The Modern Antiquarian. Ancient Sites, Stone Circles, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic Mysteries

Fieldnotes by thesweetcheat

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Cefn Coch (Cairn(s))

What is entirely certain though, is the massive Cefn Coch (“Red Ridge”) cairn. It would be impressive anywhere, but what sets it apart from comparable sites is the stunning backdrop of the Carneddau.

Turning its face resolutely from the sea hidden behind a ridge to the north, the cairn unquestionably looks inland towards the mountains. The very highest peaks of the range are hidden from here, but the skyline is filled with an array of summits all well above the 2000ft mark, several of which boast contemporary monuments.

It's a breathtaking sight and we sit in awe for quite a while.

Cors y Carneddau (Stone Circle)

Having singularly failed to realise we’d missed Circle 278, we continue west along the main track. Cors y Carneddau circle is supposedly on the north side of the track. Surely this should be easy to find?
Well, no. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there are quite of lot of random stones in the grass here. Which ones do you choose?

Eventually we decide that a group quite near to the drystone wall, just east of a corner, is the best bet. There are at least four stones in a sort-of arc, with a couple of additional possibles close by. But I could be persuaded otherwise…

Monument 280 (Standing Stones)

Blossom has Frances Lynch’s excellent Gwynedd guide with her and we have a quick look to see what else there is around here. The prominent jumble of upright stones visible to the west is the most obvious place to head next. Unfortunately we don’t realise that Circle 278 is hidden away over a little crest and miss it completely. Drat.

Monument 280 (these numbers suggest a spectacular profusion of other sites crowding around us) is very difficult to get a handle on, even when you’re standing in its midst. A row of four uprights run north-south across the monument, while on the west an apparent kerb forms its edge. Shapes and patterns can be discerned, but are contradicted by other patterns. Truly an enigma.

Y Meini Hirion (Stone Circle)

It’s not much more of a pull upwards to reach the circle. There’s no-one else about so I can savour this beauty properly. The setting is as good as any stone circle I’ve been to, particularly on such a wondrous summer’s day. The sea to the north, the high peaks of the Carneddau mountains to the south. It’s a bit special this.

The stones are big, certainly bigger than you’d find in many Welsh circles. Each has character and there are veins of quartz here and there. Although some of the stones have fallen, it doesn’t detract from the overall impression.

Mountains, stones, silence, sea and sky.

I could write a few pages of superlatives, but really you should come and see for yourself. In the meantime, we have some lunch and take it all in.

Circle 275 (Stone Circle)

It’s a further steady slog of a climb up from Maen Crwn, and the excitement levels really ramp up from here on. Druid's Circle is already visible on the skyline above, but it's still worth restraining the urge to get there for a while with a pause at this lovely little circle.

Like something someone might build around a campfire, a simple ring of smooth stones, with a wonderful sea view. The dogs are very taken, sniffing around the inside of the ring. If it weren't for the fact that the Big Attraction is so visibly close, it would be easy to stop here for a good while.

But we don't.

Maen Crwn (Standing Stone / Menhir)

After passing Red Farm stone circle without a proper look, the impressive boulder of Maen Crwn is the first proper stop on the walk up towards the Druid's Circle.

Set in the V of a valley between higher hills, the long views are restricted. But it feels like a stone-on-the-way-to-somewhere stone, the kind you often find marking your path in upland Wales when on the way to exciting destinations. And given what waits above, it certainly performs that function beautifully.

The pull of the circles is too much to linger though...

Falkner's Circle (Stone Circle)

By now the threatening skies of earlier have turned to a persistent drizzle, and contact with any vegetation leads to an immediate soaking. I decide to leave the road and Avenue and instead head east to look for the scant remains of Falkner’s Circle.

A path leads round the margin of the field, eventually reaching a gateway where a single standing stone marks the position of the poor old circle. Nettles surround it, neglected and lost, a sad survivor with no-one to talk to. I’d like to come back on a less gloomy day, perhaps in the winter when the nettles have gone. It doesn’t feel like a place to linger today though.

West Kennett Avenue (Multiple Stone Rows / Avenue)

From The Sanctuary, a permissive path allows access to the remnants of West Kennett Avenue on the south side of the A4. This part of the monument seems to receive little attention, probably because of its separation from the better preserved section running northwestwards to Avebury.

