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We continue our look at the ‘Neolithic M1‘, which stretches from Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk across country to Lyme Regis in Dorset.
..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.
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?
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.
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.
A major network of trackways, in use since Neolithic times runs from the Norfolk Coast near Kings Lynn, all the way across country to Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast, a total of some 363 miles.
Much of this trackway, known today as the Greater Ridgeway is still in evidence, and is incorporated into a series of modern long distance trails known by several names for its different sections:
- The Peddars Way – runs from Holme-next-the-Sea down to Knettishall Heath near Thetford in Norfolk.
- The Icknield Way – runs from Knettishall Heath, SE of Thetford across country to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.
- The Ridgeway – runs from Ivinghoe Beacon to West Overton, west of Marlborough in Wiltshire.
- The Wessex Ridgeway – runs from West Overton, via Stonehenge, to Lyme Regis in Dorset.
It’s no coincidence that this set of trackways follows a geological band of chalk which runs diagonally across Southern England. Some of these trails overlap, as explained by the Friends of the Ridgeway website:
The Ridgeway, like other pre-historic routes, was never a single, designated road, but rather a complex of braided tracks, with subsidiary ways diverging and coming together. Successive ages made use of the route for their own purposes, and left the marks of their passage. Pre-historic barrows and burial mounds line the route and excavations have found implements and ornaments from many sources.
As the land lower down the slopes was cleared, a lower route became feasible in summer, closer to the spring line where water was accessible to travellers and their mounts. While The Ridgeway followed the top of the downs the Lower, or Icknield Way, runs parallel to it just above the foot of the slope, as far south as Wanborough near Swindon. To the north of the Chilterns, where the chalk is flatter, the routes come together. The Icknield Way was used and upgraded by the Romans for much of its length for both trade and military purposes.
In a series of forthcoming articles, we’ll be looking at each of these modern sections, noting some of the archaeological sites that sit on or near the trackways as we go.
(And no, I haven’t walked the whole route. Yet…)
Last Monday Amesbury Town Council said they were cancelling the event “due to problems with access to the planned starting point at Stonehenge, predicted traffic problems and rising costs.” Congratulations then to Councillor Fred Westmoreland and the Trustees on behalf of Amesbury Museum, for doggedly facing up to and overcoming a series of objections and obstacles.
The route has had to be changed but as Councillor Westmorland said: “It would be a different route and not involve Stonehenge but it is better than nothing. It would be cheap, cheerful and local. It is short notice but I’m sure that people would want to be part of it and it would be a shame not to have a lantern parade at all.” As big fans of the parade we totally agree. The precise nature of the “problems with access” at Stonehenge is unclear and it’s a real shame the Stones won’t be included this year but so far as we understand it EH are in favour of the parade in principle so the important thing is that there will be a parade, the tradition has been established, and hopefully it will include Stonehenge next year when the new access arrangements have bedded in.
It’s no secret why we are such fans of the parade. We think that public engagement with Stonehenge should involve a much wider spectrum of the public than at present. In addition, we think holding solstice celebrations in what may well be the authentic spot at the authentic time at minimal public cost is far preferable to holding them at the wrong spot at the wrong time at horrendous public cost. The fact that this year the former gathering will be absent and the latter one will be taking place is pretty hard to defend.
by Sandy Gerrard
In March last year 18 questions relating to the archaeological situation on Mynydd y Betws were asked. During May the answers provided by Cadw were published here. I also asked my local Assembly member (Mr Rhodri Glyn Thomas) to ask the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the same questions and he kindly did this on my behalf. Having had no response in October I asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a copy of the DAT response and this was passed to both Mr Thomas and myself shortly afterwards. A commentary on the DAT response was then produced and sent to Carmarthenshire County Council. This series of articles present DAT’s responses in black and my own comments upon them in green. See part 1 of the series here.
GENERAL POINTS (continued)
In terms of the planning responses made by this Trust it is important to remember that the stone alignment, which is at the heart of Dr and Mrs Gerrard’s concerns, was not discovered until early January 2012. The original field work was carried out much earlier.
