Cairn building walkers are dismantling the heritage of Yorkshire Dales

By Culture24 Staff | 17 March 2009
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a photograph of a pathway leading through grass towards a hilltop cairn

A prehistoric cairn in the centre with the trig point on its left and a modern cairn on its right. © YDNP

The tradition of building cairns and wind breaks in the Yorkshire Dales has begun to put the area’s history at risk according to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA).

Robert White, Senior Conservation Officer for the YDNPA, says the rocks walkers are using are sometimes being taken from ancient sites including burial mounds, which has led to problems at a number of historically-important sites within the National Park, including Beamsley Beacon near Bolton Abbey.” .

“During the Bronze Age, some 4,500 years ago, a large stone mound was built there, probably to mark the burial place of a local chieftain and to act as a territorial boundary marker,” explained Robert.

“Much of this cairn, which is now about 11m in diameter, still survives but in recent years it has suffered a lot of disturbance due to people using stones from it to make modern cairns and wind breaks. Another smaller historic cairn lies further along the ridge at Old Pike and that has also lost some of its stones.”

a photo of a curved cairn with on hillside overlooking a green pastoral landscape

A modern cairn due to be dismantled in the Yorkshire Dales. © YDNP

A detailed archaeological survey of the hilltop has been carried out and Robert and his team are now appealing for old photographs of the site to help them build up a picture of what it was like in the past.

The name Beamsley Beacon, recorded in 1667, suggests it was used as part of a signalling system using fire. In 1804, during the Napoleonic wars, the beacon was refurbished and a guardhouse was constructed to shelter the beacon keeper.

Unfortunately, the stone foundations of this building are also suffering from modern stone moving.

To repair some of the damage, local archaeologist Yvonne Luke and YDNPA Dales Volunteers will be dismantling the modern cairns and all but one of the wind breaks at Beamsley this weekend (March 21 2009). The team will also be repairing the footpaths to try to stem some of the natural erosion around them.

“We would urge walkers to resist the temptation to pick up stones and build cairns – wherever they are,” added Robert, “because they can unwittingly damage ancient, historically-important sites.”

Anyone who can help is asked to contact Robert or other members of the Historic Environment Team on 0300 456 0030.

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