Bringing the Mam C back to Essex for a week, I decide to stop off in Wiltshire to break the journey en-route. As you do. Well, the M4 is a major drag, it has to be said. But herein lies the problem. Where to go when you've a travelling companion tuned to the subtleties of the South Walian uplands? Simples. I put my faith in Chance. Ha!!
How I've missed out on this beautiful Neolithic monument, having driven up and down the aforementioned motorway all these years, is beyond me... true, the glory of Avebury may radiate far and wide, but, for me, sites such as Fairmile possess more of that abstract 'stuff' which would appear to speak directly to whatever we humans - at least some of us, I guess - call the 'soul'. Yeah, James Brown, as opposed to that Boyle woman. Much to my chagrin, I visited the nearby - and, it has to be said, somewhat inferior (although still pretty good) - Tow Barrow last year, so have only ignorance as a defence.
Access is easy from the minor road to the east, this route well worth a drive for its own sake for the sweeping vistas it provides, panoramas dominated by that vast sky which seems to be so much more extensive here in Wiltshire. Clearly it's not, but the feeling is nonetheless tangiable. A bridleway, with plenty of parking room at the entrance, heads approx westwards a little north of a track cross roads. Don't be decieved, now.... the mound visible in the field is, in fact, a reservoir, so follow the field edge towards a copse of trees until the long barrow appears to the right, protected within a wooden-fenced enclosure. This fence-line lessens the initial impact, but advance through the gate and the sheer size and superb preservation of the long barrow takes the breath away. It really does. Well, it must be that since the physical exertion required to see this beauty is minimal, compared to some.
The setting is classic 'long barrow', positionned just back from the edge of a steep escarpment, with far-reaching views to the north. Agriculture dominates here, so much so that it's tempting to think very little has changed in millennia. Delusion, perhaps, but this monument to farming nevertheless is not exactly out of context. Damage to the long barrow would appear relatively minimal, making it a perfect perch to sit and watch the farmer (I assume) do his 'rounds', his two dogs engaged in the time honoured ritual of chasing hares across the fields. Don't worry, now. The hare doesn't even bother to resort to evasive manoeuvres - he clearly reckons sheer pace is enough to leave these suckers standing. It is.
It's difficult to think what more could be asked of Fairmile? Easilly reached, yet obscure; very well preserved, with intact ditches (oh yes!); classic siting; great views; friendly farmer? Tick all those boxes. For my money - with the possible exception of the heavilly overgrown Botley Down (hard to judge) - it is the finest long barrow in an area literaly chock-a-block with them. A fine day can be had in the vicinity, but keep this beauty to last.
This long barrow lies on the side of a hill above the village of Collingbourne Kingston. Very easy to reach, it appears to have escaped any serious excavation, although the uneven surface suggests partial excavation of the site, probably in the 19th century.
The B road running along the crest of the hill, named fair mile, seemed to me to be as ancient as the long barrow itself and could be traced running for miles through and past many Neolithic sites. This is worthy of a separate blog in it's own right.
To the east of the road lies another long barrow, Tow Barrow and a km south, the Grafton disc barrow group.
I cycled the area and came in along the fair mile. There is no sign for any of these barrows, but a byway sign and a convenient pull in off the road marks the track leading down the hill and past the long barrow. I cycled down this and left the bike by the fence just before the wood. I climbed over a fence and walk along the field boundary until I reached the field with the barrow in it. Gates have been provided to access the barrow and the land owner should be praised at the level of upkeep this barrow affords.
The barrow itself is fenced off but a gate is provided and access could not be easier. The only problem I encountered was a herd of bullocks who where over friendly and came a bit to close for comfort. I armed myself with a big stick and kept the at arms length as I made my way into the barrows compound. Once inside I made a little offering to the ancestors in the form of a cap full of water anointing the barrow. It might sound a bit daft to some people but I fell it is a mark of respect and I always like to make an effort to get into the right mind space when visiting these burial sites. I don't know quite what happened next but something spooked the cattle and they all turned and fled to the furthest part of the field and left me in peace for then on.
As you can see from the pictures, the long barrow survives as a substantial earthwork, a length of 41.5m, is 20m wide and 2.5m high at the higher east-end. The orientation is east-west and is ovoid in plan.
Flanking ditches, from which material used to construct the mound was quarried, run parallel to the north and south sides of the mound. The northern ditch adjoins the barrow mound and is 7m wide and 0.75m deep. The southern ditch, which is separated from the mound by a narrow berm 2m wide, is 9m wide and 1.5m deep.
A very fine, mid to late Neolithic long barrow and one I would highly recommend visiting, along with the other barrows mentioned above. I would suggest winter or early spring the best time as the pasture would not have become so dense and the cattle in the field.