Drawing Park Hill Camp

As February comes to an end, so the Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project also officially closes but this does not mean that the conservation work will cease.

Each of the 12 hillforts of the project will have a management plan which sets out funded actions that the ranger team and volunteers will carry out annually. This will ensure that each site will remain on top form for nature and archaeology.

And for visitors to these special places there will be the Wessex Hillforts Guide. Here is the second of Julia Lillo’s drawings which visualise what three of the hillforts may have looked like over 2000 years ago.

Park Hill Camp is on the Stourhead Estate in south-west Wiltshire… on the edge of Somerset and Wiltshire.

It is placed on the crest of a ridge between two valleys that funnel water into.. what is now the great 18th-century lake. The centre-piece of the internationally famous landscape garden created for Henry Hoare in the 1740s.

This is the source of the River Stour that flows through Dorset, past Hod and Hambledon hillforts, past Spettisbury and Badbury Rings to Dudsbury and finally to Christchurch Harbour and the Iron Age trading settlement of Hengistbury Head ….where the Stour finally flows into the sea.

Park Hill is nearest of three hillforts around the Stour’s source and its construction may be linked to a sacred and strategic significance. Perhaps the local Iron Age people revered this place where their great river was born. Something to wonder at… but who knows ?

It is a hidden hillfort. Not well known. The whole site was covered in pine plantations before the NT was given the Stourhead Estate in 1944. Now Kim is gradually unveiling the hillfort and grazing the site so that it can be a grass covered, better conserved and visible archaeological site.

This month’s storm blew another tree down just outside the west entrance.

The double ramparted enclosure of Park Hill Camp emerging from the trees after woodland clearance.

The initial woodland clearance was carried out by shire horses dragging the heavy trunks off site. Thus protecting the archaeology by preventing any rutting into the soft ground surface.. which heavy forestry vehicles might have caused.

Anyone inside Park Hill, has no sense of its position in the landscape. Everything is hidden by trees. NT plans to cut views through the conifer plantations towards the other Stourhead Estate hillfort on White Sheet Hill and across the valleys to north and south.

There should be spectacular views from here and the LiDAR demonstrates this.

Park Hill Camp on the summit of the flat ridge top between the two valleys with the Stourhead lake in the foreground fed by water funneled along the valleys.

So, with the trees stripped back by LiDAR I turned the terrain model to show the hillfort looking back towards the lake and Stourhead House.

After some rough sketching, I asked Julia to draw the view as it might have been in the Iron Age.

Park Hill Camp showing the double ramparts crossing the width of the ridge.

The difficulty with Park Hill Camp compared with Badbury Rings is….there has never been an excavation on the site and it has never had a geophysical survey. Very difficult with trees all over it.. Now the trees are largely gone we plan geophysics in the autumn.

However, we can see the earthworks and have a good idea of the entrances and can compare Park Hill with other hillforts where we have more information…so we’ll try to illustrate it anyway.

Julia’s east entrance into Park Hill Camp

The eastern gateways through the two ramparts are clear as earthworks. Visitors would have to weave their way into the hillfort in full sight of the guards. A good security check.

Once again, Julia has shown much detail within the hillfort. Fenced homesteads with stock enclosures, granaries raised on stilts, weaving frames, outhouses and people. Imagining a busy place full of life rather than a quiet area of grassland surrounded by woodland.

Then the full illustration with the fort in its landscape, farms and fields and meadows, trees on the steeper slopes.. crossed by tracks and pathways disappearing into the distance.

Illustration of Park Hill Camp for the National Trust Wessex Hillforts Guide by Julia Lillo

We’ll have a look at Figsbury Ring tomorrow.

The Middlebere Searchlight

I said goodbye to Louise and drove back across the heathland towards Corfe Castle. A hot day in Purbeck and three white horses blocked the narrow road where a clump of trees had given them shade.

We put the brakes on, got out and walked towards them.

A few of us had met to walk the archaeology of an apparently empty piece of landscape, jutting out as a low peninsula into Poole Harbour.

The Middlebere peninsula (top centre) where it juts into Poole Harbour (Middlebere Quay is near the centre of its upper shoreline). Above Middlebere across the water inlet is Arne and bottom right across the Corfe River is the Fitzworth peninsula.

We walked the line of an early tramway towards an overgrown jetty where, in the 18th-19th centuries, thousands of tons of fine ball clay, dug from the heath, had been loaded onto barges to feed Josiah Wedgewood’s pottery industry.

Remains of one of the timber jetties for Middlebere Quay. .Ruins of one of the stone buildings bottom right.

We stopped by some molehills where Pam had found some medieval pottery, perhaps part of the salt production business that used to supply Corfe Castle. Certainly salt pits are shown here on Ralph Treswell’s map of 1586.

My interest that day was rather different though.

Louise had been looking into the documentation for Middlebere within the Bankes Archive held at the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester. The Bankes family had owned the whole of the Corfe Castle Estate from the early 17th century until 1982 when it was bequeathed to the National Trust.

