The label Cup-and-Ring belies the textured complexity of carvings on the open-air stone outcrops in northern England. The tradition in north Northumberland, bordering Scotland, began about 6000 years ago and is estimated to have continued in various contexts for 2000 years. Numerous glacially smoothed horizontal surfaces and earthfast boulders of the Fell Sandstone bear deeply carved abstract markings. Many are cups, or cups-and-rings, some with a radiating series of concentric circles. These may be solitary or, more often, combined with grooves, channels, ducts, basins, and boundaried shapes.
The compelling boulder on the hill at Old Bewick pulled me toward it. When I asked Aron Mazel about rock art in England, knowing I sought some country rock-art days as part of a planned trip to London, he said Northumberland. One look at a photo of Old Bewick told me I needed to go there. Plus Bewick means bee farm.
A hill walk, generously guided by Roy Kennard, proved to be humbling and far too brief to grasp the depth of the natural and cultural histories of the place and its peoples. With this respect, I offer a few observations and photographs, augmented by selected references to a sampling of the extensive informed (and passionate!) sources. (In a subsequent post I will consider nearby sites: Dod Law, Chatton Hill, Ketley Crag, and Weetwood Moors, all inspiring.)
A historical note: John C. Langlands became the tenant of Old Bewick farmstead in 1823. He recognized the hill’s “sculptured rocks” as ancient and is regarded as their discoverer. He died in 1874 and is buried at the Old Bewick Trinity Church. A member of the Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club, he read a paper in 1866 titled “History and Natural history of Old Bewick,” which a Club historian, John Stuart, writing Langlands’s remembrance in 1876, commends “as a model of cautious statement and careful research.” Stuart continues, “After these mysterious figures had become, as it were, fashionable and the subject of general interest, many students were drawn to visit them, and these pilgrims cannot but recollect the zeal and interest exhibited by Mr. Langlands, who was the unfailing guide on these occasions.”
Today the Old Bewick Farmhouse, near the western base of the hill, is an exquisite B&B lovingly restored and graciously hosted by Barry and Catherine Lister.
"British prehistoric rock-art in the landscape." Stan Beckensall. 2002. In European landscapes of rock-art, George Nash & Christopher Chippindale, eds. p.39-70. For the last 10 years Stan Beckensall has worked with Dr Aron Mazel, director of the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University. Beckensall’s 30 years research and discoveries formed the base for the excellent website http://rockart.ncl.ac.uk
Art as metaphor: The prehistoric rock-art of Britain. Aron D. Mazel, George Nash, and Clive Waddington, eds. 2007.
"Cup and ring marks in context." Clive Waddington. 1998. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 8:29-54.
Rock Art & Ritual: Mindscapes of Prehistory. Brian A. Smith & Alan A. Walker. 2011.
Rock art and the prehistory of Atlantic Europe: signing the land. Richard Bradley. 1997.
Old Bewick Northumberland - Photos May 2014.