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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.

The Horse's Head

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!

© Jane Tomlinson "Sitting in the shade of the Wayland's beech trees after a hot, dusty walk from Uffington Castle, I stopped to admire the sketch I'd made of the Wayland's site from further up the hill..."

© Jane Tomlinson
“Sitting in the shade of the Wayland’s beech trees after a hot, dusty walk from Uffington Castle, I stopped to admire the sketch I’d made of the Wayland’s site from further up the hill…”

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.

Afterword

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’re holding a Heritage Journal picnic at the Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire on Sunday 14th September. All are welcome. Just pop along from about midday and bring lots of food and chat – and some megalithic books to swap if you’d like.

See you here! [Image Credit: Jane Tomlinson, Heritage Action]

“X” marks the spot! (or we’ll be at a local pub [to be announced] if the weather is poor).

This will be our 8th public Megameet since 2003 and the first one we’ve held away from Avebury. If you haven’t been, The Rollrights are a fascinating place to visit, 3 sites within a couple of minutes walk from one another with a unique atmosphere and a host of myths and legends.

Picnic anyone?

Picnic anyone? See you on Sunday 14th September!

In the meantime, don’t forget the Rollrights Open Day (see below).

Ten years ago today, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.

Site of original ritual gathering. 28 July 2003

Site of original ritual gathering, 26 July 2003

From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. 140 archaeologists have contributed articles to it and it is currently followed by more than 4,500 people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).

We can’t claim the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, updated nearly every day and with articles that are as diverse as possible. If you don’t like Stonehenge you could scroll down or use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plainthe Hillfort Glow experiment,   the stony raindrops of Ketley Crag,   the policeman who spotted three aliens in Avebury  or indeed that the Uffington Horse may be a dog!

Now that we’ve reached this milestone (which coincides with this year’s Day of Archaeology – do please join in there too, if you can!) the question arises – where does the Journal go from here, and for how long? It’s a matter for conjecture for it depends entirely on the efforts of contributors and the wishes of readers.  A number of veterans from the original picnic are still involved and we’ve also been joined by a number of excellent new contributors but we’re always on the look out for still more. Please consider helping (an article, many articles or a simple news tip-offs and a photograph – whatever you like) as it’s a worthy cause that is only truly valid if it’s a communal entity with multiple public voices. In addition, any suggestions for future innovations or improvements will be gratefully received (brief ones in the Comments or longer ones at theheritagejournal@gmail.com).

Better still, we’ll shortly be holding a pow-wow and lunch (details to be announced) to discuss how the Journal should progress from now on. You’re more than welcome to come.

This henge and stone circle is entirely a reconstruction, improbably situated between a flooded gravel pit and a landfill site just south of the village of Stanton Harcourt to the west of Oxford. But this is far from a ‘Disney’ theme park site. The large circular enclosure is defined by a bank and internal ditch, which has entrances to the east and west. Within lies a circle of 28 local conglomerate stones, the Quoits, with one off-set on the south side.

The nearby village of Stanton Harcourt takes it’s name from the stone circle; Stan-tun, or “farmstead by the stones”. This nomenclature is also seen in other sites, such as Stanton Drew south of Bristol, and Stanton Moor in Derbyshire. The village became known as Stanton Harcourt after Robert de Harcourt of Bosworth, Leicestershire inherited lands of his father-in-law at Stanton in 1191. The manor has remained in the Harcourt family to the present day.

In the Second World War, the two remaining stones at that time were flattened (but recorded) as part of the construction of a wartime airfield, the henge and ditch having disappeared long before as the result of earlier agriculture. Thus the site had all but disappeared from the record with nothing remaining to be seen.

Excavations in the area first started in the 1980’s and have continued for over 3 decades, largely overseen by Oxford Archaeology. A report of findings has been produced, showing that the area has been in extensive use for habitation and ritual since at least the Neolithic, right through to the post Roman era.

With use of the site planned for gravel extraction, in 1996 Time Team recorded a dig here.  In Season 3 episode 2, recorded in April 1995, the team unearthed evidence of remains of mammoths and other prehistoric animals. The conclusion was that the site had been in use since at least the Mesolithic period.

In 1846, the stones at that time were described briefly in “The wanderings of a pen and pencil” by F. P. Palmer and Alfred Henry Forrester:

…we turned our steed to the village, and inquired of the first juvenile upon the road the whereabouts of the stones in the vicinity, usually called the “Devil’s Quoits.”
“It’s over the field,” said the smock-frocked urchin, pointing westward, in the direction of the stream. At our bidding, and with the understanding of a compensation, we wagged his pair of cumbrous heels by the side of our vehicle, and became our guide. The first rude stone lies in a field to the right of the field road, and is of no great size. the second is in another in a “land” further on. The third, and the tallest, beyond that, in another ground.
“Them be the devil’s kites!” said the guide; “a many year ago they carried a bigger than all on ’em away, to make a bridge somewhere.” We alighted, and deliberately inspected them. They are of the sandstone common to the country, veined with a deeper shade.