She had found some WWII correspondence from Frederick Otto Rhodes. Mr Rhodes had been Mr Bankes’s steward and land agent for several decades in the 20th century. At a time when tending a great estate was a lifetime’s vocation, carefully guarding the property of his employer.

From 1940-45, the war department took over large areas of the Middlebere and Studland peninsulas and Mr Rhodes had discovered that damage was being done to Mr Bankes’s White House cottages at South Middlebere.

Louise had emailed transcripts of his letters which described the stripping out of the buildings, robbed for materials to help build a searchlight battery and gun emplacement. The letters describe the military facility and the White House and the costs the war department must pay to compensate Mr Bankes.

These were new archaeological sites. They were not on the National Trust’s historic buildings sites and monuments record.

Before my visit to Purbeck, I looked at the old Ordnance Survey maps and Mr Rhodes’s letters to fix the sites on the database map.

The White House was easy to find. It had been the farmhouse for an area of heath converted to arable during agricultural improvements in the mid 19th century. Unfortunately none of my maps covered the 1940s so I could not see the site of the searchlight battery.

Mr Rhodes had made a list of actions required to restore Middlebere to its pre-war condition and the costs the government were to pay in compensation for each item on the list. This included removing the searchlight battery and associated buildings and trackways.

Not much was likely to be visible now.

Perhaps the latest air photograph on the database would give me a clue to locate the demolished military facility.

In pasture land, just north of the site of the White House, I zoomed in and saw a parch mark rectangle with two rectangular blobs within it…..’How easy was that !’ was my initial thought….but then I looked closer.

A small part of the extensive Iron Age and Romano-British settlement north of South MIddlebere revealed by air photography. The darker lines are boundary and enclosure ditches and the blobs mark building sites. The more you look the more you seen ..with lines overlapping and being cut across by later and earlier phases of settlement.

No, this looked much older than a searchlight battery. It reminded me of buildings within enclosures detected through geophysical survey on the Roman settlement at Kingston Lacy.

I zoomed out and suddenly there were lines and circles and linear boundaries everywhere.

The photographic cover of the area was taken in a dry and revealing year and suddenly this apparently empty and uninhabited landscape reeled with the evidence of an intense past palimpsest of human activity. The property boundaries, enclosures, house and outhouse foundations, stretched out for many hectares across the land either side of Corfe River..all along towards its outflow into Poole Harbour.

Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This settlement now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, kilns, workshops, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still! (William Wordsworth ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ apart from the italics)

Middlebere it seems would have been a power house c. 400BC to AD400, one of the Purbeck industrial settlements… Arne, Fitzworth, Cleavel, Goathorn and Studland, the peninsulas jutting into Poole Harbour. Here boats would have arrived and taken salt, pottery, shale products, Purbeck stone and agricultural goods out to the wider world.

The Wessex Archaeology excavation of the Middlebere settlement discovered in September 1989 published in ‘Redeemed from the Heath’, Cox and Hearne 1991

This took me back to 1989 when Wessex Archaeology got a glimpse of this site when an oil pipeline crossed a northern section of Middlebere. They found Neolithic and Bronze Age evidence but particularly Iron Age ditches and gullies. I remembered too those excavations at Cleavel Point where we uncovered so much Roman activity particularly Black Burnished ware kilns and cubes of different types of Purbeck stone prepared for the mosaic makers.

Back to our visit this year.. and the White House cottages were completely gone. Now an overgrown scrub woodland. A patch of bamboo marked the site of the outdoor privy. They were grown as a screen apparently.

Oliver found some chunks of brick and concrete amongst the heather, a little to the south west of the White House site. So I’ll mark the searchlight site there on the map…but I wanted to see the ancient Middlebere settlement.. so clear on the air photographs. I left them in WWII and walked about a 100 yards north of the wood and gazed out across a level sweep of grassland. Nothing to see at all.

Time for home…but what of the horses. Two agreed reluctantly to shuffle from their shade but the third gave us a stubborn hard stare. We spent some time leaning against him and coaxing… assured him he could have his cool tree back once we had driven past…eventually he sighed and shifted. To give him his due, he gave us time to run back to the cars and get past.

We were able to leave the quiet heathland behind, turn right below the castle ruin and enter the 21st century, rejoining the holiday traffic flowing back towards Wareham.

On Top of Turnworth Down

The visit to Turnworth Down was an afterthought.

It was Hod Hill the meeting was really about.

We were to meet Keith there, the Historic England Inspector. It was to review the management of the hillfort

It was positive, the conservation grazing and scrub removal now enabled the details of the earthworks to be seen. The result of a lot of hard work. After discussion, the ranger and farmer agreed the next set of actions and we descended the steep hill….back to the little car park on the road to Child Okeford.

Hod’s ranger, Michael, wanted us to look at Turnworth. I hadn’t been there for years but Simon our nature conservation advisor offered to guide me through the back-roads. Keith would come along too…  together with Marie and some of the West Dorset rangers.

It was still very early spring, overcast but warm enough as we crossed the Stour, skirted the edge of the Blackmore Vale and started to rise onto the chalk again.

It had been a long morning, we parked up on a verge beside the property gate and Simon walked across and joined me in the car. The others had gone hunting for lunch in a shop somewhere.

