29 June, 2012

June recipe: Lentil rissoles with garlic and herb sauce

These crisp lentil rissoles are easy to make, and the cold yoghurt and herb sauce is refreshing on a hot day.

You can vary the herbs and the amount of garlic in the sauce according to taste and availability. The rissoles go very well with rice and a green salad.

This quantity should serve two.

Lentil rissoles with garlic and herb sauce

For the rissoles:
4 oz (approx 100 g) split red lentils
8 fl oz (approx 200 ml) water
Half a small onion
1 teaspoon (1 x 5 ml spoon) ground coriander
0.5 teaspoon (1 x 2.5 ml spoon) ground cumin
Approximately 2 teaspoons (2 x 5 ml spoons plain flour for coating

For the sauce:
Approximately 5 fl oz (approx 140 ml) natural yoghurt
Approximately 2 Tablespoons (2 x 15 ml spoons) fresh herbs (oregano, mint, sage, basil, chives, or any mixture of your choice)
1 large clove garlic

To make the rissoles:
Put the lentils in a small saucepan with the water, bring to the boil, and simmer over a very low heat for 15-20 minutes until the lentils have absorbed all the water and formed a soft mass. Stir from time to time to stop the lentils sticking to the pan.

Chop the onion. Fry in cooking oil over a medium heat for a few minutes until soft and beginning to colour.

Stir the onion and spices into the cooked lentils and season with salt and pepper.

Divide the lentil mixture into four, and form between your hands into four roughly circular rissoles about 1 cm thick. Coat each rissole in the plain flour.

Fry the rissoles in cooking oil over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Turn the rissoles and fry the other side for 1-2 minutes. Lower the heat and continue to fry for another 3-5 minutes each side, turning once more, until the rissoles are golden brown.

To make the sauce:
Chop the herbs. Crush the garlic. Mix both into the yoghurt

Spoon the sauce over the rissoles to serve. Serve with rice or new potatoes and a green salad.

25 June, 2012

Post-Roman York: cremation cemeteries

York was an important military, ecclesiastical and political centre in Late Roman Britain. In the early seventh century it was under royal control of the Anglian (‘Anglo-Saxon’) kings of Deira, and later in the seventh century it developed into a major ecclesiastical centre and the seat of an archbishopric, a status it holds to this day.

In between, the historical record is a blank. There are no definite references to York between the fourth century and the seventh century, although there are one or two snippets whose meaning is less than clear (see earlier post on Post-Roman York: the documentary evidence) for a summary of the documentary records). Evidence from archaeology provides some clues that may help to fill in the gap. I discussed the headquarters building in an earlier post. This post discusses the Anglian cremation cemeteries at The Mount and Heworth in post-Roman York


The Mount
The area around the modern streets of The Mount and Driffield Terrace, York, was the site of an important Roman cemetery.

Map link here
The arrow shows the location of The Mount. The scale is currently set to show the location of the cemetery in relation to the rest of the city. Zoom in for a detailed view showing the street names.

Roman law forbade the burial of dead in urban areas, and The Mount Roman cemetery was outside the south-western walls of the civilian city (the colonia) on the west bank of the River Ouse. It was a large cemetery along the main Roman road approaching York from the south-west, and the part of the cemetery around the junction with modern Albemarle Road (see map link above) was on a local high point. Prestigious memorials and monuments lined the main road, such as the tombstone of the wealthy lady Julia Velva, now in the Yorkshire Museum. Less elaborate Roman burials have been found in the lower-lying area around Trentholme Drive near Knavesmire Road (see map link above), suggesting that wealthy individuals had monuments in the prominent location on the high ground and that more ordinary people were buried in the less prestigious area lower down the hill (Ottaway 2004, p.122). A group of burials in coffins recently excavated at Driffield Terrace (see map link above) contained an unusually high proportion of decapitated adult males, leading to speculation that they may represent gladiators despatched in the arena after losing fights (Hunter-Mann 2006). Burials from the Roman cemetery have been dated to the mid-second century to the early fourth century (Ottaway 2004, p 121).

