For one night only, Hillfort Live! is reinventing the tribute act for the 21st century, by taking it all the way back to the 3rd century – BC.

At Oswestry’s Hermon Arts Centre on February 13, the Iron Age will become the new rock and roll for an evening of entertainment celebrating Old Oswestry.

Hillfort Live_poster_REV_4Feb

Expect the unconventional as musicians and performers doff their artistic hats to Oswestry’s iconic hillfort, recently dubbed the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’.

The eclectic programme of music and performance, with a tinge of comedy, is part of the Old Oswestry Hillfort Hug Weekend organised by campaign group, HOOOH, and running February 13 to 14.

The line-up includes The Improetry Collective, a collaboration of musicians with Neil McKeown performing classic poetry with a hillfort twist.

There will also be improvised drama making reference to the hillfort from Pimp$ouls, aka Terry and Dru Cripps. Newly formed Oswestry Jazz Orchestra will be performing modern jazz and improvisations.

Old Oswestry textures will also feature in original tracks written by Guy Turner, and the Iron Age meets electronica and drum and bass in compositions performed by producer, Envelope.

In ‘An Audience with Old Oswestry’, musician and T-shirt philosopher, Neil Phillips, will take an alternative look at the hillfort’s current woes over planned housing in its back garden.

This prehistoric night out to remember starts at 7.30pm and admission is free.

More details at or ring 01691 670003.

Two images of hundreds of protestors at a hillfort. Can you spot the crucial difference?

Feb Puzzle

Well, the top one is the surroundings of Cissbury Rings, West Sussex and the lower one is Oswestry, Shropshire. But the difference is more than that. At the top one the Council promptly listened to the democratic voice and abandoned its sell-off plans. At the bottom one Shropshire Council not only ignored the democratic voice but also the combined voices of a host of national and international experts.

For reasons it still hasn’t explained it insists that a County with less than half a million people and 860,000 acres to choose from MUST build houses on one particular tiny spot where it will do maximum damage.

Back in November we highlighted another instance of heritage being safer in West Sussex than Shropshire) which prompted Oswestry Hillfort campaigner Dr George Nash to write: “I have just asked the Chairman of West Sussex Council if Old Oswestry Hillfort and its surrounding landscape can be incorporated into West Sussex. We want this ancient site to be administered by a useful, honest and progressive cultural heritage team”.  The above two pictures illustrate why that would be a damn good thing.

We continue our look at the ‘Neolithic M1‘, which stretches from Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk across country to Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Having followed the Peddars Way south from Holme-next-the-Sea down to Knettishall Heath near Thetford, we now pick up the Icknield Way.


..winding with the chalk hills through Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, and Wiltshire, it runs south-westwards from East Anglia and along the Chilterns to the Downs and Wessex; but the name is mysterious. For centuries it was supposed to be connected with the East Anglian kingdom of the Iceni: Guest confidently translated it as the warpath of the Iceni, and connected it with the names of places along its course, such as Icklingham, Ickleton, and Ickleford.

Excerpt From: Thomas, Edward, 1878-1917. “The Icknield Way.”

Today, the Icknield Way is part of the Greater Ridgeway long-distance path, but the actual extent of the original Icknield Way is open to debate. The acknowledged trail stretches from Knettishall Heath to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, but stretches of the trail south of here are also marked on the O.S. map variously as the Chiltern Way, Ridgeway and Icknield Way. Indeed, there is an Icknield Farm just NW of Goring where the path appears to terminate.

Starting our journey from Knettishall Heath, on the heath itself a kilometre or so to the east is Hut Hill, upon which stands a well-preserved bowl barrow, which stands to a height of about 0.5m and covers a roughly circular area with a maximum diameter of 32m. Further east is a similar barrow in Brickkiln Covert, whilst just a couple of kilmetres to the West, and north of the Little Ouse river stand the Seven Hills tumuli at Rushford. These are oddly named as only 6 barrows remain in this cemetery area.

The trail heads west from here, before dropping south through the ‘King’s Forest’ to West Stow, where a reproduction Anglo Saxon village (and museum) is sited. We visited here in 2014. Another Seven Hills barrow cemetery is located a couple of kilometres west at Rymer though this one has not fared as well as the one at Rushford, with only faint traces of four barrows remaining.


From West Stow the trail crosses the River Lark and heads southwest, toward Newmarket, and skirting the town to the south. The modern long distance path deviates from a natural line here to follow the modern roads (and bypass the town) but in prehistoric times I have no doubt that a straighter track would have been the preferred route. Throughout this section, there are various early medieval earthworks; Black Ditch, Devil’s Dyke etc, all crossing the trail at approximately right-angles. It’s been suggested that these were territorial markers, demarking portions of the old route. There are very few prehistoric burial sites on this stretch of the trail, though there are several moated houses, many dating back to medieval times.

