ISBN 0268 8468

By Norman Fahy

It has been a conscious decision not to mindlessly recycle the large amount of previously published material on this site, but to present (albeit in edited form) my findings from active field study. Inevitably, there will be opposition to some of the concepts presented: I would welcome amicable dialogue with those with complementary knowledge of the site. I have no academic reputation to spoil, but my statements are made only after careful consideration and in a balanced frame of mind.

The Derbyshire henge monument known today as “Arbor Low” has attracted me like a magnet for ten years. My first encounter was in a “pea soup” fog which made locating the site difficult, though by instinct, I entered via the southern entrance and discovered an affinity hard to describe. I was greeted with a totally “still” environment, shrouded with fog which enclosed the site like a cocoon – nothing beyond the henge bank was visible, and only the distant lowing of cattle could be heard.

Since then, I have actively dowsed the area, made countless visits in all weathers and seasons, and hardly a day passes without me reflecting upon a site has become an integral part of me as a person. I am indebted to my good friend, Paul Limb, for his input over many years, particularly as an independent dowser and patient surveyor.

Part of the study of Arbor Low has included a radiation survey carried out by Paul and I in the early 1980’s which formed part of the “Gaia Programme” (a nationwide extension of the Ley Hunter’s “Dragon Project”) which entailed measuring radioactive emissions within and around selected ancient monuments in the U.K. Our results revealed a point of considerably low radioactivity within the henge, although other features of the survey showed peaks of activity in each cardinal direction. The following article is an assessment of past and current thinking, and hopes to generate a fresh perspective upon an ancient enigma.

Early antiquarians visiting the Derbyshire Peak District refer to the Druidical remains of “Arbelows” – this correctly includes the henge-circle with its Bronze Age barrow added to the earthwork bank, a smaller mound a short distance south-east of the main monument, and the tumulus formerly known as “Bunker’s Hill” or “Gib Hill”, a thousand feet distant to the south-west. This tumulus began as a pyre upon which an elongated clay structure was raised consisting of four separate mounds – this was subsequently overlaid by a later Bronze Age barrow which, contained a stone box (cist) with a small urn filled with cremated human remains. The whole appears today as an unusual cone of earth clearly visible from many directions. This overview omitted additional features which, made Arbelows a composite of structures forming a complete ritual site – primarily, the curved bank and ditch which extends the south-west arm of the henge outward and seemingly hooking around Gib Hill, a secondary half-constructed henge to the west of the main structure, and the existence of several ancient due dew ponds.

Arbelows cannot be viewed in isolation from contemporary structures surviving in the landscape of the White Peak and elsewhere in the British Isles. Although the broader view must be observed, only local monuments will be discussed in this article. Also, the time scale involved in the construction of Arbelows covers an overlap of cultures – crudely speaking, Neolithic and Bronze Age (circa 3000 – 500 BC).

Our main interest lies with the Neolithic people who raised the “Megalithic” monuments which includes Ringing Low, Minning Low, Green Low and Five Wells/Chelmorton Low, all of which are relatively close to Arbelows. There is, however, a duplicate henge to the north known as “The Bull Ring” which may have served as a ritual centre for other tribes. Although these sites contained burials of one sort or another, the aspects of ritual and communal activity are evident from archaeological finds. Fieldwalks in the early 1980’s revealed dense areas of Neolithic occupation to the south-west of Arbelows in the areas of Gratton Moor, Elton Common, Upper House Farm and Green Low. Therefore, the ritual areas lay separately, though in easy reach of the settled communities.

How these early people designated sites suitable for burial and ritual can be readily seen upon countless hilltops in the Peak – tumuli appear like pimples, marking burials of ancient dignitaries on each summit. Arbelows, however, lies on a north-facing slope of Middleton Common, and not on the highest ground. Despite this, the site is visible from the north, south and west, though less so to the east. Many pilgrims to the site in early times quite likely used the trade route later developed by the Romans as the road to Aqua Arnemetiae (Buxton). The henge bank and Gib Hill are conspicuous on the skyline (and particularly so in ancient times – owing to their whiteness, having been recently excavated).

This, it seems, was not the only consideration given by the Neolithic folk when choosing the sacred area. Certain astronomical events could be observed using distant horizons as “markers” for accurate dating. But also the bedrock beneath the thin soil has special meaning – fractured limestone carries fast flowing water as underground streams (aquifers); these can be detected using dowsing: the direction, depth, quantity and quality can all be plotted and assessed using the divining rod.

