5,000 years young

IF THESE STONES COULD TALK: The rectangular remains of one of the 12 coffins that make up the circle can be seen next to the largest gap between the stones, which may have served as an entrance.

IF THESE STONES COULD TALK: The rectangular remains of one of the 12 coffins that make up the circle can be seen next to the largest gap between the stones, which may have served as an entrance.

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THE grey mist hugs the hills around Cregneash village, clinging tightly to resist the stern breeze. ‘Hello everyone,’ the voice of Allison Fox sounds in greeting through the wind. ‘And welcome to mid-summer.’

Allison is a curator for Manx National Heritage, and while mist can bring an authentic eerie ambience to visits to ancient burial grounds, she was concerned she would be talking about the views from Meayll Hill without actually being able to see them.

Mother Nature obliges, however, as we reach the stone circle – the mist clears and reveals to us a panorama encompassing the Calf of Man, Bradda Head, Peel Hill, South Barrule and Derbyhaven.

This natural plateau that is home to the stones is also home to one of the most impressive vistas in Mann.

Looking To The Land And The Sky is one of a series of tours hosted by MNH throughout summer. Today’s walk and talk has proved popular.

‘It is great to see so many people here who have such a keen interest’, said Allison, of the crowd who are full of insights as well as questions. ‘These locations are not “lesser known” as such, but there is not much interpretation on site, so a guided walk is a great chance for people to learn more.’

The two-hour tour begins at the 5,000-year-old stone circle, just outside of Cregneash village. The remains of 12 stone chambers (cists) arranged in pairs are still clearly definable, and discoveries have been made of cremated bones in most, as well as pottery and flint arrowheads and knives.

This is a totally unique archeological monument in that the burial chambers are arranged in a circle. Only distantly similar is Cerrig Y Gof – an oval setting of five burial chambers in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

Mystery still surrounds the lives of the Neolithic people who inhabited the area. Although earlier dwellings have been discovered, no domestic structures contemporary to the stone circle have been found in the island, and the initial 19th century excavations were carried out without modern techniques and record keeping.

But Allison is still able to add fascinating fragments of context of the rituals, symbolism and legacy of the community who created and maintained this prominent focal point for more than 500 years.

A distance of a few feet is our only barrier to stepping into an entirely different historical world, as the summit of Meayll Hill was also home of one of the island’s four Second World War radar stations.

Site manager for Cregneash Andrew Metcalfe takes over the reins for the second part of the afternoon.

‘This chain home low station was in full operation by 1941, and relayed information to RAF Lancashire in Preston,’ Andrew informs us. ‘Radar technology was embraced in the British Isles. They were aware of the early technology in Germany, but chose to concentrate on offensive rather than defensive investments. Here, though, radar was vital in giving British fighters any chance of defending these islands in air raids from the much larger German air force.’

Today, surviving bunkers and platforms provide points of interest, and the presence of several enthusiasts in the crowd helped create a fascinating forum and debate in a fitting setting of a landscape scarred and decorated by thousands of years of human history.

Manx National Heritage is running two further walk and talks on similar themes this summer: Rheast Druidale – Two Thousand Years of Life, Death and Chasing Sheep with MNH Curator Andrew Johnson on July 20; and South Barrule with Dr Andrew Foxon on August 25. Tickets are available from the Manx Museum shop, and more details can be found at www.gov.im/mnh/ information/whatson.xml.

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