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In the first part of our look at the Greater Ridgeway, we examine the northern section of the route, known as Peddars Way, which runs from Holme-next-the-Sea on the coast, down to Knettishall Heath near Thetford.

The trail starts at Holme-next-the-Sea, but of course this small village has not always been situated on the coast, and may not have been the start or end of the trail as we know it today.

Holme-next-the-Sea is of course now famous as the home of  ‘Seahenge‘ (Holme I) – an enigmatic timber structure exposed at low tide and controversially excavated/rescued by the Time Team in 1998. The preserved timbers can now be seen in a reconstruction of the monument in the museum at Kings Lynn, a few miles away. The timbers at Holme I came from a circle 21ft in diameter, comprising 55 closely-fitted oak posts, each originally up to 10ft in length. A second timber circle (Holme II) some 42ft in diameter was also identified 100 yards or so from the first. Timbers from both circles have been dated using dendrochronology, and were found to have been felled in 2049BC. Were these circles the focal point of the trail, or did it once extend even further in to what is now the North Sea?

seahenge

From Holme, the trackway heads just east of south for approximately 20 miles. The modern track follows the course of a Roman Road, (does the Roman road follow the course of the original trackway?) though there is some debate as intermittent clues suggest a slightly different course for the earlier trackway to the west of the modern road. The village of Sedgeford is close to the line of the road, and is the site of a long running and on-going archaeological investigation which shows the area has been occupied since at least the Iron Age, if not longer. This is of course, Iceni country, and the village of Snettisham – where a fabulous gold torc (amongst other treasures) was discovered by metal detectorists – is also only a short distance further to the west.

Continuing southeast, we come to the barrow cemeteries at Bircham and Harpley Common, (where a strung-out line of barrows seems to suggest a slightly different route) and a couple of miles further to the east, Weasenham Lyngs – one of the largest barrow cemeteries in Norfolk, before arriving at Castle Acre. Castle Acre was the site of an important Norman Castle and Priory, both established after the Norman Conquest, which indicates the strategic importance of the route at that time.

The track continues south from here, passing to the east of Swaffham, roughly the half-way point of the Peddars Way. Until recently, there was a reconstructed Iceni Village tourist attraction at Cockley Cley to the west, but this has now been demolished, so ignore the signs if you see them! But the Bronze Age barrow cemeteries continue to pepper the line of the road at Little Cressingham, – where some gold torques were unearthed in a quarry in 1856 – Merton, and then Hockham Heath, passing a few miles to the east of the Grimes Graves flint mines before finally arriving at Knettishall Heath, where four modern long-distance footpaths meet: Angles Way, Icknield Way Path, Iceni Way and Peddars Way.

grimes

At this point, we’ll head west to pick up the Icknield Way, the subject of our next article. The Peddars Way shown on modern O.S. maps very much follows the modern long-distance path, but for a bit more authenticity, it’s possible to follow the ‘old’ path on the O.S. maps from the 1880s at the National Library of Scotland web site.

KnettishallSign

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Salop fiefdom

{For the avoidance of doubt, we DON’T approve of real brandalism!}

Following the Lenborough Hoard debacle (the latest of dozens of hoards dug up too fast with detectorists claiming they couldn’t be guarded overnight) you’d think PAS would ensure it never happened again. But no, they ensured it would! At the BM event An Introduction to PAS and Treasure they were asked for a definitive answer about digging a hoard “on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon when you can’t get hold of the FLO.” It was the perfect moment to finally say: always guard it, never dig it but instead they said that due to PAS’s financial constraints it’s up to the individual finder on how best to secure the find spot.

That sounds to the thinking public a bit like “guard it till the archaeologists can come” but it can also be used by those who are so inclined to announce “darkness was coming so digging it out was the best way to secure it“. For the benefit of all future such barefaced liars here’s one of dozens of ways that people who are going to be holding their hands out for a Treasure reward could guard Britain’s property ……

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“there was no way we could guard that hoard overnight”… Oh really? Well here’s one. There are dozens more.

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From a correspondent …

not holding water

From a personal blog post, ‘Tunnel truths’, we learn of Council for British Archaeology (CBA) trustees being guided by National Trust and Historic England representatives on a tunnel tour of the Stonehenge landscape. The National Trust’s Archaeologist for Stonehenge and Avebury reblogged this post and @HistoricEngland and @EH_Stonehenge retweeted it, as did someone from English Heritage PR. This influentially placed support appears to be endorsing the impressions recorded in that blog, giving rise to concerns about what the CBA made of it all, because the case as presented doesn’t hold water.