This recent discovery was only achieved because of mountain fires the previous summer and we are certain that the stone alignment, buried in tall heather and vegetation, would not have been discovered earlier if it had not been exposed by fire.
This issue is central to the whole debate. I believe that once planning permission had been granted the substantial area highlighted for destruction should have been looked at thoroughly and to do this vegetation that was going to be lost anyway should have either been cut or carefully burnt. This would have provided both archaeological and ecological benefits. The area could have been checked for “hidden” archaeology and the resultant fire-break could have represented the start of more positive management of the heather in the area. Instead no search was conducted of an area which was about to be destroyed and which both the Trust and Cadw had previously described as archaeologically important. Whether the stone alignment is prehistoric or not is not the main issue. The main issue is that no attempt was made to locate or record archaeological remains of ANY date in advance of a permitted development.
It is wholly wrong of Dr and Mrs Gerrard to criticise many other field archaeologists from a number of organisations for failing to make this discovery in the prevailing circumstances of dense vegetation cover. By January 2012 the stone alignment was very clear in a charred landscape and would have been easily observed by anyone walking in the area.
I am not aware that I have criticised anyone for failing to see the stone alignment in the “dense vegetation”. I have challenged the evidence for the hill being covered in dense vegetation as photographs taken at the time indicate a mosaic of different vegetation conditions. I have also asked on several occasions why a proper search was not conducted. My criticism is that nobody looked for or was asked to look for earthworks in these areas. Is dense vegetation seen as a valid excuse for not conducting a thorough search of areas about to be destroyed? Why is it wrong to criticise when such work was clearly not done? To do such work in future would mean more employment for fellow archaeologists and ensure such mistakes do NOT re-occur. If as fellow professionals it is wholly wrong to criticise how will understanding ever progress? Academically in ALL fields of research criticism of currently widely accepted views has shown they are often inaccurate. This comment is therefore blatantly insulting and shows scant regard for an understanding of how knowledge is obtained. Also to then add ‘anyone’ walking in the area would have spotted it after burning is clearly intended as a put down, but actually reinforces the main point I have been making from the start. If they had removed the vegetation obscuring the archaeology then indeed according to DAT it could have been spotted by “anyone”, but instead they choose to “sign off” the area without a proper examination simply because it happened to be covered in dense vegetation on the day allocated for the fieldwork. This is what is wholly wrong. Just because they didn’t bother to look for archaeology in the areas covered in dense vegetation, does not give them an excuse to treat with contempt those who did make the effort to have a look and honestly report their findings before it was too late. The fencing contractors and other operatives also failed to notice it, but of course anybody could….
For previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box.
Whatever your views on building windfarms in sensitive locations, you’ll find this short video by Sandy Gerrard well worth viewing. There’s an unmistakeable and powerful symbolism to it. Welcome to the future!
With the DigVentures project in full swing, I felt it was time to pay Flag Fen a personal visit and see what was going on there for myself. We set out from London early on Saturday morning, and arrived just in time for public opening (10:00am) to find the car park full to bursting!
Inside the visitor centre, the staff were friendly and helpful, sorting out a electric scooter for my partner, who was then able to join me on my perambulation around the site. A tour group were preparing, and I spotted Brendan Wilkins (Project Director of DigVentures) and said hello. He explained that questions were welcomed on site, the many volunteers (Venturers) being only too happy to explain what was going on in the various trenches and test pits. Raksha Dave (Project Manager, DigVentures) was also there, and I told her how her response to our ‘Inside the Mind’ series is one of our most visited pages here on the Journal, which pleased her immensely. Also in the building was Francis Pryor, discoverer of the Flag Fen site, who was leading a special organised morning tour.
Having had a cup of tea and brief chat with Raksha and Lisa Wescott-Wilkins (Managing Director of DigVentures), we headed out onto the fen grounds to see for ourselves what was going on. The field school for the project runs from 23rd July – 12th August, so two weeks into the project, the trenches and test pits are well established.
