Today, with an interlude of winter sun for about an hour.
A circular (triangular) walk from Upper Lambourn using OS map 170. Set off late morning along a surprisingly unmuddy byway as far as Postdown’s Farm from where we had to do some road walking. Clear signs of recent flooding, the adjacent fields were lake-like in places – we passed a couple of large round barrows on our left as we walked towards Seven Barrows Nature Reserve. The road was badly flooded by the entrance to the nature reserve and the entrance impassable on foot without wellies, fast flowing water running off into a nearby field (must be springs around here to cause to the water to flow such). We managed to jump across a water filled ditch and scramble under some blackthorn hedging to get a better look at the seven (possibly eight) barrows.
The landscape is astonishing – apparently 26 barrows in all dating back to 2200BC. We didn’t actually count the ones we saw besides the seven in the nature reserve but there were several. The sense of walking through an important Bronze Age cemetery was tangible.
We continued on foot along the road past Seven Barrows House and took the track towards Uffington to look for the long barrow shown on the OS map. Not much left and it would be easy to walk past if you didn’t know it was there as absorbed into a beech plantation – two fine stones remain though.
Picked up another muddy byway back to Upper Lambourn and happily came across the Hangman’s Stone just before the track back down to the village. A small standing stone approximately a metre high – probably a boundary stone.
On an unseasonably warm and sunny November afternoon it was a pleasant drive past the famous Barrows and with the summer vegetation now low the Barrows stood out even more than ever. Yellow / brown islands in a sea of lush green.
It is often the case with Barrows that they are best viewed from afar rather than close up. If I had had time I would have liked to have stopped but with Karen not feeling very well I had to settle for a 'drive by' view.
This is one of those sites I have been meaning to visit for the last couple of years and have at last finally succeeded. Very easy to find, signposted from Lambourn village. I turned into the small track signposted 'nature reserve' and parked at the small parking area. The barrows are now right next to you in a fenced field / nature reserve which is accessed through a gate. The grass was high but the barrows were easily identified. I am sure they would look even more pronounced during the winter months. To have a better view of the barrows I walked up the track leading up the hill to the woods. From here you had a bit of a 'birds eye' view of the barrows - barrows often look better from afar rather than up close. This is a great place to visit and reminded me of the various barrow cemeteries you see around the Avebury / Stonehenge area. Well worth a visit and very, very easy to access.
I wasn't really expecting the barrows to be so low in the landscape. They're kind of in a dip with very little view - so I guess the view is all focused on them (although trees have been planted one side of the road, so I don't know what the view that way would be). They seem to follow the lie of the valley.
I read Wysefool's suggestion that maybe a now-lost spring here was the reason for their location. (although what about the significance of his beloved nearby long barrow?) But in support I can tell you that I didn't dare drive my car up the track to the small car park, because there was a huge patch of deep mud I was scared to get it stuck in - surely the only mud in the whole county on this baking Sunday, so maybe there's still something springish here.
There's a kissing gate into the field, which is a nature reserve, and currently full of rough vegetation that you have to kind of wade through. I spent a lot of time looking at all the weird plants (dropwort, quaking grass, knotted clover, I won't go on) but my best moment was when I suddenly realised I was looking at a disc barrow, its shape suddenly leapt out at me. It was extremely serene here and I lounged under a beech tree on one of the barrows. The only noise was the occasional passing car and the sound of hundreds of crickets like tiny machine guns constantly firing away.
The L7B site is a major site in the area, in my opinion as great as White Horse Hill or Waylands Smithy for archaeological interest. Although not seven in number (more like 30 plus!) it is a major bronze age barrow cemetry, akin to normanton et al.
I recommend that visitors to the site should also look at some other areas of interest nearby:
1) the remains of a neolithic long barrow (as marked on the OS map 'Explorer 170 - Abingdon, Wantage and the Vale of White Horse') just on the edge of a small copse NW of the main site. Some sarsen stones remain (please, please leave them there for others!) and the 'hump' of the remains of a long barrow can still be seen. This continuity of a sacred burial site (neolithic through to bronze age - covering a good 1000 years or more) is simply amazing. The hill marked on the OS map adjacent to the long barrow site is still called 'crog hill'. This is an iron age (celtic) word which means 'hill, mound or tumulus' (Crug). Indicating that with the arrival of the iron age, the celtic peoples recognised the place as a place of the dead and this placename has survived right through to the modern day. Again, simply amazing!
2) A nearby approach road to the area (B4001) as it crosses over the ridgeway and past Sparsholt firs (the big radio tower). Has a very well preserved barrow adjacent to it (marked on the OS map). It is just inside the trees there, and its edge would have crossed the tarmac'd road. Although the main hump of the barrow is well worn, you can still see the circular bank and ditch around its circumference. The area has been recently fenced off by the local landowner (September 2003). From this view point, you can look down into the L7B area. Carrying further along the straight tarmac'd road here are a few other breaks of beech trees. Some appear to contain possible barrow sites - make your own mind up if you visit.
3) Between postdown house and sevn barrows house on the other side of the road from the main site, are more barrows worth exploring. Also further past the site on the road between 'scary hill' and 'sparsholt down' are even more barrows. Study the OS map and take a look.
All in all L7B has many sides to explore in terms of neolithic, bronze and iron age interest. Take time to visit the centre of the site, but also explore the environs, they are interesting too!
Four days into the New Year, and the miserable weather finally broke, providing a classically sunny winter's day. "Lambourn Sevenbarrows," exclaimed the delightful Jane, at the other end of the phone. "Be with you in half an hour." Cue frantic scramble for a roll of B/W film, only managing to produce a very old roll of PanF. 'Bit chancy,' I thought. 'Give it a shot, though.'
What a corking site it turned out to be; very powerful, yet utterly charming at the same time. I had expected it to be sited on the top of a high ridge, but instead it's nestling in a small dell, the downs and ridges rising up all about. I spent most of my time amongst the main group of barrows, while Jane wandered up the hillside for a more all encompassing view.
Having been to see 'The Two Towers' the previous day, Tolkien's characters were still filling my mind, and, albeit rather fancifully, I could easily visualise the Rohirrim assembled amongst the barrows in the cold winter light, come to honour their dead warriors.
In fact it felt very much like a neolithic 'Valley of the Kings', despite being a very well-used site indeed, not just for single inhumations. There is something very centering and special about this place, and seeing it for the first time in midwinter was very evocative; something to be recommended. I note that JC says it's a fine place for a picnic, when the wildflowers are blooming in abundance. Can't wait for May, then . . .
By the way, 'The Two Towers' is a jolly good movie, so go and see it; and if my photos don't turn out, at least I've had the benefit of a merging of experiences. Did Tolkien ever vist Lambourn Sevenbarrows?
26 July 2003
Fascinating site. Such a mixture of different sized and shaped barrows. And not set out in any pattern, yet seeming to fit together somehow…. Or maybe that's just me.
For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, photographs of this site have always particularly appealed to me. And I wasn't disappointed. It nestles near the bottom of the eastern side of a wide yet sheltered, gently sloping valley. I wouldn't personally use the word 'dell' as Treaclechops did in her fieldnotes, it seems more 'open' to me than what I would call a dell. No matter. A very pleasant place.
After spending 20 minutes or so walking up and down between the barrows I took a few photos from various angles, but didn't feel they were really 'working'. I meandered along the track up the hill past the barrows, but still couldn't find a view I was happy with, so I wandered back.
Studying the mounds for a few moments I looked around and behind me noticed that the very far corner of the field on the other side of the track gets up quite high.
The elevation looked like it might give a good shot with a big lens on, so nipping across a handy and sizeable gap in the fence, I strode round the edges of the field pausing only to pick up and study the odd bit of interesting looking flint. I soon gave that up when I realised just how many bits there were and matched that up with my lack of experience of worked flint!
Before I knew it I was in the top corner of the field and, fitting my 300mm lens, I had he shot I wanted…. Very satisfying! I've posted it here.
For the two weeks I have had off work, I waited for a decent day's weather to visit this place. At last it came. Treaclechops and myself had this extensive place to ourselves, the weak winter sunshine low on the horizon creating sculptural shadows on the barrows and revealing the final traces of other ploughed-over barrows in nearby fields. It was too cold to paint, so I fired off a couple of pencil sketches (difficult in thermal gloves). This was one helluva necropolis at one time, and I guess it still is. After all the shite and dutiful detritus of the 'festive season', what I needed was peace. I found it here.
