Day 12 – Rain stops play

Its been a bit of a wash out today. The heavens metaphorically opened even before we could start work. Despite this the bedraggled team headed up to the site to inspect it, but it was very obvious that working in these conditions would do more harm than good; it was decided that discretion was the better part of valour and a withdrawal was recommended. However, before that Jeremy gave a comprehensive tour of the site and then the merry band returned to the Parish Rooms. We keep our hopes up that tomorrow will fair better.



Day 11 – Race to beat the rain

With the full complement of volunteers we eagerly set about our tasks in an effort to beat the rain which was forecast for 11am, but in the event didnt arrive until a few hours later.

A fresh trench was opened outside the north wall of the house. As was to be expected it revealed a mass of tangled bracken rhizomes. Undaunted, Mervyn and Brian attacked them with a vengeance, clearing the worst to uncover more boulders.


Brian sets about the new northern trench

The drainage area was further extended, while inside the gradual removal of the cobbled floor seems to show that there is another floor of smaller stones underneath, and further demonstrates that the building has had a long history.


Removing the cobble floor to reveal an earlier cobble floor beneath

The cross passage was cleared and cleaned, unearthing what appears to be yet another base layer. Work has also begun on clearing the east entrance.


Good progress has been made across the site

At 12.20 the rain started, and we reflected on the considerable progress that had been made since the start of the day. With good humour we took cover in the tent and were optimistic that we would be able to continue. However by 1pm the rain was torrential. As it was looking to be set in for the rest of the day, it was decided to call a halt to proceedings. At that very moment the party of pupils from Ulverston Victoria High School arrived, led by Stephe. After a very quick introduction to the site they all took shelter in the archaeology tent.


The kagouled team face the onset of the rain


An early lunch while the torrential rain batters against the sides of the tent

After clearing away the tools, we adjourned wet and bedraggled, to the Village Hall where we all enjoyed well deserved tea and coffee with biscuits supplied by Brian.

This was my last day on the dig. It has been a fantastic experience. I would like to thank all the volunteers, especially those who have travelled from afar, such as Christine from Gothenburg, for giving their time so freely and energetically. Jeremy, Peter, Hannah and of course Jamie from Oxford Archaeology North, have been wonderful tutors and I look forward to working with them again next season on an even more exciting site.

Ken Day, Chairman, Duddon Valley Local History Group


Here is a model of the site from yesterday (27th June) and shows the site prior to the removal of the central stone hearth and the cobble floor.



Day 10 – Hearth Gone (but not forgotten)

Given the inclement weather across the region we did remarkably well. The rain obligingly stopped as we got to the site, and kept off us until 2.45, so we had a pretty good dry spell to get to grips with the site.

The longhouse at the start of the day

The progress at the site has been amazing over the six days since I last went. The collapsed rubble has gone and it is possible to get a glimpse of what the  house was like when it was in use, and in particular they reveal how much skill and care went into the construction of the walls.  It was interesting to note that there was little sign of a drain in the downslope, byre part of the house.

The team admiring their work (prior to the removal of the hearth stones)


Stephe gets stuck in, digging out the entrance of the longhouse

Today we lifted the hearth stones; we had hoped that there would be wonderful undisturbed soil full of datable charcoal, but as the stones came up we were faced with a huge mass of yet more bracken rhyzomes and realised that it was not to be. Perhaps under the cobbled floor we will achieve our dreams, so lets keep all fingers and toes crossed.
The sorry mass of rhyzomes revealed upon lifting the hearth stones
This was my last day so a huge thanks to Jeremy and Hannah for their patience and cheery competence!

Day 9 – The return of the weather

DUDDON DIG 26 June Day 9

A warm welcome was extended to Christine Anderzen, who had travelled from Gothenberg to take part in the dig. The weather forecast was for rain in the afternoon but the day started quite bright, although cooler than of late. Jeremy updated the volunteers on how the excavation had progressed and we all set about our tasks.

Christine had clearly had much previous experience. She cleared and cleaned the lower section of the house, while Hannah and Ken worked on the area where the cross-wall had been. They revealed what seems to be a continuation of the cobbled floor which was uncovered yesterday.

Chris Shearin concentrated on the upper section of cobbled floor; Steve Douglas, Mike and Frances Green extended the drainage area. Justin wood and his children toiled in the newly opened enclosure wall trench with Justin periodically helping Jeremy in recording.

Between times, Jeremy with more than just a little help from Hannah, removed what was left of the cross wall, and removed the tumble from around the upright stone on the east wall. It looks increasingly likely that this is another entrance to the house.


