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A guest post by Dr George Nash, from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign.
Most readers of this blog will be fully aware of the shenanigans of Shropshireland’s planning department, in particular the way they are handling the so-called SAMDev fiasco. As a result of their far from honest bid to develop housing around the eastern side of Old Oswestry Hillfort, Shropshireland’s reputation goes from bad to damn right bloody awful.
The campaign group Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH) has been entrenched in a battle to save the setting of one of England’s most iconic archaeological structures – Old Oswestry Hillfort.
The hillfort has been designated a Scheduled Monument (SM) along with the nearby early medieval linear defence system Wat’s Dyke. In addition to these two internationally important sites, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has identified over 100 findspots within the hinterlands including several Roman coin hoards. The landscape to the south and east (as well as within the central area of the hillfort) was an important World War I training area that belonged to the nearby Park Hall military camp.
One would think that such a cluster of sites and their mutual/shared landscape would be afforded some form of protection. However, according to Shropshireland’s planning supremos this is not the case. Indeed, without the huge condemnation from an outraged public and heritage community, Shropshireland would have sanctioned a masterplan development that would have extended eastwards from within 85m of the ramparts to the new A5 (the Bypass).
One can almost forgive the landowner wanting to cash-in on the current ambiguous planning guidance – National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPF). What cannot be forgiven, though, is the murky relationship between Shropshireland, Historic England and the planning consultancy acting on behalf of the landowner. The fact that national guidance does consider setting as an essential factor in determining potential development (see for yourself – PDF link) seems to have been completely ignored by Shropshireland and to some extent by Historic England.
By the way Historic England (formally English Heritage) consulted on NPPF, prior to publication in March 2012 and therefore the situation should be clear-cut. Errr, well, not exactly.
When one delves back into the distant past, to those heady days of 2006 and 2007 when all this development malarkey around the hillfort kicked off, the planning process in terms of archaeology and cultural heritage appeared to recognise the importance of the surrounding landscape. So a geophysical survey and subsequent evaluation programme were duly commissioned.
Now at this point, one would think this initial process to understand the archaeological landscape would be straightforward. Alas, no, not in dear old Shropshireland. Of the 24 trenches commissioned, only 14 were actually excavated, all east of the old A5 – I wonder why? Of the 14, only several were actually excavated over known anomalies that were identified from the geophysical survey. One area of high archaeological activity, coincidentally within OSW004, was completely ignored. The results from the archaeological evaluation must have been music to Shropshireland’s planning supremos, the landowner and his rather expensive planning team.
But does it end there? Actually no, readers. Not exactly.
Enter stage left HOOOH, the campaign group which, playing by the rules from the start, has battled with Shropshireland’s planners for the past two years. Working with this group, we have tried to get a fair hearing concerning the many contentious issues which have clinched serial coverage in the local and national press.
One would have thought that this bad publicity would have provoked a reaction from the planners. Well, not surprisingly, there has been little, apart from a lot of misinformation mainly from a number of press statements from Shropshireland’s leader, Councillor Barrow, who appears to know very little about cultural heritage, apart from, say, the yogurt in his fridge.
In my experience, I have never encountered such an arrogant local authority that seems to think it is above the planning guidance laws of England (well, they are Shropshireland, so I suppose they can do as they please). Their shenanigans include an unbalanced approach to information uploaded on the SAMDev website that only supports the development; murky emails, exposed through Freedom of Information (FOI) between themselves, Historic England and the landowner’s planners; and the apparent selective release of the site promoter’s evidence including commissioned reports.
When one stands back and witnesses how and what information between these characters has been circulated, plus the various inadequate processes involved, one begins to realise that bigger things are afoot.
Certainly from an archaeological and cultural heritage point of view, the work so far has been shoddy at best and I suspect there is a clear intentionality to see any archaeology produce negative results (don’t take my word for it, look at the evaluation trench distribution undertaken in 2007).