However, it’s well worth a visit to make sense of the relationship of The Sanctuary and the henge complex. The first stone encountered is an enormous fallen slab, jutting out from the hedgeline. Beyond that is another fallen stone, apparently broken with a smaller piece placed on its top. The final stone in this group still stands, buried in the hedge and trapped behind barbed wire. It has been broken, leaving a short stump in place. Screened from the busy A4 by the thick hedge, this is a hidden spot, remarkably quiet for somewhere so close to the Avebury tourist hub. It doesn’t have the atmosphere or obvious draw of the well-known northern section of the Avenue, but it’s another part of the jigsaw that makes up this fascinating landscape.

Risking life and limb I cross the A4 onto the B4003, a narrow but busy road that runs parallel with the Avenue on its way to the henge. It’s worth stopping off at the single upright stone, separated from its companions by the road and hedges, looked down upon by the linear cemetery of massive round barrows along the Overton Hill ridge to the east.

The Sanctuary (Timber Circle)

I visited The Sanctuary once before, on my first trip to Avebury. On a day of first contact with heart-stopping monuments, the concrete-marked circle seemed an anticlimax, a curio and little more. Today I’m more receptive, especially after the long, peaceful walk over the downs to get here.

The place is deserted when I arrive, allowing a better appreciation of the layout and in particular the size of the rings. The outer circle is a wide 40m across, as big as almost any stone circle I’ve been to. Although the little concrete blocks are no substitute for stately sarsens or hefty timbers, there’s still much to enjoy here, if you can block out the steady roar of the busy A4 just over the hedge. Looking south across the low Avebury 23 round barrow, the tree-covered form of East Kennett long barrow can be seen from the circles. Such a shame that the original grandeur is lost forever though.

Allington Down (Round Barrow(s))

Sadly the barrows on Allington Down have been rather less well-treated than their neighbours up on the ridge. Once a group of six, there’s nothing to see of all but one now. The plough has taken care of the rest. However, the one that does remain is very decent. It’s quite overgrown with nettles and long grass, topped with three shrubby May Trees in bloom, making it difficult to see whether there’s damage to its top.

I can see Silbury, peaking out from trees and indicating how far I still have to go to get to Avebury today. So I go.

Tan Hill (west) (Round Barrow(s))

Leaving Kitchen Barrow it’s an easy walk around the rim of the escarpment to the western flank of Tan Hill. The first encounter is with the linear earthwork running just below the top of the slope. Presumably part of the same thinking that constructed a much longer section of bank and ditch on the northwestern side of the hill, it’s pretty well-preserved, with the hillside falling steeply away below it.

A bit of further uphill huff and puff and I’m in the midst of the round barrow group that crowns the western spur of Tan Hill, a promontory separated by a narrower neck from the main bulk of the hill to the east.

Tan Hill is the second highest hill in Wiltshire, only fractionally lower than nearby Milk Hill and part of the same long east-west ridge. As you’d perhaps expect from such a prominent place, looking out across the downs in all directions, the ridge is covered in a timespan of prehistoric sites from the Neolithic long barrows of Kitchen Barrow at the western end and Adam’s Grave at the eastern end, through numerous round barrows and Iron Age earthworks, with Rybury hillfort on a southern spur. There’s a great view westwards, taking in King’s Play Hill and Morgan’s Hill, each topped with further barrows, as well as the unmistakable Cherhill Down and Olbury with its obelisk.

The barrow group includes three bowl barrows, in a NW-SE line, with a much larger disc barrow close to the two northern bowl barrows. All are clearly visible, if rather reduced by ploughing. The bowl barrows (particularly the one at the SE) bear clear excavation damage. They are all covered by sheep-cropped grass, so there’s no seasonal vegetation problem to contend with in a visit.

Although it’s the most damaged, the SE barrow is still pretty impressive and boasts very extensive views. The central barrow is bigger, well over a metre high despite the ravages of time and barrow diggers. The NW barrow is the runt of the litter, clinging to its sloping setting like a barnacle. All have well defined surrounding ditches. The adjoining disc barrow is great too, almost 20m across, including its outer bank. All in all well worth the effort of the walk.

Kitchen Barrow (Long Barrow)

From the strip fields there is a great view of Kitchen Barrow Hill to the east. The south-facing scarp is steep and the presence of an intervening dry valley heightens the impression that Kitchen Barrow was placed to be seen from the neighbouring slopes. The area around the barrow is open access land, so there are no complications in getting to the site.