We ate sandwiches and talked of our families and the National Trust.

Our usual combination of archaeology and nature conservation in a landscape…beside a long quiet road, lined with mature trees on the lower slope of a chalk escarpment.

Keith arrived and said that he had agreed my application and would make sure the scheduled monument consent for Cerne Abbas would be processed before the start of our excavation there on Monday.

A couple of landrovers swung onto the verge and Michael unlocked the gates. We began the ascent of Turnworth …or Ringmoor as it is sometimes called.

I’d not done my homework.

What was this landscape all about? We’d noticed the large trees along the Turnworth Road but it was clear that another avenue diverged from our lay-by and followed the path we were on. The trees were mature, gnarled and twisted and had been planted along the hollow of a wide, dry coombe. There were gaps… and a couple of large trees had recently fallen.


The fallen tree once part of an avenue shown on the 1791 map.

So this place was more than common sheep pasture… at some time it had been included in a designed landscape… though why this avenue had been planted was hard to tell. It seemed to go nowhere.

We stood beside the fallen giant tree, its root plate now vertical.

‘How old is this’ I asked Simon.

‘Its been here well over 200 years’

We walked round to see the tangle of roots. Nothing clearly archaeological in the debris. Large nodules of flint in clayey brown earth.

‘I wonder why these trees were planted here?’

‘The site of Turnworth House lies over the ridge’ said Michael ‘huge place, burnt down in the 1940s, there’s just a bungalow there now’

We followed the trees for a while and looked across the pasture field. This National Trust property is an island of grassland in a sea of deep ploughing. Outside this reserve, the archaeological earthworks had been levelled by arable farming long ago.


The Turnworth Estate map dated 1791 which shows the ‘Y’ shaped avenues of trees. We had lunch where the avenues join  and walked up the hill along the trees to the left. Far left, the pond can be seen and below a dark mark is the now ruined cottage. The circle, left of centre, is presumably the Iron Age farmstead enclosure.

Turnworth was Tornworde in 1086, a manor held by Alfred of Spain (I looked it up when I got home). Alfred’s a Saxon name.. how did he survive as a landholder in the new Norman regime… and why of Spain.. curious

This pasture field had not been ploughed in the last few hundred years and still had medieval strip lynchets carved into the steeper slopes. A place of community farming within its strip field system… until the lord of Turnworth decided to include it in his wider parkland…complete with tree-lined carriage drive.


A break of slope, marking a medieval strip lynchet terraced into the slope.

I’ve just made that up. Definitely tree-lined but was it a carriage drive? Nice idea but no clear evidence. The 1791 enclosure map shows the trees clearly. Already well grown by then.

We turned away from the medieval, left the re-wilded avenue behind and climbed steeper up the ridge to see the main attraction.

This is the bit that even the medieval cultivators set aside. Sheep pasture long before the  Saxon open field system was established.

A high down-top with wide views out across the lowland of the Blackmore Vale, Hardy’s ‘Vale of Little Dairies’.

As we crested the slope, we found ourselves in an area of short grassland dotted with occasional trees and bushes. Emerging from this were distinct banks enclosing rectilinear plots of land. We entered an old trackway, defined by two parallel banks, that led us along a curving path into an oval enclosure with two level areas created…for round houses.

We had entered an Iron Age world. A rare survival. We were standing in a homestead  where a farming family once lived some 2000 years ago. It was surrounded by their small square fields linked by trackways. The sort of fragile ancient earthworks that have usually been ploughed flat, sacrificed to the demands of modern agriculture.


Aerial photograph showing the prehistoric field system preserved on Turnworth Down. The oval Iron Age farmstead enclosure can be seen top left, With the trackway on its left side.

Who knows when this land was first cultivated but the farmstead on Turnworth Down probably continued to be used without much change throughout the Romano-British period. It has never been excavated so dating is hazy….but definitely old, very old.. and precious. A scheduled monument of course, as Keith reminded us.

This place had not been completely ignored by people in the intervening years. There were pits, deep pits. They are shown on the 1880s Ordnance Survey map as ‘disused gravel pits’…though mainly dug for extracting flints for 18th and 19th century road hardcore or for local buildings and walls.


One of the deep disused 18th-19th century quarry pits.

Then we came across a short long mound on the hill top. This could be a ‘pillow mound’. Was this place used as rabbit warren at some time? These high out of the way places were often used to farm rabbits with pillow mounds built to house them.

In the highest corner of the property, Michael led us to a pond beside a ruined cottage. Perhaps this building was once a keeper or stockman’s house …remote beside its watering hole.

Fifty years or so ago it became too inconvenient a place to live.. or perhaps there was insufficient cash or inclination to repair it.

The silted pond and become a wildlife reserve. The natural and historic environments, mutually beneficial and blended in the landscape.

We discussed future management needs, made a plan and took a new route back down the hill.

The terraced boundaries of the prehistoric field system drifted under the mature woodland of the lower slopes. We were soon surrounded by moss and fern covered ancient trees. Craggy outstretched branches, open grown, demonstrating that they had once matured in managed open parkland.

