I was not prepared for the steep trek up through the woods, which left me realising just how shockingly unfit I am! The levelling out of the next section of path allowed me to recover in time for the sudden arrival at the long barrow, which equally took my breath away.
On this cold & windy, yet bright April late afternoon, I found that I had the barrow all to myself, adding to the distant feeling from the valley far below. Belas Knap was an ideal start to this week away in the Cotswolds, giving me a perfect introduction as an example of how the areas’ long barrows seem to be perched high on the edge of a plateau (as I would later note at Hetty Pegler’s Tump for example). Without the trees covering Humblebee How on the east side I guess the view from, or indeed up to, the barrow would have been quite something.
I think I’m beginning to realize, the longer I spend visiting these ancient sites, that it’s about the environment, the setting, the place, the feeling, as much as it is about the actual look of the monuments. So although, as others have commented, Belas Knap is quite manufactured and overly neat, it is still here. Literally, which is great of course, but also in the sense of giving context as to why it’s here in this place.
I’m excited to be coming back to Belas Knap. It’s been over three years since I last came up here, when the mound was buried under snow as deep and pristine as Christmas cake icing. In contrast, today is a proper spring day. The late winter has left some snow in the hedges and verges, but the twitter and trill of birdsong and the sunshine slanting through the trees on the approach instils a sense of renewal and rebirth.
I don’t have the place entirely to myself on arrival, but the two walkers I meet are readying to leave and I’m soon alone. This is a wonderful monument; the restoration work detracts not at all from the splendour of curved forecourt, whaleback mound and welcoming chambers. What does detract however, is to be confronted with a swastika daubed on one of the stones in the NE chamber. It’s never nice to see damage of any sort at an ancient site, but the fact that some meat-headed moron has chosen to bring their far-right idiocy here is doubly upsetting. The swastika is black, it’s not clear what has been used, although it’s not paint – perhaps charcoal. Ugly, in every sense.
More people arrive, but the mound is so big that it’s possible to feel alone here even when you’re not. I come across another swastika in the western chamber, which I manage to partially wash off with water from my bottle. Looking out from the chamber, I realise that the masts on the top of Cleeve Hill are visible. The last two times I came here, visibility was reduced by hillfog, so it’s great to be able to see so far.
There is some temporary wooden fencing at the eastern tip of the horned forecourt, where people climbing up onto the mound have eroded the earthwork. It looks as though some repair work is underway here, from the little pile of stacked limestone pieces. I return to the NE chamber and find to my sadness two further swastikas that I hadn’t seen the first time. Awful.
Emerging back into the sun, I meet three guys from Edinburgh, who turn out to be actors come down to Stratford for a play. They tell me that they usually come out to the Cotswolds for a walk on their trips down here, showing what a pull this area exerts far and wide. We chat for a bit and they head off towards Brockhampton, leaving me alone in the sunshine for a while longer.
Before eventually leaving, I have a quick look at the almost-gone round barrow in the field to the WSW. Like the similarly denuded example at nearby Crippetts, it was obviously placed here in a relationship with the earlier long barrow, but is so reduced as to almost escape notice, even if you are looking for it.
Although I’m considerably saddened by the neo-Nazi nonsense I’ve found here today, I’ve nevertheless enjoyed the re-visit to Belas Knap greatly. A fine example of how sympathetic restoration can really work, I’m lucky to have such a wonderful site so close to home. Adieu, for I shall surely return.
On my way to Twigworth in Gloucestershire to pick up an exhibition I decided that I probably just had time to make a flying visit to Belas Knap, a place that had stuck in my mind since a childhood visit many, many years ago. This really seemed to be quite a remote and difficult site to find, but eventually it found me and I scrambled the fifteen minute walk to the top of the hill. I had the place all to myself for some time and it all came back to me in the serenity, tidiness and beauty of this enigmatic barrow.
