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Uncovering the hidden history of Warton Crag

PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 August 2017 | UPDATED: 18:20 29 August 2017

Warton Crag Lidar. Credit David Ratledge

Warton Crag Lidar. Credit David Ratledge

David Ratledge

Work is underway to discover more about the mysterious landscape of this ancient landmark, writes Paul Mackenzie

The view towards Carnforth and  Morecambe Bay from the top of Warton Crag in Cumbria. DP Landscapes / Alamy Stock Photo The view towards Carnforth and Morecambe Bay from the top of Warton Crag in Cumbria. DP Landscapes / Alamy Stock Photo

For those who like to believe tales of ghosts and fairies it is a place of myth and legend, for walkers and climbers it is an adventure playground and for many others it is a landmark that suggests the Lake District is not far away. For Louise Martin however, Warton Crag is simply fascinating.

She is leading a team of experts and volunteers who are trying to learn more about the hill and its past, which at present is shrouded in mystery.

The hill, which hosts two nature reserves to the north west of Warton near Carnforth, is an important site for plants and wildlife and Louise and her team are hoping to establish if it was home to Iron Age man.

There have long been stories about a hill fort on the crag, and a sword said to have been found in the area in the mid-19th century, which is now in the British Museum, seemed to add credence to the tales.

Warton Crag Photo: David Ratledge Warton Crag Photo: David Ratledge

But archaeologist Louise said: ‘The sword may not be from the crag, it may be from another site near Warton. We have no evidence yet that people lived up there, it may have been a meeting point, a ceremonial site or something defensive.’

Louise, the cultural heritage officer for the Morecambe Bay Partnership’s Headlands to Headspace project, is now using a combination of old documents and state-of-the-art technology to learn more about the crag.

Her team has studied historic maps and an article written by a local antiquarian in the 18th century as well as arranging for aerial Lidar pictures – high-tech laser imaging which can see through the tree cover.

‘Before the 1950s there was very little tree cover but now the trees are putting the site at risk but also giving it some protection,’ said Louise, who grew up in Ulverston. ‘The trees make it difficult to see archaeology on the ground but the Lidar images give a much clearer view.

‘Lots of historic maps have been drawn showing what have been interpreted as ramparts but we don’t really know. Because of the Lidar images we are able to go on the ground and trace the lines of these ramparts to help us understand the site a bit better.’

Of 100-or-so Iron Age hill forts so far unearthed around the country, very few are thought to be similar to the Warton Crag site. And Louise and her team are now collecting information from those other sites to compare with what they are finding at the crag.

‘It seems a little different to a traditional Iron Age hill fort so we are trying to learn as much as we can,’ Louise added.

‘We are looking at old maps and old documents and putting that together with the Lidar images and then we will see where we are. By the end of next year we hope to have some answers.

‘Archaeology is so much more than putting a trowel in the ground. We do a huge amount of research and data gathering to try to form a really good picture of the site. Any digging would be the last stage of a project.’

The group is now working on a conservation plan for the crag which will preserve the site’s archaeology and sustain the plants and wildlife living there.

And Susannah Bleakley, the Morecambe Bay Partnership’s executive director, added: ‘We are only scratching the surface of what we know about the history around the bay. We are only just beginning to understand the early history of the bay and I don’t think that’s something we will ever know fully.

‘It has long been known that Warton Crag had been of significance in the past and Morecambe Bay would have been a major attraction too. It would have been a source of food, fish and fowl for Vikings. St Patrick’s at Heysham has the Hogback Stone, which is thought to have once covered a Viking leader’s grave and is covered in cartoon-like images of Norse myths.

‘There is also the sword in the British Museum and we would love to one day have a festival of Morecambe Bay where we can bring together artefacts and celebrate their stories and the history of the bay.’

For more on the Morecambe Bay Partnership, go online to morecambebay.org.uk

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