Locating Lindow Man

Wilmslow Man, as displayed in the British Museum

Whilst in Cheshire last weekend, on non-mistletoe business in Wilmslow, we took the opportunity to visit Lindow Moss, the peatbog where the bog body known as Lindow Man (and also, sometimes, as plain Pete Marsh) was discovered in 1984. The discovery of some mistletoe material in his gut, and some of the over-fanciful interpretations of that, has been discussed by me in the diary before – see 2009 and 2011 – and I thought it would be interesting to visit, or as close we could get, to where he was found.

And also to explore the wider Lindow Moss area a little, as this is steeped in old traditions, and is best known to many through the children’s books by Alan Garner, especially Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath which are based on the Lindow and, on the other side of Wilmslow town, Alderley Edge areas.  There’s no mistletoe in the books though (maybe Alan Garner missed a trick there).

Lindow Moss – click to enlarge

We were staying at the Wilmslow Premier Inn, a motel adjoining Hickory’s Smokehouse (which offers ‘good old fashioned Southern hospitality’) and which sits in-between Lindow Moss and Lindow Common. Both buildings would make Lindow Man spin in his grave, if he was still in it. A temple to modern eating-out, with a huge carpark filled to overflowing all through the weekend. We didn’t partake of the food there, though I did scan the menu – and was disappointed there were no last request mistletoe side-salads on offer. Not that I believe that that (or similar) is what Pete Marsh may have eaten, but many people seem to want to!

To the west of the motel complex is Lindow Moss proper, once a raised peat bog, now much drained and altered though peat extraction and, another aspect that would bother Pete Marsh, a (now closed) landfill site. Not the wild environment one might have expected. It’s not clear, on site, whether peat extraction still continues but as this was largely to get peat for garden compost, a concept now very out of fashion even in horticultural circles, it may have reduced or even ceased. The lake on the moss area, known as Rossmere, is surrounded by fishing points, a concept Lindow Man could, perhaps, identify with, though not in such numbers!

Fairy lights overhead on the Rossmere track

The track alongside that lake is, rather weirdly, criss-crossed with electric fairy lights, perhaps to guide the angling fraternity in for night-fishing? To the south is what’s left of the Moss proper, much overgrown with birch scrub and looking very gloomy on a wet November afternoon.  My understanding is that the body was discovered in this area, a little way to the south-west of the trackway. There’s not much to see!

What’s left of the peat bog at Lindow Moss, looking south from Rossmere. The bog body site was somewhere on the far right, towards the trees.

The management of the area has, certainly in the relatively recent past, been the subject of much campaigning, particularly relating to water level management and fulfilment of planning conditions. See, for example, the news reports here and here. The current status of these concerns was not immediately obvious on site.  But maintaining a suitable water level should be essential, both to conserve the ecology of the area (some of which is classified SSSI, other parts a local nature reserve but all very biodiverse) and, arguably, to conserve any remaining archaeology, especially bog bodies.

There may be no others of course, but Lindow Man wasn’t the first found, and not the last either. Part of another body was found nearby in 1983, a year before Lindow Man. Just skull fragments, thought to be female and eventually named Lindow Woman or just Lindow I (our man is technically known as Lindow II). Lindow I was initially considered a possible murder victim and tentatively identified as a local missing woman – the discovery leading to a confession (and a conviction, based on that confession) from the man who had killed her, as he had disposed of his victim nearby. But the remains were not that victim, they were about 2000 years too old, similar to Lindow Man. No mistletoe was implicated this time (though with no stomach found to analyse, maybe there could have been? There’s a whole new concept for archaeological speculators to explore there!).  There were also parts of a third body, Lindow III, discovered in 1987. There could be more remains out there somewhere.

Lindow Common, on the other, Wilmslow side, of the motel site is a very popular area of suburban lowland heath, centred on a lake.  It attracts lots of people, even in last weekend’s rain, walking on well maintained paths. The central lake, now known as Black Lake, gives its name to the area: Black Lake = Llyn Dhu = Lindow.  Fans of the Garner books will recognise the reference – and its shifting names – from when the children ask a policeman where it is.  The lake today, restored and deepened some years ago, is now very calm and unthreatening, the low netting fencing around it preventing ready access to people and dogs, resulting in some amazingly tolerant water birds, unafraid of human proximity.

No mistletoe anywhere to be seen of course.  This area isn’t in mistletoe’s main growing areas, so any plants nearby are likely to be in gardens rather than in the countryside. Whether Lindow Man/Lindow II/Pete Marsh’s mistletoe ingestion – deliberate or otherwise – was from local mistletoe at the time will never be known.

If Lindow Man could time travel to the site today he would, as well as being astonished by the motel, restaurant, cars and people, also be terrified by the noise. This is just a mile away from Manchester airport’s main runway, so there is a continual background noise of planes taking off. Despite that the area is, economically, very affluent – this is one corner of the so-called Golden Triangle (the other corners being Alderley Edge itself and Prestbury), also known as the Footballer Belt – expensive houses and the latest and largest new cars abound.

View from Stormy Point, Alderley Edge

The town of Alderley Edge, very comfortable looking and, apparently, with one of the highest proportions of millionaires in the country, is named after the rocky escarpment nearby, itself the site of many ancient – and not-so-ancient – legends. The best-known of these is the Wizard, who lives in a hidden cave guarding the sleeping knights that will save the country when in peril (it may be, imho, about time someone woke a few of those up, but would waking them up make them appropriately woke?). Despite that being  a relatively recent story, apparently not told until 1805, it is now well-established. The edge is littered with caves and mine workings, some quite spectacular, so it is easy imagine such things. There is even, just to get another token mistletoe link in, a ‘druid circle’ – though this dates, apparently, from the 18th century, not from the (allegedly) mistletoe harvesting druids of yore. All very atmospheric and a must for Alan Garner readers, with many landmarks referenced in the books – Stormy Point , the Druid Stones, the Golden Stone, the Wizard Inn (sadly closed, but there is a really Wizard Tearoom behind it) etc. All in the care of the National Trust and with a big car park (for big cars?).

Getting back to mistletoe…  lots of mistletoe info on the main website here

And, if you want to grow your own, take a look at the mistletoe grow-kits available (and on offer for the rest of this month) to order from the English Mistletoe Shop here.