After wondering about for around twenty minutes I realised that someone else had arrived there and we exchanged nods. A few minutes later he stopped and asked me if I could take his picture next to the barrow using his iPhone and we fell into conversation. It transpired that he was from Tasmania visiting family and had lived nearby as a boy and had emigrated at the age of 12. He said that he’d forgotten just how much this place had meant to him and how these ancient places got under your skin. “We don’t have these same layers of history as you guys do back here and I really miss it”. That was about the age that I’d been on my last visit there also and though I’ve never lived outside the UK I think I understood what he meant.
My Cotswold Summer … culminated today in a visit to Belas Knap long barrow. I caught an early bus to Cricklade where I met my good friend MM with their sturdy steed, a little red Honda. We started our five mile walk at the small picturesque village of Brockhampton; walking to an ancient site seems to make the arriving so much more satisfying and today was no exception. We passed a field of sunflowers nodding in the breeze and noticed the house martins were gathering – no doubt preparing to depart as our summer starts to take on an autumnal tinge.
Our walk was a gradual uphill one with a steep climb up to Humblebee Cottages – here we turned left and walked about 200 metres to the road where we turned right and walked downhill until we came to the sign pointing to Belas Knap. Next, quite a steep climb uphill through woodland emerging into a field; no crop in the field so we walked diagonally uphill and across to a kissing gate where the barrow is well signposted. Another short walk through woodland emerging with Belas Knapp immediately in front of us on the other side of a low stone wall.
What a wonderful position for a long barrow – at 300 metres the hill (escarpment) upon which it stands is nearly 1000 feet. It was a surprise to learn from the information board that upper and most impressive 'entrance' is in fact a false one. There is a NE chamber, a NW chamber and an uncovered chamber at the lower end of the barrow. The information board told us that 38 skeletons had been found in the chambers along with animal bones, flint implements and pottery.
The sun came out while we were there and a breeze picked up – it was about as good as it gets. The walk back to Brockhampton from the west side of the long barrow was a gentle one, a gradual downhill decline and a bit of random blackberry picking.
Edit: I omitted to mention the small hobbit-like SE Chamber - four in all not counting the false entrance.
This is a wonderful site and well worth a visit. Although there was no sign on the country lane telling you where to park I spotted a few cars parked in a layby and concluded this was the place - I was right! (I later found the E.H. sign had been knocked over and was laying on its side in the bushes next to said layby). I then followed the fairly obvious path through the trees and up the quite steep field. The walk was a lot longer than I expected but I knew I was on the right path as a few people passed me heading back from the site. When you finally arrive it is well worth the effort. I really enjoyed myself entering the largest side chamber and laying on my belly to stick my head into the other smaller chambers - much to the amusement of another chap who was paying a visit! If you are physically able to manage the walk I would definitely recommend a visit.
8.1.2010: Following the heaviest snow in Gloucestershire since 1982 (apparently), a trip up here seemed like a good idea. I had hoped to get here for sunrise, but the Winchcombe bus didn't turn up, so I ended up getting a bus to Prestbury and walking from there, up and over the southern part of Cleeve Common in freezing fog, which made a visit to Cleeve Cloud seem a bit pointless, so it's eastwards to Belas Knap, past the empty shell of Wontley Farm. Approaching the barrow from the west, the fog suddenly started to lift and the sun came out - wonderful! The barrow emerged from the gloom and was lit up in the early morning rays. Looked as if no more than three or four people had been up here since the snowfall three days previously, and there certainly wasn't a soul to be seen up here while I was at the site.