The henge has revealed certain startling features relating to the to the earthwork and the ring of stones within the central plateau. There is a concentration of aquifers criss-crossing the focal point of the monument known as the Cove – the strongest of which passes beneath the original setting of stone 52 (owing to collapse, the stone base has shifted northwards). Apart from the obvious convergence of streams upon the centre of the henge, other features have been detected such as missing stone positions – these may have been smaller than the surviving, and so easy prey for walling gangs following the Enclosure Acts of the mid –18th century. Also, post-holes have been detected which suggest there once existed a form of shelter possibly constructed of thin timber staves covered with skins connecting with Cove structure. It is unclear whether the shelter predates the stone ring or was erected during the henge’s heyday. However, a horseshoe shaped earthwork survives outlining the position.

The apparent formation of missing stones shows a distinct widdershins spiral; this extends from the southern entrance crossing an accommodating portion of the plateau – passing stones 11, 10 and 9 on the way. This spiral may indicate a processional route towards the cove. The correct way of entering the henge to perform this ritual is from the south, possibly following the line of the linear bank until it joins the main earthwork. This bank described by Pegge as “a low rampire of earth with several breaks in it, running across the field” has for many years, puzzled both academic and layman alike. Again, dowsing suggests that the bank curving until it completes an irregular connecting with the henge bank to the north. This “enclosure” marks a sacred landscape, which can be properly termed ARBELOW.

Aerial photography has helped in supporting this theory by showing how sections of the enclosure are fossilized as field boundaries. Also, photographs taken as the sun rises or sets show subtle markings on the ground by throwing them into sharp relief. Unfortunately, the land over which most this feature passes has been subject to extensive ploughing, and so, today, no visible remains exist. Only the possibility of features appearing as “crop marks” during drought conditions will confirm this hypothesis. There exists only a small section of relatively untouched land surrounding the henge to the north – this shows signs of a faint bank and ditch joining the main monument. Earthworks considerably ploughed-out in a field in a field to the west may suggest even further structures within this sacred area. A southerly approach to the henge would have been via the ancient trackway, spurring off to follow the enclosure bank until reaching the southern entrance. From the north, aroute from the dales of Cales and Lathkill is possible, entering the enclosure oddly enough along the same line as today’s track to Upper Oldham’s Farm. The source of the circle stones is also likely to be from Lathkill Dale where the river head surges from a cave spring.

Clearly, early man was concerned with act of “enclosing” and harnessing; the henge, stone circle and ring-cairn are proof of this concept. Massing of peakland communities at high days needed clear routes to follow if ritual procession was to be conducted properly. The low enclosure bank acted as a form of demarcation, which stated “this is sacred land – please use the correct entrances”. On entering the henge spiral procession extended outward towards Gib Hill and back to the henge, possibly culminating with ritual at the cove. This is, of course, all speculation, but previous authors have tended to treat each monument in isolation, unaware of the topography of the area. A combination of solid archive-combing, serious survey work and a little intuitive thinking has resulted this new approach to understanding Derbyshire’s greatest prehistoric site.


Barnatt, J., 1978 Stone circles of the Peak. Turnstone Books.

Bateman, T., 1978 Ten years diggings. (reprint). Moorland Publishing Co.

Garton, D. & Bestwick, P., 1983 ‘The survey and excavation of a neolithic settlement area at Mount Pleasant, Kenslow 1980-1983.’ Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Vol CIII

Gray, H., 1907 ‘Arbor Low excavations’. Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Vol. 26.

Marsden, B., 1977 The burial mounds of Derbyshire. Privately Published.

Pegge, Rev., 1783 ‘A desquisition on the lows and barrows in the Peak of Derbyshire particularly that capital British monument called Arbelows.’ Archaeolgia. Vol 7.

Paul responds 11/06/10:
“I’m so pleased you are going to put these results to good use, they deserve it. We were really in there at the dawn of this type of research, and it would be great to get confirmation from other dowsers who must have found the same results since we dowsed the site. The dowsing looks as good today as when we first surveyed the site. Strangely I’ve been visiting Arbor Low a lot in my mind recently. That foggy visit was really quite haunting, and the memory clearly lives on with you.”

I recall that I got spirals from the word go, these to me seemed so strong that I had to consciously alter my mind set to locate underground water courses and missing stones etc. At this early time, I didn't know of Guy Underwood, and was more than a bit confused with my results. After actually seeing a copy of ‘The Pattern in the Past’,and his results, written so early on, I knew instinctively the spirals I was locating by dowsing were indeed actually also found by other dowsers.
These `fields`, or the meeting points of differing fields, (possibly positive and negative in some way), were dowsable, but what were they? Maybe the pattern of the local magnetic field ?
It was later when I came to the conclusion that they were, but also had a relationship to some other unidentified energy, connected with the water courses beneath these ancient sites.
Later dowsing results at other sites confirmed that these spirals were what I was to instinctively to find again and again. The Rollrights stone circle had some of the strongest reactions being almost a perfect spiral in fact a double spiral.