As for the setting issues, this is even clearer-cut. Old Oswestry Hillfort is a Scheduled Monument, regarded as one of England’s finest Iron Age hillforts; probably second only to Maiden Castle. There is clear guidance on setting in NPPF (and recently published Historic Environment Good Practice Advice 2015) and any development within the hinterlands of the hillfort would impact on setting; severely, in fact, according to a recent LVIA study. But funnily enough, Shropshireland planners can’t seem to see this one. Thankfully and now coming to its senses, Historic England does.
Me thinks there is a wee rat scurrying around the corridors of power in Shropshireland’s planning department. We are all aware of the size of Shropshire – it’s a big place. We are also fully aware (and accept) the need for a five year housing supply. In the words of Central Government let’s build ourselves out of recession. Hey, so far I am with you, all the way.
But why build around this side of Oswestry, within close proximity of the hillfort? Surely there are many brownfield sites out there – look at the land-banking for starters? I mean, 10,000 people are against it; eminent academic and professional archaeologists are against it; Oswestry Town Council is overwhelmingly against it; in fact, everyone except Shropshireland can see it.
They have stated in SAMDev and the press that they do not accept that ‘proposed development would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hillfort.’ However, the rat within Shropshireland’s corridor of power informs me that Old Oswestry Hillfort could be an important test-case for developers to target other heritage assets. If we – the Common Sense Brigade – lose this battle, Shropshireland and other discredited authorities will see this particular potential victory as a green light for indiscriminate development bids affecting heritage assets up and down the country; in other words, NPPF would become a developer’s charter.
This sinister policy is government-led and I dare say the nods and winks are, as you read this rant, slowly trickling down into the sewer that is Shropshireland’s planning department.
As previously used in this Blog, ‘you couldn’t make it up’.
By Dr Sandy Gerrard
The opportunities to be involved in the decision making process are apparently endless these days. Our opinions are sought on everything by both the private and public sectors. Sometimes we are simply asked what we think about a particular issue or perhaps how we intend to vote. The information collected is analysed and supposedly the results help to make life better for us all.
In the archaeological world sometimes a consultation is carried out to collect expert opinions on what something might be. This was the case at Bancbryn where the inept Cadw officers, perhaps hoping to shift the responsibility for deciding what “that line of stones” might be, decided to ask some “experts” what they thought. They duly sent out information on the alignment and asked the “experts” what they thought it might be. As is the Cadw way they were very selective with the information they sent, and withheld or “forgot” to send the paper which presented the prehistoric case.
Inevitably, given that the “experts” were only sent information that supported a historic context for the alignment they all responded saying they thought it must be of historic date. They helpfully all added a few comments which sadly suggested that they were rather less expert in this field than one might have hoped, as many of their remarks betrayed a total lack of knowledge of the resource being assessed.
As far as I can tell no one with any real expertise in stone alignments was consulted and certainly nobody was sent the information needed to carry out an objective, balanced and impartial assessment.
How would you feel if you turned up at hospital with a broken ankle to be seen by an eye consultant who had been given notes on another patient?
By Alan S.
As mentioned in the writeup for this year’s Megameet, the very first megameet (and the origins of Heritage Action) occurred on the same date back in 2003, 12 years previously. Following that meeting, as was my custom then, I wrote up some fieldnotes of the day’s travels and the sites we’d seen. Reading them now, the notes show a level of naivety that I hope I’ve shrugged off in the intervening years, but I think it’s an interesting insight into the day as a whole, and a good indication of how thinly I used to spread myself back then.
Bear in mind that there was no such thing as ‘Heritage Action’ when I first wrote these notes, and I have had to update several of the links as the original links (and many of the pictures) are no longer available. And so I present my notes from:
TMA Picnic Day – 2003
July 26th, the day of the Modern Antiquarian (TMA) picnic.
M. had identified a craft shop in Calne that she wanted to visit first, so we made a relatively early start and joined the holiday traffic on the M4. It was difficult passing the turn offs, first for Uffington, then Marlborough and Avebury, before dropping south to Calne (why is there a statue of 2 pigs in Calne?)