Continuing southwest, we cross the River Granta at Linton, and a short distance east are the enigmatic Bartlow Hills – an early Roman barrow cemetery quite unlike any other I’ve seen, in that the barrows seem disproportionately tall compared to their circumference. The highest of the hills is 15 metres tall, but these days the site is shrouded by trees and it is easy to miss them.


From Bartlow, the modern trail heads west toward Royston, departing somewhat from what would have been the original route, and crossing the River Cam at Great Chesterford, just south of Ickleton village and the Roman Road which is now the modern A11 road. We’ll halt at Royston for a while, and pick up the trail in the next installment.



Long ago, via a proxy, The Journal bought a copy of the ARCHI UK database (the site finding system for detectorists). We hope The Archaeological Establishment did the same as it contains much food for thought.

Anyway, as subscribers we’ve been sent special advance notification of the fact ARCHI is about to launch “the first British archaeological sites Android App“.They say it will “take us all to the next level when it comes to doing what we love” and have offered us access to a prototype “to discover and explore our nation’s rich heritage!”

But therein lies a profound mystery. We are told that when done responsibly metal detecting is harmless and beneficial. So why would detectorists be being offered details of 190,000 sites of archaeological significance on their phones? To make sure they avoid them?





Alcohol is to be prohibited at Stonehenge solstice celebrations!

No-one can deny it contributes to the all-too-frequent damage and disrespect so this is an excellent, heritage-friendly move.

national celebrations - Copy (2)

We ask only one thing of EH:  please don’t negotiate or compromise by even a thimbleful. A duty to protect is a duty to protect and shouldn’t be subject to negotiation or requests to act otherwise by anyone.

From a correspondent

Whilst the particulars of the short tunnel route being prepared by Highways England remain undisclosed, a radical proposal for a combined bypass for Stonehenge and Salisbury has caused a stir. There is no lack of opinion, despite the lack of detail on exact routes for both proposals.

The scenario could be compared to two much loved relatives that urgently require heart surgery under the NHS. It is proposed, on grounds of cost, that only one relative should be treated and have a stent fitted instead of the heart bypass actually needed, the budget being in place to cover the operation and a team of surgical specialists appointed to investigate how it could be carried out. Then a friend points to a way in which both patients could benefit from a bypass operation, highlighting that the already assigned budget would easily cover the cost and both would be returned to the health and activities they enjoyed thirty years ago. In short, the clock could be turned back, benefitting the lives of not just the patients, but also their wider circle of family and friends plus casual visitors and even future generations.

The scenario could be compared to two much loved relatives that urgently require heart surgery under the NHS. It is proposed, on grounds of cost, that only one relative should be treated and have a stent fitted instead of the heart bypass actually needed, the budget being in place to cover the operation and a team of surgical specialists appointed to investigate how it could be carried out. Then a friend points to a way in which both patients could benefit from a bypass operation, highlighting that the already assigned budget would easily cover the cost and both would be returned to the health and activities they enjoyed thirty years ago. In short, the clock could be turned back, benefitting the lives of not just the patients, but also their wider circle of family and friends plus casual visitors and even future generations.

Imagine that at this point the neighbours of each of the sick relatives, along with the local M.P, take sides as to which operation should be performed on whom. Were this situation being played out in a reality TV show, media and wider public interest would be giving rise to questions. Why have the relevant authorities and now two charities issued a joint promotional film pushing for a particular operation that would not be the best outcome for a patient in their care? Why are all so focused on an operation for just one of the patients when both could benefit from a common operation? Why are stances being adopted that aren’t in the best interests of all of those in need?

The apparent wish list for tackling traffic congestion either side of Stonehenge appears to include the following: road safety and improved traffic flow, faster journey times between London and the West Country, reduction of rat-running, and the financial cost and effect on the local, regional and national economies and, last of all and not first as it ought to be, impact on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. What isn’t on this list at all is eradicating the current free view of the stones to enhance the milking of the English Heritage Trust’s cash cow, removing a strip of tarmac from National Trust land in invitation to establish their own visitor centre, saving the local M.P. from a fall-out with his party’s whips or giving David Cameron a send-off without a U-turn.

Whether the combined Stonehenge/Salisbury bypass operation is adopted as a sound idea or not, far into the future it will enter the history books as marking the point at which important questions arose. Will the answer to those questions ultimately be that this present generation were largely only interested in themselves?

By Alan S and Sandy Gerrard

“All archaeology is destructive” is a cry often heard from the lesser-spotted metal detectorist trying to defend their hobby. Even Mortimer Wheeler admitted that ‘excavation is merely methodical destruction’.

