By: Blonde Two
Okay so I have just realised that this post would have made a most excellent Halloween blog but on Halloween evening itself, I was busy trying to work out if chopped up bits of Rowntree’s jelly or packets of ancient raisins would make the best trick or treat presents (I had eaten out of Jelly Babies) for small, scarily dressed visitors.
Of course, tombs are no stranger to anyone who walks on Dartmoor. We have cairns and cists (kistvaens) a-plenty, you only have to study an Ordnance Survey map and be prepared to walk a little way off the main paths to find them.
Copyright Ordnance Survey 2017
The Carrowkeel Megalithic Complex is located above Lough Arrow in the wild and beautiful Bricklieve Mountains. These mountains are not mountains as we define them in England but they are stunning with their lough views and their peaty landscape makes them reminiscent of Dartmoor. Bricklieve means ‘speckled hill’ in Irish, nobody is sure why but they were definitely shimmering in the sunshine (when it eventually came out).
Dartmoor has a high concentration of prehistoric artifacts but, to my knowledge, nothing as intact as Carrowkeel’s 14 passage tombs. Passage tombs are large affairs, they have clearly been constructed by a community and usually consist of a stone entrance way leading to a selection of chambers and covered over by either earth or stone. Whilst we do have intact (or nearly intact) kistvaens (think one-sitting-up person stone box) on Dartmoor, our passage tombs are now merely remains (Cuckoo Ball, Butterdon Ball, Corringdon Ball and Spinster’s Rock). These Dartmoor treasures are still well worth seeking out but I would also recommend, should you ever get the chance, a visit to Carrowkeel because at Carrowkeel the tombs are intact and you can get a real idea of what it would have been like, planning, building and placing remains inside them.
You can also go inside one of them, something I would never have been brave enough to do if I had been on my own but when you are with a group… well anything seems possible, even squeezing a not very bendy, quite big-bottomed, middle-aged woman through a small gap into a very dark chamber (and then squeezing her back out again). It was, despite a handy headtorch held by our guide Philip James (definitely recommended if you ever need a walking guide in that area) and it took me a while to realise that, whilst we were sitting (nearly 10 of us) in the main chamber, there were also carefully constructed side chambers.
As I crawled across the floor (neolithic women were obviously shorter than I) my hands and knees felt sharpish stones, I tried hard not to imagine bones as I sat and listened to Philip’s explanation of the tomb. I hadn’t been crawling across bones because there weren’t any there, it is thought that remains in the form of ashes were brought into the tomb after cremation.
The most amazing thing about the truly fascinating tombs at Carrowkeel was the detail in the planning of the construction. If we had been sitting in ours at sunrise on the summer solstice, light (if it had avoided the Irish mist) would have shone directly into the chamber. As it was only October, I didn’t wait for June but was inside long enough to soak up the atmosphere of the place, jump when I realised some of us were hidden in side chambers and control my inner-panic about getting out again.
The Carrowkeel Megalithic Complex is just one of the fascinating aspects of the Miners Way and Historical Trail walking route. More details below.
The Miners Way and Historical trail is a long distance walking trail in Ireland. It starts and ends in Arigna in County Roscommon and is 118 kilometres long. This hiking trail was set up to encourage walkers to the area after the mines at Arigna closed in 1990 and some of the routes follow the paths trod by the miners on their way to work. Some sections of the Miners Way and Historical Trail are part of the almost completed Beara-Brefine Way, which, in turn, will form the first section of the Ireland Way, a complete South/North walking route up the middle of Ireland. Whilst the Miners Way and Historical Trail is generally completed in 5 days, it also offers a plentitude of beautiful day routes, each giving a taste of natural and historical Ireland.
We were invited on this trip by the Una Bhan Tourism Cooperative who covered our travel, accommodation and visitor expenses. All of the opinions expressed in this blog post are our own and are a true account of our experience.
The initiative was made possible by the Department of Rural and Community Development under the Funding Scheme for Outdoor Recreational Infrastructure 2017.