Mayburgh Henge on the way to Ullswater.
Jun 17

Ancient History of Ullswater

Ullswater seems timelessly serene in her beauty as we know her today; but this belies her violent past.

500 million years ago she was under a tropical sea, as continents drifted together forming our early lakes mountains; violent volcanic activity resulting from the north and south British land masses meeting formed yet another layer of mountainous rock, (and a profusion of variety when you look at our lakeshore pebbles, and even fossils as unearthed by recent storms). This is where the planet itself created a turbulent border region – not just future populations creating a political one to match. The last of the volcanos were eventually extinguished by returning shallower seas, before the Ice Age encroached two and a half million years ago and scoured the land bare of its previous lives, as eleven magnificently understated ‘cold phases’ ground an estimated 500m off the lakes raw young mountains and created severely defined valleys.

10,000 years ago the Lake District emerged from the ice as the landscape we recognise now; a contemporary survivor from those times is the Schelley, which survives in Ullswater and its nearest largest waters, an endangered whitefish relic from the ice ages. Humans arrived here in the last millennia of the ice age, even before the ice had gone. East of Ullswater has always been a sought after strategic area. It is littered with stone circles and monuments, the most notable being The Cockpit stone circle on Moor Divock, and the resonant Mayburgh Henge at Eamont Bridge – up to 4,500 years old, a 6.5m high earth bank, 90m in diameter is open at the point the sun rises on the shortest day of the year, centred by a single monolith nearly 3m high. The Romans chose our fells as the most direct route through the area from North to South, passing The Cockpit by mere metres with their new ‘High Street’, coming closest at Barton Fell above us, before reaching the spectacular glacial landscapes at the head of Ullswater and Haweswater and descending South to the sea. The Romans also left us another heritage, our beautiful Fell ponies. The Vikings arrived about a 1,000 years ago, bequeathing us with language and place names – and the iconic Herdwick sheep.

Our landscape and enduring Cumbrian culture is directly evolved from our ancient past in ways that are still tangible, through being so closely linked to the land, from being of it, and not just in it.

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