A good wander around the perimeter, then into the two larger side chambers. Temperatures were in the minus figures and my fingers were numb from taking pictures with a glove off. This is great barrow, anyone who complains about it being restored and therefore somehow not authentic should visit all the ploughed down, wrecked barrows around Gloucestershire and realise how lucky we are to have this superb site. After about half an hour or so, even the shelter of the side chamber started to seem pretty cold and I headed off back the way I had come. Walking along the Cotswold Way and then along the track towards White Hall Farm (quite some distance to the SW) the barrow is still visible and its lofty position becomes more noticable. It is pretty high up (300 metres above sea level - the highest point of Cleeve Hill is only 330 metres) but never seems to be because it lacks views due to trees to the east and Cleeve to the west. In theory the barrow was surrounded by trees in the Neolithic period, so the fact that it can be seen so prominently from the SW would not have been apparent, which is curious.
A wonderful place to visit in the quiet and beauty of the white coated landscape. The whole walk of about 8 miles took me well over five hours, at times through knee deep snow, but was totally worth the effort.
I have been here today, and got home just in time to find out about the severe weather warning. I enjoyed the walk up to Belas Knap. It does look to me like a hobbit's dwelling. Having been to Rollright Stones on the same day though and seen the fire damage, I was dismayed to see the same sort of thing in the east and west chambers of Belas Knap. It seems people go up there at night and light fires and tea lights. Perhaps they don't realise by doing this they are damaging the stones.
I thought Belas Knap looked very different from Waylands Smithy. Belas Knap is definitely more curvaceous and feminine. I agree with Jane on most points and because it looks very "cosmetic" and restored, I would like to know how much of it is original and how much has been restored.
I parked in a road next to several other cars which was where the sat nav took us. I do not yet have GPS for walkers so I was using a Jarrold guide book for the walk up to the barrow. The views of the cotswolds are certainly beautiful and it felt like we were up in the clouds. I intend to go back at some point and do the full 8 mile walk around Cleeve hill which incorporates Belas Knap.
The strong Energy line, lining up with the lengh of the barrow actually lines up with the top of the woods near the style on the path up from the car park near the sign pointing up the hill. I know of one internet mention of "pins and needles at the top of the woods, near the style". It's just the energy line, not anything sinister.
Early Sunday morning 31/11/2004 (Halloween) I took a party of four mates here. They were sceptical about mystic vibes and the like but we were all pleasantly surprised by how the day turned out. We parked on the road halfway up the hill next to a handy sign pointed barrow-wards, and found the walk up to be not too taxing, despite the fact that two of our party had been up all night and red wine was not proving good walking fuel.
First impressions were non-committal, kind of like, "now we're here, where's the magic?" but we ended up staying almost two hours, walking round the barrow, on top of the barrow and inside the chambers, smoking up some nice hotboxes... despite collective cyncism, all remarked on the chilled nature of the place; we had a good time, chatting and laughing and druid-spotting (there were a few other visitors who did not appear to be just ramblers). Myself I detected a weird feel around and about, almost scary, almost sinister but not negative somehow... hmmm maybe just some kind of power that should be respected, adjusted to and enjoyed. I imagine that if you went on your own at some less popular time it would be very easy to sit and zone out here. It should be noted that I was the only member of the party not to have a smoke...
The rest of day was spent in and around Winchcombe and the day continued to be good fun, as if we took a little of where we'd just been with us for a while. We met strange Winchcombe people and strange Winchcombe sheep, and enjoyed one of the best days out I can remember. Recommended.
A grey mist all over the landscape in late January. The South East chamber (as referred to in TMA) is indeed pretty scary-looking from the outside, and I crept in and lay down with no small trepidation.
Funny though - it all went away very quickly. In sharp contrast to the outside world, the chamber is dry, calm and (at least on a day like this) comparatively warm when you're out of the rain and wind. The Cotswold Stone lining the chamber also makes it more light than you might expect. Thanks are due to who or whatever placed a pillow stone in just the right place... I could have drifted off but for the arrival of a troop of American children.
Incidentally, it's worth comparing the quality and intricacy of the stonework around the North and South entrances to that of the dry stone walls opposite them!
A misty, damp day with low clouds scooping over the hill tops.