In the mid-nineteenth century, an unknown number of Anglian cremation urns were found during building work on the north-east side of Dalton Terrace (see map link above) (Tweddle 1999, p 169-170). Six survive, and fragments of a further eight were found in the fill of a nineteenth-century culvert excavated in the 1950s in the same area. A pair of iron shears, a fragment of bone comb and a coin of the Empress Julia Domna (wife of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, who died at York in 211) survive from one of the urns. Another bone comb fragment was found with the other urn fragments in the 1950s excavation. The urns are approximately dated to the late fifth to sixth century (Tweddle 1999, p 170), and indicate an Anglian (‘Anglo-Saxon’) cremation cemetery either in the same area as or adjoining the earlier Roman cemetery (Tweddle 1999, p 167, 170).

Another Anglian cremation cemetery of broadly similar date was identified during railway construction work in the late nineteenth century on the west side of Dodsworth Avenue, north-east of the Roman military fortress site at York.

Map link here
The arrow shows the location of Dodsworth Avenue. The scale is currently set to show the location of the cemetery in relation to the rest of the city. Zoom in for a detailed view showing the street names.

About 80 to 90 urns were identified, of which 40 were taken to the Yorkshire Museum, apparently laid out in rows about two feet apart and aligned at right-angles to the ridge and furrow of a ploughed surface (Tweddle 1999, p 235). More had been destroyed before the Yorkshire Museum was notified. Several urns contained glass beads fused by heat , another contained some gaming pieces, and one contained a pair of copper-alloy tweezers. A further ten urns were discovered in a second excavation in 1880. The urns are dated to the late fifth and sixth centuries (Tweddle 1999, p 235). Later excavations in 1965 confirmed that the whole cemetery appeared to have been destroyed in the construction work (Tweddle 1999, p 170).

A Roman cemetery is known nearby, but it was located further south along Dodsworth Avenue near the junction with Heworth Green, which follows the line of the Roman road running north-east towards Malton (Tweddle 1999, p 170). There is nothing to show whether the Anglian cemetery was positioned in relation to the earlier Roman cemetery. However, an enigmatic note from 1879 mentions ‘a Saxon urn found at the side of the tumulus in the garden at Heworth’ and a drawing from 1920 shows a mound near the bend in the River Foss between the Roman and Anglian cemetery sites at Heworth (Tweddle 1999, p 173-5) (roughly at the site of St John’s Walk in the map link above). This may indicate a second Anglian cemetery in the area.


Clearly, the cremation burials at The Mount and Heworth indicate the presence of a group of people who liked to cremate their dead and bury the ashes, sometimes with grave goods, in pottery urns of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ design. The cremations are dated approximately to the late fifth and sixth century. Unfortunately, as the cemeteries were identified during nineteenth-century building work and the original number of burials is not known, it is not possible to estimate the size of the associated population.

It seems reasonable to infer that the people who buried their dead in the cremation cemeteries lived somewhere nearby. This may have been within the area of the Roman city or in the surrounding countryside, or both.

The cremation cemetery at The Mount was either adjoining the Roman cemetery or on part of the same site, and that at Heworth was only a few hundred yards from a Roman cemetery. This could indicate some form of continuity of use. It is interesting that similar continuity of use has been recorded at the Roman fort of Burgh Castle in Norfolk, where the Roman military cemetery outside the fort was also the site of an early ‘Anglo-Saxon’ cremation cemetery (discussed in my earlier post Burgh Castle: Cnobheresburg?).

Such continuity could be official, if there was a governing authority in fifth- and sixth-century York that designated and enforced certain sites as recognised places of burial.

It could be religious or spiritual, if an established burial ground was recognised as sacred in some way and therefore suitable as a last resting place, or if an established burial ground was considered likely to be haunted by spirits and therefore a place unsuitable for occupation or use by the living.