Pastscape records show a round barrow to the north of the long barrow, at a point where the fence changes direction. However, although there are several bumps alongside the fenceline, none is particularly obvious or convincing as the round barrow depicted on the OS map.

The long barrow is certainly obvious though, 30m or so long and a couple of metres high at its southern tip, with well defined flanking ditches. It lies along the sloping crest of the ridge, with its northeastern end almost blending into the hillside. The views south are extensive, as the ground drops sharply to the farmland and the valley of the Kennet & Avon Canal below. To the west there’s a great view of the multi-phase west end of Tan Hill, where more strip fields lie below a linear prehistoric earthwork and a group of Bronze Age round barrows are silhouetted on the skyline.

A good place to stop for a while and let the world turn, especially on a Wiltshire big skies day of fast-moving cloud. Regrettably today’s visit is under a rather more leaden variety.

Roughridge Hill (Long Barrow)

The first stop off is Roughridge Hill long barrow. Well-defined on the OS map, the reality is rather less impressive. Unless you know it’s there, you’d pass by without a glance. All that remains is a low rise in the grassy field, hard up against the edge of the much bigger Wansdyke. The proximity of the dyke may suggest that the long barrow was a reasonably obvious landmark, perhaps a boundary feature, made use of by the earthwork builders when they were planning their route. Sadly it’s not so prominent now, not really worthy of much of a pause as I head across the hill.

Two lithe brown shapes dart into my path, then rise on hind legs to survey their route – it’s the first hares I’ve seen this year, always a great pleasure to encounter.

Henley Bank (Round Barrow(s))

Leaving Churchdown Hill by its southeastern slopes, the M5 and various fast-moving main roads now occupy much of the low-lying plain below (18.1.2015).

This barrow is one of very few surviving prehistoric sites below the Cotswolds escarpment. Although there are plenty of examples in various states of disrepair up on the limestone plateau, most of the barrows down in the vale of the Severn have long-ago succumbed to the ravages of agriculture, or they simply never existed.

I've never made it here before, as the combination of A-Road and muddy fields that provide the surrounding landscape look unappealing enough on a map. But the long-awaited visit to Churchdown makes this an obvious enough pairing.

I approach from Brockworth Road to the west. The OS 1/25000 shows a footpath skirting the fields alongside the A417, but when I get to the relevant spot there's no signpost. I take my chance and follow the route around the field edge. This is yet another of those fields of clinging clay that the farms round here specialise in. It's not too bad on the field edge, but at length I get to the point where the map shows the path cutting northeast across the field towards the little wood where the barrow lies. Although only a couple of hundred yards, I seem to have picked up a large proportion of the field's surface by the time I make it to the woodland verge.

From here it's easier going, a narrow track running alongside the woodland. At the northern corner, a very welcoming post informs me that access to the wood is permitted by the landowner, so getting to the barrow is straightforward as long as the vegetation is kind.

The barrow is near the northern edge of the wood. When I get to it, I'm relieved to find it has not been planted. The woodland itself is young, and a space for the barrow has clearly been left open. The barrow itself is rather disappointing, almost flattened and only really obvious as a mound when viewed from the south. However, the woodland setting is really rather nice. The nearby road doesn't intrude and I can imagine that in spring the new growth in the canopy will make for a very pretty spot.

Despite its relatively poor state, the barrow was rich with finds. Gloucestershire HER mentions 14 worked flints and "a fossilised burrow from a marine boring bivalve that had probably been reused as a bead".

I leave through Primrose Vale Farm to the east, realising as I do that access to the woods is possible - and signposted - directly from the farm shop, so if you're coming by car, this is the way to come (there's a car park at the farm shop).

It's not the best barrow you'll ever see, but the rarity of a site in this low-lying landscape makes it worth the effort in itself, with the tranquility of the surrounding woods an added bonus.

Churchdown Hill (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

One of two unvisited sites within walking distance of my house, this has niggled and nagged away at me for a few years now. So a beautiful January Sunday (18.1.2015) finally gets me off the sofa to go and have a proper look.

The walk up from Churchdown is straightforward enough, passing the wonderfully named "Criftycraft Lane" on my way. At Churchdown Green the ice makes the tarmac suddenly treacherous, but thankfully it's a short enough bit of uphill skating.

