Friday, June 05, 2009

Shap Abbey, Shap

Shap Abbey

The Abbey at Shap, situated on the Western banks of the River Lowther, would have been a prosperous abbey in its heyday, and as such would most likely have had light security to safeguard its occupants and its finances and possessions. The abbey is known to have had a precinct wall, encircling the entire complex of buildings, but this has long since gone. Whether this would have been as spectacular and solid as the one that Sweatheart Abbey (Dumfries and Galloway) possessed, and which still stands in some sections, is unknown. (Check this link out.)

It's also known that the abbey would have had a gatehouse, situated on the grass track, probably on the right hand side of the wall, roughly opposite the sheep feeder in the next field (see above photo). As with any gatehouse or symbol of strength, this was most likely one of the first buildings to be removed, and consequently there is now no trace of this structure.

The huge 15th century tower, the most prominent remains of the abbey complex, sits at the West end of what was the nave. This huge tower, some 50 feet tall, has a huge draw bar tunnel in both of the door jambs. Only the lower portions of these jambs now remain, but the tunnels can still be seen. The tunnel in the left door, is now only about 4 inches deep, whilst the tunnel in the right hand jamb, is about 10 inches deep. They are about 8 inches square, so would have housed a sturdy draw bar. Both are lined with slate, and would undoubtedly have been much deeper when the whole of the retaining wall and the jambs were in place. The wall here is about 5 feet thick, so the occupants would have been able to make this entrance very secure.

Another entrance, separating the nave from the Cloister (and hence the main living and storage areas of the abbey) also has a solid draw bar tunnel set within the depths of the wall. The tunnel is visible on both door jambs, and is around 5 inches square. The left hand tunnel is about 6 inches deep, whilst the right hand tunnel is badly damaged, and now only a few inches deep.

It's not possible to tell what sort of security would have been in existence on the buildings on the South West corner of the complex, as these have now been built over. This would have been an exposed section of the perimeter of the abbey precincts. The River Lowther would have provided an adequate boundary on the West flanks of the abbey, with the precinct wall running along the North, the West (incorporating the gatehouse) and possibly the now vanished Southern section. High up on the fells to the West of the abbey two dykes are still in existence. One runs roughly North to South, and is about 900 yards long, and a second runs West to North East, probably running behind the present farm buildings and almost down to the River Lowther. These may just be boundary dykes. As soon as they've been photographed, they'll appear on the blog.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Kemp Howe Stone Circle, Shap

Kemp Howe Stone Circle

The remains of this stone circle can be found about half a mile South of Shap, on the Western side of the railway embankment. The stones can just be seen from the road....but there isn't any parking nearby. I would recommend parking back in Shap, and taking a walk to the field that these immense pink granite boulders now lie in.

There are 6 large stones still remaining, with a number of smaller stones between the larger ones. Only half of the circle now remains, with local tradition stating that the others still lay in their original positions under the railway embankment.

It appears that this stone circle was part of a much larger collection of circles, standing stones and avenues, some of which still survive today, hidden away in the corners of fields and gardens. Kemp Howe is variously known as Heppeshaw, Shapshaw and Shapsey.

Check this website out. It has a huge amount of information on the stone circle, and the other circles and standing stones in the local area.

Borrowdale Dykes, Nr Kendal

Borrowdale Dykes
Nr Kendal

Borrowdale is an area of outstanding beauty, situated some 6 miles North of Kendal, and only a few miles South of Shap summit on the A6. Whilst the area is well known for its walks, especially along Breasthigh Road which runs from the Eastern side of the A6, across the Western flanks of Borrowdale Common, and then on toward Bretherdale Head, there is also historical documentation stating that a plessicium, or slashed hedge was cultivated and maintained somewhere in this area. This barrier is reputed to have been created to slow down or prevent the Scots from moving South from Shap summit, in a grant dated 1180.

The wording is as follows "Grant by William de Lancaster II to the monks of St. Mary at Byland, of his part of Borgheredala (Borrowdale) by the great way which goes by Ernestan (Eagle-stone) to the plessicium which has been made on account of the Scots; and by the brow of the hill of Bannisdale, which is towards Borrowdale, as long as Bannisdale continues, and so to Borrowdale Head and so to the bounds of Westmorland, in perpetual alms, and for the settlement of the complaint which Wimund, late Bishop of the Isles, had against the father of the grantor."

A view of Borrowdale looking North.

The exact location of this rural defence has not been accurately pinpointed, though the old road that runs across Borrowdale Common would certainly have been a well used road in its day...before the A6 was constructed to its West. Any body of men that had climbed Shap summit to the North, would be looking for an easy track across both Shap Fells and Birkbeck Fells, and this road, rough as it would most likely have been, would have presented any traveller with an easier route over the boggy high ground, especially if there were men on horse back and wagons with supplies.

Above. Looking East towards North Side.

The road, now only used by walkers and hardy bikers, can be seen winding its way up the fell in the centre of the above photo. Parts of this road appear to have the remains of a low rampart or earthen bank, possibly all that is now left of the hedge that may have topped it at some point. This barrier would surely only have provided anyone moving South with a minor obstruction, and would most certainly have been without any fortifications along its route. It's also possible that the dyke may have been situated about half a mile South, where the valley narrows. This point, called Hollowgate would be much easier to build a barrier across. Perhaps the name is indicative of some early medieval 'checkpoint'....and the same could also be asked of Watchgate, about 3 miles further South. During the 16th century, the Scottish and English wardens of the border regions, instructed land owners on both sides of the border, to cultivate hedges of crab-apple, hawthorn and other thick growing and thorny bushes and trees, to dissuade reivers from raiding across the border and herding cattle, sheep and horses. It is thought that some of these hedges survive today and continue to show where certain land owners estates begin and end.