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

Fieldnotes by tjj

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Barbury Castle (Hillfort)

Sometimes Facebook throws up a delight. For a while now I've been linked up with a Facebook page called 'Swindon - Past and Present'. A Swindon archaeologist by the name of Bernard Phillips has been posting some very interesting items about sites of archaeological interest in and around Swindon. Just read this about Barbury Castle:

"South of Wroughton, stands the Boroughs largest and most impressive Iron Age hillfort - Barbury Castle. Like Liddington Castle it was built around 750BC. Its double defensive ditches and ramparts enclose an area 11.5 acres (4.65 hectares). A geophysical survey in 1996 and an earthwork survey in 1998 by the Royal Commission for Historical Monuments recorded forty hut circles and hundreds of pits within it. Chance discoveries include a blacksmiths hoard that comprised knives, sickles, awls, spearheads, an anvil and a chariot fitting, and pits containing pottery and skeletons. The combined evidence points to this hillfort being dominant in the region serving domestic, agricultural, trading, military and religious functions throughout the Iron Age."

The Longstone (Exmoor) (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Just had a short break in north Devon, walking on Exmoor; along the coastal path from Lynton; and the green paths around some of timeless, unspoilt villages. I was aware before going that apart from Bronze Age barrows there was no exceptionally impressive prehistoric archaeology on Exmoor – we did manage to find the Long Stone and associated barrows, Longstone Barrow and Chapman Barrows. The Long Stone stands in very boggy land about half way between them. A local man who worked in the Exmoor Visitor’s Centre down in Lynmouth told us he understood there was as much of the stone beneath the surface as there was above – the stone stands approximately three metres high (nine feet) and slim in width.
We started our walk by walking uphill towards the Pinkery Exploration Centre from Goat Hill Gate where there is a small road side parking area. The path up to Pinkery Pond was by and large a good one – once at the top it became considerably cooler and windier in the autumn sunshine. We then followed the fence line path to Wood Barrow Gate where we had to climb over a tricky barbed wire fence as the actual path was on the other side of the fence. At this point our progress was watched by a herd of Highland cattle as this was true moorland. The ground very boggy – good walking boots essential (I was very glad I changed my mind about going up there in light walking shoes). We stopped for a bit at the Long Stone Barrow to have a drink and a snack before going over to the Long Stone, which is quite well camouflaged against the moorland grass. It’s an intriguing stone and we couldn’t help speculating about why it was there, I imagine its purpose is closely related to the large barrows on either side of it. As we retraced our steps back to Pinkery Pond we saw a pair of red deer in the distance, one of them definitely a stag. Walking downhill into the warm afternoon sunshine following the course of a moorland stream made our walk an enjoyable experience indeed.

Cadbury Castle (South Cadbury) (Hillfort)

Visited Cadbury Castle a couple of days ago while driving back from the Somerset/Dorset area. The sun was sinking as we climbed up the steep stony track from the village of South Cadbury. When we reached the top everything was bathed in the glow of the setting sun. Fabulous views of the surrounding landscape, quite easy to imagine this may have been the site of a the mythical city of Camelot. Back down in the small car park, I tried to read the information board - the light was failing by now so I photographed it and have reproduced the text below. A fascinating potted history of England from the time of the Neolithic up to the 15th Century.
(Information based on the work of Leslie Alcock and the excavations at Cadbury Castle 1966-70).

From the Neolithic Age (3,000BC) to early 11th Century, the fortress of Cadbury Castle was in turn military stronghold, centre of trade and culture, and probably focus of a religious cult; by the early 16th Century folklore identified it with Camelot of Arthurian legend.

Iron Age Town – A modest Bronze Age settlement on the summit grew into a large and spectacular hill fort town, a centre of craft, trade and religious worship. The place was probably a ‘capital’ of the Durotriges whose territory included central and southern Somerset and Dorset. Dwellings within ramparts were wood, wattle and thatch. At first left alone by the Roman government, the town was forcibly cleared around 70AD by the Romans, an action which left some of the inhabitants dead and which removed others to settlements in the surrounding countryside.