On a moist and misty day, we now have two opposing entrances (a cross passage) and no cross wall


The same absence of cross wall but from the south

By 2.15pm dark clouds were gathering and it soon started to drizzle. An early tea break was taken in the hope that this was a passing shower but with heavy rain soon falling, it was time to call it a day.


The kagouls say it all. The British summer has returned


Time and weather to call it a day! Lets hope for improved conditions tomorrow.


Day 8 – The Open Day

I must admit to approaching today with some apprehension we had no way of knowing if we would get 6, 60 or 600 people turning up for the Open Day. Eternally optimistic, we had booked a whole field behind the pub for car parking and arranged with Anthony and Hilary at the campsite to have an advanced base for car-sharing groups ready to start the walk up to the site. Jean and Ken had brought an equally optimistic number of biscuits to go with the tea.

The chairs were out, the screen down, the curtains were pulled over blocking out the sun and the presentation was ready to go. I’ve been working on versions of it over the last few months tweaking bits and adding as the project has progressed. It seems a long time ago that we were asking for tenders and applying for Heritage Lottery Funding.


Stephe gives his presentation

Would anyone come? Yes! 18 for the first go with two watching the pictures but deciding to forgo the walk with Mervyn. The second group had the same number for Sue and the final group had just eight for Mervyn’s second ascent of the day. There was one extra when Joyce turned up after everyone else had left. She made a new party of one and set off up the hill on her own.

In the calm between the groups, the three base camp staff sat in the sun musing on the news of yesterday’s referendum and checking that the biscuits weren’t going stale. After the last group, and Joyce, had gone, we cleared the room of everything apart from the provisions for the returning parties. I decided to walk up to the site and see how the diggers had got in the full glare of visitors.

Climbing the track, I first heard Jamie’s laugh round about 1450 on the time line, a full four hundred and fifty years away from his lecture to the visitors. More cleaning and boulder shifting had happened. At sixteen, our youngest volunteer so far, George of Penrith, was quietly pleased with digging even though no finds had been made.


George our youngest recruit helps dig the drain

Another twenty people had visited following the signposting from the track so we are well satisfied with our day.



From the site end of the open day it was, I think,  enormously successful. We had a constant stream of groups coming through to inspect the site, and overall I think there were at least 60 visitors to the site. There was an enormous amount of interest and enthusiasm to judge by all the questions from the visitors, some of which were extremely perceptive and reflect a lot of understanding.


Introducing the site to one of the many groups

I also took the opportunity to show them the 3d model of the site in the tent, which was entertaining if only because of the difficulty of trying to cram 16 odd people into a smallish tent to see a very small computer screen – I hope it was worth the discomfort.  My most embarrassing moment of the day was when in bold, and perhaps too emphatic, words I enthusiastically described the rectangular arrangement of stones forming the central hearth, and pointed to its location, only to realise with a sort of dazed and shocked expression that it was gone – it transpired that Jeremy had surreptitiously removed the stones 10 minutes previously !


Where’s my hearth??

Otherwise the excavation was proceeding fantastically; I hadn’t been up for a few days and it was incredible to see how much had been done in that time, with a new hearth appearing (and one disappearing!!).  I was delighted by the cobbled floor, which was looking fantastic by the end of the day when we did the survey of the site with the photographic mast.


Hannah and Brian survey the site with a photographic mast at the end of the day

The results of the end of day survey is presented below and shows the condition of the cobbled flooring in the northern part of the house



Clearly the team have done a fantastic job, and I take my hat off to them, and I can’t wait to get back there on Tuesday.



Once again the volunteer diggers were blessed with clement weather as they headed up the hill from Seathwaite Village Hall to the dig at Tongue House A longhouse.  we were joined by 16 year old George Dobson from Penrith who was (by a very long margin!) our youngest volunteer archaeological digger today.


Lesley Steele and Hannah excavate the trench by the outer wall

At the end of the day our volunteer diggers left the site in buoyant mood. When we stand back and see the amount of work that has been undertaken over the last 8 days, it can only be described as a magnificent effort on the part of all those who have contributed to the dig.


Day 7 Brexit – what Brexit?

Whilst the rest of the UK was in turmoil following the Brexit result and the PM resignation, we were having a peaceful, relaxing day, digging up on the fell. The weather was fine, other than one shower mid-morning, disappointingly whilst we were already on a tea break!!