Below the church, the lane is bordered on its right by what appears to be a large bank, the sort of thing that could suggest an inturned entrance to an Iron Age site. However, it could just be a natural crease in the hillside. Overgrown with brambles and scrub, it's not easy to investigate much further.

The lane opens out to a vista of green banks. Not anything ancient unfortunately, just the grassed sides of one of several reservoirs that now fill the centre of the hilltop. Along with quarrying, these may well have destroyed much chance of establishing its prehistoric origins. Round the corner, the church is very striking, perched on top of a huge mound - natural? Hmm.

The corner of the churchyard looks out over the Severn plain with the steep Cotswold escarpment forming its eastern edge. I can count more than half a dozen Iron Age forts and settlements visible from here, with more yet on the Malverns ridge over to the northwest.

Leaving the churchyard and its super-friendly cat familiar, a little gate leads onto a footpath circumnavigating the rim of the hilltop. I'm soon into an area of hideous Cotswold mud, the kind that clings to your boots and adds several pounds. The ground drops fairly steeply, and there appears to be a slight embankment along the top, perhaps suggesting some counterscarping has taken place.

Round to the west the walk would be lovely, under a spacious canopy of deciduous woodland, if it weren't for the continuing hindrance of the mud underfoot. The highest part of the hill is at the southwestern corner, up a slope of particularly slippery mud. Here a toposcope points out the distant Black Mountains, as if their bright white snow covering were not enough today.

The southern side of the hill is the steepest, and there is no obvious sign of anything that could be a man-made or enhanced earthwork here . It is a lovely spot though, as the sun filters through the slender pine trees.

Although nothing about the visit today confirms categorically whether there was a fort here, it would certainly be a fine spot for one, with tremendous visibility in all directions and natural defences from its steep slopes. Iron Age finds have turned up within the site and I'm inclined to believe it more likely than not that it would have been occupied and probably fortified too.

With one itch finally scratched, from here I head off to another one.

Harold Stone (The Havens) (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Regrettably failed visit 24 July 2014.

After a walk up from Broadhaven to see the Upper Lodge Stones, we carried on along the road in the hope of getting to see this rather less overgrown monolith.

It's clearly visible over the hedge on the approach, but sadly is right in someone's back garden, so permission to view is a must here. We knocked on the door but no-one was in and in view of the setting, we didn't try a sneak. Shame, but there you go. Looks like a very fine stone, someone is lucky to have that as a garden feature!

Disappointment aside, it's a great, if rather unusual position for a standing stone. Not many of the standing stones in this part of Pembrokeshire are set on cliff tops. The sea fills the western vista and no doubt there are some spectacular sunsets from here. We watched the sunset over Ramsey Island later on the same evening, quite lovely.

Upper Lodge Stones (Standing Stones)

Visited 24 July 2014.

It's a steepish walk up the road from Broadhaven on such a hot day. There are two stones visible, buried in the wall/hedge next to the road. Ivy is taking its inexorable grip over both of them, a chopping would be beneficial.

Assuming the stones go down to road surface level (or further), they're blooming tall, both well over 6 feet. The setting obviously doesn't make for the best of ambience, but is visible for a long way south, from the seafront at Broadhaven. Presumably they have a relationship with the nearby Harold Stone, although the two sites are not intervisible. If they ever were part of a stone circle, they would be in a pretty atypical position for one.

Towednack Double Armed Cross

25 June 2014

Surprised to find this on TMA. The cross is carved into a long granite slab and looks medieval to me - perhaps a grave slab. There's much of interest to look at inside the church, but all rather outside TMA's scope.

One nice bit of folklore though, to explain the shortness of the tower - each time the masons got it higher than the present level, the Devil would knock it down again. Eventually they gave up, making it unique in being the only medieval church in West Penwith without pinnacles on the tower.

From here we headed up over Amalveor Downs to visit an old friend, Zennor Quoit.

Treryn Dinas (Cliff Fort)

24 June 2014

The walk along the coast path from Carn les Boel is lovely one, rugged cliff tops dropping away to the blue-green below. At Gwennap Head basking sharks can sometimes be seen, but we don't have that privilege today.

It's an up-and-down section of path, dropping down to the tiny sandy beach at Porthgwarra (tea-shop), back up to exposed cliffs before a further drop to St Levan's Well above Porth Chapel. The well is worth a stop off, in its unusual position half way up the cliffs. From here it's a brief foray into tourist central near the famous Minack Theatre and the thronged beach at Porthcurno. From the cliffs above the Minack there is a great view of the day's final objective, the impossibly craggy headland of Treryn Dinas (pronounced "Treen").

