Andrew is responsible for all the regionally important monuments in the county; a mere 25,000 sites. Before calling in on us in the early afternoon, he’d travelled down from Corsock and the Glenkens by the Dee, looking in on various sites along the way. These range from Neolithic sites to castles and Roman camps. As an aside, if anyone ever says the Romans didn’t really try very hard to conquer Caledonia, point them towards the Glenlochar barrage on the Dee near Townhead of Greenlaw. The remains of a Roman Fort discovered there could accommodate 22,000 soldiers.

As Andrew arrived at the same time as the fish van, he patiently waited until we had bought our tea and grabbed our wellies before heading into the field en masse. As soon as he saw the stone he pronounced that, as we suspected, we had “a very nice example” of an early Bronze age cup-mark stone. Probably dating from 2500-1800BCE, no-one really knows why these stones were marked but theories range from alien landing sites(!) to star charts and markers for certain mineral deposits. This being the bronze age, minerals were increasingly important to the people. They are carved in bedrock, usually on the lateral face, and vary from the very ornate (there are ones near Whithorn with carved horses) to extremely plain.

Dumfries and Galloway has the third highest concentration of Neolithic monuments in Scotland; only beaten by Orkney and Kilmartin Glen in Argyll. In Borgue there are other notable stones at Kirkandrews and Senwick, but ours is the first one discovered in our area and is interesting because potentially it links up with the others to create a network of monuments.

What does all this mean for us? Well, Andrew has created an official record of our site (NX 6184 5080) which describes it as; ”An exposed bedrock outcrop, revealed by livestock activity and notified to the Council’s archaeology service in 2015, was found to have at least 33 cup markings on its north-eastern face. Another smaller outcrop two metres to the north-west has a further minimum nine cup marks, and another 1.5m beyond that has at least six cup marks.”

aerial view of stone

Handily, the outcrop was also visible on Andrew’s aerial imagery. He said we could return the soil we’d cleared to the southern side of the rocks but it was fine to leave the rest of it exposed; given it’s survived 4,000 years there’s little fear that marauding children and natural forces will do major damage. Leaving it exposed also makes it easier for people to come and take a look at it.

Now our WWOOFer Veronika has her eye in, she thinks she may have seen other cup markings on stones near the lochan in the Barharrow field (Barharro [sic] is on maps dating from the early 18th century). There’s also thought to be an iron age farmstead somewhere in the field on the other side of Pulwhirrin Burn which no-one has found much trace of yet. So, basically, we’re slap-bang in the middle of archaeology heaven. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled when we’re on walks in the area. We’ll also make a sign for the field gate so passing walkers and cyclists know they can come in to take a look.

In fact, Veronika has been so inspired by the process that as we walked back to the house (with me lamenting the fact that I’d made a more interesting discovering in six months of keeping pigs than I had in a 4-year history degree) she announced that she’s pretty much settled on studying archaeology when she goes back to Austria. We waved off Andrew together (he was in a hurry to get to the museum where he was scheduled to dress up as a Viking for a photo shoot) thinking what a lovely job he had, charging round the countryside looking at rocks in fields.

Veronika and I have begun planting trees. We’re planting up the boundaries with the smaller, shrubbier species to help define the planting areas a bit and to spot any wrinkles in the tree-planting process.

We’re doing the shrubbier species at the edges to grade the boundaries a little, as a natural wood may do. In other words, smaller trees at the edge with the larger ones in the middle, each size taking up its own layer in the available light. By the end of today, we’d done the edge of our biggest planting area ready to be filled in.

P1030331 (Large)So far this is 100 trees in two mornings, which equates to four weeks’ worth of work for me and a WWOOFer. You can see why a planting party is a good idea.

We are getting faster as we improve the planting technique, which means that when people arrive to for the planting party I’ll have a decent process ready to go. This is the current iteration of the process, using at least four people per team, which is my estimate based on the number of people who say they’ll be coming:

  1. The measurer takes the stakes and marks out the location of each tree by quickly stabbing a stake in the ground. This allows all holes and trees to be spotted right from the start by any people following on. We lost a few holes in the marshy ground before starting this technique. The measurer becomes the staker at step 5.
  2. The distributor then distributes the tree guards to each stake position. All the hardware is now where it needs to be. The distributor becomes the protector at step 6.
  3. The digger digs a straight slit (bare round) or a t-shape (grass) next to each stake. The digger can help stake or attach guards when they are finished.
  4. The planter plants a tree in each slit. The planter can help stake or attach guards when they are finished.
  5. The staker positions the stake properly and bangs it in. The stake goes on the windward side of the tree.
  6. The protector places a tree guard over every tree and attaches the guard to each stake. Each guard has a lip that is designed to avoid rubbing (it bends out the way so the tree doesn’t rub on the hard plastic rim). This should be at the top of the guard.