Oh look, there’s the A4 – Avebury is just up the road! And so after a brief retail break, off we set.
As we passed Cherhill Down, I saw a sign advertising trial flights in a microlite. Now that would be a good way to see Avebury. I must enquire about prices one day… (ed. I never did.)
I’d hoped to take a look at the Beckhampton Longbarrow marked on the OS map (SU087691), but despite a trot down the Wessex Ridgeway, didn’t see it. Either I didn’t go far enough, or it was hidden beneath a copse. I got to check out the Longstone Cove again though, peeping above a quite high crop where last time I was here there was none. And so into the village, and some more retail therapy: John Michell’s ‘Sacred England’ (reduced as it was the shelf copy), ‘Discovering Hill Figures’ (Shire Books), and ‘Unusual Aspects of Avebury’ by Lamont & Hedderman. Some light reading there. M. purchased a Tree Ogham booklet.
We drove down West Kennet Avenue, and I would have stopped again, but there was a herd of dreaded COWS grazing in the field! So it was on to West Kennet Longbarrow. I recalled that I was last here some 7 or 8 years ago as I pulled myself up the hill. I was quite wary, as I’d barely been able to park in the layby and was anticipating a crowd, but by some miracle I managed to have the place to myself for at least 10 minutes after a small group left. I’ve been away from here too long, and must resolve to visit more often.
Back to the car, and the weather started to close in. I was already late for the arranged start time for the meet at Uffington, and the question now was: hill or pub?
I’d tentatively planned to stop on the way at Ogbourne St Andrew, but put that plan to one side, and diverted via Liddington Castle as we made our way up towards White Horse Hill. The weather still couldn’t decide whether to convert to a full-on downpour, so I decided the hill was the place to meet, on the basis that “it’s only a few spots of rain”.
And I proved to be right. We parked above the Manger, hoping that M. would be able to make it rest of the way on foot, but to save her energy, I did a scouting trip first. Some scout! I’d completely lost my bearings, and instead of aiming for the head of the white horse, I ended up in Uffington Fort! Correcting myself, I found the head, but no other TMAers were to be seen. Or was that Treaclechops? Unsure of approaching a possible stranger myself, someone approached the two women on the groundsheet, obviously having just returned from Dragon Hill. I heard the magical incantation “TMA” spoken, and dove in. Yes, it was Treaclechops with Miriam, I just hadn’t recognised her from behind at first, and the absence of Jane had confused me. Moth was introduced, being the one having just returned, then Jimit, Baza and Jane also returned from their wanderings, introductions were made and the group for the day was complete.
I returned to the car, but M. felt it was a hill too far for her to manage, and she decided to wait there while I returned to socialise with the group.
A couple of young tourists (for want of a better phrase) had decided to walk the horse, until Treaclechops raced down the hill, screaming in her best RSM voice “Hey! Get off, that’s a scheduled ancient monument you’re walking on!!” Boy, did they get off quick!
An hour later, we made a collective decision to move over to Wayland’s Smithy, where hopefully M. would be able to walk on the flat to join us. And so, a convoy of five cars made their way up to the Ridgeway and Wayland’s.
The last time I was here, the fields were cropless, and I’d gotten very angry upon finding the remnants of a rave party were packing up and leaving. Throbbing music and (to me), a total desecration of the site, right next to the sign that says ‘No Camping, No Fires’.
I’m pleased to report that today’s visit was the total opposite, bar the evidence of a camp fire right in front of the monument. The crops were high, and we had the site pretty much to ourselves for most of the afternoon. Jane started sketching whilst photos were taken, and the ‘entasis phenomenon’ of the mound was investigated. I’d had to have this explained to me, but the visual effect is quite outstanding once you know what you’re looking at!
The rain started. We’d sheltered under the trees, so avoided the worst of it, but the afternoon was getting on and a call for beer went up. So, after a couple of silly group photos, we decamped and made our way back to the cars.
