Here at last is a fascinating study of the Nine Standards, those well-known, but puzzling landmarks on the skyline above Kirkby Stephen. What was the origin of these nine stone cairns? What was their purpose? Stephen Walker tackles these questions in a scholarly but entertaining way, which carries his readers back through ancient records, maps and place-name studies. His interpretation of these sources will be of interest not only to the fell-walker and local historian but to everyone who enjoys the landscape of the area. Margaret Gowling, Chairman of the Upper Eden History Society.
Standing as sentinels on the Pennine skyline when viewed from the west, the Nine Standards are a puzzling legacy from the past. Are they ancient or modern? Boundary markers, beacons or burial sites? Having known these nine lofty cairns as a presence on the hills since his childhood, Stephen Walker set out to find and present whatever evidence he could to shed light on the history of these tantalising features of the fells.
The book combines assiduous detective work – tracking down every reference to the Nine Standards in historical records – with speculation as to their origins and significance. Stephen Walker succeeds in conveying the excitement of the historical chase, as he followed up obscure references and ventured into the arcane world of medieval archives. He has shown that the Nine Standards are no modern folly (they are named in documents from the sixteenth century) and plays with a range of possible origins from the prehistoric to the medieval centuries. Whether or not his speculations are accepted, he has done a valuable service in scouring the archives and bringing together the scattered references to the Nine Standards. Dr Angus J L Winchester, Senior Lecturer in History, Lancaster University.
One of the best-known but most puzzling features of the Upper Eden landscape is explored in a new book by Dr Stephen Walker.
'Nine Standards: Ancient Cairns of Modern Folly?' is a well-researched and entertaining account of all that is known about the nine stone monuments which stand on the skyline above Kirkby Stephen.
A native of the town, Dr Walker was brought up at Riverside, facing the Nine Standards, and despite having since lived all over the world, he has retained strong links to the town...
"I wanted to buy a book about the Nine Standards and read about them. I looked and looked and found that there wasn't one," said Dr Walker.
A thorough trawl through almost all the existing written material on the monuments followed, with Dr Walker gaining special permissions and reader's tickets to access museum archives, parchments and manuscripts on the subject.
Some of the earliest references to the Nine Standards believed to be in existence and to date back to the 12th century have proved elusive and Dr Walker has not ruled out the possibility of a 'sequel', if these come to light.
The result is what he describes as a 'framework, setting out what is known at present'. The book has been well received by those with an interest in the history of the area. Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, November 2008
Like his parents and grandparents, Dr Stephen Walker is from Kirkby Stephen, and lived at Riverside in full view of the Nine Standards. After Appleby and Kirkby Stephen Grammar Schools, he was educated at the Universities of London, Cranfield and Birmingham, and joined the Directorate of Overseas Surveys, working for over 30 years in Central America, Indonesia, Nepal, the Solomons, Cameroon and elsewhere, before coming home.
On retirement, his interest in Westmorland local history was rekindled, and the Nine Standards presented a special challenge. Schoolboy Latin and fluent French were useful in tackling the local and national archives; while decades interpreting aerial photographs and satellite imagery for agriculture, fisheries and forestry development gave him access to another research tool; but sadly a doctorate in the engineering hydrology of tropical rice fields was no help at all with the rigours of winter fieldwork on the high fells.
Book cover photograph courtesy of Barry Stacey and Simon Ledingham.