In single file, we meandered deeper into the trees. A visit like many before, though it felt like a conclusion. Looking back, there seemed to be something…etherial, enigmatic…a line of figures disappearing into a fading light.


One of Turnworth’s open grown parkland trees covered in fern and moss.

 I have tried to find out more about Turnworth. The names of the owners of parish and park. The church largely rebuilt in the 19th century, the mansion house gone in the fire and its historical records perhaps gone too. All those hidden past lives in this small pocket of Dorset.

I can list the owners back to the 18th century …but not much more…The documents show that the great house was once a wealthy, thriving place. In 1861 mum and dad, 12 children, a governess and 13 servants all lived there… all named in the census.

Though, at the top of Turnworth Down, the names of the windswept occupants of the ancient farmstead will remain a mystery, alongside the hopes and dreams of Domesday’s Alfred of Spain.

NZ 2: Invercargill, Bluff, Lizard

The Climate is wretched, with its infrequent rains and mists, but there is no extreme cold. Their day is longer than in our part of the world. and in the extreme north so short that evening and morning twilight are scarcely distinguishable Tacitus in The Agricola writing of Britain c.AD 98

At first the only inhabitants of the island were the Britons, from whom it take its name, and who, according to tradition, crossed into Britain from Armorica….then it is said that that Picts from Scythia put to sea in long ships…Bede writing of Britain AD 731 A History of the English Church and People

Jan said that she wanted to go back to New Zealand…which was a surprise….I said OK but this time let’s go to the far south ..and she said OK but I want to be in Nelson for my birthday.

Queens Park Invercarghill

So we booked the tickets and flew around the world together.

At dawn, we flew into Auckland from Vancouver and wheeled our cases in light drizzle to the domestic terminal and took a plane south to Christchurch, enjoyed the sunrise over the Cook Strait ..then flew over snow-capped mountains…. and every so often bright-bright blue braded rivers flowing out from the mountains across farmland to the sea

A river from the mountains crossing the Canterbury Plain near Christchurch

We had an overnight pause in Christchurch… where we slept off a bit of jet lag… and first appreciated the wonder of October blossom.

The next day, boarding a yet smaller plane, heading south once again through bright sunlight into cloudy gloom and…. Invercargill, the southernmost English speaking city in the world.

The airport was briefly busy from our flight but by the time we retrieved our cases the hire car booth was empty as was the rest of the terminal… apart from someone at the cafe/airport shop who took one last look around her and disappeared into the kitchen

We pressed the bell on the hire car desk and after a while saw a sign on the phone with a number and tried that .A woman answered and said she’d be over from the garage in a few minutes.

Soon she had inspected my licence, I signed the agreement and we were given a Sat Nav and a key. We were directed cross the car park to the hire-car forecourt and we found a light blue Corolla with a CD player! I have missed a car CD player…… if only we had a CD.

Invercargill Airport

This was the third part of our expedition team.. it would be our driving home for the length of the South Island though… we were told that we couldn’t ferry it across the Cook Strait, we’d need a new vehicle in Wellington.

We worked out how the Sat Nav worked (a bit hit and miss) put in the address of the Colonial Motel.. indicated to turn right and the windscreen wipers came on.

The next day we were back at the airport to board a small aircraft to Stewart Island. We handed back the Sat Nav to the car hire desk because it didn’t work properly and another was found in the back of the drawer.

During the trip negotiations.. Jan had agreed that we could make our first visit to the third much smaller New Zealand island…just a short flight from Invercargill.

In preparation, Jan had read up extensively and discovered information on rough weather and dodgy conditions that often beset flights to Stewart Island.

In my mind it was like Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, a wildlife sanctuary where alien plants and animals have been excluded and where flightless birds like Kiwis can thrive in the same way that Brownsea’s red squirrels have a sanctuary away from the greys.

We were to land, have a guided tour in a mini-bus and then fly back to enable us to drive up to Dunedin the next day. The guy at the Stewart Island desk shook his head and pointed to a video screen. “See that hill?” It was just grey with a vague building and a couple of trees visible in the foreground. “No”.

“That’s right”, he said, “the cloud’s too low today over Oban” (a lot of Scots came to Southland…they felt at home there), “we’ll give you a refund”. Jan looked relieved and we went back to the car.

We connected up the new Sat Nav but this time it spoke to us in Chinese possibly Korean…so we had to go back to the desk again. A search was made and one more was found and this time it was fine…. because she talked to us with a New Zealand accent and guided us from the airport and out into that lovely far country.

I signalled right and the windscreen wipers came on (it took me ages to get used to this…I’m glad NZ drives on the left). We headed south to Bluff, the most southerly point of the South Island ..in the same way that NT’s Cornish Lizard is the south point for England.

The small town of Bluff itself is industrial and did not look its best in the cloud and the rain. A railway freight line goes there. We found a side road that took us up to Bluff Hill. We spiralled up into the mist, parked beside another car and took a winding path to the summit. There were regular damp information boards as we ascended.

