I'm sad to say that many historical and archaeological sites in Cumbria, and I'm sure this is the same all over England, Scotland and Wales, are not as loved and looked after as they perhaps should be. Nor are they as accessible as one would possibly hope.

There are castles, stone circles, earthworks and other sites dotted around the county that no one gets to see, to visit or to photograph. Sites that are nothing but shadows of their former selves, whether through neglect, vandalism, wanton destruction or mother natures relentless attention.

Many of these sites are invisible to the likes of you and me purely because of their location; i.e. in someone's back garden, in a farmer's field, or on private property that is otherwise inaccessible. There are a number of examples I can cite, that I've attempted to visit and photograph over the last three years.

Hartley Castle near Kirkby Stephen is one. A small medieval castle that lays in someone's front garden, it is around 700 years old, being built in around 1315 by Roger de Clifford. The remains are now no more than a triangular building platform, with a sand stone arch leading into a vaulted cellar. The castle was dismantled in the early 17th century after falling into disrepair. My visit to this site did not bare the usual photographic fruits. I approached the owners and requested permission to photograph the remains, but was told it was private property.which it obviously is.

I therefore left. It's a shame really, as there are only a handful of photos of this site on the internet, and none of them really show the remains to their full extent. I would dearly love to have added this site to my collection.

The motte and bailey remains at Melling in Lancashire were a similar experience. The remains can be viewed from the grave yard of the adjacent church of St Wilfrids, but from only one angle. Upon requesting permission to photograph the motte from the vicarage gardens in which it resides, I was of course turned down.but once again, these remains are on private property.

The thing that upsets me about this site, is that the motte has been landscaped, with a footpath running from the foot of the motte, around its exterior, to its summit. Mother nature has had a hand in the poor state of the monument as well.there are a number of mature trees growing on the motte. All in all, it probably won't be too long before this site is indistinguishable from the rest of the garden.

Gamelands stone circle lays just off the road near Orton, in a field right next to a dry stone wall. The circle gradually seems to be vanishing.

Some reports on the internet say that the circle consists of around 40 stones. However, on a recent visit, I counted around 27. Someone is obviously nicking' themor they're being removed by the farmers. Either way, it's a shame that such an old site doesn't get the protection that it so obviously needs.

The same can be said about Kemp How stone circle near Shap. This time though we can squarely blame the Victorians. They built the railway line right over one side of the stone circle, leaving only half of it still visible. What is still left is quite impressive, although it would have obviously been better to see the whole circle!!

Druids stone circle near Birkrigg has seen its fair share of damage in the past. I've seen photos of the circle with a family camped right in the centre of the remaining stones, obviously with no regard for this ancient site. The centre of the site still bears the scars of camp fires. It's illegal to damage these sites. But if no one sees the damage being done, there's not much you can do about it.

Waitby Castle near Kirkby Stephen is a Romano\British settlement. The site today consists of earth work ditches and embankments, and the earthwork remains of structures within the camp. The site is well defined, and has the scars of tractor tracks running right through its centre. Now I know that the field in which the remains are sited is a working field with grazing livestock..but it wouldn't take much effort to refrain from damaging the remains, and driving around the site would certainly help preserve its integrity. If this site is continually subjected to this daily routine, I'm pretty sure that it won't be there in years to come.

Many sites suffer from the blight of urban art - graffiti to you and me. I can remember seeing graffiti at Brough castle, Kendal Castle, Shap abbey, Furness Abbey.probably any site where large numbers of tourists visit.

There are shining examples of historical sites being protected and looked after throughout the county. Clifton Tower in Clifton near Penrith is right in the middle of a working farm, but is well protected. English Heritage own the small patch of land on which it is built.

Mayburgh Henge south of Penrith is also an English Heritage site, and although visitors are welcome to walk around it, it is in good condition. The same can be said for King Arthur's Round Table.another henge nearby that is owned by English Heritage and freely accessible by the public.

Kendal Castle has had a lot of work done on it, both to make it safe, and to preserve this important local landmark and historical building. South Lakeland District council along with other local bodies have spent a lot of money on this site over the years, ensuring that the remains are well protected and can continue to be enjoyed by the public.

Sizergh Castle is looked after by the National Trust, Appleby castle is privately owned but is in immaculate condition, Brougham Castle is in the care of English Heritage and is a well preserved ruin, Brough Castle is also in the care of English Heritage..the list goes on and on. The lesser sites though, the ones that don't get any tourist attention, and perhaps don't offer the grand visual splendour that these major castles can offer, often lay damaged, vandalised and eroded, off the beaten track and not photographically documented.

These sites include Kirkby Lonsdale's motte and Bailey Castle, Low Borrowbridge roman fort near Tebay, Tebay's Castle Howe motte and bailey, Hawes Bridge motte near Natland, Cappelside Hall near Beetham..again, the list goes on and on.

Most of these sites are on private land, and are therefore built on, quarried, damaged deliberately or accidentally, and are neglected when erosion starts to take a hold.

And I strongly feel that even though they're not as important as the major sites in the county, they're still important enough to protect and save for future generations to see. The over riding issue with these lesser sites though, is probably the lack of moneyand this lies at the root of protecting sites like these. It must be difficult for bodies such as English Heritage to come up with the money and find the will power to purchase land on which lesser sites lay, and to therefore protect them.

The heritage action web site is a good source of information about the protection of our stone circles, henges and other prehistoric sites.of which there are many examples of in Cumbria. It's worth a look just to see the vast number of sites under threat from every day activities such as quarrying, road building, housing developments and vandalism.

The Archaeology Data Service web site is a great resource for finding these less well known and hidden sites, providing brief histories and details for each site, as well as the odd aerial photo and street map to aid in finding the remains etc. I also use English Heritage's PastScape web site to aid in finding sites.

All these sites provide details on thousands of great sits to visit..the only thing you have to remember is that trespassing is illegal..so if in doubt.always ask!

Matthew Emmott March 2006