The Dark Ages and Camelot – People returned to the site towards the end of the Roman period and by 500AD there was a massive refortification on the hill top. Defences of timber and dry stone walling replaced the earlier banks and posts of the new south-west gate were embedded in solid rock. Within the defences stood a large, aisled timber hall. The scale of the work and precious pottery found from the eastern Mediterranean imply a wealthy, sophisticated and highly organised military society.
The only surviving written record of the 5th Century shows Britain divided into tribal ‘kingdoms’ and later Celtic tradition tells of a series of battles against invading Saxons under the command of a figure called Arthur. Cadbury, strategically placed to defend south-west Britain, could well have been the base from which Arthur led his troops to the final victory of Mons Badonis, whether that was fought in Dorset, near Bath, or in north Wiltshire. Cadbury was first linked to Arthur by Leland in 1542:
“At the very south ende of the Chirch of South-Cadbryri standeth Camallate, sumtyme a famose toun or castelle … The people can telle nothing ther but they have hard say that Arthure much resortid to Camalat” (sic)

Saxons and Vikings – The threat of Viking invasion during the reign of Ethelred II (the “Unready”) brought the hill top into use again as an emergency administrative and commercial centre in place of Ilchester. Coind were minted at Cadanbyric between 1009 and 1019 in the safety of new defences, and a church may have been begun but the ramparts were again destroyed. Soon after the mint returned to Ilchester."

Great Orme Mine (Ancient Mine / Quarry)

Not sure what I can add to previous fieldnotes so this is just a record of my visit last week 2/6/2015.

Spent the morning walking up to Aber Falls which are truly spectacular. After lunch in Abergwyngregyn we made our way to Llandudno and the Great Orme. By now it was a bright afternoon but very windy - I mention this because the wind on the Great Orme headland was too fierce to stay out in for more than a short while.

However, the Great Orme mine was sheltered from the wind and needless to say non-existent underground. This was somewhere I've wanted to visit for a long time so was able to put my usual claustrophobia aside. Before going into the mine you have to select a hard hat and are invited to watch a short introductory video - which proved to be helpful, informing us that the ancient mines were unearthed in 1987. We were joined by a couple from West Yorkshire and let them lead the way down into the narrow 3,500 year old passages leading to a massive, prehistoric cavern which is lit by coloured lights. The passages eventually come back out into the 4,000 year old Great Opencast.
To say this place is awesome is no exaggeration - the visitors guide to Llandudno quotes Current Archaeology Magazine "Stonehenge is certainly a world class site but now it is joined by the bronze age mines at Llandudno."

In the Visitors Centre there are displays and artefacts depicting mining, smelting and life in the Bronze Age. The gift shop and second hand book shop are staffed by archaeologists and historians working on the site - all profits go back into the project.

For anyone visiting from Llandudno without a car there is the Great Orme Tramway - which apparently is Britain's only cable-hauled street Tramway. The first stop is Halfway Station and probably where you should get out for the ancient copper mine.

Capel Garmon (Chambered Cairn)

Visited Thursday 5th June, as part of a walk taken from 'Best Walks in North Wales' by Carl Rogers. The famous Victorian 'Fairy Glen' just above the Afon Conwy was at the start of this walk and of course a visit was compulsory on this beautiful warm June day (the best day of the week in weather terms). After visiting the Fairy Glen we crossed the lane to start the very steep zig zag walk up through a wooded area to eventually arrive on a peaceful lane leading to the village of Capel Garmon. Before entering the field to the tomb we had to run the gauntlet of a very barky border collie belonging to a nearby farm.

Capel Garmon burial chamber is described as "... one of the best examples of a Neolithic burial chamber in the locality and also has one of the finest settings - backed by a panorama of Snowdonia's highest peaks."
Very similar to some of the burial chambers to be found in the Cotswolds.
"The remains consist of a triple chamber faced with drystone walling as well as large upright stones using the post and panel technique."
A wonderful site in a stunning location.

Penrhosfeilw (Standing Stones)

Last visit of the day on 31/5/15.

