The hillfort at Lordenshaws is a real gem. It has the easiest access of any of the sites in the Northumberland National Park. The fort is only 400m or so from an area set aside for car parking along a good road. The climb to the fort is in no way strenuous. Lordenshaws is surrounded by a wealth of archaeological remains and not far from the fort itself lie some spectacular examples of rock art. There are ancient trackways, burial carirns and earthworks and, by arrangement with the Duke of Northumberland and the tenant farmer, you are free to wander around them in an agreed access area. Lordenshaws is also of note as there are clues here as to how this fascinating landscape evolved over time.
Lordenshaws is a roughly circular fort and has two entrances facing East and West. The outermost defensive ditch has a diameter of around 140m and is one of the best-preserved features of the site. In the South and South East, this ditch has been disturbed by later development but to the North, the ditch has a very steep V-shaped profile and is up to 2.5m deep and up to 9m wide.
Inside this is a less well preserved inner ditch with a broader, more shallow profile. This inner ditch, in places, also manages a width of 9m but never gets any deeper than 1.3m. In the South-East the outer ditch actually crosses the inner ditch suggesting the inner ditch was not associated with later phases of the fort. If any form of rampart ever existed between the inner and outer ditches then there is no sign of it.
There are signs of a short irregular bank, around 0.5m high in the middle of the inner ditch close to the Western entrance to the fort. It is possible that this is the remains of a rampart but it appears only in this one spot. The defences may never have entirely enclosed the fort as there is a natural outcrop to the South East which seems never to have been disturbed by the ditches.
The entrances to the fort simply cut through the defences.
The Western entranceway is the least well preserved though there are still several larger boulders marking it. The Eastern entrance (above, right) is 3m wide and there are some facing stones visible. Where this entrance cuts through the second defensive mound there are some prominent stones still standing 0.8m high.
The innermost part of the site, the inhabited area, has a diameter of roughly 70m and is on two levels as the site is crossed from East to West by a natural scarp. The usual way into the fort is from the Western entrance as this is the way a visitor would normally walk up from the National Park car park. From the West entrance, the path takes you into the Southern half of the fort. Along the South facing edge of the fort, there are four small circular features. I say ‘features’ as they seem too small to be huts. They vary in diameter and, in one (below left), the stonework has been exposed.
Further into the fort (below right) is a very prominent hut. The interior of this has been cleared at some point and the stonework is visible. This hut has a diameter of 5.3m and the walls are around 1m high. There is no obvious entrance to this hut as the walls are continuous. This suggests the dwelling may have been sunk into the ground and accessed rather like a grubenhaus. In the Northern half of the hillfort are the circles of two huts. It is possible that more existed but the ground here is very disturbed.
Standing outside the Western entrance to the fort you can see a large rectangular enclosure. It is enclosed by an earth and boulder wall which still manages a height of around a metre in places.
The enclosure, shown in the picture to the right, must have been constructed late in the life of the fort as it cuts into the defences. The enclosure shows prominent lines of medieval ridge and furrow plough marks and was recorded as a ‘cornfield’ in 1825.
There is other evidence of later development at the fort, especially in the South East. Here the defences have been overbuilt with an extension to the inhabited centre of the fort. There are circular features here but they are not prominent.
There is, also, a notable defensive outwork about 30m to the South and South West of the fort. It consists of an earth bank roughly 7m wide the outer profile standing up to 1.8m high. There is an outer ditch associated with the outwork but this is not easy to see.
There is a gap in the earthwork that leads to the Western entrance to the hillfort yet does not exactly line up with it. It seems to accommodate the line of a trackway that runs North-East from the existing road and turns East after passing to the North of the main cup-marked rock on the site.
Not far from the car park are a number of turf covered cairns. However these are field clearance cairns. To the North East of the hillfort (left) there are cairns of a different nature. These are burial mounds from the Early to Middle Bronze Age (between 3000 and 4000 years ago).
It was around this time that a change came in the way the dead were interred. Rather than placing the bodies or cremations in elaborate long-barrows, the inhabitants of the northern England usually placed the remains in simpler stone or earth mounds.
Often the remains were enclosed in a stone coffin known as a cist (right). Although many of the mounds were quite small others, possibly higher status burials, were more impressive and could have been seen from a great distance. A 3D model of the cist shown here can be found in the links on this page or simply Click Here.
A notable cairn lies some 120m to the North East of the fort. It is built on a cup-marked outcrop of rock and is cut by a ‘robber trench’, probably the result of some unrecorded 19th century excavation. This may be one of the cairns excavated by W. Greenwell in the mid 19th century in which he found sherds of unidentified pottery.
There have been no properly recorded excavations at Lordenshaws. A detailed survey of the hillfort and its surroundings was undertaken in late 1990 by RCHME. Without doubt a wealth of information lies in wait at Lordenshaws.
As I have said access to the site is relatively easy, though choosing when to visit can be important too. In the summer, for example, when the bracken and ferns are at their tallest, some of the lower lying ground features around the fort may be harder to pick out. For me the topography is best revealed by a light covering of snow. Later in the day a low angle of sunlight helps reveal the more subtle rock carvings. The National Park car park is also a good base for walking in the Simonside