Jane (the local) led the procession, twice getting lost and turning us all round, before TC leapt out of the car, running towards me (that RSM voice again) “Give me your bloody map!” Needless to say, I complied, and we duly arrived at the designated hostelry in question. Which was shut. Twenty minutes standing in the rain, and the doors finally opened, whereupon we were suitably refreshed whilst browsing through Moth’s copious photograph albums. He has some quite stunning shots there.
An hour later, M. and I decided to head home, but I couldn’t resist one last stop for the day at the Blowing Stone where, in the teeming rain, my camera jammed and refused to recognise the memory card with the day’s photo’s on it. Thankfully, all were ok once I got home (nearly 10pm), but I’ll have to return for a shot of the stone another day.
A truly memorable day. Sadly, Treaclechops is no longer with us, but on a happier note, after meeting for the first time on that day, Jane and Moth were happily married the following year, as were myself and M. Back then, M. still had a degree of mobility although she tired very easily. She now has to use a wheelchair and I currently can’t envisage undertaking such a busy day as that again with her.
If you have your own fieldnotes from a truly memorable day, why not share them with us here? Just tell us why the day was particularly memorable for you, which sites were visited, and maybe share a photo or two too?
We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time we are looking at one of a pair of alignments north west of Sharpitor on Dartmoor and next time we shall examine its neighbour.
The two stone alignments are situated close to each other on a spur of high ground leading north west from Sharpitor. This time we shall look at the northern row which is of the double variety and next time we shall consider the associated single row. Both rows stand immediately next to the public highway (B3212) leading from Yelverton to Princetown to a car park next to Goatstone Pool. They have seen considerable damage but despite this their form is still discernible. The double row measures 113m long and includes at least 42 stones leading north east from a cairn at SX 55664 70619 to a fallen blocking stone at SX 55776 70655. Despite its battered appearance this row in common with so many on the moor provides a whole series of visual treats of which the spectacular “sea triangle” reveal is but one. I have been able to visit this site since starting to research the landscape setting of the stone rows and as well as the obvious visual relationship with the sea another one with South Hessary Tor is apparent.
The row in common with many on Dartmoor includes a “blind summit” which means that either ends are not intervisible. A sketch profile along the length of the rows illustrates this characteristic which of course creates the “sea view” reveal.
Sharpitor row was not built to be an obvious feature in the landscape. The row comprises only very small stones of which these three are among the biggest. Whilst rows sometimes did make architectural statements many did not and instead include only small or indeed tiny stones. These rows can best be seen as accurately denoting the position of a special route. It was important to their builders that people walked from point A to point B along a precise pathway and what better way to ensure that this happened than to erect waymarkers which would of course have also denoted specific points along the route. Over time or perhaps from the very start these waymarkers could have had a significance of their own but it is the route itself that must have been of greatest significance and therefore it we are ever to understand at least the context in which they were built it is the route that we should be studying.
Looking north eastward along the row. The black arrow shows the alignment of the row which along its northern length points directly at the only skyline tor visible on the northern horizon. The other features visible on the horizon are modern forestry plantations.
The northern part of the alignment is orientated directly on the prominent South Hessary Tor.
Views from the alignment
Three images derived from Google Earth are presented to illustrate the “reveal” that is attained as you walk along the row starting from the blocking stone at the north eastern end. The first one is from the blocking stone, the second at the point where the sea first becomes visible and the final one is from the small cairn at the south western end. This reveal is real but is it significant? Over the past few months, similar examples have been presented and certainly the picture that is building up is one of consistence. All of the rows we have looked at have an observable link to the sea and the precision of that relationship is often remarkable. The sea of course is but one (although important) element in a landscape and the work at Sharpitor has shown that other features within the natural landscape may have been acknowledged. Detailed fieldwork will be required to assess other visual links, but it should really not come as a surprise to find that the alignments were built to take full cognisance of their surroundings. The builders of the stone alignments would have a sense of place and it would therefore be more remarkable if their monuments ignored the world in which they lived. The stone rows therefore probably provide an insight into these people’s sense of place and it would be unwise to ignore the clues they have left behind.
