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

Fieldnotes by tjj

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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).

Figsbury Ring (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

Visited today courtesy of a good friend who now lives in Devizes - part of a long awaited trip to Old Sarum. The sun was shining and at Old Sarum we really did feel like tourists, walking around the old castle ruins and ramparts a few paces in front of a French family.

Figsbury Ring, off the A30, was a very different experience. By now the morning mist had cleared and the afternoon was Warm and Sunny .. how wonderful in itself that was in the middle of March. The first thing I noticed, although owned by the National Trust and designated a SSSI, Figsbury Ring is adjacent to some heavy duty MOD land and there are 'Keep Out - Danger' notices all along the right hand side of the hill fort as you walk towards it.

An unusual hill fort, univallate with an inner circular ditch. I did a bit of reading after my visit and there is a view that this is the site of a late Neolithic henge which was later utilized as a hill fort. On a grassland chalk ridge it provides great views towards Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral - though both were shrouded in mist today.

In the course of my reading I also came across this item in the Heritage Journal. It doesn't appear to be posted on TMA so here it is -
Perhaps it is worth mentioning there were lots of rabbits around - we spoke to a dog walker as we were leaving who had just disposed of a rabbit picked up by her dog which appeared to have myxomatosis.

Tinhead Hill (Long Barrow)

Visited this hitherto unknown long barrow today. Walked up a firm, steep, footpath from Salisbury Hollow in the village of Edington, turning right at the top onto another field edge footpath. The barrow is in the middle of a crop field almost on the crest of Tinshead Hill. Protected by a strong fence topped with barbed wire and planted with beech trees, it is not possible to investigate too closely. However, couldn't resist walking up to it across the field - it felt very good to have mud on my boots again. Wonderful views towards Salisbury Plain (in fact on the edge of the Plain) and the town of Westbury. Walking back down to Edington there is a beautiful valley reminiscent of the area around Bishopstone in north Wiltshire - also on a spring line I understand, though it too wet underfoot to clamber down to them today.
Many thanks to my good friend M for spotting this long barrow on the OS map and for leading me up there.

Stonehenge (Stone Circle)

Visited Stonehenge today via the new Visitors Centre at Airman's Corner. The Exhibition Room was excellent, the gift shop was what it was, and the cafe was probably the best it could be catering for hundreds of visitors a day (don't expect anything more than the most basic of light-lunch-type-food). I was looking forward to the land-train but instead travelled on a small bus which used the remains of the A344 as access to Stonehenge. It's still a bit of a mess up by the site of the old carpark and I was disappointed to find the wire fence still in place around the ancient monument. To view the Stones from the Avenue you have to go around into the adjacent field. However, Stonehenge was wonderful today with a far wider circumference to walk around than previously. The English Heritage staff were friendly and helpful but I was still left with the feeling of being 'delivered', 'processed' and 'dispatched' with exit through the gift shop. Next time I'm going to try and walk up the by-way from Larkhill to fully take in the barrows and magnificent sweep of the landscape.

Hetty Pegler's Tump (Long Barrow)

I've visited this long barrow before but on each previous occasion the chambers have been closed to visitors. Today was my first opportunity to go inside.
A hot summer's day, as we approached along the edge of a field of unripe wheat a raven rose up from the barrow - a good sign. Externally the barrow was covered in high grass and wild flowers - internally it was dark and cool with a low lintel stone to scramble under to gain access. The ground is covered with loose Cotswold stone chippings so hard on the knees, especially in light summer clothes. However, once inside it becomes almost possible to stand - I could see the chamber at the back of the barrow but did not venture that far in.

This is one of my favourite long barrows to visit - it always feels 'away from it all' in spite of the road only being a field distance away. Today there was a raven and later a buzzard.

Sad to report, the exterior of the lintel stone had been vandalised by some idiot scratching the word 'Beware' and someone's name on it. My companion also reported similar damage inside.

Clearwell Caves (Ancient Mine / Quarry)

Have wanted to visit this place for some time and today was the day.
“Clearwell Caves are part of an extensive natural cave system that became partially filled with iron ore 180,000,000 years ago. No one knows when mining for iron ore first began in the Forest of Dean, but the Caves are one of the earliest mines in the British Isles, begun well over 4,000 years ago, when they were first worked for coloured iron oxide or ochres to use as pigment.” (information taken from Visitor’s Guide)
The temperature inside the caves is 10 degrees (which is also the temperature at which spring water emerges from the ground) so take an extra layer if you go on a warm day. We only went to the upper level which goes down 100 feet – it is possible to descend to a much deeper level but this requires hard hats, protective clothing and a caving guide. The caves are a series of caverns known as churns, linked together by tunnels, the largest of which is Pillar Churn named after a large column of stone in the centre. The reservoir in this cavern controls the water that seeps through a disused shaft in the roof. The large flat roof is composed of a very solid rock known as Whitehead Limestone, referred to as ‘lidstone’ because it forms the roof of most of the caverns. There is a fine example of 20th century cave art on the wall in this cavern – a skeleton painted by students in the 1960s.
Clearwell Caves are home to a variety of bats including the greater horseshoe, natterers, and long-eared but the most numerous is the lesser horseshoe (ref: Visitor’s Guide). None made an appearance today. Also found here is the ‘Meta menardi’ or European Cave Spider (an orb-weaving spider) – didn’t see one of those either.

Just as fascinating is the nearby ‘Secret Forest’ which is full of ‘scowles’ ie ravines and rock formations overhung with the tree roots of ancient yews. Thought to be where iron mining began, just outside the wood there are some replica Iron Age round houses which are definitely worth a visit.
A short distance up the road is Puzzle Wood, similar to the Secret Forest but far more disorientating, like caves above rather than below ground, very twisty and dark (believed to have inspired Tolkien’s Middle Earth) again the temperature dropped considerably - almost like being in caves.
Unfortunately, today I left my camera at home so no photos except the ones on my friend’s camera which I don’t have access to as yet.