But how true is this?

Whilst it’s true that some field archaeology can be destructive, it’s surely more accurate to say that all archaeology is instructive. In terms of excavation techniques, it’s certainly true to say that carefully scraping away soil to reveal the hidden mysteries contained below is more rewarding than blindly shovelling earth to grab at hoped for treasures!

So to qualify that, in this short series let’s take a brief look at some of the different types of archaeology practised today and outline what each type involves.

Desk Based Archaeology

The phrase ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’, used by Sir Isaac Newton (but with a much earlier origin), is used to describe the practise of research by referring to, and building upon the work of others. A large part of desk-based archaeology is based upon this principle, and should involve meticulous reference to previous research, excavation reports etc. Much of this can be done using a myriad of resources including: the Archaeological Data Service, Heritage Environment Records, libraries, old maps, National and County Record Offices, museums, satellite and aerial imagery, LIDAR or 3D imaging, and extrapolating information therefrom to identify potential new areas of investigation, or to strengthen or extend existing theories. No new excavation or collection of field data is involved, but future excavation plans may result from any findings.

standing giants

Desk based analysis is often carried out to identify the potential for archaeological remains on the site of a planned development and may be used to inform planning decisions and highlight the need for mitigation. Where planning is granted and the archaeology will be destroyed or severely damaged the planning authorities should insist that a programme of archaeological work be carried out by the developer as a condition of permission being granted. In the most extreme instances where a whole site is earmarked for destruction the resultant excavation records will inevitably be the only tangible remains and this scenario is often euphemistically described as ‘preservation by record’. Desk-based archaeology is often the first stage of many archaeology projects, and of itself is not destructive – although as pointed out to me recently, reputations may rise or fall as a result of new interpretations of old data.

Field Work

The next form of archaeological investigation involves getting out and looking at the site or landscape. This is important and offers an opportunity to establish the accuracy or otherwise of the desk based work and enable a fuller understanding of the resource. Many different techniques are available and the most suitable will depend on the character of the surviving archaeology. Where obvious earthworks survive survey work makes an excellent starting point. The production of a plan showing what is there and how all the different elements fit together allows the archaeologist to better understand what they are looking at.

Where they are few or no earthworks other techniques are needed to explore the past and amongst the better known are Geophysical surveys – the ‘Geofizz’ so beloved of Time Team aficionados. Sometimes a combination of earthwork survey and Geofizz can produce extraordinary results without causing any damage to the archaeology.

A third form of fieldwork which does inevitably erode the archaeological resource and can only be carried out within recently ploughed or cultivated fields is field walking which involves a planned traverse of the site on foot, looking for any artefacts (small finds) that may have been ploughed up to the surface. The Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up to record and interpret small finds, such as those uncovered by metal detectorists, activities such as informal field walking, and other chance finds. But in most cases field walking will be part of a larger project, and any finds will normally be documented as part of that project. Whilst field-walking itself is not necessarily destructive, it can lead to loss of information and ‘context’, if not properly planned and recorded.


There are many types of Geophysical survey, and indeed, metal detectors are but one tool in the geophysicist’s armoury. Most Geofizz tools work in a similar way, by sending electromagnetic signals into the ground and measuring the responses to build up a picture of any features which may be hidden below. Electro-magnetic resistivity and ground penetrating radar are the most common forms, with sonar being used for underwater archaeology sites. Whilst not destructive in and of itself, Geofizz aids in the project planning process, and is often a precursor to targeted excavation – the topic of the next part of this short series.

by Nigel Swift

Much will be written by professional archaeologists about the latest (and worst) episode, aired last night. Meghan Dennis. an archaeologist at York University, probably wins 3 prizes for succinctness: “The 1st remains of the episode are found. Disclaimers go up. The footage shows they lie”….. “Gun wankfest time” …. “Overall, this show continues to be a cesspool of bad practice, unethical excavation, and poor science and outreach.”  (A fourth prize for succinctness should go to a Ryan Grove for an unwittingly relevant tweet: If you want to know who the assholes are in a community, suggest the adoption of a code of conduct. It’s like asshole kryptonite.”)

However, while lack of technique is a matter for comment by experts, lack of decency is something we’re all entitled to protest about so here’s my even more succinct characterisation of the series: “A horrible subject treated horribly.”

Nevertheless, I hope anger over the actions of three British detectorists abroad doesn’t divert attention from the less overtly obnoxious but cumulatively far more damaging bad practice by thousands of others at home. A small minority of nighthawks has performed that service for years. An even smaller number of Nazi War Diggers shouldn’t be allowed to do the same. A massive non-reporting rate, farmers ripped off and EBay chock-a-block all warrant the attention of archaeologists too. Self evidently, outreach has only reached the reachable. Here’s one solution:

Ethical detector.