As one walks up along the row a small closed sea triangle appears on the horizon. The land forming the top of the triangle is provided by the Lizard in Cornwall. This view is visible only when the lighting conditions are perfect and its consequent rarity may have made it doubly special, worth denoting and even celebrating.
Arrival at the cairn brings a particularly fine grouping of sea views. On the right is the closed sea triangle, in the middle a pair of stacked triangles and on the left a narrow slither which under certain lighting conditions looks like a beam of bright light emanating out of the ground. It is hard to believe that this remarkable sight is a coincidence particularly given that the row itself leads you to this point opening up this vista as you proceed along their waymarked route. It feels as if these people are showing us what was important to them.
Map showing the arcs of visibility from the cairn at the south western end of the alignment. The eastern arc would have been illuminated by the winter sun for two hours from about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The spectacular light show as the sun moves over the sea during this time is noteworthy and it would surely not be too fanciful to suggest that a people with a known interest in the movement of the sun might wish to celebrate this and perhaps in the process formalise the event.
One can’t help but notice the similarities between the movement of the sun and the movement of people implied by the rows. This is an idea that needs further thought but the reveal identified at many rows may in some way be connected with sunset and sunrise.
A final point worth making is that around 12th January the sun sets into the closed sea triangle to the west. Certainly the rows we have looked at so far have all implied winter use and this too may point us in a profitable research direction.
Previous articles in this series:
Tinkinswood burial chamber, in South Wales, was built nearly 6000 years ago. The capstone, at around 40 tons weighs almost as much as a fully-laden 18-wheeler articulated lorry! The basic design of the site classifies it as one of the Cotwold-Severn group of burial chambers.
It was first excavated in 1914 by John Ward, Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales, when over 900 human bones were discovered – it is estimated these were the remains of between 40-50 people. The vast majority of the bones had been broken, but the mix of ages and sex suggests use of the site by the entire community over an extended period.
The Tinkinswood of today is very different to that prior to the excavation, as extensive ‘restoration’ work was carried out at that time:
- a brick-built supporting pillar was inserted into the chamber
- the courtyard supporting walls were rebuilt, using a distinctive, and not at all authentic, ‘herringbone’ pattern to the brickwork.
- the rectangular mound and external revetment wall have been trimmed and generally ‘prettied up’, allowing easier interpretation of the site by visitors.
- the entire site would have originally been covered by an earthen mound so that no stones other than the courtyard entrance would have been visible.
In 2011, a local community project undertook a further excavation to learn more about the monument and it’s setting. Their project blog makes interesting reading for those interested in more information about this fascinating site!
A couple of years ago, we took a Heritage Drive through Herts, Cambs and Essex, on the way passing the Leper Stone at Newport, a short distance south from Saffron Walden in Essex. We recently had an opportunity to revisit the area and take a closer look at the Newport Stone.
The stone, which is the largest standing sarsen in Essex, is situated on a grass verge on the east side of the B1383, just north of the village of Newport. The River Cam flows just a few metres further to the east. I’ll admit up front that the origin and age of the stone is in some doubt – was it raised in prehistoric times, or is it medieval? The St Mary and St Leonard’s Hospital was a lay establishment founded nearby by Richard de Newporte during the reign of King John (1199-1216) and was thought to have been a leper hospital, but no definite proof of this exists. Nevertheless, the stone is said to have been used as a ‘trading point’ for the hospital, where goods or alms would be left for the victims. There is a small depression on top of the stone where money may have been left washed in water or vinegar as payment, though it has to be said that many similar ‘plague’ stones with depressions in the top have identical stories behind them, many without any basis in fact. In this case, the hospital did exist, and stones from part of the old hospital can still be seen built in to the modern wall by the footpath.
