Bench Marks Revisited

It’s safe to say I have returned from Lewis with more questions than answers. A trip to the standing stones at Calanais revealed you don’t need to travel 5,000 years back in time to unearth mysteries. No one knows exactly why the stones were erected, Patrick Ashmore says: “The most attractive explanation… is that every 18.6 years, the moon skims especially low over the southern hills. It seems to dance along them”. This doesn’t explain why in the second OS survey of the area (in 1898) there seems to be a track running right through the middle (had stones been removed?) and a Bench Mark (89.1ft) incised potentially into one of these ‘druidical remains’! I am pleased to report the track swings to the west of the circle and I could not find this OS graffito (also, neither track nor this particular BM, are recorded on the first survey: 1849-52).The short walk south from stone circle to shore-line passes the recorded ‘sites’ of two other Bench Marks and a ‘trigonometrical station’ (triangle with a dot in the centre), which appears on both maps at the summit of a mound titled ‘Cnoc an Tursa’. I’m not sure what would have been used to mark the place at the time, there is no ‘trig point’ extant (as we would know it), but a careful perusal did reveal a faint Bench Mark in roughly the right place.I have been trying to untangle what it is about B.M.s that I find so entrancing, I know why I’m drawn to contour lines, but there’s something about a mark hewn in a landscape that when repeated on a map – in roughly the same shape and form (vastly reduced size obviously) – beguiles. They served a purpose: fixing altitudes, and were incorporated for 100 years or so, although I have discovered neither start nor end date, nor why that particular symbol was enlisted; indeed in the landscape its format changes a great deal, if the site is not vertical it may be devoid of horizontal top bar. According to Jochta: Used and made from the 1800s to around 20 years ago… A familiar horizontal levelling line with a three-line arrow pointing towards it (usually upwards). Each one is unique depending on the mason who cut it, some are plain, some decorated. Some roughly cut, some exquisitely cut with high accuracy. Whilst I’m busy with the questions: is this symbol a particularly OS British/Irish thing?

The only Bench Mark (39.6) to appear on both 1st and 2nd edition of the 6” maps is on the corner of ‘Callernish Inn’ (1st) or ‘Post Office’ (2nd) and is – as with so many B.M.s in Scotland – sadly lost beneath a rough coat of pebble-dash.Bringing us to the B.M. on the beach mentioned in a previous post, it doesn’t appear on the 2nd edition, so I presumed it washed away by storm and tide. According to the Modern OS Explorer Series (458), the beach is made up of boulders, loose rock and mud, which is what you see (under a hefty carpet of sea-weed). We scrambled across to the visibly biggest boulder, and whilst I skidded around its base searching at ‘knee-height’, Cal and Julia leapt to the top and: Huzzah! There it was.

About karenrann

Karen is a visual artist drawn to working from a sense of place
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8 Responses to Bench Marks Revisited

  1. chicabika says:

    Lovely entry Karen. I’ve visited Callainish a few times when I’ve been over to visit family on Harris. It’s an amazing place.
    Also had a lifelong love of BM’s and their significance. Have fun on your PhD adventure X

    Liked by 1 person

  2. karenrann says:

    Many thanks and will do!


  3. Judith says:

    I’ve recently become fascinated by Benchmarks. That’s for reassuring me I am not alone!

    Pebbledash is the work of the Devil.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. annalawrence1967 says:

    I love the post Karen, especially accompanied by map snippets. Isn’t it interesting that the OS used to call ‘stone circles’ ‘Druidical circles’. Perhaps the same mentality (subjective moving to objective) underlies the shift to calling ‘cairns’ ‘piles of stones’ which I find quite bizarre.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Looking for Meaning | The Great Lines

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