Northumberland is well known for its historical sites from Hadrian’s Wall to the imposing bulk of Bamburgh Castle overlooking the North Sea to far more ancient spots scattered across hills, fields and along overgrown footpaths.
But none is as atmospheric nor as beautiful as Lordenshaws Hill Fort, once a bustling Iron Age community which now lies sleeping amidst the ancient heather to the south of the picturesque market town of Rothbury in Coquetdale.
Standing high above the valley through which the River Coquet sluggishly meanders from its source high in the wild and desolate hills of the Cheviots to the North Sea, Lordenshaws is a secret but magical place.
Among the seemingly innocuous grassy hillocks grazed by sheep between Dove Crag and Simonside with its iconic ‘stepped’ ridge, you’ll find leftovers of both our Bronze and Iron Age pasts: the concentric rampart rings of the fort and the remains of stone huts.
But you will also discover something much more mysterious and primeval stamped into the landscape – literally. For Lordenshaws is home to one of Britain’s biggest clusters of cup and ring marks.
At first sight the enigmatic swirls and circles etched into the stones could be mistaken for the work of water over many millennia, but are in fact unfathomable symbols carved some 5,000 years ago by our Neolithic ancestors.
Their purpose has been long forgotten, but you can’t help but both admire the craftsmanship and the vision of the people who all those centuries ago recognised the landscapes inspiring and otherworldly nature.
For, it’s a setting fittingly within the Northumberland National Park that still inspires wonder today. The long ridge of Simonside forms a backdrop to the panorama to the North of the grey-blue Cheviots sweeping to the Scottish Border, with the flat coastal plain and sea glinting to the east and, on a clear day, the hills of the Lake District just visible in the far distance to the west.
It’s a scene that seems virtually untouched by man, the only sounds the whispering of the wind, the occasional bleating of black faced sheep and the cries of the skylarks.
This is Northumberland, England’s last great wilderness, an enchanted setting you feel you can run and race in forever.
See more photos on Chris Collyer’s site: www.stone-circles.org.uk.