I was starting to feel tired by now when I spotted a sign pointing uphill. My companion (the driver) kindly turned the car around and we went to investigate. These stones pleased me as much as anything I had seen earlier in the day. Early Bronze Age, standing in the middle of a field on top of a very windy hill. Visually aligned with Holyhead Mountain in one direction and Snowdonia in the other. These stones reminded me of the stones at the Ring of Brodgar - their narrow shape and height. No circle though, just two solitary tall standing stones.

Barclodiad-y-Gawres (Chambered Cairn)

Visited 31/5/2015

The interpretation board informed us that Barclodiad-y-Gawres means 'Giantess's Apronful'. I cannot add much in the way of field notes as we were not able to arrange a visit inside the tomb and could only look through the metal gate (which gave the tomb a cave like ambiance). A fabulous spot on the headland by a small bay, the entrance of the tomb faces towards the Irish sea and Ireland. The walk up to it was lovely, strewn with sea pinks on the day of our visit.

I understand there are engravings on some of the stones inside the tomb and these can be viewed by prior arrangement. I'm afraid we weren't that organised.

Bodowyr (Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech)

This is a lovely ancient site to visit. Visited on 31st May as part of our little road trip around the south west side of Anglesey. Down a quiet, narrow lane with abundant wild flowers growing along the banks. The day was starting to warm up after a chilly start and it was a real pleasure to walk over to Bodowyr - the dolmen itself stands within protective railings but with the magnificent views towards Snowdonia, the railings melted away.


Bryn Celli Ddu (Chambered Cairn)

This was the first site we visited on Sunday 31/5/2015. Easy access via quite a long path up to the burial chamber - to get to it involves crossing a small bridge and river, there was something about this that reminded me of Stoney Littleton. Anyway, suffice to say it lived up to expectations in spite of being extensively restored. The stone pillar was of course an enigma; the mysterious stone with spirals is in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff - a day trip I can make from home soon to take a closer look (see photo of information board).

The midsummer solstice solar alignment is well documented on the interpretation board over in the small car park.

Plas Newydd Burial Chamber (Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech)

I felt bit intimidated by the organisation of the National Trust on the Sunday morning we visited Plas Newydd - we didn't particularly want to go into the house a it was shaping up to be a pleasant day weather-wise so viewed the dolmen from the top of the slope is has restricted access to the public. At that time we didn't realise that unless you view Plas Newydd Burial Chamber from fairly close up it is not easy to see how splendid it is, certainly not from the path at the top of the slope where you can only see the top of it.
We went back the next day as the weather had turned wet and windy, it seemed like a good opportunity to have a look around the house. This time we asked to use the little motorised buggy that ferries less mobile people down to the house around the restricted access area. Nothing wrong with our mobility but it was a way of getting closer to the burial chamber. The driver of the buggy told us that the NT doesn't encourage people to get close to it but will allow if you specifically ask. He kindly pulled up in front of the dolmen so I could take a photograph. By this time the rain was lashing down and I had rain on the lens - so my photos are not brilliant but they do show there are actually two dolmens - a large on and a small one. The smaller one is virtually hidden from view if you look from the top of the slope. Obviously, they were there a few thousand years before the house and would have looked out over the Menai Straights towards Snowdonia.

In spite of the rain, we didn't stay long in the house ... that wasn't what I come for.

Bryn-yr-Hen-Bobl (Chambered Cairn)

Not sure where to start with my trip to Anglesey and North Wales so decided on this enigmatic small burial chamber. We went to Plas Newydd with the prime intention of seeing the dolmen on the front lawn of the house. It was a pleasant day so we decided to walk around the extensive grounds starting with the arboretum. I had given up on seeing Bryn-yr-Hen-Bobl as no one I asked seemed to know what I was talking about - on the way back from the wooded area I spotted it in a field adjacent to the Plas Newydd Gardens. We walked up to a locked gate and, feeling furtive, climbed over. The burial chamber itself is protected by a wooden fence and locked gate but easy to see it clearly over the wooden fence. Very satisfying to spot it and manage a quick visit.

