Lake District National Park

A Day in the life of an archaeological HARPO

My name is Sarah Howard and I am a Historic England Heritage at Risk Project Officer (HARPO, not to be confused with a harpy, although it does depend on what kind of mood you get me in). My day to day job involves looking after nationally designated sites that are threatened within the North West of England and particularly within the counties of Lancashire and Cumbria. Every year the North West Heritage at Risk Team update the Heritage at Risk Register with some sites coming off, some added and others indicating progress towards their removal. In many cases, historic buildings and archaeological sites are at risk due to general decay from neglect or lack of maintenance, but many of the sites I deal with are in the uplands and here we have a particular problem with bracken. In the Lake District, this vegetation was once used for a multitude of purposes, but is now growing out of control and quickly spreading across the landscape, not only obscuring archaeological sites, but also potentially causing mayhem to below-ground deposits due to their robust root systems or rhizomes. Many of my sites are quite off the beaten track, so I had the challenge to get all my site visits in western Cumbria and the central Lake District done in 3 days (to borrow the Time Team trope ?). It was also a great opportunity to have a bit of an adventure, to rediscover the excitement and wonder of my field, actually in the field!

The video below is a recap of June 15th 2017 when I visited two Romano-British sites (The Hawk near Torver and Tongue House Barn near Kentmere). Thanks to the hard work of Lake District National Park volunteers, these sites have been cleared of bracken and are once again prominent features within the cultural landscape of the recently inscribed Lake District World Heritage Site.


Not digging, but finds and reporting

As a long-served finds person, my entry was never going to be about actual digging!  Of course, I rely on those who do the hard work on site to find nice things to look after, and occasionally I even write the finds up (especially if the finds are brick and tile).

This entry is about the recent Heritage Lottery Fund backed excavations at Roman Ravenglass, Cumbria, UK. There is a well known Roman fort, but these excavations centred on the civilian vicus just outside the fort.  Managed by Holly of the Lake District National Park, there were two four week seasons between 2013-2014.  The day to day on-site digging was run by York Archaeological Trust staff.

Just last weekend, the project came to end, at least for the local community who had worked so hard to dig up their archaeology. On the Friday when the Yorkshire Team arrived in Ravenglass, Lisa of Minerva Heritage was waiting to take delivery of the finds we’d brought up with us.  She then arranged them in the display case which has been placed in the Pennington Hotel in the village.  The case is therefore viewable for most of the time, and for free, to all who wish to see it.

In the evening, the Team, along with some of the stalwart members of the local community (Debbie, Leo, Brian & Patty), took the opportunity to walk to the Ravenglass bath house and see the new display board. We just happened to have a bottle of fizz with us …!  The board shows some interpretive reconstructions by Graham Sumner, as well as pictures of the finds and text about the vicus.

The next day, it was time for Site Director Kurt to give a lecture on the findings to a packed room in the Pennington Hotel. We had also brought with us a handling collection of the finds, which I looked after. In addition, there was also a print-out of the draft text of the site report for people to consult. When finally finished it will be available as a free download from the Lake District National Park website.

So, without a trowel being wielded, we were still doing archaeology on that Saturday!

Throughout the project, as well as being responsible for on-site finds processing, I also kept a site blog, which can be found here.

Hopefully, for the community, and at least some of the team, it won’t be the last time we’re out doing archaeology in Ravenglass.

Viewing the new display board at Ravenglass in Cumbria, UK

Viewing the new display board at Ravenglass in Cumbria, UK