Bluff was an early contact point for European traders. In 1813, the sailing ship Perseverence entered Bluff harbour in search of trading possibilities for flax. The Maori or Tangata Whenua had got there about 500 years earlier. The first European settlers arrived in 1823.This was the earliest pakeha settlement in the whole of New Zealand (with the exception perhaps of Keri Keri, Northland). This was almost 20 years before NZ became part of the British Empire

Bluff developed into a port famed for its fishing particularly for whaling and oysters. Ships dock here, a last stop before Antarctica far to the south.

Our view from Bluff Hill

This place of first trade contact reminds me of the Iron Age settlements around Poole Harbour. National Trust Dorset.. Purbeck places like Middlebere, Brownsea, Studland and Brands Point. Places where Roman trading ships edged their way along the coast, moored their ships beside Iron Age Durotrigan settlements and traded Gallic and Spanish wine for shale and salt. Similarly, the Cornish coastal sites like Gunwalloe and St Michael’s Mount where copper and tin were traded… long before the Roman Empire in Britain.

We looked out from Bluff Hill….no spectacular views today… but I had set foot on this place. Jan gave me a look, so we retraced our steps and followed the coast round to Bluff Point.

Cape Reinga, 1980 the northernmost tip of New Zealand

And there at last was the yellow sign post. I stood by it and touched it looking out across the grey sea towards Stewart Island and far away Antarctica, This was quite a moment …as it had taken me over 40 years to get here from Cape Reinga on the northern tip of New Zealand.

We walked up a path to the modern cafe and asked for tea. We sat at the cosy table and looked through the glass window out along the coast…we had arrived …..but should we have come?.

Tomorrow we would drive north to Jan’s cousins in Dunedin.

The Wessex Hillforts & Habitats Project

Early morning last week…a drone took off over Hambledon after light snow. Perfect conditions, the snowflakes had settled into the valleys of the great encircling hillfort ditches… and streets of round house platforms became visible as rows of hollows outlined in white.

Hambledon Hill light snow shows the dimples where Iron Age round houses once stood.

These photos help illustrate the majesty and awe of this vast archaeological site and has helped us launch the National Trust’s Wessex Hillforts and Habitats project. With the help of Marie, our project officer, the People’s Postcode Lottery have granted over 100,000 pounds to get the project started.

The primary purpose of the project is to enhance the conservation of 13 NT Iron Age hillforts scattered across Dorset and South Wiltshire …but it will also inspire people to get involved and to carry out monitoring and research. It will also create new interpretation to bring these grassy hill top earthworks to life as places to be appreciated, valued and better understood. Alongside this.. to highlight nature, particularly the plant and insect life. Each hillfort’s unique topography nurtures precious habitat undisturbed by agriculture for over 2000 years.

Purple spotted orchids growing on the sheltered slopes of a hillfort ditch

So.. where are these places. I’ll list them out for you…. and as some have featured in previous blog posts I’ll reference these while we have a quick tour.

We’ll start in Wiltshire and from there head south and west and eventually end at the Devon border.

Figsbury Ring, north-east of Salisbury. A circular rampart and ditch with a view back to the great cathedral spire. Strangely, Figsbury has a wide deep ditch within the hillfort ..potentially Neolithic but there is no rampart.. where did all the chalk go?

Figsbury Ring from its rampart top showing the wide deep ditch inside the hillfort.

South of Salisbury, Wick Ball Camp above Philipps House, Dinton.. NT only owns the outer rampart.

Then there is the icon of Warminster, Cley Hill (blog posts “Upon Cley Hill’; Upon Cley Hill 2”), a flying saucer shaped chalk outlier with two round barrows on the summit..a strange hillfort.

To the south west, at the source of the mighty River Stour, is the Stourhead Estate with its two hillforts. These are Park Hill Camp, its views hidden by conifer plantation and Whitesheet Hill  (blog Whitesheet Hill Open at the Close) with wide prospects across the Blackmore Vale towards Hambledon and Hod. We’ll follow the Stour to reach them.

Hod is the largest true hillfort in Dorset, the geophysics has shown it full of round houses…a proto town… and there are the clear earthworks of the Roman 1st century fort in Hod’s north-west corner (blog post Hod Hill Camp Bastion)

Hambledon is close by, just across a dry valley, perched high on a ridge, surrounded by the Neolithic, you feel like you’re flying when standing there. (blog post Archaeology SW day 2014, Hambledon Sunset)

Follow the Stour further south and you reach the triple ramparts and ditches of Badbury Rings on the Kingston Lacy Estate. From here you can see the chalk cliffs of the Isle of Wight (blog post Badbury and the Devil’s footprint)

Now from Badbury take the Roman road west to Dorchester and keep going beyond the county town, glancing at Maiden Castle as you pass(Duchy of Cornwall, English Heritage).

The Roman road continues straight towards Bridport but branches from the A35 road before you reach the village of Winterbourne Abbas.

It has now become a minor road.. a couple of miles on… it branches again..still straight but this once arterial Roman route to Exeter has dwindled to a narrow trackway with grass sprouting from the tarmac.