  • It is claimed a tunnel had been accepted in principle a decade ago: but not quite by the CBA or National Trust it hadn’t, as a 2006 press release made clear.
  • It is asserted that ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ is something new, but it is fundamental to the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention.
  • An attempt is also made to dismiss as ‘premature’, concerns about threats to the archaeology at Blick Mead. There are, however, genuine fears for vulnerable spring-associated organic remains and the prehistoric land surface which is rare in apparently being well preserved.  The extent of the site is unknown and could conceivably run beneath the A303 carriageway. It is therefore not unreasonable to express concerns when adverse impacts could result from a graded junction at Countess Roundabout and tunnel entrances at King Barrow Ridge that might require piling for an elevated road section nearby. Surface water disposal and temporary and permanent effects of tunnelling might also have dramatic effects on the water table, again affecting the site and its archaeology.
  • Let us not overlook that the importance of Blick Mead is only now being recognised, powerfully demonstrating how little is known about this World Heritage Site (WHS) whose caretakers are advocating potentially devastating portals and infrastructure.
  • No mention is made of a radical initiative to divert the A303 route to mop up Salisbury’s traffic problems as well. It apparently wouldn’t add significant mileage and would be far cheaper than any tunnel. This idea may come to nothing, or it could prove a game changer, but for the sake of the WHS it deserves to be given every possible chance.
  • New damage to the WHS being unacceptable should be the adopted line. The tunnels favoured in ‘Tunnel truths’ would appear to cut through the course of the Avenue to the East and, to the West, leave twin portals and a new dual carriageway not far from the Wilsford Shaft and adversely impacting on a remarkable cluster of Neolithic long barrows. Fortunately ICOMOS-UK has set out its stall ‘…we are concerned that associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the World Heritage landscape that cannot be set aside, however great the benefits of a tunnel.’

One usually protects and cares for in its entirety whatever is loved and considered truly precious: family, home, paintings, books, even landscapes. Caring for the Stonehenge WHS simply doesn’t equate with support for a tunnel proposal that would destroy large areas of protected landscape for road engineering, whose purpose may be short-lived in the timescale over which Stonehenge is valued.

By Thelma June Jackson, Heritage Journal

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WKLB

After much delay, West Kennet Long Barrow has been closed for conservation work. The entrance is fenced off while a small team of what looked like three people work on the drainage and 1950s concrete skylight. I was over there on Monday and spoke to someone who said he was an archaeology-engineer. The work appears to being carried out with care and precision, has been jointly commissioned by NT and EH.

At the same time a very strong plastic webbing ‘road’ has been laid on the grass pathway leading up to the barrow and a portacabin is up there behind the fencing.

WKLB path

Historic England’s Heritage Planning Case Database is seriously good. It enables amateurs to do what the professionals do (or should) which is to use planning decisions in one place as a guide to how the law should be interpreted in another.

Planning database.

It’s a work in progress and it doesn’t yet contain cases about hill forts but I did come across this, an application to build 59 houses on land at Partridge Green, West Sussex which will be kind of familiar to people in Oswestry (especially paragraph 53, see below, it’s enough to make you weep) – apart from the Inspector’s decision to refuse permission! Incidentally the people of Oswestry might care to note that in West Sussex there had been the usual blather about affordable housing yet the application included only 4 one bedroomed apartments and 35 three, four and five bedroomed houses. (A five bedder round there would cost you about £1.3 million).

Anyway, here are some bits of the Inspector’s report that will ring a lot of bells of regret in Oswestry. Life just ain’t fair if you’re a Salopian monument with a quite extraordinary, aberrant Council. We’ve already suggested Oswestry hill fort would be safe in West Oxfordshire. Looks like that could also be true if it was in West Sussex.

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53. The intensity of the proposed development, concentrated within the frontage field, would obliterate any sense of openness or recognition of a transitional approach from the hard urban edge of the village to a softer more compromising understanding of the setting of the heritage assets and their significance.

76. Sustainable development is about change for the better. The appeal proposal would assist in the provision of much needed housing in the local area and District in general. This is a highly significant material consideration and carries substantial weight in the context of paragraph 49 of the Framework. It would also have a social and economic role to play in achieving positive growth now and into the future.

