Lismore Fields – A Walk with our Ancestors
THIS WAY TO BUXTON’S STONE AGE SETTLEMENT
The information board at the entrance to the Serpentine Walks, draws attention to the importance of the Stone Age settlement in Lismore Fields.
If you walk along the Serpentine Walks, with the River Wye on your right you come to the bridge where the route meets St John’s Road. Approach the bridge with the river on your right, climbing the steps then taking the public footpath on the left. You come to a five barred gate. This is Lismore Fields. Take the path diagonally across the field. Walk through the gennel towards the old white cottages and follow the path on the left to the road. Turn left past an old stone cottage and you have reached Wye Head. This is a small piece of land owned by Buxton Civic Association where the River Wye emerges for the first time having roared its way through Buxton’s famous Poole’s Cavern.
UNIQUE SEEDS OF THE PAST
In Lismore Fields you are walking in the steps of our ancestors in a field that is undisturbed, except by huge numbers of moles and earthworms that have scattered the flints. Archaeological finds from this area are nationally famous and unique.
- Seeds found here reveal exploitation of Lismore Fields during the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age) periods.
- The site was a watering place with intensive land use and deforestation of the limestone plateau.
- Deforestation meant that the soil became impoverished (as is happening in the Amazon Basin) so farming stopped here by the Early Bronze Age.
- This is why Lismore Fields is one of the very rare instances where peat, rich in seed samples, for the Mesolithic and Neolithic ages have been found.
WYE HEAD – A PERFECT PLACE TO LIVE
In this area people found everything they needed to sustain life. They constructed buildings, used (Poole’s) cavern for safety and warmth and drank fresh water that had gushed through the cave since the last Ice Age. They climbed to Grin ‘tlaw’ ,Old English for a low, a burial mound, (now the site of Solomon’s Temple) to celebrate their dead.
Around 8000 BC Britain was becoming an island. The nomadic tribes that had moved through the land from the south of France to the north of Derbyshire, (see evidence at Creswell Crags) following the herds for their summer grazing, had to limit their range. The Ice Ages were over and this part of Derbyshire was left fertile.
THE MEETING OF THE CLANS
Instead of imagining these nomads settling down into family farmsteads consider instead that they remained as semi-nomadic tribes. They would know how to make shelters like tepees or yurts. These groups would combine as clans, large enough to protect and feed everyone. Different strengths and talents would dictate how and where they went. They would be preoccupied in gathering food.
The clans would be part of a larger tribe which would periodically congregate, perhaps for the summer hunt or to share the bounty of autumn. They would share a language, traditions and follow the seasons.
Here, where the pure water surfaced in fresh springs, some warm, we know they would meet. They built longhouses – the shape of the constructions found on Lismore Fields is unique in the UK.
Stone Age people were drawn to border areas between two distinct habitats (like a great tidal estuary for example). These are called ‘ecotones’ by ecologists. Woodland edge and river banks are classic ecotones – margins between land and water. ‘They were attractive to humans precisely because they are often the richest point in any landscape for wildlife. Some of the strongest evidence of Neolithic diets comes from these areas’. (From Claxton by Mark Cocker.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT – LISMORE FIELDS AN ECOTONE AND PLACE FOR A SEED EXCHANGE?
Neolithic people only met in a few special places, like Stonehenge. Perhaps in Lismore Fields they came specifically to trade cereals and seeds. It was an easy place to find, an ecotone, where millstone grit and the carboniferous limestone join at the confluence of two rivers. The soil was so fertile it could sustain crops. Maybe this is why Lismore Fields contains rare examples of a wide range of seeds from our ancestors.
SERPENTINE COMMUNITY FARM – A NEW SEED EXCHANGE AS HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
Turn from where the river sees the sunlight for the first time follow in their footsteps, walk the old pathways and look back up to the ‘low’. Then back, past nearby Serpentine Farm Community Farm.
Serpentine Community Farm is a volunteer project established to grow crops in the grounds of the old plant nursery. Volunteers experiment with local seeds, using soils and compost collected from the area around the Pavilion Gardens to see what will grow, against all odds, in this climate.
Here a new seed bank is germinating. Heritage varieties are being grown both inside polytunnels and outside, facing whatever the Buxton weather has in store. The volunteers have held a seed exchange at Buxton market, broadcasting heritage seeds into the wider community, planting and growing new ideas for an exciting new future.