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Stone circle enthusiasts sometimes wish they could have places to themselves rather than having lots of people round them. There’s often not much chance of that at the Rollright stones….

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lots

On the other hand, since the purpose of the Heritage Journal is to raise awareness of such places to promote their conservation, we can hardly complain. The more people that know about them the less likely they’ll be daubed with yellow paint or have the visitors’ hut burned down.

We were also going to add that more money would be available for upkeep but in fact that could be fixed very easily. The admission charge is £1 and that’s simply not enough – most people would surely think £2 or £3 would be appropriate and would be happy to pay that even if a surplus went to charity. Perhaps the odd misery guts would refuse on the grounds entry should be free, but they’re hardly a majority and the truth is the Rollright Stones are so good they’re probably Giffen goods – the higher the price the more people see them as valuable.

Cadw believes a proposed wind farm in Herefordshire would spoil the view from an historic parkland – in Wales! Accordingly, the widening of the only possible access road to the development – which also happens to be in Wales – will depend on an environmental impact assessment and it seems that will conclude that the wind farm will have “an adverse visual impact” on Stanage Park, ergo the road won’t be widened, ergo the wind farm won’t be built. It would be quite a contrast to what has happened back in Cadw’s own back yard (at Mynydd y Betws) where they’ve just seen a massive view-spoiling wind farm built. A pro-wind farm Herefordshire local was heard to murmur: “they be taking the heritage biscuit. Is it ‘cos we’m English?”

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Certainly no-one could accuse the planning system as it operates with respect to wind farms of being entirely consistent and a Planning Inspector dealing with an Appeal at Beechbarrow Farm near Wells has recently added to the difficulty (so far as our reading of his words goes anyway). How do you interpret this, dear reader:

the wind turbine proposed would be visible from the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the boundary of which is relatively close to the appeal site. However, I do not equate visibility from the AONB with harm to its landscape and scenic beauty.

Is that just in the particular case or generally? Is he really saying that a development that’s not within an AONB cannot do harm to it? And is that consistent with the Herefordshire/Cadw case? It’s hard to fathom, but surely the whole essence of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is that it has visual merit – which can be harmed by visible developments?

Continuing our Bank Holiday Heritage Drive from Andover to Salisbury (ignoring the 200 mile round trip from London!) Yesterday we covered our visits to the Museum of the Iron Age and Bury Hill Camp. We now leave Bury Hill Camp behind, heading southwest toward Danebury…

Danebury

I’d heard quite a bit about the entrance to Danebury. How ‘labyrinthine’ it is, how imposing, about how so many bodies had been found in the ditches there. But no-one told me about the uphill climb to get there! Ok, it’s probably not that bad for 99% of people, but when you’ve got dodgy knees, it seems a bit of a hike…

The entrance certainly is imposing. ‘Labyrinthine’ may be over-egging it a little these days, seeing how the pathway is neatly gravelled, allowing no opportunity to get lost as it leads you to the interior. But the banks certainly hide what’s inside. Imagining these with wooden palisades, as seen on the museum mock-up earlier, any visitor would be impressed at the implied power and wealth on display.

Danebury Entranceway

I elected to climb the provided staircase to the top of the bank for my permabulations, unlike others who had clearly decided to forge their own path, causing erosion in the process. It seems that even at a ‘type’ site such as Danebury, all the information boards, outreach and education just cannot get through to some people. As well as the erosion, I saw a fairly large fire pit within the hill fort, by the outer bank.

Danebury Erosion
Danebury Firepit

Once on top of the bank, the scale of the fortifications became readily apparent. Walking around the inner bank, it felt at times as though I had a drop of 100 feet or more into the middle ditch below, a real test of my vertigo, as the bank is also some 20-30 feet above the inside of the fort in places, with quite steep sides.

Danebury Banks

An information board at the entrance to the site suggests that there are at least 7 other hillforts intervisible with Danebury, but as the majority of the site is surrounded by trees, it’s difficult to discern which ones they could be. I also found, on preparing this text, that 500m to the northwest are remains of at least three much older (Neolithic) Longbarrows, mostly ploughed out, none now surviving to a height of more than 1 metre. There are other barrows of various dates to the east and south too. I should have researched more before leaving home as I saw nothing of these…

Traversing across the internal space of the fort, there is a definite ‘high spot’ in the ground, now largely covered by trees. The information board on-site tells us that square structures were found during excavation at this high point – “These buildings were presumably the shrines or temples of the community, and as such would be home to a group of druids” !

