Over the last few days we have surveyed the first of the four potential medieval bloomery sites to be investigated this year. This is at Ghyll Head, an undulating wooded stream gully descending steeply into the east side of Windermere.
The sloping topography and dense vegeatation made the survey particularly challenging, but Holly from the Lake District National Park did sterling work on Monday with the strimmer and managed to clear a swathe across the site. That left the pungent reek of wild garlic to assault our nostrils for the next few days.
This particular site consists of a relatively large mound of iron slag which spreads down the steep slope on the north side of the stream and just above the main road running along the east side of the lake. There are several possible building or working platforms evident near the spoil mound where the individual furnaces and bellows may have been placed, and adjacent to these the stream has been enclosed by a large retaining wall. This may have been the base for a water wheel that could have been used to power the site. Simple medieval period bloomery sites consist of at least one spoil mound of iron slag ‘bloom’ and would each have each had one or more small furnaces with hand powered bellows to process the raw iron ore. Water-powered sites are thought to be later in date and were more complex in form and could fire the furnace to a much higher temperature.
The interpretation of this site purely from the surface evidence is particularly complex as immediately adjacent to it there is a large dam and the site of a much later bobbin mill. It may be that many of the features recorded at the bloomery are related to this later site.
The site is probably going to be subject to geophysical survey next week so this should highlight the sub-surface extent of the site (and possibly where any furnace was) and any features not visible above ground. We will then be taking a secure sample for radiocarbon dating.