Bratton Castle & Westbury White Horse (Hillfort)

Starting at Westbury White Horse today walked to Wellhead Springs which are approximately two miles from the White Horse along a well used bridleway. We didn't see them at first but when they came into view it was - yes, a magical moment. They are in a deep wooded combe which was a bit slippery to get down (but fun too). The water from the springs looked clear and clean though I didn't sample it. A dog walker told us that up until a few days earlier the place had been covered in litter. A solitary man had been down there over several days and cleared it all away with a wheelbarrow. What an unsung hero whoever he is.
Walking back uphill to a footpath which merges into the Wessex Ridgeway we came upon a massive hole in the side of the hill. A chalk quarry belonging to the concrete works in Westbury. I always wonder how this vandalism is allowed to occur to one place. I guess its just accepted in the name of commerce. So glad this hasn't been done elsewhere (to my knowledge anyway) on the wonderful chalk downs of Wiltshire.

Grimspound & Hookney Tor

On a walking break for a few days in Devon last week. Spent a day (it was never going to be long enough) travelling to and walking on Dartmoor. First walk was to Wistman's Wood - a place I have long wanted to visit. Ancient twisted oaks dripping with silvery lichen and huge rocks covered in mosses, the place had another-worldly feel.
Later, a quick roadside stop to look at Soussons Common Cairn Circle and then on to Grimspound Bronze Age settlement.
Grimspound is one of the best known prehistoric settlements on Dartmoor, probably dating from the Late Bronze Age, with the remains of 24 houses/hut circles enclosed within a stone wall. A very impressive place to visit as positioned on the steep side of some spectacular moor land. A peaty fast flowing stream runs down past one side of the circular wall.
Text taken from 'Ancient Dartmoor' by Paul White says "The most famous of the pound settlements is Grimspound, which is untypical in the immense thickness of its outer walls. It has been calculated that these would have taken 35 man-years to make. Since the site is badly positioned for defence (and the Bronze Age was a remarkably peaceful period) it is hard to see why such a massive structure was needed." Paul White goes on to say it would be tempting to assume these people were pastoralists, keeping their sheep and cattle on the moor and bringing them in for protection from raiders such as wolves or 'the wild lads from the next valley', however, he adds there is no evidence to support these assumptions.

Cley Hill (Hillfort)

A chance visit, not planned at all. Just the other side of Warminster today on the way to somewhere else, spotted this marvelous enigmatic looking hill. Never seen before by me. Abandoned original plan with "Let's walk up it." Remarkably easy to access, just past the entrance to Longleat there is a National Trust signpost and small car park. Easy walk up ... today was very windy indeed which made it a lot of fun. There is a clear information board telling us about the Bronze Age bowl barrows, Iron Age hill fort and the six different varieties of orchid. Too late for the orchids today but amazing views - in some ways this hill reminded me of Uffington and even Glastonbury Tor as it has a smaller hill next to it. Very much the same 'feel' as Uffington but without the white horse of course.

Lovely, relatively, unsung place. Added to list of great hill forts around Wiltshire.

Graigue (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Spotted this 'split' standing stone while looking for the Pulcin an Chairn wedge tomb. It stands in the middle of a field along the same single track road as the wedge tomb. Haven't been able to find any additional information about this site. Hopefully will be able to add something to this brief field note later.

Dunbeg (Cliff Fort)

Visited 18th May 2014
Dunbeg Fort is closed to visitors at present because of the serious damage caused by the winter storms. Visitors are allowed to walk down to it but no access to the site - it is clear to try and enter would be dangerous. The woman in the audio-visual centre told us that engineers had recently undertaken a structural survey and there is hope that some of the damage can be repaired with limited access allowed later in the summer.
The following information is taken from the audio-visual leaflet.
"Dunbeg Fort is a small but impressive example of a promontory fort but its location makes it even more dramatic. Built on a sheer cliff, its archaeological excavation was undertaken in the late 1970s. There are two major phases of occupation recorded. The first phase was around the 8th and 9th centuries AD. Clusters of stake holes to the north and south of the fort indicated the presence of wooden tripods for supporting pots and skins over the fire. Analysis of the occupation debris suggests a diet mainly of pigs, sheep and goats with some cows.
The second phase of occupation lay above the first phase and was around the 10th and 11th centuries AD. It was concentrated on two hearths in the centre of the Beehive (clochan). The bones of sheep, pig, deer, birds and fish were also recorded. But the excavation results did not reveal what the site was used for; it may have been defensive, or used for ritual or even status purposes, or it may simply have just been lived in."