But assuming that can’t be done then the only solution to bad practice in both Latvia and Loughborough is to call for laws which make good practice mandatory instead of voluntary. Occam’s Razor, anyone?





Dr Sandy Gerrard’s ongoing series of posts concerning stone row alignments, and their associated landscape tricks and treats have been generally well received here on the Heritage Journal.

Such has been the reaction that a decision has been made to give his articles and associated research a more permanent, focused home. To this end we are delighted to announce the creation of a sister site for the Journal, and new web resource: ‘The Stone Rows of Great Britain‘ which we are working to make public in March 2016.


This new web site will eventually include a full gazetteer of known stone rows covering the length and breadth of Britain, organised on a regional basis – Dartmoor is the first gazetteer area to be completed but other areas will be populated in the coming weeks and months.


There will also be a full analysis of rows by type, length and number of stones available at launch. As time goes on, further information will rapidly be added, including links to other resources, and it is hoped that this site will grow into a major resource and focus for stone row-based study in its own right.


A further announcement (and working link) will be made available closer to launch date, but we wanted to give an early ‘heads-up’ to all those who are interested in this area of study, so watch this space!

The love just grows and grows for Old Oswestry hillfort.

Shropshire councillors may have voted to throw open its ancient landscape to development, but defiant residents will be scaling its ramparts on Valentine’s Day in a hug of protection for the Iron Age icon.

Hug weekend 2016_logo

Following the success of last year’s inaugural hug, campaign group HOOOH is staging a weekend of events embracing the archaeology and landscape of one of Britain’s most celebrated hillforts.

Running February 13 and 14, the Old Oswestry Hug Weekend will include a heritage seminar, craft workshops, art exhibitions, music event, as well as a mass hug of the hillfort itself.

Expanding on its well-received seminar in 2014, HOOOH will be hosting a full day symposium in Oswestry’s Memorial Hall on Saturday 13 February.  Invited speakers will explore Old Oswestry’s multi-faceted archaeology and heritage landscape as well as modern-day planning threats to it.

The hillfort hug will take place from 1pm on Sunday 14 February, culminating in a procession along the ramparts with lights and drums. It attracted over 450 people last year and was supported by a national social media campaign, #hugyourheritage, created by the Council of British Archaeology.

HOOOH is also delighted to announce that the hug event is being supported by a number of local artists with an exciting series of exhibitions under the banner ‘Artists Hugging Old Oswestry Hillfort’ (AHH!).

AHH logo white background

Members of art groups, Inside Out Art and Borderland Visual Arts, are busy creating artwork, including paintings, sculpture, textiles and jewellery, inspired by the 3,000-year-old monument and its landscape. Many will be on display in time for the hug weekend.

From February 1 to April 4, Oswestry’s Heritage & Visitor Centre will be showing an exhibition of AHH! work entitled ‘Views of, and on, Old Oswestry Hillfort’.

Sketch by artist Holly Hayward depicting Lady Guinevere hugging the hillfort and clutching Oswald’s tree.

Sketch by artist Holly Hayward depicting Lady Guinevere hugging the hillfort and clutching Oswald’s tree.

Oswestry arts venue, Hermon, will also be showcasing a number of AHH! installations during February and will be hosting drum and light-making workshops on February 6 and 13. It is also staging ‘Hillfort Live’, an evening of ‘hillfort-centric’ music and performance on February 13 from 7.30pm.

A third exhibition will run at Oswestry’s Willow Gallery from April 23 to May 21, incorporating photos and film of this year’s hug.

Campaigner Dr George Nash said: “This is yet again another extremely visual display by the people of Shropshire and the Borderlands showing their support for this iconic monument. Let’s hope Shropshire Council with its new leader can see and hear what the people are saying, which is simply ‘No’ to development.”

Llanarmon-based artist Diana Baur, spokesperson for AHH!, said: “Local artists are making works that reference the hillfort, visually expressing its importance for future generations and the fight to protect its setting. Plans are being laid for the exhibition to then travel further afield linking to other areas where our national heritage is threatened.”

HOOOH is campaigning against the reassignment of the hillfort’s eastern hinterland – and heart of Oswestry’s heritage gateway – for an estate of 117 houses. Despite overwhelming opposition and calls from the highest echelons of British archaeology to reject the development, it was recently approved by Shropshire Council on the SAMDev local plan.

*Anyone interested in stewarding at the hillfort hug can contact HOOOH on 01691 652918


February 2016
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