In the fading light of the afternoon, we parked in the layby at the top of the hill and took the short uphill route to the Belas Knap monument. At Belas Knap, the height of the position was lost in the clouds and mist and we were left with a quiet landscape. The sight of two deer increased the sense of timelessness...
The false entrance of Belas Knap reminded me of the (real) entrance to the Stoney Littleton Long Barrow with its dry stone walling and arching entrance.
Before going here I really should have read the fieldnotes but never planned the visit I just stopped off on the way to Dorset. It was the middle of summer and I decided to park my car at the bottom of the lane and walk up. At the bottom of the lane it says Belas Knap 1.5 miles walk a 1/4 of a mile up the lane you are greeted by a sign pointing into the cricket ground also saying Belas knap 1.5 miles! So I set off up the footpath through the cricket ground uphill into a field and uphill again you get to a wall at the top and cross the stile which brings you out on the lane you parked at the bottom of! I followed the lane up turned the corner and was met by parking spaces for your car with a sign saying 'Belas Knap 0.5 miles' arghh! Ah well I enjoyed the walk anyway. From there its easy, through a small wood into a field (just go straigt up the top of this field) turn left through another field and there she is at the end of the path. Wow what a beauty, I was quite suprised by the number of visitors up here I always like a little solitude and rtime out when I get to these sites but I was also quite happy that more people are taking an intrest in these special places to, which kinda makes up for it :) Go there and see her for yourself the walk really isn't that bad.
O lordy, lordy. A magical must see. Beg, borrow or steal (well maybe not the last one) to get here. After exploring the chambers and the amazing false entrance (you will rarely ever see workmanship like that!) we relaxed at the southern end and despite a constant stream of people in the area, very few walked around the barrow, or spent any time there. One woman had walked up to the barrow just behind us and spent barely 2 minutes before walking back. Oh well, each to their own, but more fool them I say. This was probably the last day of decent weather and despite the clocks changing the night before (strangely meaning that it would be dark in about 2 hours) bright sunshine blazed across the huge pregnant barrow, lighting it up as it deserved. I have been so honoured by great weather at so many sites in the last 12 months.
I am staggered that people think this is a long / difficult walk. I'm definitely in the Ironman camp here (maybe too much Moor walking in my case). Of course it is a steep (but short) walk up the initial hill and would certainly test anyone with limited mobility, health problems etc, but anyone blessed with vague fitness will do it in a short time, and then the short walk over the gentley undulating next field is really pretty easy, with a stunning view back across Winchcombe and north Gloucestershire. It would certainly be worse in bad weather but you don't have to follow the rougher track under the woods to the barrow - you can easily walk at the side of the field, past lots of damson trees on your left. And yes, the 'footpath' around the first field (just after the 70metre walk up from the layby) does take you all around the field, but you could walk straight across the field if you really wanted to; as you come into the first field, just look up to the top of the field and head for the top left hand side. Please don't be put off by this walk.
25 July 2003
Like Kammer, a look at the map showed me the shorter and simpler path from the west up to Belas Knap. Encouraged by his fieldnotes and in view of the weather conditions I drove round the lanes to the north of the long barrow, through the farmyard at the end of the tarmac and up the unmade lane.
All was just as Kammer describes but it is a measure of my mood having bumped the car earlier, that I drove that far. If reasonably practical I usually leave the car outside farms and go and ask permission, walking from the farm!!!
As I pulled up at the bottom of 'Kammer's path' I found it now has a signpost, so I knew I'd got it right. Which was a relief.
Kind of bigger than I expected, it must have been a long time since I read a description, as I had forgotten (if I ever knew) about the chambers being 'open' through the sides of the barrow. Though I did remember that the apparent 'main' entrance was a classic 'falsie'.
After rolling around on the wet ground photographing the low lintelled south-eastern chamber, I stood up and just took in the scene. For the first time, the day was living up to my expectations fully. The frustrations of Inchbrook were forgotten as I stood in perfect peace. Not a soul….