Some lovely examples of clochans/beehive huts nearby on the hillside.

Milltown (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Visited 19th May 2014
Located in Milltown just outside the town of Dingle on the Dingle peninsula, the large standing in the front garden of Milestone B&B is clearly visible from the road. Known locally as the Milestone, the stone stands in good view of Brandon Mountain with large recumbent stones in the adjacent field. These stones feel 'related' to the standing stone though now separated by a fence. I *think* one of the stones has cup and ring marks but heavily covered in lichen so hard to make out. The farmer who rents the field politely asked us to leave at this point as he wanted to lock the gate - so we really only had a cursory look.

Corr Aille Spiral (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art)

Visited 19th May 2014 while spending a week exploring the Dingle peninsula, Kerry, Ireland.

Learnt about this spiral rock carving whilst visiting Kilmalkedar ruined medieval church on the Dingle peninsula. Before going into the church and churchyard – which contain a fine ogham stone, a large stone cross and stone sun dial, all dating around 12th century – we wandered up the lane to another atmospheric ruin, Fothraich Brenndan (St Brendan’s House) with a fast flowing spring nearby. Also nearby was an information board which made reference to a recently discovered spiral rock carving known as the Corr Aille Spiral. We noticed the route of the Pilgrim’s Way or ‘Way of the Saints’ was close by going uphill and marked by posts with the Pilgrim’s Way symbol on them. We fell in with a couple also visiting from England and set off with them in search of the stone. We walked up Reenconnell Hill from post to post which were positioned every 100 metres or so, jumping over bogs in the process. One of other two people strode on ahead and at the very top of the hill in what appeared to be a rocky outcrop he located the spiral stone. From this point there are fabulous views towards Brandon Mountain on one side and two bays on the other.
The Pilgrim’s Way or Cosan na Naomh starts at Ventry Bay and goes to the summit of Brandon Mountain, 18 km or 11miles. It is thought to be a much older pre-Christian pilgrimage route in honour of the festival Lughnasa traditionally held 31st July. It was later renamed for St Brendan the Navigator who came from the town of Tralee.

Doonmanagh (Puicin an Chairn) (Wedge Tomb)

Just back from a dream like week on the Dingle peninsula. No stone circles on Dingle though lots of standing stones. This wedge tomb, however, more than compensated for the absence of stone circles. Probably one of the most inaccessible sites I've ever visited. A long drive down a narrow single track road and very difficult to locate on a steep, boggy hilltop overlooking sea and mountains in the parish of Min Aird. The tomb is on the other side of a stone wall and unless you know where to look almost impossible to see. We were directed there by a helpful, friendly, person at the Ballyferriter (West Kerry) Regional Museum.
Apart from the breathtaking views - my amateurish photo cannot do it justice - it is of particular interest as most of the original stones covering the cairn are still in place.
Just had to sit for a while and soak up the 'words fail me' beauty of the place.

Rushy Platt Bowl Barrow (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

Site is on the edge of what is now a housing development on the southern side of Swindon, also close to the river Ray. Although not a lot to see, a green circular area enclosed by wooden posts, and a scheduled ancient monument plaque with the description "Rushy Platt Bowl barrow is sealed under a layer of modern landfill. Archaeological investigations reveal it consists of a mound 11m in diameter and about .75m high. There is a large flat slab sealing a deep pit containing worked flint".

It is unusual in as much it is not on Wiltshire down land but on a low lying ancient fen area, now a designated nature reserve 'Rushy Platt Nature Reserve'. Anyone wishing to visit can access the site via a pleasant walk along the Berks and Wilts Canal known locally as Kingshill Canal. The barrow is on the right across a small river and bridge. Walk into the housing development and it is just in front of you. (See English Heritage link for map).
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Passionate about:
Nature; stone circles and all ancient sites that involve walking through unspoilt countryside/being near the sea; islands around the the British Isles, especially those with ancient monuments.

My TMA Content: