The Dorset Cursus is 10km long, and runs roughly SW-NE between Thickthorn Down and Martin Down. It has two sections: the south one is older. The general grid reference given is on Bottlebush Down, in the area where one terminates and the other begins.
To answer Rob Gillespie's question, the picture of the cursus in Cope's book is taken from around SU018161 looking north-east. In the foreground on the right is a remnant of the SE cursus bank and across the valley the cursus can be seen disappearing into Salisbury Plantation (private land). Apparently there are traces of both banks in the plantation, as well as a long barrow built into the NW bank. The tree covered hill summit on the horizon is Penbury Knoll.
My own version of this pic is available here and I've posted a similar one on this website here.
[visited 22/09/2003] My first view of a certified cursus and I was not disapointed. I visited a bit near the middle of the cursus at approx SU025167.
I parked in a weird layby next to a farm gate on the edge of the A354 & worked my way through Oakley Down barrow cemetary, past a small wood and onto the cursus at SU023163. I then followed the path of the cursus north, touching on a wood full of some kind of pheasant thing. The best viewable remains seem to be in the wood itself, I didn't look for the west bank in the wood but the east bank reaches a height of approx 1.5m skirting the edge of the wood. Also look out for clear marks in the soil to the south of the wood, the east banks path is clearly visible at this time of year (late september).
So general impressions, it is huge. The only other sites that had this vastness about them that I've seen are Silbury & Avebury, but the overall nature of this dwarfs them. Two banks of earth taller than me, ploughing across the dorset landscape for miles upon miles, over hills into valleys, onwards ever onwards. One of those few occasions I've been overawed by what I've seen at a site.
THE DORSET CURSUS & ACKLING DYKE - Visited 18/4/00
A trip to Dorset gave us loads of time to tick a few more sites off from the book...if only the weather had been better.
Along with fellow enthusiast, Pete Barrett, we took upon ourselves to locate sites as never before this cold, wet, windy Tuesday. After climbing BOTH Hambledon and Hod, our next task was to locate the Dorset Cursus. Heading down Ackling Dyke from the B3081, we tried to decide at what point we were actually 'on the cursus' as it were. We managed to get our bearings via a few barrows, then found a very useful post on the edge of the adjacent ploughed field, with a map showing the cursus and marks in the next field going off to the south, which we reckoned might be there to show its course.
Photograph taken, with a token Pete peering menacingly from the bushes (a la the book), we headed back in the rain to the car. Unfortunately we couldn't seem to locate the spot where Cope's picture was taken....does anyone know?
I promise this is my last one. Isn't tecknologie marvellous? You are looking at the Bottlebush Down terminus - yes, the one-foot-high bump running across the screen. On the skyline is the Gussage Down long barrow where the midwinter sun sets. You can zoom out and turn round to see where Mr Cope took his photo all those years ago. And you can drive north to see Berendes Beorh and south to see the round barrow unceremoniously called "Wimborne St Giles 35" right on the verge of the road. And some roadkill. Eeek.
Pleased to see much of England's lovely lanes now available online. Especially as I'm trapped in the city studying for exams and I can top up by looking at some country side even if I can't go there yet. Sniff.
ANYWAY... this is Mr Green's famous "Pleistocene river cliff". There was a boggy spring at the base of this and a stream rose here before heading down to Knowlton. The cursus surrounds the car at this point. And I'd like to think the driver knew that.
Yesterday, the day before midwinter, I came over to the Cursus with three friends to see the sunset. Does it actually go into Gussage Down long barrow from the original east end of the cursus? (see this summer's blog at http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/77897/weblog/ ) I have seen only one photograph of this alignment, in Martin Green's book "A Landscape Revealed", so I was curious to see if it really happened as accurately as they say. I wasn't sure if my chums would think it was worthwhile, lacking in visible earthworks. We had just been to Knowlton in the dying rays of the sun. Nice midwinter alignment there too through the causeway in from the road.
It was about -1 degrees C as we left the warmth of the car and walked down the side of the field. Now in the low sun, the one foot high ridge that seems likely to have been the original eastern end and might have the platform for viewing the sunset was quite easy to see, until you are near it. We stood along the "ridge" and watched the orange sun slide through a thin strip of cloud, more horizontally than sinking. You could get the impression it is gliding down to rest on Gussage Down. A hare ran out in front of us, stopped and had a good long look. I realised that the appearance of that animal inside the cursus bank at the same time 5200 years ago would have been seen as pretty significant, the hare spirit coming to hang out with the high downland folk.
And yes, the alignment does happen. The sun hits the skyline at the long barrow's SE end and glides along to the NW end where there is just a glimmer left. It disappears into the ground right next to the NW end. These precise alignments are moved slightly by where you stand along the ridge, but not much, maybe half a sun-diameter (15 minutes of arc). When the bank of the cursus was a full 2 meters it would have interfered as well and I think the sun would not have appeared again outside the cursus. We took a few photographs but it was so cold I had to get my hand back in the glove pretty quick.
The sun was down and the old year dead (approximately). We stood there for a bit watching the snowstorm clouds billowing up on the horizon. I went to investigate what looked like some dead creature that had succombed to the cold in the field ahead. It was a battered motorbike tyre, and it had landed around the skull of a rabbit. The symbols abound when you start looking. Jeez it was cold. The flask of tea in the car went down a treat.