Context and “setting” are almost everything in the world of megaliths but unfortunately no-one told the twenty first century. Although Hetty Pegler’s Tump (or Uley Long Barrow) was placed with great care at the summit of the Cotswold scarp, its magnificent 40 mile views to the West across the Severn Estuary to the Brecon Beacons are entirely lost due to a narrow belt of trees. At the same time the opposite outlook, that could well have once been bursting with variety and life, is today victim to soulless monoculture, 30 acres of barley so chemically tweaked that hardly a weed or bug is allowed.
The actual setting of the Monument, but for the belt of trees
However, as can be seen in the photograph below, the setting is the least of Hetty Pegler’s problems right now. During repairs in the 19th Century the massive chamber capstones were placed on drystone walls rather than on the large upright stones that would have originally supported them and these have failed (partly due to the weight and partly due to more recent under-digging by vandals). Consequently the barrow has been out of bounds for a long time while finance was secured and rectification work was started. The 19th Century backfilling has been excavated so as to access the chambers from above and provide temporary support to the chamber capstones during consolidation of the supporting walls. The scale of the work can be seen from the volume of stonework on display in the foreground and it is to be hoped that the projected date for completion, next month, doesn’t prove unattainable. The cost must be horrendous and Gloucester County Council and English Heritage are to be commended for undertaking and (hopefully) persevering with the project until it is completed.
Once the chambers are re-opened the monument will once more become one of the most rewarding of all prehistoric destinations. In the meantime, despite the renovation works and the fact the setting is not what it once was it is still a powerful place. As our late and much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt (Treaclechops) wrote after her visit in 2003:
“This is something else. Magnetic, compulsive, binding. Lie back within its grassy bank on summer’s afternoon, and discover a portal to the cosmos.”