The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Yarnbury Castle



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....
26th July 2010ce
Edited 27th July 2010ce

Comments (10)

Nice photo's, shame about the "land owner"! formicaant Posted by formicaant
26th July 2010ce
Excellent fieldnotes Gladman. I haven't visited Yarnbury as yet, in fact I didn't know of its existence until reading your fieldnotes. There is a small hillfort a bit nearer to me in north Wiltshire (Castlehill) which is also privately owned. The farm owners have recently changed the access path so that they can fence their cattle off. I understand that hillforts are scheduled ancient monuments and as such are under the auspices of English Heritage - I will find out if 'right to roam/access' applies to Yarnbury. tjj Posted by tjj
26th July 2010ce
It'd be good if you could make enquiries TJJ.... as I said, this is a seriously good hillfort, easily (in my opinion) the equal of a Hod Hill or Barbury, for example. Does it seem morally right that someone should be allowed to own something like this and accord it the base value of a field, like buying a great Van Gogh and hiding it away in a chest so no-one can see it? Surely there must be some responsibility that can be enforced?

Whilst on the subject of access to Wiltshire 'forts, the one which REALLY gets my goat is Quarley Hill. Judging by the signs around possible access points to that, the farmer is a true headcase, completely lost it, you could say? This is one I'd love to see one day.
27th July 2010ce
Hi both (great fieldnotes by the way).

Scheduling doesn't necessary equate to right to roam/access land. English Heritage manage a lot of sites and the ones they manage are pretty much all open to the public (not necessarily freely or at all times of course). But there are many more hillforts that are not EH managed and are situated in privately owned land with no public access.

Access land/right to roam is determined by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW 2000), which came in effect in 2004. Under CROW 2000, many large areas of open land are now accessible to walkers. This land is shown on OS maps (1:25000) by yellow tint with a pale orange border. If Yarnbury is not shown in this way, it won't be access land. The public's rights over access land are set out in section 2 of CROW 2000:

Hope this helps!
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
27th July 2010ce
oh and you can search on a map here for access land.

I reckon it's worth checking before you go somewhere, if it IS access land it's such a nice feeling that you don't have to go sneaking about / fearing someone appear with a shotgun!
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
27th July 2010ce
I think tsc and Rhiannon have probably answered the access query with their comments, but anyway ... I phoned English Heritage late this afternoon to see if they could throw some light on it. It was 4.45pm and although the phone was answered, I was put through to two different departments (the last one being the Dept of Archaeology) they were no use at all and told me to look on an OS map.
The Megalithic Portal site has a section of map that appears to indicate there is access.

PS: I also just read Chance's fieldnotes which are very detailed in terms of directions though I don't think he was sure about 'right of access' either (being buzzed by a helicopter sounded a bit unnerving to say the least ... but then I am a self confessed wimp).

tjj Posted by tjj
29th July 2010ce
Expect more from a farmer ? dont hold your breath.
They have the god given right to treat any intruder as an intruder, and that old one "what if you found me wandering round your backyard" is as stupid as stupid gets, my back yard is 30metres long and has no interesting features, whilst his is miles long and its got a hillfort in it, not really the same is it?
What is the problem at Quarley Hill, a footpath passes by just to the south, is it all fenced off, and what do the psychotic signs say?

I feel a sneak coming on
postman Posted by postman
29th July 2010ce
Yeah, but I was just saying in relation to the blokes I recently met in Scotland who - almost to a man - wanted to stop and chat about what they had on their land. You know, actually proud that you'd come to see their stones? What would be wrong with posting a contact number on the gate like I've seen at numerous sites in Ireland, for example?

I went to have a look at Quarley a couple of years back - as I recall - and there were so many 'Strictly private' and 'keep out' signs on access points to the hill from the footpath I felt the red mist rising and decided to get out before I picked an argument. In retrospect, it's back on the list. Must be your influence.
29th July 2010ce
Really all anyone can do is ask you to leave though, by the shortest route, and then you do that without being too shirty. 'Trespass' isn't much in law, all that draconian stuff introduced with the criminal justice bill is really for when there's more than one of you and you're intending to live there or do something unlawful (no! shock!). They can use 'reasonable force' but if you're being all reasonable yourself, none would be excusable, surely?

But I'm still a sneaky coward and I don't want to meet a landowner with a shotgun.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
29th July 2010ce
I have been looking at this hillfort (and a few others) for 15+ years on a regular drive from Kent to Cornwall and I have been planning a visit when I had worked out how and had the time. Finally did so today. Coming from the West along the A303 I turned left into the small track that runs beside the site. I do NOT recommend drving down the track even for 4 wheel drive vehicles, even though I subbronly did. The track is very bad with 3 foot plus pot holes, how I didn't leave my exhaust behind I don't know. Fine for T34 tanks. Anyway 100 yards down the track it borders the fence topped with barbed wire that surrounds this inaccessible site. Near some bushes there is an improvised point where you can climb the fence, where it is a little lower and two rough flagstones placed by previous stouthearts to help you step over stye fashion. It is worth the effort, with very high and very steep ramparts around the whole of the site. There are multi entrances and this route is via the Northern one. The Eastern one is fantastic with a complicated staggered configuration designed to expose attackers and put them in a killing zone. There are two small standing stones of indeterminant age on the main rampart (plus an OS point) and one in the enclosure. Walking the top of the rampart I circumnavigated about 3/4 of the site until I got to the west entrance where a modern track protected by more barbed wire atop fences both sides of the track made me turn back; if you are reasonably fit and young these are easy to climb over but I had a strong feeling of not being wanted; that & a dodgy back made me decide to exercise discretion. I walked back round the perimeter of the central enclosure at ground level. This is guarded by another fence toped with barbed wire. Do go down to see view at ground level as you will appreciate the internal contours a lot more; there is some circular earthwork visible from the SW, maybe the remains of a low round barrow, not sure. Anyway an intimate experince surrounded by the rampart which must be c30 feet high (?). A very impressive site, much bigger than you think seeing it from the A303 and worth the effort. It was very foggy today so the views were not too good but the atmosphere was great. A hidden gem that I want to know more about and revisit in the sun. Posted by harrythanet
30th December 2010ce
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