The first (main) trench is to the south-east of the site, across the line of the wooden causeway. As I approached, one of the diggers was showing some recent finds from the trench to a young family including a 7-year old girl who was fascinated by the archaeology on show – a future YAC member perhaps? Post holes, and other features including the line of the main causeway were pointed out and explained, and a lot of hard work was obviously being undertaken in the background by the Venturers.
I moved on to the nearby test pit, where discussions were under way on the best way to possibly lift some of the fragile timbers which have been exposed by the excavation.
After a look inside the Preservation Hall, which includes a display of some of the finds from the area along with some interesting interpretation boards, we’d hoped to look at the second trench, but this was covered by a tent which was closed off, so we moved on to look at the reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse, which had obviously been used by the Venturers for some evening entertainment judging by the lingering smell of wood smoke, which all made it very evocative of a much earlier time.
At this point, disaster struck as my camera batteries refused to function any further! Added to this, the next part of the route around the site across the arena and alongside the mere, was all ‘off path’, and quite dangerous for the electric scooter which dipped and tilted several times on the uneven ground – a warning for any other disabled visitors hoping to visit this part of the site.
Outside the Iron Age roundhouse, another reconstruction showing the difference in styles between the two ages, was another test pit. This was much deeper than the first we saw, attempting to find the edge of a ‘platform’ which the causeway crosses. Unfortunately, nothing has yet been found in this pit and we moved on to the site museum.
Unfortunately, it looked as if many of the interpretation boards and displays were being updated and replaced, which is good news for future visitors who will have much better access to the latest information. Outside the museum is a reconstructed Roman Herb Garden, sited on the path of a Roman Road which runs alongside the much earlier wooden causeway.
Having finished most of our circumnavigation of the site (but missing the Big Dig Tent! How did that happen?) we headed back to the main visitor centre, and just in time as the heavens opened with a downpour of biblical proportions! Trapped in the visitor centre, we undertook some retail therapy and took the opportunity to ask Francis Pryor to sign a copy of his 2005 book about the site, Flag Fen: Life and Death of a Prehistoric Landscape. In turn, he took the opportunity to mention his more recent e-book about the site, Flag Fen: A Concise Archæoguide, so we came out even on that one :-)
Eventually the storm broke, and we returned to the car, wondering about the possible damage done to the trenches by such a downpour which had partially flooded the carpark in the space of some 10-15 minutes.
So what did we bring away from the site? An admiration for the dedication and enthusiasm of all the volunteers and amateur archaeologists taking part, many taking part in a dig for the very first time. A perception that crowdfunding really can work as a concept. And the realisation that every excavation, though essentially destructive by it’s very nature, can add to our knowledge of the distant past. That’s especially true in the case of Flag Fen as so little of the site has been fully excavated, and while the site is slowly drying out, the irretrievable loss of further knowledge this would cause is a very real possibility. Did you know that the earliest recorded wheel was found at Flag Fen, purely because of the anaerobic conditions found in the wetlands there? What else can the site tell us before it’s too late?
Do visit the DigVentures and Flag Fen web sites (see links above) for more information, and try to get along to the site for a personal visit that I think you’ll find both educational and rewarding.
STATEMENT: PRIDDY CIRCLES.
Following a detailed investigation by English Heritage and Avon & Somerset Police into the circumstances surrounding damage to one of the Priddy Circles, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a local man has been summoned to appear at South Somerset and Mendip Magistrates’ Court on 19th April 2012 for an alleged offence in connection with works to a Scheduled Monument without Scheduled Monument Consent contrary to section 2(1) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
Priddy Circles, near Wells, is a scheduled monument of four large Neolithic circular earthwork enclosures.