We last came here about eight years ago, I only have a few crappy pictures and am keen to return - since then we've only seen the headland from a couple of boat trips, which reinforced just how startlingly rocky the site is. Along with its companion on the north coast, Gurnard's Head, this is the most impressive of the West Penwith cliff forts.

The defences are quite something. The outermost consist of a single, huge earthwork bank, several metres high in places. South of this is a flat area, quite overgrown now, before the central defences appear quite some way further south. These are formed of three lines of banks and ditches, much smaller in size than the outer rampart, but still providing a series of obstacles for any unwanted guests to negotiate. Beyond these, the ground slopes downwards towards a band of craggy granite outcrops. A sort-of path runs through the centre of these, taking the visitor along a ever-narrowing channel between the rocks. There is an easier route round to the west, but it would be interesting to know which was the original way in - perhaps one was the tradesman's entrance.

Once you've semi-scrambled over these, you are confronted with the narrowest point of the headland, where a ditch fronts another well-defined stone rampart, the innermost of the defences. Stone facing still lines the entrance through the centre of the bank. A circular round house (perhaps a guard house) originally existed at each end of this, but one has largely eroded away now.

Beyond this final earthwork, the tip of the headland is a wonder of jagged towers of granite. One of these is topped by the famed "Logan Rock", a rocking stone once toppled by sailors of the Royal Navy and re-erected at their expense following a public outcry. Quite right too.

I have a good scramble about in the rocks, although I don't manage to find a way up to the Logan Rock itself - I'm sure a longer visit would provide the answer to how to get up there, but it's quite exposed in places and the wind whips around the rocks, even on this sunny June day.

It's an amazing place here. Once beyond the innermost rampart, there's little that would suggest a nice place to live though. My speculative guess is that any occupation here took place further inland, within either the safety of the enormous outer earthwork or the central rows. Which leaves the question of why build a strongly defended rampart across the rocky tip of the headland. Perhaps someone important had their home here, or perhaps the headland was kept free of riff-raff for the inevitable "ritual purposes". My usually sceptical self can certainly imagine that here, as the wind gusts around the stone towers and the focal point of the Logan Rock itself, perched above it all.

Carn Les Boel (Cliff Fort)

24 June 2014.

We carry on round the coast path from Pordenack Point and its trashed barrows. The sea is that beautiful turquoise blue that you get in far west Cornwall when the weather is at its best, and it's sure at its best today.

The little cove at the base of Lower Bosistow Cliff is quite lovely, revealing a narrow arch cutting deep into - and through - the rock below the headland. From there it's a reasonably steep climb up onto the headland itself, where a sign warns of the dangers of coastal erosion and advises that we stick to the path. Which we do, at least until we reach the fort that occupies the rocky tip of the promontory.

For some reason when we first walked along this stretch of the path we didn't visit Carn les Boel fort. I'm not sure why, perhaps just laziness or a desire to Get Along. No pressures today though, so we can have a leisurely explore and some lunch, away from the Land's End crowds.

Although the rampart isn't as big and impressive as some of the others on this Cornish coast, it's still immediately apparent. It slopes steeply from the central neck of the promontory, ending at sheer cliffs. It's not clear if it always ended so sharply or whether erosion has taken its toll. The ditch is mostly silted up, but from the rampart there is a great view across Nanjizal to the next headland, confusingly named Carn Boel.

The entrance to the fort interior is flanked by large granite blocks, one of which has fallen. The other one is an impressive size, weighing a good few tons. Slightly down the slope is the precariously balanced boulder shown in Hamish's picture.

The interior is quite rocky, dropping to rugged cliffs at its tip. Not the most hospitable place you could decide to set up home, but then there's no evidence that anyone ever did. No hut circles or anything structural can be seen.

We sit and enjoy the view and the sunshine for a while, before deciding to head onwards. We're aiming for Treen and particularly Treryn Dinas today, so we've a little way to go. Before we leave, I take a minor detour to look for the Higher Bosistow round barrow. It occupies the highest part of the headland and has terrific views of the coast. Unfortunately the barrow itself is almost missing in action, barely more than a slight rise in the ground with a scooped centre. Great spot though. Inevitably.
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