Don’t lose heart…keep going…and you will break out onto the chalkland edge and the multiple ramparts of Eggardon Hill.

From Eggardon, the other hillforts emerge as sentinals ringing the high ground overlooking the Marshwood Vale, and, to the south, the cliffs of Golden Cap.. and beyond, the sweep of Lyme Bay and the English Channel.

Winter woods at Coney’s Castle

Next to the west is Lewesdon Hill, a small fort but occupying the highest land in Dorset, nearby is the second highest, the flat top of Pilsdon Pen, surrounded by double ramparts and enclosing Iron Age round houses, Bronze Age round barrows and the pillow mounds of  the medieval rabbit warren.

The last two in the Project guard a gap through the Upper Greensand ridge at the Devon border. Coney’s Castle has a minor road running through it and on its south side are wonderful twisted moss covered oaks… and beneath them the deep blue of bluebells in the Spring. Lambert’s Castle was used as a fair up to the mid 20th century, remains of the fair house and animal pens can be seen there ….but once again the views are spectacular, particularly in early morning after frost with the mist rising from the lowland.

Lambert’ s Castle after frost.

A baker’s dozen of hillforts of the 59 the NT looks after in the South West.

One might imagine that these huge works of humanity look after themselves… but they need to be cared for.. we must have farmers willing to graze the right number and type of stock on them….at the right times;  NT rangers and volunteers to cut regenerating scrub and fix fencing and gates…

If not, these nationally important scheduled monuments and SSSIs will deteriorate. The earthworks will become overgrown and grassland habitat will be lost, archaeological knowledge locked in the layers beneath the soil will become disrupted… and the views into the landscape and across and within the hillforts will become hidden.

The Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project promises to be an exciting time of conservation and discovery. The work has now begun!

Quern quest

Looking east from Seatown, West Dorset

Looking east from Seatown, West Dorset

As Martin so eloquently puts it ‘the cliffs are leaking archaeology’ especially in West Dorset, with its soft geology and erosion by the sea. Luckily for us there are keen-eyed locals who walk the same routes and notice changes and strange objects laying on the beach or sticking out of a fresh landslip.

A few weeks ago I found a message on my desk to ring a Mr Bickford who had found what he was sure were parts of a quern stone used for grinding corn and some clay loom weights, near Seatown in West Dorset. I felt a little jolt of excitement, as regular readers of this blog will recognize Seatown as the place where we excavated a Bronze Age burnt mound and two Iron Age ovens. (see 20/07/2015 burnt mound the story so far). Could we have more evidence to fill out the story of the Iron Age at this site, or was this a new place to investigate further along the cliff?

The layer of burnt flint and stone can be seen in the middle of the picture

The layer of burnt flint and stone of the ‘burnt mound’ can be seen in the middle of the picture

I rang and arranged to pop over to Seatown and look at what he had found and record were they came from. So it was that I headed west on a bright and sunny morning, deep blue sky above and spirits high. I was not disappointed!

I met Humphrey in the car park and we walked up the hill to his house, round the corner and into the garden. What I saw took the last of the breath away that the climb up the hill had left me. On the garden table were three large pieces of quern, both upper and lower stones, and next to them what looked like one and a half very large triangular clay loom weights!

“Wow! Oh yes they are exactly what you thought they were”

The top and bottom stones together as used

The top and bottom stones together as used

The pieces of quern stone

The pieces of quern stone







The stone the quern is made from is not local to the immediate area. We have had a few geologists look at images and one suggestion is that it may be continental! But they need to see it in the flesh, so to speak, so they can see every mineral and inclusion.

The loom weights are very large and have more holes than necessary so may not be loom weights. If they were they would have been used on a warp weighted loom, to make cloth by keeping tension on the warp(fixed thread)

The loom weights

The loom weights? probably something else but what? 

Hopefully my hand gives a scale to the size of the weights

My hand gives a scale to the size of the weights

Both the quern and the possible loom weights are probably Iron Age and the small piece of pottery found with them looks very like the Iron Age pottery from the ovens found when excavating the ‘burnt mound’ site nearby.

A reconstruction of a warp weighted loom, the weights are along the bottom behind the lowest bar

A reconstruction of a warp weighted loom, the weights are along the bottom behind the lowest bar

A roman hand quern very similar technique to an iron age quern

A Roman hand quern, using a very similar technique to an Iron Age quern







Once again we are on the trail of more information about a site. Try to solve the mystery of the weights and it’s a trip to the geologist first to see if we can track down the origin of the quern stone, who knows what stories we can then tell about the people who lived at Seatown over two thousand years ago.

Back to Badbury

Reconstruction drawing of Badbury Rings, Dorset by Liz Induni for the National Trust

Reconstruction drawing of Badbury Rings, Dorset by Liz Induni for the National Trust

Yesterday I met Radio Solent’s Steve Harris in the car park at Badbury Ring, on the Kingston Lacy estate, near Wimbourne, one of Dorset’s many Iron Age hill forts. We headed towards the large banks and ditches of the fort as the nippy wind blew across the fields to cool our faces. As we walked across the Roman road and stopped to look at the Bronze Age burial mounds a Skylark rose into the air singing its soaring song.

