The forecast was dire, a Yellow Weather Warning for torrential rain, hail and thunder. But it takes more than that to put off LAS, and so we assembled at 10.15 at the Car Park in Shap, and strolled to the Heritage Centre, where we were met by our hosts Patrick and Liz. The skies were black but it wasn’t yet raining, so we decided to alter the planned programme and head in cars for Shap Abbey. As we dropped into the narrow valley of the Lowther, everyone was struck by the beauty of the location, with the striking West Tower, the last part of the abbey to have been built, still standing to its full height. The abbey was built by the Premonstratensians (Norbertines), but little is known of its history, as the cartulary did not survive the Dissolution. Apart from the tower, only low walls remain, and a working farm occupies part of the site. Nevertheless, like Roman forts, abbeys tend to follow a common plan, and we could readily recognise the chapter house, day room etc. By now the rain had set it, so we went in cars to Keld Chapel, described as a chantry chapel, but with no real evidence for that attribution. Not mentioned in the records at all until the late seventeenth century, it is something of an enigma. At some stage it was converted into a cottage, with a fireplace and chimney – but the windows suggest a fourteenth century religious building. If it was a chantry chapel, built to say masses for the soul of a dead sponsor and his family, who was it for? And why isn’t it much grander?
We headed back in the rain to the Heritage Centre for a sandwich lunch and as the rain beat down, it turned into an extended impromptu lecture and question-and-answer session, led by Patrick, who showed us a fascinating range of stone tools from around Shap – including a delicate Neolithic leaf-shaped arrow head of best quality black flint, a blade struck from grey flint from the Yorkshire Wolds, and a reworked flake made of Borrowdale Volcanics, probably from a broken Langdale axe. The rain continued so we popped over the road to the Abbey Coffee Shop for coffee and cakes – and then decided to head for the prehistoric stone rows, and never mind the weather.
We walked through the accommodation lanes and fields of a fine late Parliamentary landscape to the first of the standing stones, the Goggleby Stone, standing taller than the tallest of us. From there, we could see on the horizon a barrow called Skellaw Hill (Skellaw is Norse for hill of the skulls) – and midway on the line from us to the barrow, another standing stone, Aspers Field. Unfortunately, most of the stones in between noted by Camden and Stukely have long since disappeared, broken up to be used in the dry stone walls of the enclosures. We walked on to Skellaw, to stand triumphantly in the driving rain and look back up the line, beyond Goggleby straight to the chimneys of the limestone works, which stand near the start of the row, a mile and a half away. We were surrounded by hills, on the ridge of which are several stone circles, while over to the south also on the ridge was a small Bronze Age settlement. We all said one day, when the weather is better, we must get up there and have a look at some of the other remains of this amazing sacred landscape.
Many thanks to Patrick and Liz, and to Ruth for organising the day. Visit the LAS Photographer flickr page for more photographs of the trip.