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Yarnbury Castle



Field Notes

Yarnbury Castle - SU 035404 - Aug 2007

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 130 - Scale 1:25000
Salisbury & Stonehenge inc. Wilton & Market Lavington.
ISBN 978-0-319-23599-7

I visited this site last Lammas as part of my tour of the Stonehenge area. It was the last site on my hit list and I'd planned to spend the afternoon there. My transport was, as usual, my bike. It meant cycling down a dual carriageway to get there, but it was the most practical route for me to take. Having read the other field notes, or lack of them, it looks like I was the only one to make it.

The site lies just off the A303. At this point, the road is a dual carriageway with a central reservation. I would suggest you try to get to SU 04104 40144. This point is a farm track, just off the South bound A303. You should be able to turn a sharp right off the A303 to get there, but I haven't tried this. If you miss the turn, and there's no signpost, you will have to travel down to Deptford or Wylye to turn round. There is a farm track running alongside the North bound side of the A303, but I couldn't tell you how to get on this, let alone get off it.

If your travelling on the North bound side of the A303, you could try a sharp left turn on the other side of the farm track, just past the site, otherwise you should travel up to the B3083 and turn off towards Berwick St. James. Turn round here and travel back along the A303 South bound.
The other alternative is to travel on to Berwick St. James, and travel or walk along the Langford Waie. This track leads to the summit of a hill with a water tower on top. Turn right here and travel up until you reach the A303. There is a milestone at this point indicating that it was once the roman road from Old Sarum to Bath. The milestone is actually listed as scheduled monument AM419 (SMR No. SU04SW525). Once you get to this point, the last obstacle is the A303 itself. You must wait for a gap in the traffic and sprint across to the central reservation. Do this again over the Northbound lane and the delights of Yarnbury Castle can be sampled. Bit of a game all that, but that's it's not up a mountain.

I have no idea if this is private land or on MOD land or anything. I did get buzzed by a MOD helicopter while there, but thought nothing of it as they were flying around all the time. I cycled down the track till it drew parallel with the fort and stashed the bike well off the track. There was a section of wire fence down and a path though it, so I took that.

I walked up the side of the earthworks until I got to the original, eastern entrance. This is a strong interned entrance, 9 metres wide, with elaborate outworks including a kidney-shaped enclosure, which forces the entrance passage south and east.
Once inside the circular earthwork, the ground is level and encloses over 10 hectares. The fort is surrounded by two banks 7.5 metres high and deep ditches, with traces of a third, slighter outer defence. An OS trig station sits on one bank, indicating that you stand on the highest point for miles.

Inside the fort are traces of an earlier 3.6 hectare enclosure. When this was excavated by Maud Cunnington in June 1932, pottery fragments and human burials were recovered. This area has been dated to 300BC. A geophysical survey was carried out in 1987, and another year earlier, by the RCHME. This revealed the remains of at least 120 circular structures and associated pits within the hillfort defences.

While the outer ditch has been dated to 100BC, a small triangular enclosure of Roman date was added to the outside of the fort on the west. This has been shown by excavation to have a V-shaped ditch 2.7 metres deep, together with an entrance that had been closed by a wooden gate.

The entrance on the south side is modern and probably dates from the eighteenth century. As Rhiannon says, an annual sheep fair was held inside the fort. This ended in 1916, maybe due to the military demands on the area, or maybe through the gradual demise of the old ways. This pattern was repeated throughout countless communities up and down the country, let alone the county. The sheep-pens have left rectangular ridge-traces on the eastern side of the central enclosure.

I really enjoyed visiting Yarnbury. It had a true atmosphere of the past, even though the busy A303 gave out a constant hum of traffic. The parking is the major problem, but once you overcome that, you get a place the size of Avebury to yourself. The banks and ditches reminded me of Avebury too, they were probably bigger. It felt a little like Old Sarum too.

My exit strategy was simple. Leave by the way I came in and retrieve the bike. I then cycled out, over Madington Down to Shrewton.
Chance Posted by Chance
13th June 2008ce

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