There is of course no surefire way of dating the stone and its current setting, but the fact it is set upright (an unusual position for glacial erratics to come to rest) points to it’s having been purposefully placed. I can find no record of any excavation though it is likely that the stone has been disturbed, and possibly moved, not least when the modern road was laid. Perhaps it was originally placed as a marker stone for an easy crossing across the Cam? Unfortunately there is no mention of the stone on O.S. maps from the mid 1800’s up until at least 1923, though the site of the hospital is marked. So either it’s a comparatively recent placing, or the O.S. ignored/missed the stone and concentrated on the hospital site.
An interesting item in the Essex Field Club Journal from 1884 (v4 p95) suggests that the area exhibited signs of habitation, in the form of worked tools, from before the last Glacial period i.e. before the stone would have been deposited by the glaciers:
Mr. Greenhill thought, with those who had taken up the study, that there was no longer any question as to the comparative age of these implementiferous deposits compared with the Glacial period. During the winter he had travelled down by road to Saffron Walden, to examine all possible sections in the Lea and Stort Valleys with this object only in view, and at Newport, in Essex, he had found an implement which equalled in elegance of form anything that was upon the table that evening. It was now in the possession of the Head Master of Newport Grammar School. He (Mr. Greenhill) immediately went to the spot where this implement was obtained*, and satisfied himself that it had come from a position under what was there known as the Chalky Boulder Drift. There was plenty of proof that the men who used these implements were living, at least, in inter-glacial times, and, indeed, in pre-glacial times. The implements which he had brought to the meeting were entirely pre-glacial—that was to say, they dated before the last Glacial period.
I wonder whether the implement in question is still held at the school?
Speaking of marker stones, the village has another stone of note slightly further south near to the train station. In this case the stone is puddingstone, a conglomerate stone which was often used to mark crossing points at rivers. indeed there is the theory of a prehistoric ‘Puddingstone Trail’, set forth by Dr Rudge and his wife based upon their research into puddingstones in the 1950’s. They suggested that a “Puddingstone Trail” predating the Romans may have been waymarked stretching from Grimes Graves in Norfolk to Stonehenge in Wiltshire. More information on the Puddingstone Trail may be found on the Megalithic Portal web site.
It was wet, it was cold, it was windy. But that didn’t stop a loyal band of Heritage Action members from congregating at Avebury, twelve years to the very day since a group of megaraks met at the Uffington White Horse to plan what they could do to help combat damage to prehistoric sites. Many of the same people and a whole bunch of others came together at the weekend for the umpteenth (we’ve lost track) ‘Megameet’.
Admittedly, several Founder members couldn’t make it this year but they were replaced by a number of new attendees, some very young, which bodes well for the future. But considering we’re in July, I’ve never seen the circle so devoid of people generally on a summer weekend!
Those who did turn up met with old friends, had an enjoyable lunch in the Red Lion and discussed all things megalithic until the weather cleared enough for some to attempt a brief circumambulation of the henge, including the obligatory ‘selfie’, courtesy of artist and founder member, Jane Tomlinson.
But we weren’t the only people to brave the weather. At the far end of the West Kennet Avenue, an archaeological excavation is taking place over three weeks. The Between the Monuments Project – a collaborative research project between the University of Southampton (Dr Josh Pollard), University of Leicester (Dr Mark Gillings), Allen Environmental Archaeology (Dr Mike Allen) and the National Trust (Dr Ros Cleal & Dr Nick Snashall) – is attempting to answer the tricky question ‘Where and how did the people who built these monuments live?’.
Two trenches have been opened up, one immediately between the stones of the Avenue, and another off to the side. Despite the weather, some of the principals and volunteers were busy mattocking the side trench, part of which has already been excavated down to the natural layer, exposing some ‘periglacial striations’ in the underlying chalk.
Sadly, I had no time to stop and chat (and I think they wanted to get on with the dig while the weather allowed it!) as I stupidly had no coat, and a long drive home in the rain ahead of me. But it was good to see everyone again, and I’m sure we’ll do it all again next year, if not sooner!