Happy digging – far from the madding crowd


The team digging the southern trench are justifiably proud of their work

Schools Visits: There were two school visits, St James’  School and Black Combe Primary School, both from Millom.

wet visit

The school visit during our brief wet interludeP1060426

Rising above it all   – planning the wall during the school visit

Archaeology is getting more exciting by the day – in addition to the large hearth now exposed in the upper cell, we began to uncover a cobbled floor surface.  The “cross-wall” continues to prove an enigma – no evidence yet uncovered of an entrance to the upper end.  There is speculation that instead of a one celled structure, it was possibly divided by a wooden partition.


Cleaning the cobbled surface


The cobbled surface viewed from above

Most excitingly,in the area of the entrance opening to the longhouse, some small flecks of charcoal were found – these may provide dating evidence.



A little belatedly we have put together a model of the longhouse from before the interior was cleared and before we found the floor, but hope you enjoy it nevertheless:



Day 6 – Finds Day

As it was Referendum Day, the Hall was being used as a polling station, and we were discouraged from using the main part of the building. The Team Leader for the day was Eleanor Kingston, the Lake District National Park archaeologist. Once on site, tasks were duly allotted with Eleanor making sure we all knew to where we had been allocated. The first part of the day was given over to cleaning all the areas so far excavated, in order for Peter to photograph and record the site.

Peter and Jeremy had marked out an area for excavation of about nine square meters encompassing the enclosure wall to the south of the building. The job of de-turfing and digging fell to Sally Varian, Irene Dayer, Mike and Frances Green. Catherine Whitlock who worked tirelessly in getting down to the brown soil just above the cross-wall; Ken and Len Watson continued in the top half, removing stones under which there seemed to be a never ending source of bracken rhizomes.


Yet more Bracken rhizomes !


Alan Bell and Lesley Steel concentrated on the area outside the south-west wall to reveal what is looking increasingly like a drainage area. This view being reinforced by where Eleanor was digging further up uncovering what might be a drainage ditch.


The longhouse after Day 6 and the results are looking truly impressive

We opened up a new trench across the pound wall and this will hopefully provide us with some dating material for this section of wall.


Opening up the new trench

John Nichols used his metal detector on the flat area covering the anomalies unearthed by magnetometry. A positive reading led Peter and Jeremy to the site where a  medieval horse shoe was found. Another positive reading just outside the northern enclosure wall revealed what appears to be part of a knife blade. Towards the end of the John had another strong reading close to the rock face. Despite some thorough searching by Peter, nothing has yet been found. The area will be returned to another day.


The medieval horseshoe

The first schools trip was very successful, Stephe escorted a party of 21 children from Thwaites and Captain Shaw Schools to the longhouse  and they were able to witness first hand our first significant find of the horseshoe come up. Stephe got them planning a section of wall behind the tent and also showed them round the excavation. They were all really enthused by the project, and this will hopefully set the trend for some really successful school trips to come.


The school group planning the dry stone wall set against the back drop of the beautiful Duddon Valley

Another beautiful day’s weather with much achieved in the presence of excellent company.


Day 5 – Good Weather and Good Archaeology!

The weather was perfect for outdoor archaeology when Pete  and Jeremy met the the eleven volunteers at Seathwaite Village Hall for the day’s activities. Those who were new to the site (including Justin Wood) were surprised at how much had been achieved already after only four days of work. I had not been on site since Day 1 when we had marked out and de-turfed the area to be investigated. What a change! Many of us who live locally and had experienced the heavens opening on Sunday (Day 2) were surprised to learn that the intrepid volunteers on that day had continued their archaeological work right up until nearly  2pm – losing only at most 1 ½ hours of digging time.


The view from above of the results of four days of digging

Today many of our volunteers (including Irene Dayer and Marlene Mussell) who had been on site yesterday knew exactly where their work places would be and set forth on their troweling tasks. “New boys and girls” (including Justin Wood, Ron Buchanan, Nick Russell, Chris Swanson and Jennifer Gallagher) were pointed to their prescribed work areas and set to with a will and the minimum of tuition. The rest of us who had not been for a few days (including  Ken Lindley , Cath Ryan and myself) were similarly directed to our workplaces. Pete by chance appointed me to the area where I had undertaken the de-turfing on Day 1, so I was fortunate to have continuity in my archaeological excavation work.

All of us trojaned quite happily for the remainder of the day. In my case the aim was to tidy up my area so that it was fit for archaeology aerial photography. Apparently you have to get the whole area where I was working down to the same “yellowish colour” level. Interesting!!