77. However, such benefits would be at significant cost to the intrinsic character of the countryside and its green, open, pastoral appearance; and would not preserve the setting of the listed buildings, thereby unacceptably harming their significance…..

78. The presumption in favour of sustainable development set out in paragraph 14 of the Framework applies only to sustainable development. Taking this conclusion into account along with all other considerations set out above, including the contribution of the proposal to addressing the shortfall in housing supply, on balance, I conclude that the adverse impacts of the appeal proposal would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of granting planning permission. Therefore, the appeal should fail.

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Update:

A comment just made by Dr George Nash….

Dear Team, 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; West Sussex has said…..YES. Archaeologists and the general public please be aware that Old Oswestry Hillfort and its surrounding landscape is NOW part of West Sussex. [Dismal] Shropshireland you have been a disgrace to this and other heritage assets including the demolition of the only remaining purpose-built Telford-A5 tollhouse and the threat of damage/destruction to sections of Offa’s Dyke at Trefonen – time to go back to the drawing board and rebuild the confidence of the general public. The message from us West Sussex people to the planning officers and elected members of [Dismal] Shropshireland is…..GET LOST.

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Culture Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, recently told Parliament: “We are committed to working with UNESCO and its advisory bodies to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site is taken into consideration in any forthcoming road scheme”

In addition, archaeologists have discovered a significant site at Blick Mead which they fear will be damaged if construction work raises the water table but in a joint statement, Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust said: “We are confident that its importance will be taken into consideration as the various options for the Government’s road scheme are developed.”

Coincidence? Or use of the same hymn sheet? Who knows? What is known is that building a “short” tunnel will involve removing millions of cubic feet from the surface layers of a specific piece of archaeologically significant acreage about which Britain has solemnly promised the rest of the world “protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations”. Consequently, contemplating a plan to cause it massive new damage was always going to necessitate resorting to Orwellian “newspeak”, a language designed for just such tricky occasions. In particular it requires what Orwell termed blackwhite – “a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.” (The National Trust, in particular springs to mind).

If anyone can show that “taken into consideration” doesn’t mean “damaged or destroyed in contravention of our promises to the world” let them promptly do so, using nothing but plain English, in their next press release.

Glasgow University is to run a free online course on Antiquities Smuggling and Art Crime. Good! But if you set yourself up as a truth-teller….

Glasgow University: telling the Veritas since 1451 ....

Glasgow University: telling the Veritas since 1451 ….

….. you’d best tell the whole truth. As Einstein (who lectured there) said “One must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true”. However, their Encyclopaedia about looting seems to pull its punches, defining “Nighthawking” as one of only 4 possible actions (searching without permission, detecting on scheduled monuments, not declaring potential Treasure finds and not disclosing finds to a landowner – except if prior-agreed). They missed a fifth, probably far more significant one (and only added the fourth after WE nagged them to do so).

The missing one is this: Not disclosing the value of a find to a landowner. Think about it. Most farmers know nothing about values, most detectorist know plenty yet under most finds agreements the detectorist alone values the finds with not a word about obtaining independent valuations. Add to that the fact the agreements say finds below a set figure (commonly £300 but sometimes £2,000) are owned 100% by the detectorist and it’s clear there’s a wide open door to crime – massive incentive combined with convenient opportunity. If a detectorist knowingly misrepresents value it’s theft from the landowner and if he then fails to report the finds to PAS (why would he, having lied to the farmer?) it’s knowledge theft from all of us.

So does it happen often? You tell me. In fact, tell me if you’d be willing to sell your house on the basis the purchaser told you how much it was worth? What are the chances, precisely, the value would be correct? That question can be validly asked about just about every detecting finds agreement, thousands of them, which say not a single word about getting an independent valuation. Doesn’t Glasgow University (and many others) have a duty to warn landowners how those contracts leave farmers wide open to the fifth type of nighthawking? Of course they do.

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Finally, came across this. Nothing to do with the above, but thought provoking:

Donald Trump's sons. A question for Britain: its legal but does make it responsible?

Donald Trump’s sons. A question for Britain: its legal but can harvesting a finite, community-owned  resource for your OWN personal entertainment or profit ever be termed “responsible”? So the British government and it’s agents say, but are they right? (The world says no!)

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