Two of the longest ley lines in the UK cross close to the Lambourn Seven barrows - the St Michael ley line which courses across England from Carn Les Boel, Cornwall to Hopton on the Norfolk coast and the Belinus ley line, which courses from the Isle of White to Inverhope on its way to the Faroe islands. Both ley lines have serpentine earth energies assoicated with them, one is male and the other is female and these energies were known to ancient Chinese geomancers as Lung Mei, the Dragon's Breath.
It should be noted that the Seven Barrows area is probably more extensive than noted here. Surveys conducted around Lambourn have shown that there are significant numbers of barrow types extending northwards from Lambourn along the Wantage Road on both sides of the valley (these can be seen in the Google Earth images as cropmarks). It would seem that the valley that goes from Lambourn and out to Seven Barrows was a major cemetery.
Neolithic Long barrow discovered by L.V. Grinsell on Westcot Down. Excavations were carried out on the barrow by J.J. Wymer in 1964. A crouched burial and a later internment were found in a chamber, which consisted of a crude cist-like arrangement of sarsans, at the east end of the barrow. The side ditches produced Windmill Hill sherds below primary silt. Above the primary silt, but below the rapid silting of the south ditch, a broken human skull cap, burnt stones, sherds and animal bones were found. Among the flint implements found during the excavations were leaf shaped, petit tranchet and barbed and tanged arrowheads as well as flakes, scrapers, borers and a core. The long barrow is partially visible as cropmarks of a long mound surrounded by a ditch, on aerial photographs. The barrow appeared not to have been ploughed completely flat.
[SU 3232 8338] Long Barrow [G.T.] (1)
A long barrow was discovered at the south end of the wood on Westcot Down, by L.V. Grinsell in September 1935 (2).
It lies on the boundaries of Kingston Lisle, Lambourn and Sparsholt parishes (3)
The mound, oriented E.N.E by W.S.W., was 220 feet long, 70 feet wide and 4 1/2 feet in height at the higher eastern end, the
greater part of the latter being traversed by a cart track, while the N.E tip lies in the wood. A group of sarsens protrude
at the eastern end, some evidently placed vertically in the ground, and these may indicate a passage and chambers, possibly
of the Wayland's Smithy type [SU 28 NE 4] Ditches, 5 to 6 yards wide, run along both sides of the barrow and air photos suggest a ditch at the western end separated from the side ditches by slight intervals or causeways (2).
"The type of chambering is unknown, though it may well turn out to be a transepted gallery grave" (4).
The Lambourn long barrow can be dated c.2500-2000 BC(5) Scheduled (6) (2-6)
The western part of the long barrow is being ploughed out, but its limits are clearly defined by the difference in colour
between the dark silted ditches and the light chalk mount. The tops of the sarsens mentioned by Grinsell can be seen
protruding from the top of the mound where it is crossed by a track. Surveyed at 1:2500.
Newbury Museum have a Neolithic flint borer and scrapers from "Lambourn Long Barrow" (Acc No. 1960/8) donated by Reading
A crouched burial of late Neolithic date and a later interment in the chamber end of the barrow, were found during excvations
by J.Wymer of Reading Museum. (8)
The barrow was excavated in 1964 by J J Wymer (Reading Museum) for MPBW. The mound was virtually ploughed away but has been
constructed, apparently, as a central core (or spine) of small sarsens edged with turves and chalk heaped over. Nothing was
found in the mound, other than at the east end where there was a crude, cist-like arrangement of small sarsens containing an
unaccompanied crouched burial. The side ditches produced Windmill Hill sherds below primary silt, also a broken antler pick, charcoal, and flint artefacts. At the east end of the south ditch was a broken human skull cap, burnt stones, sherds and animal bones above primary silting, but below loose chalky rubble of rapid silting. There was no ditch around the west end. All finds are in Newbury Museum: among the flints are leaf-shaped, petit-tranchet and barbed and tanged arrowheads, flakes, scrapers, borers and a core. (9)
A c14 date for the barrow of Bc 3415 +- 180, was obtained from wood charcoal submitted to the Geochron Laboratory, Cambridge,
Mass, USA. The sample came from a small patch of burnt wood, on natural chalk under the primary chalk infilling of the south quarry ditch `near its tail end' (10)
Additional bibliogaphy (11-15)
SU 323834 Long barrow south of Westcot Down. Scheduled No 56. (16)
Other reference. (17)
The Neolithic long barrow, described by the previous authorities, is partially visible on aerial phootgraphs as a cropmark of a long mound surrounded by ditches. 45m of the west end of the barrow was visible but the east end was masked by trees. (18)
( 1) General reference O.S. 6" 1960
( 2) General reference Berks A.J. 40, 1936 59.62 (L.V.Grinsell)
( 3) General reference Trans. Newbury & Dist.F.C.7,1934-7,191+282 (H Peake)
( 4) General reference Arch of Wessex 1958, 32, (L.V.Grinsell)
( 5) General reference Guide to Prehist. Eng., 1960, 39 (N Thomas)
( 6) General reference A.M.s Eng & Wales, 1961, 19, (M.O.W.)