Another year, and another highly successful Day of Archaeology, which this time round occurred on 24th July (and new posts are still appearing). I imagine the organisers must be feeling very pleased with themselves, and quite exhausted at the moment! Hearty congratulations to everyone involved, and many thanks to the organisers, behind the scenes techies, and all the contributors for telling us exactly what it is they get up to.
As usual, I was watching the Twitter feed (#DayOfArch) and had the web site added to my RSS feed throughout the day, but was simply overwhelmed with the number of posts from very early in the morning, and which continued unabated throughout the day. And what posts! Every aspect of archaeology was covered, from sites around the world, in multiple languages. Many of the posts were lengthy and so detailed that I’m afraid I didn’t get much of my own work done, just trying to keep up! This is a web site of treasures that I’ll return to again and again over the coming weeks and months to see what I can unearth.
And therein lies the problem. In just 5 years, the sheer scale of the project has mushroomed to an extent where, to find an item of specific interest increases in difficulty. Yes, there is a Search facility, but this can seemingly only deal with simple searches. There is also an excellent map facility on the site, showing those posts which have been geo-referenced, but sadly many are not and the map is currently restricted to only show posts from 2011-2013.
The moderators work extremely hard every year categorising each post before it appears so that related posts can be found, and it’s this work that makes the finding of a specific interest a bit easier, although the system isn’t yet perfect. By lunchtime on the day, probably 150-200 posts had appeared on my RSS feed – if not more. Yet searching for the category ‘Day of Archaeology 2015’ showed only 33 posts, of which only 5 were tagged as relating to prehistory! So a bit more work to be done for next year, by which time I may have caught up on reading the posts of interest!
I can’t help but wonder if any other professions would be able to emulate the Day of Archaeology project, let alone garner the obvious depth of public interest. Hopefully the organisers will release some stats in due course showing just how many posts have been created, how many hits the site receives, and which were the most popular posts, year by year.
Here’s to next year!!
Heritage Action member Mark Camp is an author and tour guide. Here, he relates some of his thoughts about the Colvannick stone row on Bodmin Moor.
According to the Modern Antiquarian website, it’s 11 years since I ‘discovered’ this stone row. At the time I was relatively new to prehistoric sites, being more interested in industrial archaeology, and so was happy just to snap a few photos and try to trace the row through the gorse bushes.
In the years since I think I must have visited every stone row on Bodmin Moor, from the tiny row at Carneglos to the undulating row on Fox Tor. I have talked about them on guided walks and given talks about them, but in all that time I have never been able to describe to people why they are where they are. On Dartmoor rows tend to have a reason, in that they nearly always terminate at a cairn or taller stone, but not on Bodmin Moor. They don’t follow any particular direction, often they are not on the skyline, or even high enough to be seen above the grass!
I came to the conclusion that Bodmin Moor’s stone rows were rows of stones and could be where they are for many reasons. I have not even found any proof to suggest they were all erected at the same time, whatever time they were supposed to be erected. I have always taken it for granted that they date back to the Bronze Age and were built by the same people who created stone circles and erected standing stones. But I don’t make any claims to being an expert and as I say to people who walk with me, I can only give you my ideas, I may be completely wrong!
But recently, through the Heritage Journal, the thoughts of Dr Sandy Gerrard have been brought to my attention. I was lucky to meet up with Sandy on Bodmin Moor a few weeks ago when he was giving a guided walk on industrial archaeology. After looking at humps and bumps and the occasional hole for a few hours we got to talking about stone rows and his thoughts on their setting in the landscape. Sandy has put forward the idea that rows lead to viewing points, maybe of the sea or a hill or other features in the landscape. To see an example of this check out his thoughts on Leedon Tor and his other posts on the same subject.
Bearing this in mind, I recently retraced my steps to Colvannick Tor, just off the A30 in the middle of Bodmin Moor. It’s not the most visited part of the moor and looking back on The Modern Antiquarian, I was the last person to add any postings from there… and that was August 2004! Which surprises me as it is only a short walk from a layby and much easier to access than say Fernacre Circle or even the Cheesewring! Saying that, I actually approached from a southerly direction, parking beside the Millpool firing range and walking via St Bellarmins Tor.
