The first few weeks or the Duddon Valley longhouse project were taken up with preliminary surveys of the three individual settlement sites earmarked for future excavation during the coming three years of the project. These sites are all located at the head of the valley in a relatively tight group on the eastern flank of the valley side just beneath Seathwaite Tarn. They include two separate longhouse sites at Tongue House High Close, and one site slightly further south at Long House Close. The longhouse sites had all previously been identified and had been generally recorded as part of ongoing fieldwork undertaken by the Duddon Valley Local History Group (DVLHG) to characterise all of the surviving archaeological sites within the Duddon Valley as a whole.
The detailed surveys were required to both train the project volunteers in different archaeological survey techniques and to provide more extensive survey recording at each location to get a much better understanding of the construction, form and possible function of each of the separate sites. This process was followed by some geophysical magnetometry survey and palaeoenvironmental sampling carried out both on the structures themselves, and in the wider landscape immediately surrounding them, to put them in their landscape context related to the history of vegetation change in the valley and also may provide evidence for sub-surface anomalies (hotspots of burning etc. such as hearths) which can be investigated during the coming excavations.
The surveys revealed slight differences in the construction and morphology of each of the longhouse sites, and this possibly hints at different functions for them. The most elevated of the three sites, Tongue House High Close B, consists of a single simple rectilinear stone-built structure set adjacent to a crag face. There are small sections of field walling located at some distance to the structure but nothing directly related to it such as a stock enclosure. On current evidence it is probable that this site represents a single isolated upland structure, a shieling which would have been inhabited only seasonally as stock was brought up to high pasture in the summer months.
Tongue House High Close A lay approximately 50m lower in elevation and is nestled in a slight dip against a craggy cliff face. The site would be slightly sheltered from the prevailing wind and the two celled stone structure is enveloped by a small enclosure which would have provided shelter for stock immediately surrounding the longhouse. As well as the surrounding stock enclosure there is a wider field-system of sinuous sections of field walling running between the surrounding crags, this would have provided clear delineated pastures and controlled stock management on this part of the fell. The labour to create the stock enclosure and field-system is more in keeping with a more permanent domestic settlement site. The foundations of the longhouse structure here consist of a single cell with an annex slightly offset on the south side. There is also some possible evidence for earlier foundations underlying this structure.
Longhouse Close is the largest and most elaborate of the settlement sites and is located on a shallow west-facing slope. It consists of partially turf-covered foundations of two rectangular longhouses. The two structures have been cut perpendicularly into the hillside on the upper end and are platformed downslope. They both resemble medieval domestic longhouses rather than shielings, and would have held living accommodation on the upslope end and a byre for the animals on the downslope end. The longhouses are surrounded by a large oval stock enclosure and there are drove walls running down to the enclosure from the fell above. The site has been re-used in the Post-medieval period with a sheepfold constructed on top of one of the longhouse foundations and a small fold located on the north end of the enclosure.
In summary each site may have started life as a simple temporary shieling inhabited during the summer months but over time the more sheltered and lower elevated examples were embellished and probably became permanent settlement sites, with Longhouse Close being the most obvious example of a permanent medieval farmstead site.