Out walking - started on the Ridgeway from the bridleway opposite the downland path to the village of Ashbury. Walking to Ashdown, I hadn't made the connection between the two places before. A gentle walk through Hayley Wood and Middle Wood with the small Iron Age hillfort of Alfred's Castle visible through the leafless trees.
The path through the woods leads directly down to Ashdown House which is currently undergoing renovation and not visible from behind protective sheeting and scaffolding. The small carpark with a National Trust information board is next to the sarsen drift field which, although lacking the other worldly quality of Fyfield Down and Lockeridge, still has a wonderful atmosphere all of its own. It lies at the foot of Weathercock Hill which today had a herd of deer grazing peacefully. Walking through the sarsen drift field it seemed some of the stones were not a random scatter but arranged in a stone row.
Up Weathercock Hill, we appeared to be shadowing the herd of deer for much of our walk. A red kite glided overhead. Further along we encountered a much smaller herd of stags. Back to the Ridgeway with a fabulous view of Uffington Castle which, from this perspective, seems to be on a promontory much like Barbury.
The rest of the walk was about a mile along the Ridgeway taking in Waylands Smithy. Always, always an uplifting experience.
Whilst visiting Fognam Clump Barrow I 'happened upon' this site - I had no idea it was here!
The site it is well worth visiting and is easily seen alongside the B4000 near Ashdown House. It is very reminiscent of the surviving fields of stones found around the Avebury area. Wow!
Certainly gives you an idea of how the area would have looked when the prehistoric sites were being built.
Field Notes - 26-08-07
Ashdown Park natural sarsen drift SU: 28496 82083
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 170 - Scale 1:25000
Abingdon, Wantage and the Vale of the White Horse
When describing the remains of this natural sarsen drift, it is important to view them as one piece of the overall landscape. The majority of the remaining sarsens lie in Sarsen Field, although sarsens are scattered along the length of the estate boundary, as well as, the medieval farmstead at the rear of Ashdown house. Sarsen Field is fenced off and does not seem to have public access but lies right beside the B4000. This road may be a prehistoric trackway and appears to have been used to transport the stones north to the Ridgeway and south to Lambourn.
Stones from this sarsen drift can be found in the prehistoric monuments of Waylands Smithy and Segbury Hillfort. Even the Blowing Stones' of Aldbourne and Uffington may have come from this drift, if not from this area.
The drift lies at the bottom of a dry valley named Kingstone Down over looked by the magnificent Weathercock Hill to the east and to the West, by the Bronze age barrow cemetery of Idestone Down, Alfred's Castle and the Ridgeway. The ancient trackway, The Sugar Way, also passes to the south as it makes it way from Botley copse over Fognam Down and on to Upper Lambourn and the Seven Barrows group.
This area is very confusing to classify using the county boundaries. Ashdown Park appears to have had the county lines drawn around it's estate and since 1974, now lies in Oxfordshire, while much of it's history is claimed by both Berkshire and Wiltshire.
The area has seen constant cultivation from the earliest times and the downs above the site show the Celtic field systems and their later Roman replacements. The woodland to the north of the park also contains many Celtic field systems.
Ashdown lies in the manor the Ashberry, which was formed in Saxon times. The estate passed to Glastonbury abbey in the 10th century, and by 1342 it had been partially enclosed (fenced) to create a deer park to supply Venison.
It is unclear to the number of sarsens removed during this period, but the beautiful medieval farmstead at the rear of Ashdown down house is testament to their use by stonemasons of that period. John Aubrey gives an account of large sarsens being taken from Alfred's castle, at the back of the estate, in 1662-3 to build part of the present house. This might indicate that the drift had already been severely depleted by this time.
I was left with the impression that Sarsen Field was a remnant of "the wild downs" and something to be viewed from the drawing rooms of the large house. Like the sarsen drifts on Fyfield Down and Piggledean, the Ashdown drift is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). The rest of the parkland is laid out in the formal styles of the 17th century, with four rides or avenues radiating from the house through dense trees.
After Lord Craven's death in 1697, ownership of Ashdown house and the estate continued in the Craven family for nearly 300 years. The house, a derelict, and 40 acres of land, were given to the National trust in 1956 with an endowment and covenants for over 53 acres of surrounding land by Cornelia, the countess of Craven. 452 acres of farmland, woodland adjoining the house including the North Ride and Weathercock Hill, were all later purchased by the National trust in 1983. The last addition to the estate was the Iron Age hill fort of Alfred's Castle, which was purchased by the National trust with grant aid from English Heritage in 1992.
Legend has it that Merlin the greatest Magician Britain has ever known, wandered through the Wessex Downland and in a moment of madness turned a flock of sheep to stone......these are now seen as the sarsen field below Kingstone Down.