The first stone you come across is close to one of the range marker posts (a word of warning, don’t go looking for the row on a day when the red flags are flying – you might get shot!) and is all on its own. Is this the southern end of the row? It’s difficult to say, there are no other standing stones nearby and you cannot make out the main body of the row from here, so is it part of the row or was the row longer, or is it just a stone that is standing? Working on Dr Gerrard’s idea, the only feature in the landscape that comes into view at this point is the main tumuli/cairn on top of Brown Gelly to the east. Until this point it has been hidden by other hills.
From here there is no way of working out where the other stones are, it’s just a matter of walking in a general direction northwards. Recent cutting down of gorse in the area has cleared things a little but it’s still a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact I missed the next stone and had to double back to find it. This is the leaning monster that I first found back in 2004. And from here it is possible to pick up the row heading north (or to be correct NNW). There are four uprights/leaning/lying stones here, all a good size, and from them it is possible to continue on the same bearing to find the last stone further on. This stone is a good four foot high and there is another stone lying nearby on the same bearing. Like the southern stone, you ask the question, is this the end stone?
I am pretty certain there are no more stones standing between here and the A30 but that doesn’t mean there are not some lying in amongst the gorse. Like most of Bodmin Moor the area is also littered with stones, plus in the early 1900s there was a China Clay works built nearby and chances are some stone was sourced locally for building work. But let’s take it that this is the northern end of the row, what can we see?
Away to the north east are the two summits of Roughtor and Brown Willy, but we have been able to see them all the way up the row, so are they relevant to the end stone? Looking south you can see the sea, probably St Austell Bay in the distance and to the east several hills including Brown Gelly. But from here looking west we have Colvannick Tor blocking any view, its actual summit out of site and in the low evening light it is just a mass of shadow and gorse.
But then I spot something. Atop of the hill, in amongst the silhouettes of gorse there appears to be a stone. I might not have seen it in daylight, or I might have taken it for a sheep. I decided to make for it, just to check it out. It was a stone, not the tallest, only about two to three feet high, but from it the view west suddenly opens out and I can see down over the moor and out across the fields to the shining sea beyond the north Cornwall coast. Is that why the stone was put there? If I had continued northwards from the row I am not sure if I would have got the view before another hill came along, so this summit was a lookout point.
What’s more, as I stood there I thought I could make out a broken circle of stones radiating out from the standing stone. Now I have ‘imagined’ stone circles on the moor before and I am not making any claims here, but there are stones there and they create a circle of a similar size to others on the moor.
This is just an observation by somebody who enjoys walking the moor and has no archaeological expertise apart from what I have read in books along the way. I feel that the landscape offers much more than what a book ever can, but at the same time we need experts to decipher what we can see. Colvannick Row is there for everybody to look at and next time you hurtle down the A30 towards West Penwith, take time out and stop just past the Temple turn and have a walk across the moor, see what you can see?
Our thanks go to Mark for being inspired by Sandy’s work, getting out there to look for himself, and then submitting this article.
Afterword: Sandy Gerrard has subsequently desk-checked this row, and his findings will appear in a followup article in the near future.
It’s only a few days away now, so time for a very brief final reminder that we’ll be meeting up in Avebury this coming Sunday, from 12 noon.
We’d love to see as many of you there as possible, so why not come along, say hello and meet some friendly, like-minded people? There’ll be plenty of chat on prehistory, heritage protection and all related matters, as well as ample opportunity to explore the area.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring along a book or two for the book swap. Anything is acceptable, but Prehistoric Archaeology books will have more chance of finding a grateful recipient.
Update: We’ve just been reminded that there is currently an archaeological dig ongoing at Avebury, in the West Kennet Avenue that leads SW from the main circle. Full details of the dig so far can be found on the FragmeNTs web site. They’ll be digging every day except Fridays until Friday 7 August, and will have volunteer meet and greeters on site to explain what they’ve uncovered so far.