Prehistory of the Peak
...stone circles and more
Early Man seems to have found much to his liking in the hills and dales of the Peak District.
Looking from the embankments of perhaps the most famous prehistoric site in the area, the impressive Neolithic henge and stone circle of Arbor Low, near Monyash, the landscape is dotted with prehistoric features.
The top of almost every hill seen from the 1,230ft/374m ridge top is marked by a conspicuous bump, which shows the burial mound or tumulus of a (usually Bronze Age) chieftain. Paradoxically, in the Peak these high points are usually known as “lows” – the word comes from the Old English “hlaw” meaning a burial mound or hill.
There are hundreds of these throughout the Peak District, and many were first excavated and recorded by the pioneer antiquarian and archaeologist Thomas Bateman of Middleton-by-Youlgrave.
There is even a Bronze Age tumulus on the bank of Arbor Low which shows evidence of Bateman’s diggings, and at the nearby Gib Hill, a tumulus superimposed on an earlier Neolithic long barrow, he recovered a cist (burial chamber) which he later transported to his garden at Middleton.
The earliest signs of human activity in the Peak are the insignificant slivers of flint which are often found on the high moorlands of the Dark Peak. These tiny artefacts show where bands of hunter-gatherers from the Mesolithic period stalked and killed their prey, at a time when these bleak moors of today were covered in trees and the haunt of many animals.
Also dating from around this time are the chambered tombs found at Minninglow, just off the High Peak Trail, and at Five Wells, on the ridge above Chelmorton and the A6 Bakewell-Buxton road. Originally covered by earth, these exposed chambers were where important tribespeople were buried, watching over their successors.
Later stone circles dating from the Bronze Age are found at Nine Ladies on Stanton Moor, and on the eastern moors at Barbrook, on the Chesterfield road, where a complete Bronze Age community can be traced, with hut circles, field systems and clearance cairns.
But perhaps the most obvious prehistoric remains are the Iron Age hillforts which dot many strategically placed hilltops throughout the area. The most famous is the 16-acre Mam Tor, which overlooks the head of the Hope Valley above Castleton and also commands the Edale valley to the north.
Other important hillforts are found at Fin Cop, above Monsal Dale (where recent investigations have shown an extensive settlement); Castle Naze, on the edge of Combs Moss near Chapel-en-le-Frith, and at Ball Cross, overlooking Bakewell and the valley of the River Wye.
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Last Updated: 22 Jun 2015