Flashback, Lancaster 2010, Part Two: Backhogging to the Hogback

First of all, please excuse my pun. I thought it was clever.

Second of all, a hogback is really an object. I can prove it.

Look at that picture…it will come into play in a bit here…

Third of all, welcome back! I appreciate you, dear reader, joining me on another trip down memory lane. In my previous post, I briefed you in on my short afternoon in Morecambe, Lancashire. This time, I want to share my very fond memories of Heysham, another small entity on the larger blip of the British island. What better way than to show you?

Ruins of St. Patrick’s Chapel in Heysham

Ruins of St. Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham

And one more for added effect:

How’s this for awesome?

St. Patrick’s Chapel and the adjacent St. Peter’s Church are located in Lower Heysham along Morecambe Bay in Lancashire, northwestern England. In the previous post, I posted a Google Maps image with their respective locations. According to the National Heritage List for England, the ruins of St. Patrick’s Chapel on Heysham’s headland could date to as early as the eighth century. Local lore has it that St. Patrick himself was wrecked off the coast and established the chapel, but this claim predates the archaeological evidence by about three centuries. Still, with a view like this, who wouldn’t want to build a church here?

On Heysham’s headland

More of the Bay

Not much remains of St. Patrick’s Chapel besides the east wall and parts of the south and north wall. But it still is a wonder to see for the passionate ruin-runner.

Morecambe Bay with St. Patrick’s Chapel in the distance

What makes this sight even more interesting is the existence of Viking barrows found on the site. Barrows are simply Viking burial places. The area surrounding both St. Patrick’s Chapel and St. Peter’s Church (more on that in a minute) contains two separate instances of rock-cut tombs. The church with its graveyard apparently contains some Anglo-Saxon remains as well. Excavations in the 1860s uncovered some skeletons, and further work in the 1970s found some 1200 artifacts.

Set of two barrows near the Chapel

More barrows

If you look closely, you can see just how cold it was when I visited…

Series of six barrows excavated in 1864

Finally, St. Peter’s Church also is on the site. According to the National Heritage List, the church was built on the site of an old Saxon building. Over the centuries, it saw various states of development from the fourteenth century to the nineteenth. St. Peter’s contains elements of its Anglo-Saxon, medieval, and early modern presence. For example, St. Peter’s houses a hogback stone dug up during excavations.

A hogback stone originates from the Viking culture, and it seems they first came into being in Northumbria during the time it was under the jurisdiction of the Anglo-Saxons. Their primary function seems to have been as grave markers. Heysham’s hogback stone lends credibility to this theory because of the adjacent graveyard and barrows.

Some of you may be wondering why I did not include of a picture of the hogback from my own personal collection. That thought crossed my mind when I saw the stone. But, the reason I chose to not chronicle that part of the experience was simple. I wanted to hear the story behind it.

It was a Sunday afternoon when I visited the site, quite possibly the slowest time of day in the entire week. St. Peter’s is a little out of the way, and Heysham is not noted for a large population. You can imagine the slow pace! Such a pace put me in one of those moods to shy away from technology and just get in tune with my surroundings. The docent-on-duty for the afternoon greeted me as I walked into the church after giving my £5 donation and began to speak about the church’s history. There are few moments where I can truly commune with the out-of-the-way niches; this was one of them.

A couple asked him to explain about the enormous weird-shaped rock towards the front, and I had to listen in. For an hour (I kid you not, it was an hour), he interpreted the stone and what he thought it meant. He brought in old Norse stories and mythology. I was spellbound. Do I remember all of the story? No. Do I remember the feeling of being spellbound? Yes. Do I remember why I didn’t want to take pictures of the interior? Yes. It was a measure of respect for the past as well as me saying, “To hell with modernity!” for a small modicum of time.

St. Peter’s Church; Again, note the snow on the ground…brrr…

View of Morecambe Bay from a hole in a wall

Anglo-Saxon arch that used to be a part of the church

View of St. Peter’s from the arch

St. Peter’s graveyard

When all is said and done, one may ask, “Why do you even care? Why should I care about going here? There’s nothing exciting.” I disagree. First of all, ruins like these are important to understanding the spread of Christianity in northern England. Second, we can learn more about the history of Lancashire through excavations and ruins. Third, we know less about the Viking era in England because of an oral than written tradition, and these physical ruins provide some insight into their lifestyles, culture, death practices, etc. Finally, it is a lovely site. I want to return to this specific location and picnic one day. I want to see the hogback stone again. I want to return to find a semblance of peace of mind, something difficult to find.

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