Digging down to the ‘Yellow’

The thing which amazed me most of all was just how vast is the network of bracken on so many of these sites. The size and length of bracken roots is incredible. At one point Piers Waterston (who joined us for the rest of the day following the completion of his post-knocking duties with Steve Cove) filled my bucket with two exceptionally long bracken roots which he reckoned would beat anything I could dig out. He was right! No wonder bracken is a nightmare for archaeologists. It has the ability to undermine stone walls wherever it becomes established and is a greater vandal to the archaeological heritage of our country than the roadbuilders of the nineteenth century who “recycled” the standing stones and stone from stone circles to build and widen the roads in our countryside.

Everybody had a great day and said so at the end of the day – particularly Justin and Nick who described the “therapeutic effect” of outdoor archaeology on days such as these.


The happy team

Incidentally we also had a visit from two passing walkers (and their springer spaniel) who are on holiday from Aberystwyth. They hope to visit us again on the Open Day Saturday 25th June – to study progress.

Stephe has prepared the route up to the site by placing lots of markers for his timeline up, in anticipation of the first of the schools visits tomorrow, and they are looking truly impressive.


The last of the timeline markers goes in


The start of the walk up is now festooned with the Duddon Dig signery

For all those volunteers who have not yet joined us  – you should expect to be in for a very enjoyable educational experience surrounded by good company provided by other volunteers from all their different backgrounds.

Happy days indeed if the weather remains fair.


Bob Bell

Day 4 – Another great and productive day

With one ‘no show’ and another arriving late, after briefing formalities and leaving Stephe’s instructions on how to get to the site pinned to the Village Hall door, we set off on time for the dig. On arriving on site, Ken realised, however, he had left the clipboard of instructions in his car at the foot of the Walna Scar Road. Nevertheless with fine weather and a wonderful team of volunteers there was little to worry about. Whilst we all had a quick cuppa Jeremy and Peter planned the day’s work schedule.

The trench in the north- west corner was divided into two sections with Irene and Linda allocated the task of removing bracken roots and loose stone to try and identify a base.
Clive and Anna cleared the exterior of the misaligned south-west wall, while Alan and Ken fought with bracken roots and stones inside the top part of the structure, clearing down to a mud brown base.


The longhouse at the start of the day

Helen, Marlene, Louise and later Chris, did an excellent job clearing and cleaning the area in front of the south-east wall.


Cleaning the south-east wall

This has thrown up another problem. It had been suggested that the misaligned wall indicated that the site may have been two structures. However Peter and Jeremy are now of the opinion that the eastern wall is continuous meaning that the bottom end of the structure is probably contemporary with the main body. So why the offset wall?

Stone clearance has also revealed the possibility of one or perhaps two further entrances into the longhouse. Further stone removal should help to establish if this is the case.

Peter has started to clear the bracken roots from the southern section. Throughout the day both he and Jeremy were plotting and photographing progress, guiding and advising the volunteers on how best they should carry out their tasks.


The southern section of the house now mostly cleared of collapse

We had four visitors. Two were from Cheltenham, one of whom was a member of his local history society. He was most impressed with what was going on.


Day 3 – and what a difference a day makes

Working with yesterday’s mud

It chucked it down most of the night and with the wind howling around Millom, I was worried for the tents high on the fell. Needn’t have worried, those old valley folk knew where to build in a sheltered spot. It rained as we assembled at the Parish Rooms but it didn’t last long and we spent much of the day in the sun though there was plenty of putting jumpers on and taking them off again through the day.

This morning I wished I had taken a photo of the trowel tidy before it had got all mucked up. I have taken a picture of it against the pile of bracken roots and we had plenty more of them today. Everything was still cloyingly muddy from the rain. I have added “rinse trowels in the beck” to the list of jobs for the future day leaders.

trowel tidy and roots

The bedraggled trowel tidy

All the stonework has now been cleaned off ready to record and remove the tumble. It’s rather odd that with stone exposed all over the place, it is hard to make out the structure in photos from the crag. However, the aerial views taken with the photographic mast tell a slightly clearer picture and we will put that on the blog shortly.

all stones

The site viewed from the crag starts to take form

One set of stones in the north end is forming a circular pattern on top of a largish slab and may well be something interesting but we aren’t calling it anything out loud just yet.

The thing we are not calling a hearth

The circular feature we are not calling a hearth !?

We had visitors today with experience of other longhouses (David Griffiths and Rob Philpott). David Griffiths is from Oxford University and has been excavating a 26m longhouse in the Orkneys for a number of years which has a Viking date. I’d like to think he was impressed with what we have found in our little corner of Lakeland.

Afternoon tea today had a very different look to yesterday’s huddle in the tent. Let’s hope the good weather lasts.

how different from yesterday

A relaxed fairweather tea break


Here are the results of todays photogrammetric recording of the longhouse. Click on the link below.