On this far side away from the enclosure entrance, I noticed a lot of small squarish holes were the ground had been turned over. Although I saw no evidence of droppings (other than from the sheep which were set to graze in the fort), these could have been done by rabbits, foxes or badgers, or may have a more sinister purpose…

But Tempus was Fugit’ing and I still had a lot to do, so made my way back through the neatly clipped exit and set off back down the hill to the car park for the next stage of our journey.

Danebury exit

In fact, time was against us from now on. Our next scheduled stop was to have been at Figsbury Ring, but as I’ve been here before,  I made an executive decision to skip it and move on.

Old Sarum

I had come to Old Sarum, not to see the hill fort and all it contains (there is an admission charge payable, I did not have sufficient time left in the day to make this worthwhile), but to see something both newer and very much older than the hill fort at the same time. For here, in the car park some experimental archaeology is currently taking place which will have a profound effect on millions of people every year. It is here that the designs, materials and techniques for the Neolithic houses which will be erected at the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre are being worked upon.

Amazingly, as I entered the car park I spotted two old friends of mine that I’d not seen for some years. They were here with their children for an event within the fort later in the day, which was re-enacting a battle between Britons and Saxons, in which the children could take part (and which they thoroughly enjoyed!)

But the houses were what I’d come to see, and I must apologise here to the English Heritage volunteer, whose explanatory talk I interrupted when I arrived to my friends’ surprise.

Neolithic Houses

There are three houses in total, two are essentially complete, one is still being worked upon. The two shown above are based upon post holes discovered in excavations at Durrington Walls, and the third is conjectured, being of a design that leaves little archaeological trace.

Of the two houses built on the post hole traces, different materials are being used on different parts of the houses to see how easy they are to work, how well they last, how efficent at heat retention etc they are. As you can see on the right above, different grasses and types of straw are being tried, in different laying patterns for the roofs. The house on the left has two different wall structures, one made of water, chalk and straw, the other a more traditional daub mix. Surprisingly, the daub wall has needed more ongoing maintenance and patching as it has dried out. Similar comparisons are undergoing trials on the house on the right.

One interesting point with these houses is that although the post arrangements are essentially rectanglar, the houses appear very rounded. This is due to the stresses placed by the weight of the roof causing the walls to ‘bow’ out, something which had not really been considered, or seen in this way before.

Neolithic Grass Houses

The third house is considered to be a possible earlier design, without substansive walls, but a roof that continues to floor level. As with the other house, despite windows the house is remarkable light inside, once your eyes adjust to the lower levels. Again different structuring techniques have been used on this house, as evidenced by the ridges and flat sections of the roof above, and the internal battening seen below.

Neolithic Grass House roof

Although the post hole houses have a series of smaller, internal post holes which have been interpreted as supports for a shelving arrangement, there are no such findings for the simpler buildings. I guess people in grass houses couldn’t stow tomes? (I’ll get me coat…)

But it will be very interesting to see which design elements from these experiments will be used in the final houses to be built at Stonehenge later this year.

Having seen as much as we could, it was time to grab a bite to eat, in the centre of Salisbury (which has extensive Heritage sites of its’ own, enough to fill several days’ visits but outside the remit of the Heritage Journal time period of interest) before heading back to the smoke of London. Whilst we could have driven via Amesbury and Stonehenge, this would have made our return home unfeasibly late, so we took the more direct route, retracing our steps up to Andover and home.

But there’s always next time!

All pictures © Alan S.

Another sunny Bank Holiday, another Heritage Drive!

Although the plan for the day only involved 4 sites in a distance of around 16 miles, the trip was a long one for us, involving a 200 mile round journey to get to those 16 miles, resulting in a trip that took over 12 hours in total and left us exhausted!

So it was that we headed around the M25 and onto the M3 at silly o’clock in the morning. Despite stopping for a relaxing and much needed breakfast, we still arrived a bit earlier than anticipated, and had to wait for the first scheduled stop, the Museum of the Iron Age  in Andover, to open.

