It didn’t take long to decide what is going to be my next object of the month. It was almost chosen for me you might say! After having several primary school groups in the museum to do our Assistant Archaeologist session during (in which we explore the original Langdale Stone Axes and dig for Stone Age replicas in our “excavation site”) it became obvious. Seeing the stone axes on display in the museum, handling the axes together with the children and discovering the story of Langdale axe factory – which produced axes for all over the country – got me really involved with these particular objects.
I especially love the craftsmanship behind them, it’s fascinating if you compare the ‘rough outs’ with the finished polished Axes. The knowledge that three of the axes in the museum were found on the site of Castlerigg Stone Circle made them even more interesting. I went looking for a map to show the whereabouts of these particular axe finds nationally, and it seems they are spread all over, it makes you think about a well organised networks of trade in the Stone Age and the passing and bartering of goods from one community to another.
As you can see, it was clear from the beginning, I needed to investigate the source of all these axes which I was told was near Pike of Stickle in Langdale. How difficult would that be? Picking the next sunny Sunday, a friend and I got ready to find the axe factory. We packed maps and plenty of food, enough to open a sweet shop on top of the pike, however or unfortunately not all of them reached that far I have to say. Never mind, it was a lovely day.We chose to approach via Stickle Tarn by walking up Dungeon Ghyll.
Once we got to the banks of the tarn we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the amazing landscape. The tarn is a well visited site, but if, like we did, you climb up further we left most of our fellow walkers behind heading towards Harrison Stickle. You go over the ridge above the tarn and drop into what feels like a lost valley, high in the hills. From Harrison Stickle we branched off left to find our target for the day.
We had the place nearly to ourselves with Pike of Stickle looming ahead, it felt even more like the lost valley of countless stories – remote and cut off. We discussed that remote today doesn’t mean remote in the past, some of our busiest industrial areas have changed their purpose and are now silent, be that here or in the city. We started to search the area for the axe factory in earnest, which ultimately led to us looking down a very steep scree slope, just to the left of Pike of Stickle. Our confidence may have left us at this point, we both were not quite sure, if we really want to climb down to find the cave or whether we could perhaps take a picture from the bottom. After several nervous giggles which we sometime do when we can’t decide between joy and fear, well let’s say to sum it up we didn’t go down, we weren’t as brave as the quarrymen of old.
The rest of the walk took us along the hidden valley passed the Stickle, after a scramble to the top, and down to the base of the scree slope wed been at the top of. Looking back to Pike of Stickle it still looked steep and not obvious how you got to the place the axe factory was supposed to be so we called it a day and make a mental note to research further and to come back to finish this story. But perhaps we’d actually hit the nail on the head ! this area is covered in a similar type rock so why there ? is it the fact that it is hard to get to, part of the uniqueness of these axes, otherwise what is the reason to go up there, why not find a place which is easier to approach? But what is clear is that from this single point on the side of a hill (did I mention a steep hill?!) These axes spread from hand to hand to every corner of the UK and beyond. There had to be something special about them for that to happen. Next time we will be as brave as our ancestors and finish this story but for now I’m happy knowing where they came from and the effort it took to get them… almost a mission complete.