We needed to go to a meeting and I hate having to dodge the traffic on the A303.
‘Ever walked the King Barrow Ridge?’
Paul said ‘no’ so we risked it.
A dodgy place to be at the end of January. I’ve done it in thunder and lightning… which is not recommended.
This time the weather was gentle, sun and high cloud.. and the light.. low and revealing, teasing out the earthworks.
We parked by the generator and walked from MoD land into the National Trust Estate.
The view west along the 2.8km of the Cursus. The trees have been cut back to reclaim the view. The fence line follows the south line of the bank and ditch of the Early Neolithic monument. In the far distance can just be seen the gap in the Fargo Plantation at the west end.
Just past the gate, I pointed out the Cursus… From this vantage point you can seen the entire length of it. The ends picked out by gaps cut through the trees. Fargo Plantation 2.8km to the west had been cut back in the 1980s and at the east end, where we were now standing…the 100m width of the cursus has been opened up in the last decade.
‘Now we are walking over the Cursus long barrow which marks its east end’
Paul couldn’t see it.
‘the barrow was undamaged until WWI but then the military set up bases here and the barrow was almost levelled for a trackway’
The 1877 Ordnance Survey maps shows the east end of the Cursus and the long barrow before it was damaged for a trackway in the early 20th century.
We looked back along the track and could just make out the vague swelling of the ground which is nearly all that can be seen of it. On the OS 1877 map it is shown over 100m long. I pointed over the fence ‘the side ditch is still visible. The Early Neolithic people quarried the chalk to heap up the mound from here’
I remembered 1999 when the National Trust first acquired this land. Simon the ranger and I took the Landrover out towing a trailer full of fencing stakes and we enclosed out the burial mounds to protect them from further ploughing.
‘The Stonehenge Riverside Project dug a trench here in 2008, they were lucky and found a piece of antler pick at the bottom of the long barrow ditch, dated it to about 3,500 BC…matched the date of bones found in the Cursus ditch itself’
The excavation of the east side ditch of the Cursus long barrow in 2008 . The line of the trackway follows the trees on the right hand edge of the picture.
Paul asked me what a ‘Cursus’ was
‘Don’t know, William Stukely named it in the early 18th century because he thought it looked like a Roman race track. Processional way some people say but who knows. This one’s a tiddler compared to the Dorset Cursus on the Cranborne Chase which is three times the length’
We walked on past Early Bronze Age round barrows under clumps of beech trees, part of the designed landscape planted for the Marquess of Queensbury.
It is said that the clumps of trees commemorate the positions of ships that fought in the Battle of the Nile in 1798. This may be true but the trees prevented Sir Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington digging here in the early 19th century and so these tombs remain. Some were disturbed by the storm of 1990 when falling trees tore up Bronze Age cremation burials in their roots.
One of the round barrows which still has its c.1800 beech tree planting.
We turned the corner and could see little Stonehenge far below us.. etched sharply in winter sunlight. Stopping by a sign and pedestrian gate I told Paul that this was the true way to the Stones.
Why?…because this is the route of the Avenue.. its route was deliberately set out to dramatic effect. The way leads down into the valley bottom where the monument is hidden and then turns and leads you up.. and the trilithons rise from the ground in front of you as you are drawn towards midwinter. The days can only get longer once the high trilithon has caught the sun.
The line of the Avenue pointing towards Stonehenge with ditches on either side as revealed during excavation, part of the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2008.
Now, we were almost there… and we walked beside the line of high King Barrows..alive and etched by low light filtering through the army strands of long grass…amber pink flicking in the wind.
On a mound top, a black silhouette appeared, stood still, gazed out and fell away.