Monday, 26 May 2008

A Bit of the Old Antiquarianism

I got to do a bit of the old antiquarianism yesterday so I thought I'd log it here as it seems, albeit very vaguely, relevant (I mean, people who are into folklore often seem to be into standing stones and the like, and standing stones often have stories about wierd goings on, or associations with a particular flibbertigibbet attached to them).

I'm visiting my parents in Northern Ireland for a week and we drove up the Antrim coast road - which I think is a particularly scenic part of the countryside over here. I noticed there were a few neolithic sites mentioned on a map of the area near the Vanishing Lake, so we took a detour west into the hills to take a closer look.

It's a particularly warm and sunny May in Northern Ireland this year, and as a result the Vanishing Lake had vanished, which was a shame as it's far more picturesque with water in.

The monuments were accessed by taking the Ballypatrick forest drive (£3 at time of writing) - which is quirky and very attractive - it's essentially an old and somewhat overgrown pine lumber farm by the looks of it, with a tarmac covered path to drive around on in a winding one-way system that takes in a ford under a bridge, dozens of picnic areas and (on the day we were there) some sort of Q&A contest open to fans of cartoons who rally drive minis (?!).

Included in the itinerary of Ballypatrick Forest Drive are the remains of a "double-court tomb" (as the Gazetteer of Irish Prehistoric Monuments say), or "double-horned cairn" (as the signs in the forest would have it), or a "chambered grave" (as the ordinance survey tell it). According to the Gazetteer of Irish Prehistoric Monuments 'The more northerly (three-chambered) gallery of which still retains two of its roof-stones (one of them large and displaced) and only two of its court-stones. Only one court-stone of the other (unsegmented) gallery survives.' The chambered cairn was noted as being a mesolithic tomb about 2,000 years old. My father, a keen gardener, was pleased to notice a number of spotted orchids growing the vicinty of the the graves.

After seeing the cairn and the rest of the park we wandered up to Cloch na h-Uaighe, disturbing flocks of sheep as we did so (which always makes me feel a little guilty). This is a menhir nearly six foot in height. The south face is (to quote BS Johnson on the Rollright Stones) "made lovely with lichen" (this is a very good phrase to remember if you want to wax lyrical about the appearance of big lumps of basalt that have been stood in the earth for millennia), whilst the north was quite barren but for a few chisel marks (it's nice to think that they were made by the tools originally used in the excavation, but I doubt it somehow - the chips looked rather too neatly cut to be the work of sharpened antlers or stone axes). Local legend has it that the stone was meant to mark the grave of a chieftain, and it is also supposed to be about 2,000 years old.

I didn't take any photographs, as I was expecting to find some nice images on the web to illustrate the article with (and, without wishing to sound like a hopeless old hippy, I always find snapping away at menhirs and tombs somewhat disrespectful). No such luck, the sites don't have an entry in the County Antrim Section of the Modern Antiquarian or anything, that'll teach me to be lax about taking a camera with me.

On reflection it probably is a bit crap to bang on about standing stones and the like with no photos - won't do it again.

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