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The Project

Nine Standards is one of the few truly iconic sites in Upper Eden. Until very recently nothing was known about them, except local stories and suppositions, plus a few questionable theories. No archaeologist or antiquarian had reported any research on them; so either nothing of interest had been found, or no work had been done. Yet there they were, an impressive and enduring monument. Then in 2005 the East Cumbria Countryside Project commissioned a desk study * and paid for the rebuilding of the five northern cairns, which were in a dangerous state of collapse. This was followed in 2008 by a full length book ** detailing five years of research on the Nine Standards, and the present project is a follow-up on these two initiatives.  
The present project has two related objectives. First, to fund non-intrusive research that will determine beyond reasonable doubt whether the major features on Nine Standards Rigg reflect archaeology or lithology. The cairns are now known to be at least 800 years old, maybe more, and so are a valid subject for archaeological study; other features of the site may simply reflect geology, as some claim, but they may also be archaeological features of considerable age.

Second, to publicise these findings to a wider public, on this website but also on information boards at access points. In this way, visitors will come to understand the cultural value of the site, to respect the monuments and not to damage the area to the detriment of future generations. The site already receives a constant stream of walkers, from every direction, throughout the year. Even in the worst winter weather, there are always a few people up there. But this traffic causes problems; footpaths erode, stones are removed and used to build mini-cairns; vegetation is trampled, breeding birds and animals are disturbed; litter and other deposits are dumped. Both archaeology and publicity are educational issues, and the project seeks to address them directly, for the benefit of all.

A recent study from Action with Communities in Cumbria (ACT), warns that deprivation in rural Cumbria is higher than anywhere else in England.  The worst areas are Allerdale, Eden, Copeland and South Lakes, with the first two districts the hardest-hit. Upper Eden is slowly attracting more visitors because of the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast walking routes, and this is stimulating the growth of many small businesses, but the area lacks iconic foci, and the ones it has - like Nine Standards - are not well understood.
A survey in 2010 by Eden District Council's Economy and Tourism department, of people in Eden District, found that the view they most loved in all the area is that of the Nine Standards, standing guard over the Eden Valley, above Kirkby Stephen and visible for many miles. But too little is actually known about them. The purpose of this project is to date the cairns and surrounding features, so we can educate visitors and locals alike about the history and geography of Nine Standards and the people who built them, helping to conserve the area's archaeology and environment.

As part of the project two information boards will be erected - one near Nine Standards and one at Frank's Bridge, Kirkby Stephen, where there is a good view of the cairns.  This website will also be kept up to date with information about the cairns and their context, with links to other relevant local websites.  

Archival references date these nine dry stone cairns to the 12th or early 13th century but they are thought to be very much older than this, possibly Bronze Age or even earlier.   If this project were to establish a Bronze Age or Neolithic origin for the cairns and other already identified structures, then this would be of national, indeed international, significance.  The wider cultural significance of the cairns, and their iconic status, if an earlier date and increased importance can be established, will be an uplift to the whole of the local economy in this area of upland rural deprivation.

For first report of work completed in the summer see: August 2012

For the second report of work completed in the autumn see: December 2012

For the final report of work completed see: December 2014

* Oxford Archaeology North     **  Stephen Walker's book 'Nine Standards'

A review of Nine Standards and the present project appeared in the Spring 2012 Newsletter of the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society. A scanned version of the page is included here:


We already have quite a few friends who are helping with the project but more needed - please see the friends page for more information about becoming a friend or helping with the project.

To see copies of the original documents mentioned on the History page, see the documents page.

To read an exploration of the linguistic background of Nine Standards, see the what's in a name page.

There are quite a few old maps which mention Nine Standards and these can be found on the mapspage.

Nine Standards is a wonderfully photogenic place from any angle and we have added photographs to many of the pages of this website.


    Copyright © Friends of Nine Standards, 2011