Steve Harris with Badbury Rings behind him

Steve Harris with Badbury Rings behind him

Steve wanted to talk about the hill fort for one of his regular features on his show. He hadn’t visited the hill fort for a very long time so this was my que to show off all the wonderful archaeology under our feet. There are almost too many stories to tell, across the thousands of years of human activity in the area.

Excavating the ditch of a iron age round house, just inside the inner bank of Badbury Rings

Excavating the ditch of an Iron Age round house, just inside the inner bank of Badbury Rings

Apart from the obvious ‘humps and bumps’ of the Bronze Age barrows, Iron Age hill fort and Roman road, we have found evidence of the earlier use of the high ground the hill fort is on. When we excavated on he very top of the interior of the hill fort we found flint tools from both Mesolithic and Neolithic times.

One of the trenches in the interior of Badbury Rings hill fort. Each white tag is a worked flint or waste flake.

One of the trenches in the interior of Badbury Rings hill fort. Each white tag is a worked flint or waste flake

As Steve and I reached the summit of the hill we found evidence of a more modern use of the site, large concrete blocks with iron loops in the top. These were the remnants of fixings for a timber beacon tower which emitted a signal to guide planes back to Tarrant Rushton airfield a few fields to the west during WWII.

Next to one of these blocks we finished the interview and looked out across the landscape, cars traveling along the road between the avenue of Beech trees, people walking their dogs, children running along the banks, birds chattering and the memories of our excavations came flooding back to me. Was it really 12 years since we were here, finding a clay sling shot, part of a small twisted iron torc, and beautiful worked flint tools. I will return when the many and varied wild flowers are in bloom, so long Badbury,  till we meet again.

A very happy archaeologist in a trench at Badbury Rings with a large sherd of Iron Age pottery

A very happy archaeologist in a trench at Badbury Rings with a large sherd of Iron Age pottery

Burnt Mound, the story so far

The garden seat at Shedbush Farm, Golden Cap Estate. Time to analyse the evidence and tell the story of the site.

The garden seat at Shedbush Farm, Golden Cap Estate. Time to analyse the evidence and begin to tell the story of the site.

The soil is back in the trench and we are left with the drawings, the photographs, the soil samples and the finds.

What does it all mean?

We started with a leaflet on burnt mounds produced by Historic England. It concluded that..nobody really knows what they were constructed for but most are found beside water courses and have a trough beside them. This has led to the idea that stones were first heated on fires and then thrown into the water filled trough. The hot water might then be used to create a sauna or sweat lodge or could be used to steam heat food for feasting perhaps. The hot rocks on cool water caused them to shatter and the waste fragments were regularly cleared from the trough and heaped into a mound beside it.

Nice ideas but our location was not beside water. We found that pushing a small container full of water up hill in a wheelbarrow was hard work. The stream flowed in the valley, beside the car park, about 20m down slope from us. There may have been a trough but we did not find it, unless it had dropped off the cliff or lay outside our deep narrow trench.

Our mound is made of lots of small blackened pieces of Upper Greensand sandstone and chert mixed with ashy silt and towards the bottom increasing amounts of clay. The product of a lot of work.. collecting and burning the wood and stones to break them down into such as small size. A very windy spot, on a shelf of land half way up Ridge Hill.. now Ridge Cliff because since the Bronze Age the sea has claimed most of it.

The mound is the waste product of a process. It looks like an industrial waste heap..if so, what was produced here? Perhaps stone was broken up to create temper to hold pottery together during firing. No pottery found in the mound though. Perhaps metal was worked nearby.. no slag in the heap though. Just stone and charcoal and clay.

These were farmers and good agriculture was a matter of life and death so could the mound be anything to do with soil productivity. A few generations ago, charcoal and stone were the ingredients to feed the kilns which were used locally to produce lime that was spread on the Victorian arable fields to counteract the soil’s acidic nature.Producing lime from local stone requires high temperatures and careful stacking of ingredients. Without a stone kiln structure perhaps the windy hillside would enable a fanning effect to increase temperature within a Bronze Age stack. This explanation is not very satisfactory…

Perhaps the mound is a pyre. A significant feature never understandable to us because we cannot comprehend the belief system that created it. Too easy and a bit of a cop out but perhaps true.

Above the mound we found flint scrapers and a few bits of chunky coarse grained Bronze Age pottery but the C14 analysis of the charcoal will confirm or deny our current estimate of about 1000 BC.

Nancy working on one of the Iron Age ovens high above the top of the Bronze Age burnt mound. About 40 generations had come and gone since the final cooling of the burnt mound and the lighting of the oven.

Nancy working on one of the Iron Age ovens high above the top of the Bronze Age burnt mound. About 40 generations had come and gone since the final cooling of the burnt mound and the lighting of the oven.

At the west end, the mound was cut by a later ditch and above this we found the two ovens. Not kilns we think now. Their entrances are simple and facing the prevailing wind to the south-west. The pottery in and around them seems to be Late Iron Age, about 2000 years old but apart from the ovens and the cluster of pottery around them, no post-holes or other settlement features were found at this level. There were a scatter of stone finds which suggest local industry here. The kind of roughly worked flint which is found in Purbeck interpreted as lathe bits to turn shale bracelets. We only found one chunk of shale at Seatown though. This was far from its geological source in Kimmeridge.

