Tuesday 11th April

Tuesday we were joined by Sally, Alison, Ken and Brian, who were all old hands at woodland survey. After the safety talk, and measuring our paces, we set off to survey the mixed woodland on the western side of Great Arklid Wood. This was a lovely open oak woodland and a pleasure to walk through compared with yesterday's conifer.

John Hodgson visited us for the morning and within two minutes of setting off his eagle eyes had spotted the first archaeological feature, a rabbit smoot in the dry stone boundary wall. These small rectangular openings at the base of walls are designed to let rabbits and hares move from the outlying pastures of the fells into the fields (intakes). The rabbits were good eating and an important part of the local diet. Stone-lined pits were often dug below the smoot fitted with a trap door, held in place by a counter weight, which would spring when the rabbit passed through, trapping them in the pit for the farmer's supper.

Recording one of the numerous pitsteads found on Tuesday

However, the site type of the day was undoubtedly the charcoal pitstead. We encountered the first quite early on and by the end of the afternoon were literally falling over the blessed things. No sooner had we got back to our transects than another appeared and we all congregated to record it. 

Pitsteads are very distinctive in form, comprising a circular or oval shaped flat platform, slightly cut into the hill on one side, and with the raised area to the front caused by the upcast soil. There are usually telltale charcoal deposits visible at the base.

Rudimentary hearth at the northern end of a charcoal burners hut
Brian's lunch looked much more interesting than mine!
In association with the pitsteads we found the remains of a charcoal burner's hut; a sub-circular feature with the ruins of a rudimentary stone hearth at one end. This was located near to two pitstead sites and a spring. There was also evidence of a series of borrow holes. These were used to dig out soil to seal up any holes which may have formed in the turf covering the charcoal stacks during firing.

All in all it was a very rewarding day, during which we found the whole suite of related charcoal features. The team were desperate to finish the last transect but in the end we had to call it a day with at least three pitsteads still left to survey. We marked these carefully to return to first thing in the morning.

Thanks again to the team for your efficiency and great observation skills. I wonder what tomorrow has in store?

Coppicing in the wood meadow

Alison busy recording sites and John and Ken in full stride
Primroses close around the spring next to the charcoal burner's hut


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