Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership


The Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership Scheme finished in early 2024 with projects successfully delivered by a wide range of project partners, community groups and individuals. 
Over the coming months, we’ll be updating this site to highlight what’s been achieved, so please keep checking back.

Welcome …

… to the Westmorland Dales website.

The Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership Scheme aimed to unlock and reveal the hidden heritage of the Westmorland Dales, enabling more people to connect with, enjoy and benefit from this inspirational landscape. Specifically, its objectives were to:

  • Reveal the area’s hidden heritage.
  • Conserve what makes the area special.
  • Engage people in enjoying and benefitting from their heritage.
  • Sustain the benefits of the scheme in the long-term.

This was achieved through a programme of projects developed and delivered through the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership, led by Friends of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, and mainly funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It ran over a five-year period from March 2019 to February 2024.

Here you can discover what makes the area so special, find out about the scheme’s projects, and view and download resources produced.

The Westmorland Dales

The Westmorland Dales is a beautiful area of Cumbria lying to the north of the Howgill Fells and located within the north-west corner of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It stretches from Tebay in the south-west to Kirkby Stephen in the east and to Maulds Meaburn in the north-west. At its heart are the limestone fells above Orton and Asby, rich in natural and cultural heritage, and with magnificent views to the Pennines, the Howgills and the Lakeland fells. It drains into the Lune river catchment to the south and the Eden river catchment to the north. Relatively overlooked compared with its better-known neighbours, our projects have aimed to reveal its heritage for more to enjoy without detracting from its unique qualities. (Click on map for larger image)


Contact information

Friends of the Lake District
Murley Moss, Oxenholme Road, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 7SS
Main Telephone:  01539 720788
Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority
Yoredale, Bainbridge, Leyburn, North Yorkshire DL8 3EL
Main Telephone:  01969 652300

Little Asby Through the Keyhole

One of these projects is ‘Little Asby Through the Keyhole’. Following two decades of surveys on Little Asby Common, this project aims to find out more about the area’s heritage through two seasons of excavation.

The results are in for the first season of excavations on Little Asby Common held in 2021, consisted of 16 keyhole trenches. These evaluation trenches enabled us to investigate the heritage of a wide area of the common and unearth its fascinating history.

Pictured: Season one survey areas

The excavation ran from Saturday 4th until Sunday 19th September 2021, with 47 volunteers taking part. The apprentice team also attended for 2 days. We have contracted Oxford Archaeology North (OAN) to manage the project on the ground, and Andy and Katie spent two weeks with the volunteers, along with other members of the OAN team. This project was a great opportunity for volunteers to be involved in several aspects of an excavation, including deturfing, excavation, recording techniques and backfilling, as well as other elements including landscape survey recognition, core sampling and drone survey.

Archaeological remains were identified in fourteen of the sixteen trenches that were excavated, investigating a range of earthworks features that included the fragmentary remains of a coaxial boundary system, associated enclosures and possible roundhouses. To the east, the possible development of this field system was examined with the partial excavation of two clearance cairns, one of which was integrated into a potentially later coaxial boundary. On the higher ground to the west of the road between Orton and Little Asby the site of a putative longhouse was investigated in relation to its surrounding enclosure.

Pictured: 'Arrowhead' Credit: Oxford Archaeology North (OAN)

The evidence suggests a sequence of woodland clearance and regeneration from the early Mesolithic onwards, with the possible introduction of arable cultivation to the area from the early Neolithic (this is earlier than we expected!). Woodland clearance appears to have been completed across the common by the middle of the Bronze Age, allowing the establishment of a coaxial field system and its associated enclosures. Despite the thin soils of the present day, there is evidence for ploughing (in the form of lynchet-like terraces) in association with the coaxial system, but arable cultivation appears to have been unsustainable and, in all likelihood, settlement was abandoned across the area at the end of the Bronze Age.

Occupation of the area may not have returned until the medieval period when seasonal grazing in the summer months led to the establishment of shieling-type structures across the common. Some of these structures appear to have reused earlier, possibly Bronze Age enclosures.

These results were aided by an auger survey at the site of Sunbiggin Tarn. With the help of project volunteers, a short transect of 6 cores was taken through the sediments of the tarn’s edge, and the samples dated using carbon 14 techniques.