It could reflect a desire for some sort of connection with previous inhabitants, perhaps claiming inheritance or a shared heritage. This could even reflect a tradition (real or imagined) of direct familial descent. The Roman Army recruited Germanic soldiers and traded goods and supplies across the North Sea. It is possible that families established by Germanic soldiers or traders who settled in or near York may have retained sufficient of their Germanic heritage to choose to use a Germanic burial rite, perhaps to signal a change of status, identity or religion, for a burial in an established Roman cemetery where previous members of the family had been interred. Alternatively, if the legend of Vortigern recruiting Hengest and Horsa as mercenary soldiers reflects a genuine situation in which a post-Roman political authority in Britain recruited Germanic mercenaries, perhaps from families or areas with a tradition of supplying recruits to the Late Roman Army, some may have had ancestors (real or imagined) who had previously served in the Roman Army and been buried in the Roman cemetery at York. The coin of Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus, in one of the cremation urns from The Mount may represent such a perceived Roman heritage (“We came over with Emperor Severus, you know”). It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that it was a family heirloom, handed down through generations from an ancestor who really had served in Severus’ army during his campaign in Caledonia until it was interred, perhaps with the last of the line on the family burial plot. I need hardly add that this is speculation.

It could reflect practical convenience. The memorials, tombstones, sarcophagi and mausolea of the Roman cemetery would still have been visible in the fifth and sixth centuries. It is possible that they made the area impractical for cultivation and therefore suitable for use as a burial ground by default, even if the people concerned felt no connection with the people buried there during Roman times.

It could reflect nothing more than geography (the one thing about history that never changes, as the saying goes). The Mount is on high ground next to a major routeway, and therefore a good place to locate a prominent grave.


The cremation cemeteries at The Mount and Heworth indicate the presence of a population somewhere in the vicinity of York in the fifth and sixth centuries who chose to cremate their dead and bury the ashes, sometimes with grave goods, in ‘Anglo-Saxon’ pottery urns in or near Roman cemeteries. Since over a hundred urns have been recorded, it seems likely that the population using this funeral rite was substantial rather than tiny, but its size and longevity cannot be determined. It also seems likely that the population using the cemeteries lived in or near York, but whether they lived within the Roman settlement or in the surrounding countryside, or a mixture of both, is unknown.

The apparent mixture of a characteristically pagan Anglian funeral rite (cremation and burial of the ashes with grave goods) in use at Roman locations (established Roman cemeteries) is interesting. As noted above, it is not unique as a similar combination occurs at the Roman military site of Burgh Castle Roman Fort (and those are just two that I happen to know about, not an exhaustive sample). The significance of this is unknown, and largely open to speculation. It could indicate some sort of mixed culture with Anglian and Roman elements, a new culture trying to claim a link with the past, pure coincidence reflecting geography or practical land use, or any number of other variations. As so often in this period, many interpretations are possible.

Hunter-Mann, K. Romans lose their heads: an unusual cemetery at The Mount, York. York Archaeological Trust, 2006, Archaeology of York Web Series No. 6, available online
Ottaway P. Roman York. Tempus, 2004. ISBN 0-7524-2916-7.
Tweddle D, Moulden J, Logan E. Anglian York: a survey of the evidence. Council for British Archaeology/York Archaeological Trust, 1999. ISBN 1-902771-06-0.

Map links

07 June, 2012

Helvellyn and Grisedale

Helvellyn is one of the four Lake District fells standing over 3000 feet above sea level. Helvellyn itself is the highest point on a long mountain ridge that runs almost due north-south in the centre of the Lake District in Cumbria. The ridge extends for around 10 kilometres (6 miles) from Clough Head in the north to Dollywaggon Pike in the south, separating the valleys holding the lakes of Thirlmere and Ullswater.

Map link here
You can zoom in to see more detail and move around using the arrow keys.

Its central position means the views from the ridge on a clear day encompass the Pennines to the east, Morecambe Bay to the south, the Solway Firth and the hill of Criffel in Scotland to the north, and the Scafell mountain range to the west. The full traverse of the Helvellyn range from north to south – like walking the ridge-pole on the roof of Cumbria – is a magnificent walk for a long day.