Museum of the Iron Age

Danebury Guard

To enter the Danebury exhibit proper, visitors must pass through a mock-up of the entrance at Danebury, as it’s thought to have been, with a timber facing to the rampart by the gate.

“The Central Wessex landscape around Danebury presents one of the densest concentrations of Iron Age sites in Europe, but there is much more besides”

so states the introductory map display at the museum, which is largely devoted to the finds from Danebury hill fort. Indeed, the map is a mass of red lines denoting field systems, settlements, hill forts and other indications of occupation from the Iron Age, all of which make current day Andover look quite insignificant as a population centre!

As you’d expect from a decent museum (and this is very decent, the volunteer staff were extremely friendly and helpful), there are numerous finds on display, with informative interpretation boards at every turn, covering the structure of the hillfort, defenses and armaments, everyday life in the fort – where over 5000 grain storage pits have been found – and death, with several burials and bones on display.

Danebury Diorama

I certainly found the interpretation boards, dioramas and other displays were a great aid to the imagination, and they definitely enhanced my visit to Danebury later in the day.

It seems I’d also timed my visit to coincide with the start of a new ‘Lego Mania Trail‘ initiative, running from Thursday 28 March to Sunday 9 June. Several attractions across Hampshire are displaying scale Lego models of nearby Heritage attractions. Visit all those listed in the time specified and get a stamp on a form, and you can apparently be entered into a prize draw to win an iPad. I can’t speak for the other sites, but the Lego model of Danebury was certainly impressive, and it’s a great way to get the kids involved!

Lego Danebury!

Bury Hill Camp

Just a few minutes drive from the museum, outside the southern environs of Andover (at Grid Ref SU346435) in Upper Clatford was the first site of the day, at Bury Hill. Although the land both inside and outside the hill fort is private, there is a footpath around the perimeter allowing glimpses of the bank and ditch.

Bury Hill Camp, looking across from the eastern entrance

Bury Hill Camp, looking across from the eastern entrance

The hill fort was constructed in two major stages, the first univallate bank and ditch enclosing 24 acres, and a later bivallate earthwork covering 11 acres on the south east of the earlier fort. Sadly the ditch is very overgrown in places, although a sense of the scale of the place can still be achieved.

Looking down into the ditch on the southeastern side.

Looking down into the ditch on the southeastern side.

Excavation here has revealed the interior of the fort is densely covered with pits, but very little grain or human bone has been recovered. What have been recovered are a number of horse trappings and remains. This suggests that the fort was used as stabling, for stud or training purposes, or maybe even trading of horses. Extensive remains of a settlement have been found a few hundred yards to the southeast of the hill fort, indicating that this place was important, but possibly not in the way that most hill forts are perceived.

Back on the main road, we headed southwest toward Danebury, easily signposted with those brown tourist signs.

to be continued….

All pictures © Alan S.

Sadly the Western Black Rhino has just become officially extinct. But why are we mentioning it here?

rhino

It’s because it highlights that conservation isn’t just a vague liberal aspiration, it truly matters for the only alternative is total loss. Once something’s gone it’s gone and won’t be coming back. That also applies to knowledge, which is why we’re so critical of those who don’t report their metal detecting finds to PAS, despite being asked to for 15 years. We express it more strongly than archaeologists, Government and PAS, so maybe we’re all just cranks and should take the far more temperate line that others do?

We think not, for here’s what 15 years of “lo-criticism” policy has delivered to Britain. Nine empty Wembley pitches. That’s what you’d need to lay out the ten million recordable items that artefact hunters haven’t reported.

wembley

Recently someone called Roger (the Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme we assume) complained on-line about an “aggressive attacking tone towards a lawful legitimate hobby”. We’ll hold up our hands to that Roger. The thing is though, our tone expresses contempt about ten million packets of knowledge that have been lost (and there will be hundreds more today). Shouldn’t you be condemning that in the same way as we do rather than endlessly jubilating over the far smaller number of items that are reported? Artefact hunting without recording might be lawful but it’s also completely inexcusable – and not saying so is surely helping it happen? We won’t be dropping  our “aggressive attacking tone” towards non-reporting metal detectorists any time soon – and nor should anybody, that’s the truth of it Roger.