With two people on a team, the measurer becomes the digger then the staker and the distributor becomes the planter then the protector. The first two steps can be done by a few people until their roles are needed, I imagine. As some of this is still theory based on our planting today, it could change.

Veronika finished the morning by planting the banks of the ditch nearest the burn. It looked beautiful with the tiny trees and I’m hopeful it’ll just get better. I’ve promised to send Veronika a photo in 20 years.

P1030332 (Large)

Our corner of Galloway is well populated by ancient monuments with cup and ring mark stones, cairns and castles regularly punctuating the landscape and cluttering up OS maps. We’ve posted before about close encounters with these testaments to human ingenuity thanks to family outings and WWOOFer derring-do.

Veronica coming over all Time Team.

Veronika coming over all Time Team.

Preparing the field for tree planting last week brought Galloway’s ancient history a little closer to home. Our WWOOFer, Veronika, has been helping us to clear the parts of the field that the pigs had only partially turned over. In one of these areas, Matt noticed the pigs had cleared a lot of earth away from a stone and when he went to clear the remaining bracken noticed the stone had several large, circular holes that look man-made. Given our location and the fact there are cup and ring mark stones nearby we thought it might be worth contacting Historic Scotland for advice on what to do next.

A closer look - the shiny object is a 50p piece.

A closer look – the shiny object is a 50p piece.

I assumed Historic Scotland must get loads of emails along those lines every week, so was surprised to find a detailed reply in my inbox first thing on Monday morning, describing our find as “potentially very interesting”. The HS officer’s advice was that the stone could be fragile, having been exposed, and that there could be further archaeology below the ground surface. For the sake of the stone, it’s best not to investigate further and to remove livestock from the area. As the pigs are now in the freezer, there’s not much danger posed from livestock. He also gave us links to records to check whether the stone is already registered.

P1030322

A close-up of a couple of the possible cup marks

First port of call for fact-checking is Dumfries and Galloway’s Historic Environment Record. Although there’s lots of archaeology in our area marked, including nearby Plunton Castle, there’s nothing marked on our land. The same goes for the national records at pastmap. I could happily spend hours whiling away the time on either site but for our purposes they don’t tell us more than we already know; there’s no record of an ancient monument on our land already.

Some of the stones have other markings that look man-made. Not ring marks but some sort of carving.

Some of the stones have other markings that look man-made. Not ring marks but some sort of carving.

Having that confirmed, our next contact was the Historic Environment Record Officer for Dumfries and Galloway, Andrew Nicholson. Matt spoke to him this afternoon and it turns out he’s been busy working on the status of nearby Plunton Castle. The castle is both listed and a scheduled ancient monument but, as SAM status provides more protection than listing, HER officers are gradually removing listed status from such structures and taking the opportunity to update records and make sure the SAM guidance is being followed. As with our Historic Scotland contact, he was immediately intrigued by our find and asked us to send him pictures. If he thinks it’s worth looking into, he’s going to come along to take a look later this week.

Veronica is pretty pleased with her afternoon's work.

Veronika is pretty pleased with her afternoon’s work.

I have a suspicion that quite a lot of smallholders would be a bit worried about finding something like this in their field. If it does turn out to be a Neolithic site there could be limits on what we do with the field, especially with regard to livestock, and we may have a procession of history geeks wanting to come and check it out. But I’m odd (and a history geek) so I’m desperate to learn more.

We took delivery of the trees this morning, only four days late after a classic delivery farce. Glossing over that, WWOOFer Veronika and I piled 1,000 stakes by the gate, stacked 1,000 tree guards in the field and put 1,000 trees into the garage. It didn’t actually take us very long because it’s all neatly packed into bundles; the real work will be getting all that into the field, separated and planted. Here is what 1,000 trees looks like:

P1030317 (Large)

Not quite a wood yet (just add 15 years and voila).

P1030320 (Large)We’ve got five planting areas, split into wet and dry. Wet areas are getting willows, alder and bird cherry; dry areas are getting oak, birch and hawthorn. The photo shows the trees that are going into our little marshy area at the east of the field: alder (Alnus glutinosa), bird cherry (Prunus padus), goat willow (Salix caprea) and grey willow (Salix cinerea).