I came across a cube of green flint. It looked like an exotic mosaic cube when it was first brought up by the mattock. Other fragments were found at the same ovens level and they were obviously selected and brought here for a reason. Ali, the site’s geologist is looking into the source of this rock. Perhaps used and worked to create jewellery?

So we need to go away and analyse the samples, look at the soils and the ancient pollens within them examine and compare the finds.

It was good to hear Mike talk about the soils when he visited and I could see them change as I drew them. rising up the section beyond the last flint finds. Ploughing each season, helped by gravity dragged the soils down from above. This land was part of Chideock’s open fields in medieval times before the land was enclosed in 1558. About 20cm below the surface we found 17th and 18th century pottery mixed with bits of slate… but by this time the soil was wind-blown sand.. a sign that the cliff was approaching fast and after 3000 years, the end of the burnt mound was nigh..

Evening over Golden Cap beginning the walk back to Seatown from the burnt mound.

Evening over Golden Cap beginning the walk back to Seatown from the burnt mound.

Day eleven – it always happens…..

Sorry for the delay in updates. It seems to be the law in archaeology that features appear at the last moment, and time moves so quickly on the last few days!

We had lots of visitors today, the school came back to do some post excavation finds washing and colleagues from our team came to visit and to help. Stephen, one of our curators, was soon mattocking and Mike our gardens advisor was chief bucket emptier along with our line manager Wendy.

 Our team from the National Trust came to visit and help on site

Our team from the National Trust came to visit and help on site, Stephen wielding the mattock

Due to the time constraints it was time to reduce the trench size again and target the areas we needed answers from. The eastern end of the mound was not behaving so we need to find where it ended and if the stoney area was related to the mound or something else altogether.

Millie and Carol were giving the mission to sort out the eastern end

Millie and Carol were giving the mission to sort out the eastern end

Meanwhile down at the western end of the trench Rob was finding a ditch cutting through the end of the mound!

The ditch appearing with the black mound materiel on the right and left edge of the picture

The ditch appearing with the black mound material on the right edge of the smaller trench


Martin recording the ditch with help from Rob who dug it

Martin recording the ditch with help from Rob who dug it

The mound keeps going down, but has now got small patches of clay within it; hopefully not far to go now until we find the bottom of it.

The black mound

The black mound

This was the day the kiln/hearth/oven would reveal it’s flue/opening, or was it! As I worked to remove more of the red burnt clay (possibly the collapsed walls of the feature) I found the edge of a piece of pottery. It looked like it may be sat under a lump of clay that may have been one side of the opening of the kiln/hearth/oven.

 The edge of a  large sherd of pottery

The edge of a large sherd of pottery

As I dug it got bigger, and bigger.

The pottery got bigger!

The pottery got bigger!

Then it was time to remove the clay that seemed to be filling it.

The clay lump removed

The pottery fully exposed

Sadly it was cracked and small roots had grown through the cracks. As each piece came out we realized it was a base of a pot.

A lovely base

A lovely base

Phew! What a day. We stayed late to get as much done as we could, Martin had been recording and drawing the sections, while we all concentrated on our own small areas of the site. We left for a well-earned end of dig pizza, and a refreshing brew, hoping that in the last day we could manage to finish before Clive back-filled the site, and the porta- cabin disappeared!

Day nine – Busy, busy, busy

Martin on TV

Martin on TV

Today was a great day for many reasons. We had visits from the media, 13 students from the local school at Beaminster, and environmental archaeologist Mike Allen (Allen Environmental Archaeology) on site. The students took turns excavating, sieving the material from the mound and searching the soil heap for missed finds the digger machine had dug up.

Students  excavating on site

Students excavating on site

Sieving the mound soil

Students sieving the mound soil

Students Searching the spoil heap

Students searching the spoil heap

Mike came to site to take environmental samples and to look at the soils on site, to help tell the story of the processes of burial of our features – the burnt mound and kiln/hearth.

Mike preparing his samples

Mike preparing his samples

He took soil columns to provide uncontaminated samples. He will take smaller samples from them to look for pollen. Also Mike will look at the structure of the soils to see how they were formed, for example by down-wash of soil from cultivated land further up the hill. We will up date what Mike finds in a future post over the next few months 🙂

In the foreground one of the columns of soil wrapped in cling film

In the foreground one of the columns of soil wrapped in cling film

Martin and Rob carried on removing the orange yellow soils on the west side of the kiln/hearth, and at about 11 o clock the whoop went up as they found the burnt mound layer. Hurrah! More worked flints had been found just above the mound layer, more blades and scrapers, and pottery.

Prehistoric pottery - very crumbly!

Prehistoric pottery – very crumbly!

A lovely flint scraper, it could have been used for taking hair of hides or meat from bons

A lovely flint scraper, perhaps used for taking hair off hides or meat from bones