On 21 January 2009, a group of about 16 or so members of Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group met at Grassington to begin work on an exciting new archaeological project led by Dr Roger Martlew. He had led us to expect to see something quite remarkable on the site - and I think I can speak for everyone in the group when I say that High Close really is quite extraordinary. Our past experience on a range of survey projects across Upper Wharfedale has taught us that the Dales are full of curious and interesting "lumps and bumps" almost everywhere you look. But High Close surprised even the most experienced of us.
On the ground the site (situated on private farm land) appears to be neatly defined by an early 18th century (pre-Parliamentary) drystone enclosure wall, although viewing the site online usng Google Earth quickly reveals that the archaeological features continue into neighbouring fields, and even beyond, into neighbouring parishes. Almost immediately upon entering High Close field, we were all astounded by the scale and complexity of the earthworks. Everywhere we turned there were clearly defined linear banks interspersed with a variety of other "features" (such a useful word to describe lumps and bumps in the ground when we don't yet know what they are!).
Kick a molehill and sometimes you find a worked flint!
Roger guided us around the large field, and there was much discussion about the site and its potential. The curious line of large boulders and stones set around the top edge of a steep slope which curves round to meet the field boundary was the topic of quite heated discussion! Why was it built? When was it built? What is its relationship to the field boundary wall?
The numerous mounds also created some debate - are they clearance cairns? burial mounds?
Certainly the huge mound on the west side of the field is a burial mound, unfortunately badly damaged by nineteenth century antiquarians and stone robbers. But at least that means we do know it contained an early Beaker vessel.
So, at the end of our extremely interesting walk around High Close, the question was how to proceed with the project. The site has long been interpreted as Iron Age or Romano-British field systems, but the complexity of the earthworks and features suggests it might not be so clear cut. And so, over the next 15 months or so we shall be surveying High Close in the hope of going some way towards untangling it all.