This is a huge dome of outcropping rock dominating surrounding ground. The recent removal of trees, a surrounding fence with gate and sign shows the whole dome to its advantage, gently domed along the line of the sandstone ridge and more sharply from west to east. It is a single outcrop at this level, from the west appearing as a large crag. The whole dome is in three sections; the central area is largely surviving outcrop falling away in all directions, with the flanking north and south portions largely quarried away, remaining as grass-covered edges and hollows.
The overall shape of the dome is similar to that of a large cairn with the rock art around as a decorated skirt, though no burial evidence has been recorded.
The quarrying of the rock is undated, though likely to be Post Medieval, with possible loss of rock art motifs. Early illustrations of the site show cut-out portions with ‘steps’ of straight and sheer edges where rock has been removed, and tool marks can be seen across all areas of the dome.
The surrounding trees and other vegetation which threatened the panel have recently been cleared as a result of an agreement between English Heritage and the landowner. The fence and signpost referred to in the Beckensall Archive notes (which pre-date the current notes) have also been removed and a new information board will be erected in due course.
See Beckensall Archive notes for detailed description.
Roughting Linn is a huge natural, whaleback shape of sandstone outcrop, an elongated domed ridge, 20m long and 12m wide, slightly higher than the land to the NW that flattens out before plunging into a gully formed by two small streams that join before flowing towards the Milfield Plain. It is the largest decorated rock in northern England, and perhaps the most famous.
Roughting Linn was was discovered in 1852 by William Greenwell, who reported its discovery at the meeting of Archaeological Institute in Newcastle in the July of that year. Unfortunately, Greenwell’s report was not published in the two volumes that recorded the meeting. Tate (1865) drew it in the mid-19th century, and a more thorough survey was made by Elizabeth Shee Twohig in 1988. Richard Bradley has noted its similarity to a long barrow, and has commented on the way its motifs are arranged so that large concentric circles form a kerb. The western part has been quarried away, before 1850, and a large slab has been removed across its width. There is still one cup and multiple circle motifs on a surviving part to the west and although the south is gouged with mainly natural grooves, there are cups and rings there too, so this decorated kerb idea is sound. Apart from its size and the fact that it just happened to be there, natural erosion on the southern part may have attracted artificial additions, a factor seen also at sites like Old Bewick. The decorated kerb concept is one shared with Irish Passage Grave art, although the circumstances are different, for this is undisturbed outcrop rock and not panels arranged in an artificial structure.
In the area between the outcrop and the gully are the multiple ramparts and ditches of an enclosure that cuts off the promontory to the NW. The small waterfall is formed by the Broomridgedean Burn falling over a ledge. Where it falls into a pond is a place both sheltered and beautiful, with small cliffs rising on either side, one with an overhang. To any group of people who regarded water as an object of veneration, this could well have been a special place. Despite the tarmacadam road that cuts the triangular promontory, at its base, the area has a lingering timelessness. The rock, the enclosure and the burn look west to the valley that leads to the Milfield Plain. To the east the views are impeded by higher ground, and to the SE the land rises to Doddington North Moor. Goatscrag Hill may have been visible, as it is partially today, from the rock. Just before the water tumbles over the ledge to cascade into the pool, there is some substantial outcrop covered by grass, and it would be interesting to see if this is marked in any way.
The rock at Roughting Linn has another tale to tell, for it reflects the inexplicable reluctance of the archaeological establishment to look after it. Here we have one of the most important pieces of rock art in the world, and it has a crumbling, ancient, irrelevant notice board of remarkable ugliness. To my knowledge (Stan Beckensall), in over 20 years there has been only one visit to ascertain the problems of erosion on the site, and no report or action followed. There are small trees pushing roots into the rock. Of course the site is beautiful, but how safe is the rock and its motifs? If the site is to be accessible, which technically it is, why are there no finger posts to guide strangers there? So many people end up at the farm. If there should be some information about it, why not replace the present board with a new one, with a drawing? It is helpful for people who come when the light is poor to see what is on the rock, and this may well help to encourage them not to walk all over it looking for the motifs.
We have a real problem here of recording, evaluation of what might spoil this rock, and of presenting it to interested people. Compared with the amount of money that is, for example, spent on Hadrian's Wall, we are talking peanuts!
Access to the marked rocks is by public rights of way. Should you wish to examine the rock overhangs at Goatscrag Hill, it is a courtesy to ask permission at Roughting Linn Farm. You may approach from the Ford Moss site to the west or from Roughting Linn on the east.
The position is pivotal in the area, lying as it does at the head of the Broomridgedean valley, whose burn flows past the towering north scarp with its overhangs, burials, and the trail of rock art across the top of the ridge, to the now-removed round barrow cemetery at its west end before the Milfield Plain begins. It is linked with the next group of rock art at Hare Law, whose site today does not evoke such aesthetic pleasure, and which lies in a different kind of landscape: more levelled out as it moves east towards the sea.