Despite a relatively poor pollen count from many of the samples it has been possible, in combination with a previous but undated pollen core, to use the available data to interpret a broad outline of palaeoenvironmental changes at Sunbiggin Tarn, in the period from the early Mesolithic to the early Roman or early medieval periods.

The pollen assemblage from the base of the core indicated an environment of abundant mixed woodland vegetation, both locally and regionally during the early Mesolithic period (7310-7060 cal BC). The data indicates the area around Sunbiggin Tarn at this time was dominated by hazel-type, oak, elm, birch, pine and finally alder, comprising major woodland-forming trees both locally and regionally.

From the early Mesolithic onwards the presence of microcharcoal particles may be interpreted to suggest that humans were using fire deliberately during this period, and there is evidence in the presence of certain species of fungal spores to infer grazing animals at or near the site.

Subsequently an apparent decrease in the presence of Elm pollen in combination with a slight rise in grass and cereal type pollens may be aligned with the wider Elm decline event, regionally dated to the early Neolithic and traditionally taken as evidence for the introduction of crop farming. Similarly, a subsequent decline in pine pollen from later in the core sequence, may be aligned with a national trend that can be broadly dated to the early Bronze Age or later.

Following this the cores upper interval demonstrates a sparsity of tree and shrub pollen, suggesting regional woodland clearance had occurred. At this time only pollen of heather appears to increase in numbers, suggesting the spread of acid moorland, probably both adjacent to and beyond the site. Again a slight increase in cereal type pollen, the occurrence of ribwort plantain and the presence of particular forms of fungal spores infer possible arable as well as pastoral land use activity at this time.

Despite an uncertainty in the dating of the upper half of the core the pollen infers a largely open environment of sedge moorland, with perhaps isolated stands of oak, ash and pine with some alder and possibly hazel scrub also present regionally. The drier land may have been used for low-scale arable cultivation, as indicated from occurrence of cereal-type pollen, and the land adjacent to the tarn was likely used for pastoral activity.

The results of the survey therefore provide an insight into how the landscape has changed over the past 9000 years and which, in part, was a result of human activity.

Following these exciting results, we are pleased to announce that the second season of excavation will take place from the 3rd to 18th September 2022. The excavation will focus on one specific area of the common – a set-piece excavation of a rectangular structure/longhouse (possibly a shieling), with additional trenches examining boundary and earthwork features associated with the surrounding enclosure. It is believed that the rectangular structure is medieval in date, and it is hoped that a comprehensive sampling strategy has the potential to provide a date for this structure. The excavation also aims to develop a greater understanding of the layout, form and function of the structure. The results of season 1 produced a Bronze Age date for this enclosure, and it is thought that the site has been reused, which is a common practice.

If you are interested in volunteering, please get in touch with Hannah Kingsbury (WDLPS Cultural Heritage Officer) – email [email protected] or phone 01539 756624

If you would like to find out more about the site, but don’t want to volunteer, we will be holding an open day on Saturday 10th September. More information and Booking>

In the meantime, you can watch our webinar from last year here. And this year, we will be holding a Skills Workshop in Great Asby in advance of the excavation (Saturday 20th August). Places are limited but please get in touch if you are interested in attending. 

Upcoming events:

Date

Event

Information

Location

Saturday 20th August

Skills Workshop

An introduction to the project, a summary of season one’s results, and an opportunity to find out about a range of techniques available to the archaeologist

Great Asby (Village Hall)

3rd-18th September

2nd season of excavation

This will further the excavations held in Sept 2021, and will focus on one specific area to answer questions relating to a longhouse structure and surrounding enclosure

Little Asby Common

Saturday 10th September

Open Day

A morning session (aimed for families) and an afternoon session (aimed at adults) will give an opportunity to visit and find out more about this fascinating site

Little Asby Common (meet Great Asby)

Recorded August 2021

Webinar Recording

Jamie Quartermaine, Oxford Archaeology A talk on the archaeological survey over the last 20 years that has revealed a rich and complex pattern of settlement on Little Asby Common dating back to the Bronze Age

Little Asby Common