Many shorter routes to Helvellyn summit and/or other parts of the range can be done from either the west (Thirlmere) side or the east (Ullswater) side of the ridge. The most famous is to climb Striding Edge from Glenridding in the east, an airy arete left by two glaciers in the corries on either side eating back towards each other during the last Ice Age. However, Striding Edge is quite a short route, and lands you directly on Helvellyn summit without seeing much of the rest of the ridge. My favourite route to Helvellyn is a longer route, starting from Patterdale or Glenridding and following the quiet valley of Grisedale to Grisedale Tarn, then climbing onto the southern end of the ridge at Dollywaggon Pike and following the ridge over Nethermost Pike to Helvellyn summit, with splendid views of Striding Edge close at hand and most of the rest of Cumbria in the distance.

Map link here
The map is centred on Grisedale; if you use the arrows to move south and west you can follow the valley to Grisedale Tarn and then north onto Dollywaggon Pike, Nethermost Pike and then Helvellyn.
Click on the photographs to enlarge.

View up Grisedale. The grey rocky peaks in the background (about 3 miles away) are Dollywaggon Pike and Nethermost Pike. ‘Grisedale’ is a Norse name meaning ‘valley of the pigs’. Presumably the valley was suitable for raising pigs, perhaps in woodland. The origin of the name ‘Dollywaggon Pike’ is not known – ‘Pike’ is a local Cumbrian word meaning a rocky or pointed peak, but ‘Dollywaggon’ is open to speculation.

The route goes up Grisedale to the head of the valley at Grisedale Tarn, tucked away in a hollow between the mountains of Dollywaggon Pike, Fairfield and Seat Sandal. From the tarn, an old pack-horse track zig-zags up the green shoulder of Dollywaggon Pike.

Looking down on Grisedale Tarn from the path up Dollywaggon Pike.

Legend has it that King Dunmail of Cumbria, after being defeated in battle at the Pass of Dunmail Raise just to the west, threw his crown into Grisedale Tarn as he fled. Or that the mortally wounded king gave the crown to a loyal retainer, who threw it into the tarn for him. There was at least one historical king Dunmail associated with Cumbria in the middle of the tenth century (see Diane McIlmoyle’s article on King Dunmail and the associated legends), who may be connected with, or the same individual as, King Dyfnwal of Strathclyde (see Tim Clarkson’s post on Dyfnwal of Strathclyde). So there may be a grain of truth in the stories.

From the summit of Dollywaggon Pike, a magnificent view opens up back down Grisedale, with a glimpse of Ullswater and the Pennine range spread out along the eastern horizon. The Pennines are about 25 miles away.

View down Grisedale from Dollywaggon Pike

From here, it’s a matter of following the ridge north. At the next summit, Nethermost Pike, the rocky arete of Striding Edge comes into view, jutting out from the east face of Helvellyn.

Striding Edge from Nethermost Pike

Close-up of Striding Edge, with a party of walkers traversing the arete.

From Helvellyn, most of Ullswater is visible, still with the Pennines in the distance

View east to Ullswater and the Pennines from Helvellyn

To the north, the Solway Firth is just visible in the distance (zoom in), and the distant hills on the far horizon are in Scotland – around 45-50 miles away.

View north to Skiddaw and Bassenthwaite Lake, with the Solway Firth and Scotland in the distance

The route continues north along the ridge to Sticks Pass, where an old pack-horse route crosses the range and provides a relatively easy descent back to Glenridding. The grey patches in the middle distance are old spoil heaps from lead mining.

Track descending from Sticks Pass to Glenridding

The track was built to carry lead ore by pack horse from the mine at Greenside above Glenridding to the smelter at Keswick. Greenside Mine closed in the 1960s, and the old mine buildings are now a youth hostel and bunkhouse.

Birds’-eye view of Greenside Mine from the path to Sticks Pass.

From Greenside Mine a track and then a road lead back to Glenridding.