By 1856, Dicken’s Dictionary of the Thames counts only two of the stones, and gives a brief mention of their possible origin.

Some half-mile from Stanton Harcourt are two large stones called the “Devil’s Quoits”, which are said, on doubtful authority, to have been set up to commemorate a great battle fought in 614 between the Britons and the Saxons under that Cynegil who was subsequently baptized by Birinus at Dorchester.

Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of England (1835) also mentions this same battle (and may well be source of the quote above), adding that more than 2000 Britons were killed in the battle.

The name of the “Devil’s Quoits” pertains to another legend, outlined in the book ‘Oxfordshire Folklore’, by Christine Bloxham (tempus 2005), it is said that the Devil was playing a game of quoits and was told off by God, because it was a Sunday and there was to be no recreation. In a petulant fit of anger the Devil threw the quoits as far as he could and where they landed became the site we now know.

A different legend suggests the same devil was playing a game of quoits with a beggar, which the beggar lost. The quoit remained to form the henge we see today. One of the stones was reported to have been removed for a bridge over the nearby Black Ditch. However, the stone kept slipping and would not remain in place, so was returned to the circle.

But what of the monument today? Completely reconstructed, some would now dismiss it as a fake. Certainly, the ground inside the henge is strewn with litter and bones (and the smell!) from the nearby landfill, and the makeup of the soil being largely uncompacted suggest that it’s a relatively new addition. True, rabbits (a largely Norman import) have devastated the banks of the ditch despite all efforts to control them. And yet, standing on the raised bank of the henge, looking across at the altered landscape, this site has a certain something evocative of the past.

Links:

This week there have been lots of images of the Uffington White Horse in a desecrated state thanks to a certain insensitive firm of bookmakers so we thought we’d show this view from it rather than of it by Heritage Action member Jane Tomlinson.

View from White Horse Hill (C) Jane Tomlinson

We’re particularly fond of that spot as it was where many of the Heritage Action founder members first met up. The monument and it’s surroundings are not a place for cheapening in our view or that of countless others. Let’s hope the National Trust takes steps to make it much clearer in future than they have in the past that they absolutely agree.

You can see more of Jane’s work here. Her annual exhibition as part of Oxfordshire Artweeks this year is on 5, 6, 12 and 13 May 2012.

Saturday, 16 July. 14:30–15:30.

Gallery talk by David Griffiths and Jane Harrison on HLF funded East Oxford community archaeology and history project.

Since 2010 the Heritage-Lottery Funded East Oxford Community Archaeology and History Project has been up and running, providing a way for people of all ages and backgrounds to get actively involved in researching the landscape and history of the ‘other’ Oxford, east of the Cherwell, where few tourists venture (as yet!) but which is full of hidden and not-so hidden archaeological and historical interest. Targets so far have included studying historic villages, earthworks, a medieval leper hospital, a collection of prehistoric flints, and excavating a Victorian bottle dump.

Free. Location: Pitt Rivers Museum, Entry via Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PW.

Org: Pitt Rivers Museum
Tel: 01865 270927
Email: prm@prm.ox.ac.uk
Web: www.prm.ox.ac.uk

When thinking about megaliths in Oxfordshire, one complex springs immediately to mind – the Rollrights. This article is not about those famous stones, but about some of the ‘other’ less known, ancient stones of Oxfordshire.

Our journey will begin on the A44 from Oxford, heading north out of Woodstock, the home of Blenheim Palace. Six miles from Woodstock is the village of Enstone, just after a petrol station on the left is the B4022 signposted to Charlbury. Turn left here. As you emerge from the tree cover, turn left at the first junction and park immediately – there is room on both sides of the road to pull off. Behind and to your right is the first site of the day, which you probably didn’t spot as you were concentrating on parking!

Hoar Stone, Enstone (SP378237)

Hoar Stone, Enstone. © Alan S

Hidden among the trees in a low walled enclosure, are the remains of the Hoar Stone chamber tomb. These old stones are almost invisible, stained green with moss and lichen to match the surrounding trees. Despite the closeness of the road, there is a very calm and serene atmosphere here, a pleasant place to stop and rest for a while.