Issued by English Heritage Communications
4 April 2012
Sandy Gerrard writes:
18 vital questions regarding the construction of a windfarm on the Mynydd Y Betws archaeological landscape are yet to be answered. Here are the first eight:
On the slopes of Bancbryn (forming part of Mynydd Y Betws) there is an incredibly rich multi-period archaeological landscape the importance of which has in part been recognised by Cadw’s designation regime. To all intents and purposes this looks like an important ceremonial/ritual landscape with a stone row forming its focus. The hillside is further enhanced by the survival of a range of historic features highlighting the importance of the area in more recent years. This impressive landscape now has a large road cutting right through its heart and shortly will have two substantial wind turbines towering 110m above it. The setting of this significant landscape will be compromised for years to come and even after the turbines have been dismantled the archaeology lost in their construction will be gone for ever. It is just not possible to replace archaeology once it has been destroyed and for this reason and quite rightly so there are legal constraints in place to ensure that archaeology is recorded before it is destroyed. This has not happened at Mynydd Y Betws and it is therefore surely appropriate that an explanation of this lamentable situation is forthcoming. To provide a focus I would suggest that answers to the following questions are needed:
Question 1. Why was no earthwork survey ever conducted?
If this work had been carried out the archaeological remains of many periods would not have been destroyed before they could be recorded. The Planning Inspector observed that there was unrecorded archaeology within the development area and despite this no measures were taken to remedy the situation. The plan below is an unofficial survey of the archaeology and evaluation trenches. It took 2 days to produce and on many levels is more informative than the evaluation work carried out as part of the planning conditions. A survey of this type would have provided a context for the archaeology within the development area and allowed a properly targeted and effective mitigation exercise.
Question 2. Why was no watching brief carried out when a fence was erected on the very edge of a scheduled monument (see image below)?
Question 3. Why was no archaeological watching brief being conducted on 16 th January 2012 when a large digging machine was removing topsoil adjacent to a scheduled monument (see image below)?
Question 4. Why despite the fact that Evaluation Trench 36 (see below) was cut straight across the stone row was the stone row not identified?
Question 5. Was the possibility of protecting the row below the new road even considered?
At Rotherwas, near Hereford, English Heritage insisted that the Rotherwas Ribbon, a linear feature (see below) of unknown significance be protected in this manner when a road was built, thus preserving it in situ…..
Question 6. Why was no evaluation trench placed across the obvious linear hollow labelled on the map as a hollow way (see below)?
Given that a length of this earthwork was going to be destroyed by the new access road why was no trench actually placed across this very obvious earthwork and instead positioned on apparently level ground next to it? Why was this very obvious archaeological feature within the permitted development area ignored by the evaluation report? Does not this oversight confirms that the evaluation was not carried out to adequate standards, as graphically illustrated by the fact that most of the feature within this photograph was subsequently destroyed?
Question 7. Why was no evaluation trench placed across the three cairn-like features between Evaluation Trenches 38 and 39?
The photograph below shows a probable cairn partly within the permitted development area below the bucket of the digger. This feature was not located during the archaeological mitigation works.
Question 8. Why was the bank with associated ditch near to Evaluation Trench 40 not examined and why was the trench not excavated on the site of the earthworks? The feature has now been cut through by the road and is clearly visible in the section formed by the newly constructed road ditch – see below.
…… whereas the surviving ditch and associated bank can still be seen beyond the permitted development area (see below):
The remaining 10 questions will be published shortly but the following comments are relevant to them all:
Three main agencies are involved in this matter and some of the questions are more pertinent to Carmarthenshire County Council than others. However, as the authority responsible for firstly approving the scheme of works and more importantly for discharging the planning condition it is clearly justifiable for the public on whose part they are acting to ask why so much of the archaeology has been ignored in the process. Nowhere does it say that most of the archaeology should be disregarded or ignored, but sadly this is clearly what has happened and an explanation would in the circumstances seem appropriate.
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The Wrekin in Shropshire is visited by countless thousands of people and erosion due to footfall is an ongoing problem. Particularly affected is “The Barrow between Heaven and Hell’s Gate” close to the summit. Volunteer restoration teams have recently been at work to protect it.
Pete Lambert, from Shropshire Wildlife Trust explained: “We are covering it with matting and then sowing it with grass seed to protect it from further damage. It was starting to become very exposed so we needed to seal in that bit of archaeology.”
The Wrekin was once home to the Celtic Cornovii tribe which built the fort and called it their capital. It sprawled the summit of the hill and covered about 20 acres. Mr Lambert added: “Hell Gate, the earthwork entrance created by the Cornovii, has also suffered extensive erosion and is being restored“. More here.