After an unpromising start to the day, the sun shone for the Lochbrow Landscape Project team last weekend when we met up to walk around the wider Lochbrow landscape. All were fortified by a visit to an ice cream farm the previous day and cooked breakfasts in the morning, so we were well prepared (all fieldwork should start with a visit to an ice cream farm)!
As a project, we are concerned with the wider landscape context of the sites at Lochbrow so, as well as a time for the team to meet up between survey seasons, this was also an opportunity to explore the landscape beyond the north and south fields where our work has been focused so far, to consider the location of our sites within their wider context, familiarise ourselves better with that landscape context, expand our own experience and explore some of the additional archaeological sites in the region.
We began our walk by crossing the river Annan. The river features very strongly in the story of our sites at Lochbrow, which sit on a gravel terrace overlooking the River Annan and its wide floodplain. As a means of transport in the past, the river is likely to have been a means of access to our sites and so we need to consider people approaching from the river to the east rather than just by the road on the west of the site that we use today. So, last weekend, we crossed the little bridge below Lochbrow and then proceeded through unknown territory down the east bank of the river.
The river is wide and meandering here, and takes a broad loop away from Lochbrow; the bridge located at the part of the loop furthest away from Lochbrow. Looking back at the field in which the timber cursus has been recorded, the steep edge of the gravel terrace could be seen as a distinctive topographical feature at the other side of the floodplain. A little to the south of the cursus field, the rambling farm buildings of Lochbrow farm stood proudly above the river and floodplain. As we walked southwards, the front gable of the farmhouse came into view. The farmhouse faces south, yet the modern access is from the west and the north. Has the main route of access changed since the farmhouse was built? Certainly there are hints that routes of access are likely to have changed over time. This apparently ordinary farm has other hidden depths; it was the childhood home of Catherine the Great’s chief physician. How much more extraordinariness is hidden within the apparently mundane aspects of the landscape?!
As we walked south, the location of the Iron Age palisaded enclosures came into view on the other side of the Annan, with the meandering river taking us quite close and, a little further south, we came across a ford across the river. A couple of our party just had to check it out for themselves …
Wildlife abounded as we walked. From sandmartins catching insects above the river and flying in and out of burrows in the river bank, to a briefly glimpsed kingfisher, jumping fish and a stoat or weasel running through the grass, we were treated to a wide array of wildlife. A reminder that flying, running and swimming creatures are, and were, as much a part of this landscape as the people, their monuments and settlements that we study as archaeologists.
Our path took us to the former location of Jardine Hall, the 17th century mansion of the Jardine family, demolished in the 1960s, and across the bridge built around 1884 to take the mineral railway connecting Corncockle Sandstone Quarry with the Caledonian Main Line across the Annan. We passed Spedlin’s Tower, the earlier seat of the Jardine family, abandoned in favour of the mansion across the river reputedly because the ghost of a miller left to starve to death in the dungeons of the tower drove the family out. The tower was restored in the 1960s and is now occupied. One wonders if the ghost is still in residence!
Turning north, we headed back towards Lochbrow, climbing up to the fort that overlooks Lochbrow at Archwood. Only the southern arc of one of the ramparts of this multivalite fort survives (the rest have been ploughed flat), though amorphous lumps and bumps indicate the survival of more features. The location of this fort gave us a good view across the Lochbrow landscape and surrounding countryside. We were able to see more clearly the wet and marshy nature of much of the landscape surrounding Lochbrow, as well as the way in which the fort overlooked the location of the palisaded enclosures (which may be broadly contemporary with the fort). Altogether, this gave us a very different view of the areas in which our attention has been focused over the last few years.
All too soon it was time to head home. We walked slowly back to Lochbrow, satisfied in our short walk around this interesting landscape and the different perspective it has given us on the location that has been our focus for the last few years. For by expanding our experience, we are better able to place the sites at Lochbrow within a much wider context and depth of chronology. ‘Till September then when we will return for another season of survey.