|Site and Area Visit 30th to 31st May 2009
Although Fosbury is officially classified as an Iron Age bivallate hillfort, it's origins probably go back to the Neolithic, if not the Mesolithic. Haydon Hill, upon which Fosbury is constructed, is like a flattened volcano with natural deep ditches all the way around it. These would have formed ideal pens in which to trap wild animals when hunting and it is easy to imagine the hunter-gatherer culture being drawn to this site throughout the seasons.
The hillfort encloses about 25 acres and has an in turned entrance on the eastern side. The Northern side is bordered by Oakhill wood and as the name suggests, contains the remains of some ancient sessile oaks. The area occupied by the hillfort itself is known as Knolls down and contains two natural ponds that were purposefully encompassed when the bivallate banks and ditches were created in the Iron age. When Colt Hoare writes about his visit to the hillfort in Ancient Wiltshire, he states that the ponds were reputed to "never run dry" and they certainly add to the general mood of the site. One could easily imagine offerings being made here in the distant past. The presence of so many Neolithic long barrows within the immediate vicinity would point to an advanced farming community using the natural landscape over many generations. The many pits would also point to a vast storage network of sustainable produce, be it grain, fruit or other food items. Fosbury would appear to have been occupied and possibly fought over, by many tribes and emigrational groups. The Belege would have been the major influence behind the creation of the nearby Grafton disc barrow group and for the Romans to have rebuilt and improved the causeway running around the fort, may also suggest it being a special site and worthy of the investment they made here.
I travelled around the fort using the Roman road, the Chute causeway, from Scots poor. This was after field visits to the long barrows of Fairmile Down and Tow Barrow. You can clearly see the remains of storage pits, field systems and defences as you traverse the causeway with Fosbury on left. I made my journey by cycle and although tiring, it gave me the opportunity to use the ancient trackways which surround Fosbury. I know that the TMA eds have stopped adding facilities to the database but I'm going to mention The George Inn at Vernham Dean on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border, SP11 0JY (01264 737279). When visiting Fosbury, this is both the best and safest place to leave your car, even if it adds slightly to your walk. In my case, it was also the only place I could get any mains feed water. Walking from the pub back over the county line to Goudyses Gate, there is a footpath next to a cottage that leads up to Fosbury. Following this along the edge of the wood will bring you to the original eastern entrance of the hillfort.
When I visited on Saturday night with my bike and wild camping provisions, I had no idea I was walking in the footsteps' of the ghostly rector (see the folklore post below). The bike had a puncture and with the light fading I decided to set up my hammock under one of the ancient beech trees and cook my evening meal. I didn't see any people till 11 am the next morning but the site was teeming with wildlife. First were a pair of owls, a young vixen, then a doe, and later 2 very playful young badgers. There might have been other visitors in the night but I fell into a sound sleep till 7 am and missed them. I had breakfast, walked around the site taking photos and notes until fixing the flat tyre and leaving along the Western track, past Fosbury farm and on to Tidcombe Long Barrow.
My visit was on May 30-31 2009 and there had been considerable effort put into erecting a new stock proof fence along the ancient Iron Age defences. The ground did not have good pasture, so I assume the site would be home to "beef follow on" i.e. young bullocks who would be left to fatten up before slaughter. If this is the case, future access, although along a footpath, might be problematic. Never the less I would highly recommend visiting Fosbury, both for the views and history. Sleeping in a ditch with the wildlife and the ancient dead is another matter.
Posted by Chance
24th April 2010ce