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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castle

It is strange to think of a time when a monument as beautiful as Castlerigg stone circle was virtually unknown beyond Cumbria. For some reason it wasn’t mentioned by the early antiquarians William Camden (1551–1623) or John Aubrey (1626–97) despite both having visited the area to study megalithic monuments and it subsequently fell to William Stukeley to “discover” it…..

“For a mile before we came to Keswick, on an eminence in the middle of a great concavity of those rude hills, and not far from the banks of the river Greata, I observed another Celtic work, very intire: it is 100 foot in diameter, and consists of forty stones, some very large. At the east end of it is a grave, made of such other stones, in number about ten: this is placed in the very east point of the circle, and within it: there is not a stone wanting, though some are removed a little out of their first station: they call it the Carsles, and, corruptly I suppose, Castle-rig.”

The above is believed to be the earliest account of Castlerigg, having been published in Itinerarium Curiosum in 1776, 11 years after Stukeley’s death and 51 after his visit. In the subsequent decades it increasingly came to the attention of the wider public and inspired the writings of both Coleridge (who visited in the company of Wordsworth) … “a Druidical circle [where] the mountains stand one behind the other, in orderly array as if evoked by and attentive to the assembly of white-vested wizards” (1799) and Keats “Scarce images of life, one here, one there,/Lay vast and edgeways; like a dismal cirque/Of Druid stones, upon a forlorn moor…” (1819)

By 1843 it appeared in “The Wonders of the World in Nature, Art and Mind” by Robert Sears which drew on an earlier description by Ann Radcliffe (a pioneer and populariser of the Gothic novel): “There is, perhaps, not a single object in the scene that interrupts the solemn tone of feeling impressed by its general character of profound solitude, greatness, and awful wildness.”

In 1883 the significance of Castlerigg was formally recognised at a national level when it became one of the first ancient monuments to be scheduled. In 1913, following a public fundraising campaign, the field in which it stands was purchased and then donated to the National Trust. Today it attracts thousands of tourists and is the most visited stone circle in Cumbria – and, in the eyes of some, the most magnificent one in England.

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If you’ve been there, you’ll know it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that building 150 new houses at the entrance to the Slad Valley near Stroud in Gloucestershire would be one of the most vandalistic actions that could be committed in the whole of rural England. Not just because it is an incomparable Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but also because it was immortalised by Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie.

Yet that’s what may happen. Despite the application having just been rejected the developers have promptly reacted to the fact that their initial archaeological survey was considered insufficient by putting in lots more trenches.

Only “a bit of pottery” had been found reckons their spokesman – speaking pure Tarmacese perhaps, for how many times have you heard a developer say “Wow, this place is an archaeological treasure house, we’ll clear off and build elsewhere”? In any case, doesn’t the value or otherwise of a Roman site (that we all know will only be preserved by record at best) rather miss the point? What about the Slad Valley and what about Cider with Rosie? Are they up for sacrifice under the new planning system? It seems so.

English Heritage recently announced subsidised school travel to a selection of their sites. The list of available sites for the scheme was a subset of the National Heritage List, and very heavily skewed in favour of post-Roman sites. (The announcement itself was a little misleading as it suggested that free travel was being offered whereas the small print identified a cap of £4 per child). So we’d like to present our own list of sites to which schools can arrange visits (sadly, without the English Heritage subsidy). These are places that, rather than boring the children with facts, names, dates etc. (does anyone still remember the whole of the “Willie Willie Harry Steve, Harry Dick John Harry 3.” rhyme that was pumped into us at school?) can provide a proper education on what it was like to live in ancient times, using skills that could still prove useful today in helping to actually create something tangible. Most of these are commercial concerns rather than ‘National Heritage’ sites, but that doesn’t make them any less useful in engaging school children in our ancient heritage.

Wiltshire – The Ancient Technology Centre

TheATC

The Ancient Technology Centre consists of 6 reconstructed buildings from different time periods, all built by schoolchildren and volunteers, using traditional tools and techniques. The Centre has developed a unique program of hands on learning for children of all ages.

Such is the standard of the work here that they have been awarded the English Heritage contract to reconstruct three Neolithic Houses based on excavations of house plans at Durrington Walls. Prototype building began this March at Old Sarum, and the final reconstructions will be built outside the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre in October 2013.

