There we were plodding across a floodplain in Hawes, carrying boxes of measuring equipment, flags and poles.
“There are lumps everywhere,” said Stuart Brown, rubbing his eyes after a Tuesday morning in the classroom at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.
He was one of five people attending an archaeological field survey training day, led by YDNPA Community Heritage Officer Doug Mitcham, which had been put on as part of the Dairy Days project.
The aim of the day was to learn how to survey roughly rectangular, raised earthwork platforms known as stack stands. They are scattered on and around Floshes Hill near Hawes.
We had five short sessions in the classroom, including an introduction to the ‘plane table’ and ‘tape and offset’ methods for surveying earthworks
“All earthworks contain slopes,” said Doug. “The key thing to look for is where the breaks in the slopes are.”
Doug showed us a drawing of a stack stand he had done two weeks before. It contained a lot of squiggly marks called ‘hachures’, used to show the length and steepness of the slopes.
“It’s actually really, really simple,” he said, before introducing the concept of the 3-4-5 ratio triangle and admitting that it sounded “terrifying”.
Away we went to Floshes Hill, only half a mile or so from the museum. Doug had been right: the stack stands were very subtle and easy to walk past without noticing. But, by the same token, now that we knew what we were looking for, these small earthworks were clearly spread across the floodplain.
“It’s a very tasty landscape,” said Dairy Dales project officer Karen Griffiths, the metaphor inspired perhaps by the fact that it was nearly lunchtime.
One of the people attending was Jillian Miota from Crakehall. She had studied Spanish history while living in Spain and was now turning her attention to the Dales.
“I’ve got to feed my brain cells while I still have them,” she said.
All the students got their hands on the surveying kit, having first made a sketch plan of a stack stand.
It wasn’t for everyone.
“I’m enjoying learning a skill, but stack stands are not floating my boat,” said Dales Volunteer Jane Filby, explaining that her main interest was in pre-history.
I left the group mid-afternoon, just after they’d completed a survey using the plane table method. I caught a quick word with Bob Barker from Nidderdale. I asked him why he had attended the training day.
“I want to understand the history of the landscape,” he said, which sounded like a good aspiration for all of us.
There are a few spaces remaining for a second training day, to be held on Wednesday 26 September. To book a place, please contact Doug Mitcham on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01969 652353.