( 7) Field Investigators Comments F1 GHP 12-DEC-63
( 8) General reference Bull. Brit.Arch.Assn.p.2 Nov 1964
( 9) General reference Berks AJ 62 1965-6 1-16 plans etc (J J Wymer)
(10) General reference Antiquity 44 1970 144 (Notes)
(11) General reference Berks Field Res Grp 3 1965 5-7 (JJ Wymer)
(12) General reference Aer Arch 10 1984 65 fig 65 (G W Allen)
(13) General reference Earthen Long Barrow in Britain 1970 10.168,178 (P Ashbee)
(14) General reference BAR 107 pt 1 1982 182 Beaker Domestic Sites
(15) General reference BAR 35 Earlier Ne of S Eng & its Continental Background 1972 248 (AWR Whittle)
(16) General reference DOE (IAM) SAMS 1988 3 Berks
(17) General reference Oxoniensia 43, 1978, 245 (Brown L)
(18) Oblique aerial photograph reference number NMR SU3283/1-4 (ACA 7090/52-55)
I had a bit of trouble finding what is left of the long barrow as it didn't show on the O/S map I was using! For those in a similar situation, this is how you find it:
Continue north along the road which runs past the nature reserve / field containing the Lambourn Seven Barrows. In a short while, at the point where the road bends to the right, there is a parking area on the left. Park here. To the west you will see a public right of way leading up to a small wooded area. This is where you will find the remains of the barrow. There is next to nothing to see although there is a large flat stone next to a tree trunk right next to the path – just before you reach the gate. No doubt this must once have been part of the barrow?
An article in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology in 2000* gives some dates for the barrow, measured with the AMS technique. Tests were made on an antler pick that was found on the barrow's ditch floor, and this gave a similar result to bits of skull and femur that were also found - giving an average of 3760 - 3645 cal BC. So not as old as the radiocarbon dates that wysefool rightly queries below. But still pretty damn old, in the early Neolithic - building mounds like this one was very much the new fangled Neolithic thing to do. The article suggests the date supports the idea that the change from mesolithic to neolithic ways of life was rapid, though I don't know how generally believed that is?
More human remains were found amongst the sarsen stones at the head of the barrow - these gave slightly later dates of 3330 - 2885 cal BC. So the barrow still had importance in the landscape later on. And then of course it's at one end of all the Bronze age barrows of Lambourn 'seven' barrows.
*'New AMS dates from the Lambourn long barrow and the question of the earliest neolithic in Southern England: repacking the neolithic package?' Rick J Schulting (v19, issue 1).
I liked it here although there wasn't much to really see. You wouldn't really know there was anything here at all if you hadn't been forewarned. The barrow is where there's a rough patch of ground (awash with lovely pyramidal orchids at the moment) and across some confusing lumps in the edge of the wood. So it's hard to understand what's what. I was totally taken though with the huge flattish stone lurking under one of the trees, I was very pleased to spot that, I had to give it a pat. Perhaps others would be easier to find at another time of year when there's fewer leaves about. Also it didn't help that the sun was extremely hot and I was starting to feel a bit odd. Fortunately it's only a short flat jaunt back to the road (there's masses of space where you can park your car).