Hampshire – Butser Ancient Farm

Butser

Butser Ancient Farm, founded in 1970 following an idea from the Council fro British Archaeology, Consists of an Iron Age roundhouse and Roman Villa, in a farm setting. School visits are catered for, with material covering a wealth of topics including: Celts, Romans, Invaders and Settlers, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, Houses and Homes, Discovery for Reception Age, Medicine through Time, Sustainable Technologies and Archaeology. Carefully planned activities tie in with different aspects of Key Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 – from history and art to DT and maths.

Cambridgeshire – Flag Fen

FlagFen

Flag Fen archaeology park is home to a wooden causeway some 3,500 years old that is so unique it is held by experts all over the world in the same esteem as Stonehenge. There are reproduction roundhouses from the Bronze and Iron Ages on site and a small museum.

Schools are catered for with sessions covering ‘Invaders and Settlers’, ‘Dig! Hands on Archaeology’, ‘Hunting and Gathering’ and ‘Patterns in Nature’. Suitable for Key Stages 1,2,3.

Silchester – Calleva Atrebatum, A Roman Town

sil-dig-from-above

This Roman town, which was founded in the first century AD (nearly 2000 years ago), was built on the site of an Iron Age town, Calleva. The Roman amphitheatre and town walls are some of the best preserved in Britain. The site has been under excavation since 1997.

As this is an active and working archaeological dig site, activities for schools tend to be closely related to the archaeological activity and discoveries at Silchester rather than exclusively to a Roman theme. Activities include a children’s finds pit, a planning exercise, activity sheets, tours and talks, finds handling etc.

Pembrokeshire – Castell Henllys

PembsCoastNP

Set within 30 acres of woodland and meadows, the hill fort at Castell Henllys contains four roundhouses and a granary, reconstructed on the Iron Age foundations. A wide range of education services is provided and their Schools Programme currently caters for up to 7000 children every year.

If you’re a schoolteacher or home educator who has taken children to one of these sites for educational purposes (rather than as a ‘treat’ day out), why not let us know how the trip went? Or better still, get some of the kids to tell us! We can offer an interactive CD tour of Avebury for any stories that we subsequently publish!

If you know of other, similar centres providing a service to schools, please let us know in the comments.

Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site

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About now the jackdaws should be busily raising their families in nests built in crevices in Stonehenge. One favoured spot is a “chimney” within Stone 60 which they have to patiently drop sticks though until one becomes wedged and they can start building their nest. How long jackdaws have been living at Stonehenge is anyone’s guess but it’s quite possible they have been there far longer than there have been ravens at the Tower of London. It certainly suits them very well. As 18th century English poet William Cowper wrote of the jackdaw….

A great frequenter of the church,
Where, bishoplike, he finds a perch,
And dormitory too

At around the same time the early ecologist, Gilbert White, noted that ….

“Another very unlikely spot is made use of by daws as a place to breed in, and that is Stonehenge. These birds deposit their nests in the interstices between the upright and the impost stones of that amazing work of antiquity: which circumstance alone speaks the prodigious height of the upright stones, that they should be tall enough to secure those nests from the annoyance of shepherd-boys, who are always idling round that place”.

NRS

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This is part of a series of short “postcards” that anyone with something to share is welcome to submit, whether that is a digital snap and a “wish you were here” or something more involved. Please do join in by sending your postcards to theheritagejournal@gmail.com

For others in the series put postcards in the search box.

This year’s Festival of British Archaeology has some great events and we’ll be highlighting some in the coming weeks. One general point stands out though. Archaeologists are always wanting better funding so you’d expect the Festival to be used to demonstrate to the Public that every penny of their taxes spent on Archaeology and the historic environment is well spent. Mostly it is. But ….

Dowsing? Good luck to dowsers, they’re entitled to their hobby but should the Archaeo-church be so broad as to include them? Should the Festival include a demonstration of “archaeology dowsing techniques” to locate and record a former house? Shouldn’t Archaeology be presenting itself as something that doesn’t include some things? After all, no-one would want their taxes spent on the NHS if it included projects conducted by witchdoctors!

And then there’s metal detecting. Which archaeologist would wish the public to think artefact hunting is Archaeology. Or even worse, that Archaeology is artefact hunting! However widely you define Archaeology, collecting stuff for personal benefit it ain’t. Yet it’s still there in full view (albeit less than last year) in the heart of the Festival listings. So perhaps the church IS too broad?

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