Sgarasta (Standing Stone / Menhir)

This was a 'wonderful surprise'. Again, I have Margaret Curtis to thank for pointing it out. It was a very windy, chilly, bright day and I took a few minutes for myself to run and look at this stone. Some ancient sites induce a sensation of euphoria, this was definitely one of them - the wind, the rolling clouds and the blue sea in front of me gave me a momentary feeling of flying. What more can I say.

Photographed the information board and have reproduced the text below:

"In this field today stands a solitary standing stone almost 2 metres high, overlooking the Sound of Taransay. It has remained in this position for up to 5,000 years since the Neolithic period or Early Bronze Age. Across the Sound, another standing stone is set above the shore on the island of Taransay, and a third, Clach MhicLeoid, is on Aird Nisabost to the north-east. Over the years local legends have gathered around the stone. In one, a giantess was gathering limpets on the shore and, striking a stone with her hammer, it flew off in three pieces, which landed at each of the three sites.
The Scarista bardess Seonag NicSuain wrote a ‘Song of Steineagaidh Stone’
‘Some say in the village
(though unproven so far)
‘Tis a headstone of a chieftain
From Fingalian’s war.

Should arms and battle
Stir up, as of yore,
Won’t he have to struggle
From ‘neath Steineagaidh Stone

Each man will retire
In peace to sleep in pastures
But over Finlay’s land
The big stone will be watching’

When the stone was first raised, however, it was part of a complex prehistoric ritual site. In front of the stone stood a large circle of 12 or 13 atones more than 40 metres in diameter, indicated now by several fallen stones or the stony sockets in which they had stood. Behind the stone is also a large circular mound which, if contemporary with the circle, may be the remains of a burial cairn. Geophysical survey has shown that around all of this was a ditch, either man-made or natural, that defined the edges of the monument.

The scale and complexity of the original site, and its proximity to other standing stones, suggest that this was the this was the focus for prehistoric religious activity in Harris, as Calanais was for Lewis.

The field wall is said to have been built from the demolished houses of the Scarista tenants who were cleared from the area in the 19th century."

Coire na Feinne (Chambered Cairn)

I have Margaret Curtis to thank for pointing this one out. She joined me and Friend for our trip down to west Harris one windy but bright day a couple of days after we spent an afternoon with her at Callanish.

A burial chamber in someone's garden near to Horgabost beach on Harris. Thrilling to see as no way would we have spotted it without Margaret's knowledge and generosity in sharing it.

Traigh Bostadh (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

Our first full day on Lewis, we walked from where we were staying on Great Bernera to the Bostadh Iron Age House. The sun decided to shine and walking down into the white sandy cove was a joy. The Iron Age House was closed as it was Sunday but normally open between noon and 4.00pm.
On the walk back saw a golden eagle, it sat and watched our progress from a high ridge ... my first, one and only, sighting of an eagle in the wild.

Clava Cairns

Visited 17/5/13
I can't add very much more to the excellent fieldnotes written by tsc. So this is really just to say I completely agree this is a wonderful site, unlike anywhere I've visited before. Had just arrived in Inverness. Friend collected hire car and we headed out in the direction of the historic site of the Battle of Culloden to make our only visit to a prehistoric site on mainland Scotland before starting the journey to Ullapool and Lewis. I was conscious that Callanish/Lewis might diminish my impressions of this visit - no chance.

There are at least four detailed information boards at the site which tell you all you need know plus identify the positions of the various cup marks which appear on some of the stones. The information boards suggest that some are linked to solar alignments.

The site mainly consists of two passage tombs (cairns) with one circular, flatter construction with no entrance which is central to both of the passage tombs - possibly used for cremation. Each of the cairns stand inside quite splendid stone circles. There are other notable features to the site - a solitary outlier in a field as you approach the site (private property) and a collection of large boulder stones just by the entrance.

I did take photographs but had to purchase a new laptop just before I went away and am still trying to fathom out the photo editing function on Windows 8 - so photos may not appear for a while.

Beacon Hill (Hillfort)

Walked up Beacon Hill to the hillfort today. Was in Hampshire with a friend to visit the Sandham Memorial Chapel (which for me was a deeply affecting experience) and the walk up Beacon Hill afterwards somehow seemed totally fitting.
The car park is just off the A34, my first thought was that the noise from the traffic would detract from the enjoyment of the place. Its a long way up though and the noise soon receded - by the time we reached the hillfort at the top the A34 had diminished and could no longer be heard. As we walked round the ramparts a red kite glided by below us. There is a very big sky up there - wonderful cloud formations today and, needless to say, amazing views. Highclere Castle can be clearly seen and the grave of the Fifth Earl of Carnavon aka George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert (Adventurer, Explorer, Archaeologist) who with Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun - is on the edge of the hillfort surrounded by railings.
An amazing place!

Coate Stone Circle

Taken from the Coate Water Country Park FB page:

"Coate boasts a host of Bronze Age, Romano-British and Medieval history that spans a period of up to about 3000 years. The oldest known ancient monuments at Coate are the Neolithic Stone Circle and the Bronze age burial mound along Day House Lane. However, no less than six Stone Circles have been recorded in the Coate area linked up, in part, by avenues of large Sarsen stones. The remains of one of the stone circles probably still lies at the bottom of the lake at Coate Water whilst other ancient finds are dotted around the area that include evidence of Medieval settlements."
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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.

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