Local stories suggest these stones were erected in memory of a General Hoar in the Civil War – the largest stone is known as the ‘Old General’ but they are obviously much older than that! Another legend, common elsewhere, suggests that they are a man, his horse and his dog, turned to stone for some unnamed ‘evil’ deed. The stones have been dated to the Early Neolithic, three upright orthostats survive but there may originally have been a surrounding ring cairn.

Turn the car around and turn left onto the B4022, taking a minor right fork for Spelsbury, then turning left at the junction for Taston and the next stop on this brief journey. Parking is difficult in this tiny village, but if you find the village, you’ll see the Thor Stone near the remains of the village cross – the stone is located to the north east of the village green on a roadside verge.

Thor Stone, Taston (SP359220)

Thor Stone, Taston. © Alan S.

This 7 feet high stone leans against a garden wall, described on The Modern Antiquarian as “leaning nonchalently as if waiting for a rural bus service that was discontinued years before.” In the year 1278, the village of Taston was recorded as ‘Thorstan’, so it’s possible that the village derives its name from the stone itself.

There are various thoughts as to the origin of the stone; it was cast down as a lightening bolt by the God Thor, Bringer of Storms, it was part of a stone circle – the remnants of which were used to make the village cross base, or that it is the last surviving stone from a burial chamber. The English Heritage Register of Scheduled Monuments blandly describes it as “a prehistoric standing stone”. The stone is the same limestone as found at the Hoar Stone visited earlier.

Whilst in Taston, it’s worthwhile noting both the cross base and pillar mentioned above, and a Victorian Gothic memorial well, just down the lane.

From the village, return the way you entered, and continue along Taston Road, westwards through Spelsbury toward Chadlington. After half a mile, take the unsignposted road on the right, north through the hamlet of Dean. Just after leaving the hamlet there is a small layby on the right, a short distance before a side lane on the left. Park where possible and walk down the side lane. At the bend in the lane, a public footpath leads north off to the right. Take this footpath, which passes the Hawk Stone at the far end of the second field.

Hawk Stone, Dean (SP339235)

Hawk Stone, Dean. © Alan S

This pitted pillar of limestone sits close to the northern edge of a crop field. A public footpath passes to the west of the stone, some 35 yards away, which affords a good view. Tractor tracks may afford a closer view if you’re lucky!

Of the same oolitic limestone as the Rollright Stones, the Hawk Stone stands just over 7 feet high and has a worn cleft at the top. There could be as much as another 2-3 feet of the stone below ground to supply stability. Local legend states that witches were dragged here and  fixed via chains through the holes, to be burnt. The cleft is where the chains have worn away the soft limestone during the witches’ attempts to escape the ordeal.

There is a school of thought that this megalith could be the remains of a burial chamber, but no other orthostats have been found in the vicinity to support this. Again, the English Heritage Register of Scheduled Monuments description states “a single prehistoric standing stone”.

Stay awhile to soak up the views, and when you’re ready, return to the car for the next leg of the tour. Carry on north, out of Dean until the junction with the B4026. Turn left to Chipping Norton. At Chipping Norton, turn left again onto the B4450 and follow the road to Churchill village. Park in the village near to the church.

Churchill Stones (SP282240)

There can be little doubt that the area around present-day Churchill was important in prehistory. There are tumuli to the northeast, southeast and southwest of the village, a possible chamber tomb lies at the entrance to the Vicarage, and the church grounds include the remnants of a possible stone circle. Nearby, a possible prehistoric cup-marked stone is to be found at the base of the cross in Sarsden churchyard. There is a Churchill Heritage Centre in Hastings Road.

Churchill Village Stones. © Alan S.

But for this visit we should concentrate firstly on the Church Stones. Once again using the local oolitic limestone, these large blocks bound the southern side of the churchyard near the steps, and the shapes and wear patterns look remarkably similar to those seen at the Rollrights. Just to the north, near the Memorial Fountain, there are several kerbstones of the same kind. Are all these stones the remains of a now lost stone circle?

Churchill Chamber Tomb. © Alan S.

Returning south of the church (note the collection of grotesque stone heads surrounding the tower), take the left hand fork to Sarsden. A sadly out of print booklet, ‘The Old Stones of Rollright and District’ by Bennett and Wilson suggests that the several stones at the entrance to the Vicarage (SP284239) could be the remains of a chambered tomb, and although very overgrown and jumbled, it’s possible to see that the suggestion has some merit. Whilst not currently scheduled, these stones are surely worth a closer look by the scheduling authorities?

So, an enigmatic end to a tour that has been neccessarily brief, taking in some spectacular but lesser known sites. To assist your tour, a  Google Map is available showing the sites mentioned above. For more information on these and many other Oxfordshire Stones in the immediate area, Celia Haddon’s web site is a good place to start, along of course with The Modern Antiquarian (see the links menu, left).

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