|Following a very brief - and, I'm afraid, all too tentative - visit quite a few years ago, I've harboured an ambition (one of many, it has to be said) to come back to Yarnbury and see if it was as good as it appeared 'back then'. Well, inspired by Chance's notes as I was, not to mention a recent visit to The Chesters up near Edinburgh, today was the day....
Approaching along the A303 (ah, the A303!!) from Stonehenge, the environs of the great circle incidentally occupied by a myriad camper vans and, frankly, looking a shambles, I park in a layby just beyond the deceptively squat earthworks of the hillfort. Luckily the 'chicken' manages to cross the road in one piece and a couple of gates and grassy field later [no signs, no barbed-wire], I stand overawed by the immensity of Yarnbury's earthworks.... duh, these are big! Bi-vallate, with what would appear to be a somewhat half hearted effort at a third rampart in places, the main ramparts and ditches are some of the most impressive Iron Age fortifications I've seen for a long while.
And wait, there's more... for the original entrance to the east, a typically inverted affair of parallel banks, is protected by a boldly projecting, kidney-shaped earthwork, this playing much the same aggressive role as an castle gatehouse - you approach in the exact, vulnerable manner we want you to approach, thank you very much. The large, roughly circular interior of the settlement is defined by barbed wire, traces of an additional, smaller enclosure visible within. Unfortunately, however, Dyer does not cite this as being a causewayed-camp, or otherwise of a much earlier date than the other works. More's the pity.
The highest point of the main, inner rampart is crowned by an OS trig point, a bit lower than the usual, perhaps, but nevertheless a fine viewpoint for the sweeping Wiltshire countryside. I walk the ramparts in turn, the resident flowers and fauna perhaps the greatest incentive for a summer visit, a startled hare making off amongst blooms of exquisitely vibrant hues, a wise precaution to avoid being trod upon by a clumsy Gladman. The ramparts are bisected at one point by barbed wire flanking another (modern?) entrance, but metal bar gates allow a full circuit. It is a wonderful walk, it really is, but all too soon the hours have flown by and I must leave.
At this moment I see four figures approaching from the far arc of the ramparts with a small dog ... tourists upon Yarnbury, surely not? Intrigued, I decide to hang around and have a chat, only to be greeted with 'what are you looking for?' by a very young looking chap with very upper class accent. Hmm, difficult question, perched as I am upon these massive Iron Age ramparts with a camera. Er, actually I think I found the hillfort, thanks...Anyway, I'm informed this is private land and, basically, that he sees nothing untoward with using one of Wessex's finest Iron Age hillforts as a mere sheep pen. And there I was hoping that - taking a lead from my recent, invigorating meetings with numerous enlightened Scottish farmers - perhaps the landowner of Yarnbury was actually taking his (arguably) inherited moral responsibility for this exceptional piece of our heritage seriously? Well, you be the judge of that. He flatly dismisses my suggestion to post a contact 'phone number by the entrance, or an address to request access through. Clearly too much trouble, I guess. However I must state that, to be fair, he was in no way aggressive and, I assume, fully within his legal rights. There are always two sides to every story, but I just somehow expected more this time, I guess.
So there you are. In my opinion Yarnbury is one of the great 'lost' hillforts of Wiltshire. But most certainly one with no public access. It deserves far better than that. It really does....
Posted by GLADMAN
26th July 2010ce
Edited 27th July 2010ce