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Gamelands Stone Circle The project gets underway ©YDNPA

Game of Stones

Tuesday 16 February, 2021, by Lily Mulvey

The opportunities for the YDNPA’s Historic Environment team to complete any community projects have been much reduced recently. But happily at the end of October, two of our team members spent the better part of a week at Gamelands Stone Circle in Cumbria, delivering the Gamelands Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership project.

This was meant to take place in spring 2020 but was cancelled due to the pandemic. Work here, managed and directed by the YDNPA’s Community Heritage Officer Dr Douglas Mitcham, was part of the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership (WDLP). This scheme “…aims to unlock and reveal the hidden heritage of the Westmorland Dales” and has been supported by a grant from the Heritage Fund. The WDLP is led by the Friends of the Lake District, with the YDNPA as a project partner responsible for delivering a number of the archaeology and heritage projects.

Image shows the circle in the morning light. The sky is partly obscured by clouds.
The weather stayed mostly clear for the first two days ©YDNPA

The monument

Gamelands Stone Circle is an embanked stone circle located south of Knott Hill, an area of limestone upland. The monument includes an oval enclosure of more than 40 stones, all but one of which are Shap pink granite (the exception being limestone). It is the only complete example of an embanked stone circle in Cumbria and is protected as a scheduled monument.

There are two large gaps in the circle, and, according to R.S Ferguson (Ferguson, 1883), when the site had been ploughed some years before a number of stones had been buried in pits and/or blown up.  Ferguson also interpreted a freestone slab lying near stone 29 as possible evidence of a cist, suggesting it was moved from the centre at the time of the prior ploughing of the site. More recently, Tom Clare has questioned this interpretation (Clare, 2007).

Image of two ranging poles arranged by a rock for scale.
Two of the stones ©YDNPA

The project

The purpose of the project was to provide an improved understanding of the life history of the monument (including any potentially associated features either within the circle itself, or in the surrounding area) and to investigate the landscape context of the site. It was also hoped that geophysical survey would detect features hidden beneath the surface and might shed light on both the circle’s prehistoric past and more recent history (Mitcham, 2020).

It has been more than a century since Gamelands was first surveyed and investigated. In order to assess how the monument has changed and evaluate its current condition it was necessary to undertake a new measured survey, which we did over the first two days.

We used the plane table method, a simple process that can be learned relatively quickly – even by those who have little field experience. After being given a thorough health and safety briefing, we set to work. It was slow going at first but we quickly picked up the pace and our plan began to take shape.

Image shows staff and volunteers beginning the survey using a ranging rod, tape measure and plane table/tripod
The skies stayed clear for the first day of the plane table survey, but we had to wrap up warm! ©YDNPA
Image shows the plane table. A spirit level and the end of a plumb bob lie on top of it
The plane table was set up using a spirit level and plumb bob, aligned over a fixed marker on the ground called a survey station. ©YDNPA
Image shows a volunteer marking the location of a feature on the plane table while two others stand in the distance with a tape measure and ranging pole
A local volunteer sights through an alidade rule to a ranging pole held straight by another volunteer, while the YDNPA Historic Environment Apprentice measures the distance from survey station to feature. ©YDNPA
Image shows the plane table with pencil sharpener and alidade rule, while a pair of hands mark a point using a scale ruler
The disposable gloves were certainly made for bigger hands than our apprentice’s, but that didn’t stop the survey taking shape ©YDNPA
Image shows the YDNPA Historic Environment Apprentice sighting through an alidade rule
Hats, scarves and wellies were worn alongside disposable gloves supplied by the YDNPA.©YDNPA
Image shows a close up of the survey part-way through the process. The forms of the stones are clearly apparent
The plan (1:100 scale) quickly began to emerge. ©YDNPA

By Wednesday however, the weather had begun to turn. The day, attended only by YDNPA staff, was dedicated to a GPS survey of the stones using an RTK GPS (real time kinematics global positioning system). RTK takes in signals from satellites in the same way as a handheld GPS but it also takes a correction stream from the Ordnance Surveys fixed network of base stations in real-time to achieve sub-1cm positional accuracy – this results in an incredibly precise survey.

Despite the weather we were able to get all the stones surveyed in just one day – the rest of the earthwork details and boundaries were surveyed on the last day of fieldwork by our Community Heritage Officer.

Image shows our apprentice using an RTK GPS which is planted in the ground at the edge of one of the stones
The heavy rain forced us to cover the sensitive equipment with plastic bags! ©YDNPA

Thursday and Friday were ear-marked for a geophysical survey (using resistivity) with Lunesdale Archaeology Society, and a licence was obtained to allow the geophysical surveys to take place on a scheduled monument. However, due to the increasingly wet ground conditions, the area of survey had to be reduced considerably and Thursday turned out to be the final day of fieldwork for now. Earlier in 2020 the YDNPA had commissioned a professional contractor, Phase Site Investigations Ltd, to undertake a large scale magnetometry survey of the area.

Image shows the geophysics being undertaken according to a reduced 20m grid over the monument
The geophysics underway! ©YDNPA

The experience

Despite the necessary restrictions and safety measures, the project was thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks to the training provided by our Community Heritage Officer, it was easy to pick up the techniques and undertake all elements of the work. Staff and volunteers were engaged and focused, which allowed for a positive experience and created an effective team.

Participants were given the opportunity to learn new skills and each was able to turn their hand to all of the required jobs for a well-rounded experience. We’re certainly looking forward to going back and completing the rest of the project next year!

Image of two ranging poles lie beside one of the stones. The circle curves away in the distance
The ranging poles here shows the sheer size of some of the stones! ©YDNPA


Results of the project are currently in the ‘post-ex’ phase, although we hope to carry out more fieldwork at the site in 2021 and the final results will probably not be ready until the second half of 2021. But we will make sure to write another blog post when we have our final report – so keep your eyes peeled!

Image shows the circle from above. The entire extent is clearly visible
The circle as seen from Knotts Hill ©YDNPA

The Gamelands community archaeology project was completed by staff and local volunteers following all government restrictions and guidelines at the time, including limited numbers (based on the rule of six) and social distancing. YDNPA staff supplied appropriate PPE (including disposable gloves and anti-bacterial wipes) and made sure all equipment was properly disinfected. In a challenge entirely unforeseen when the project was first designed, we had to cope with and mitigate entirely new health and safety hazards, for example in sharing equipment. The work was completed prior to the second national lockdown.

  • Clare, T. 2007. Prehistoric Monuments of the Lake District. Stroud: Tempus.
  • Ferguson, R.S. 1883. Stone Circle at Gamelands, Bland House Brow, Township of Raisbeck, Parish of Orton, Westmorland. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Volume 6: 183-185.
  • Mitcham, D. 2020. YDNPA project design for geophysical and earthwork surveys at Gamelands Stone circle in Cumbria: a community archaeology project for the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership.
Picture of Lily Mulvey

Lily Mulvey

Lily is the Authority's Historic Environment Apprentice

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