I get the feeling this is a site you need to visit alone in order to get the real sense of why it's here as opposed to somewhere else. Boy, did I pick the wrong day! It was like Picadilly Circus up there (and living in London, I should know!)
Obviously a popular site, there was a large group of walkers enjoying their lunch when I arrived. The sudden rain shower didn't seem to put them off, they just carried on munching on their sandwiches. Obvioulsy a British group :-)
Consequently it was difficult for me to gauge the site. I took a look in each of the chambers, and was upset by the detritus left there by previous visitors (see photo). Interesting to note the plastic meshing peeking through the mound, there's obviously been a lot of restoration work done here. Also interesting was the possibility of a hidden cavity, spotted on the SW side - it may just have been slippage of the mound, but some brickwork was seen under the grass, and there was a gap in the brickwork - difficult to discern whether this was original or part of the restoration work.
With no sign of the walkers moving on, and Mikki waiting patiently in the car below I took my leave, not really satisfied that I'd 'met' this site properly yet.
Visited 4th August 2002: When we pulled up at the recommended footpath to Belas Knap (as signposted) it was threatening rain and the light was fading. The accounts posted to this site of treacherous walks to the barrow made us think twice about taking the approved route (Louise is 7 months pregnant, and William is only three).
From the Landranger map we figured that there was an easier footpath to the barrow, so we drove round to the other side. This didn't take long. Towards the end of this detour we passed some farm buildings, then followed an un-made track to the point where the footpath to Belas Knap starts and the track itself begins to narrow. There are no signs to say that this is a private track, and from the Landranger we inferred that the track is a public right of way.
The footpath started at a point where there is enough space to park one or two cars on the verge without blocking the track, so we parked up and walked from there. Apart from the rain, this worked out really well because the footpath is straight and level. I'd recommend this route to anyone who might have difficulties with the gradient on the approved route.
Sorry that these directions are a bit vague, but I don't have the map with me to refer back to. If you can get hold of a map, you'll be able to see where we went (the footpath we took is straight, the other is windy and goes through a forest).
The walk up to Belas Knapp is fantastic, and not the slog I'd been led to believe (or maybe I'm too used to the Cumbrian landscape!) The undulating feminine hills of this landscape prepare you for the site. The sun was shining down when we arrived and we took our time exploring. The NE chamber is currently home to a blackbird's nest and chicks. A new-age type woman and her entourage of two distinctly ordinary looking guys, trudged round the site - stopping off occasionally to make arcane hand gestures. In the NE chamber, on discovering the chick, the lady exclaimed 'well that's definitely a sign for us!' How arrogant. As they were leaving the lady uttered, very matter-of-fact, 'well that's that done.' Hmmphh.
Visited on 25/3/02 - It was an incredibly sunny day and I decided to go off in search for inspiration for a piece of fiction. The Knap sounded interesting so I went in search. Parked at the bottom of the lane by Winchcome and found the footpath sign 1.5 miles. I was dressed in ordinary street shoes and carried my laptop over my shoulder and a carrier bag containing a sarnie and a bottle of mineral water! The walk stared off nice and easy - but then began the cross-field climb. I should have known what I was in for when I met various walkers on their way down - they were kitted out in the proper gear and looked at me as if I were somewhat eccentric. I soldiered on, came to the end of the field and thought 'It can't be far now' - - WRONG. Up the lane a little and I found the next signpost, pinting upwards through a wood. 'Oh good' I thought and continued stubbornly if a little out of breath. Then the next field, keeping to the left hand fence as indicated by the sign, only to find that I had to walk upwards along the top fence to reach the opposite corner of the field to which I had been sent - hum! Another field with slight incline - then - I had made it. Yes, it was a 'bloody steep climb' but it was worth it. A well preserved site - perhaps a little too pristine - but then again, would not the ancients have kept it in reasonable nick for their ceremonies? Even it it was just a quick scythe of the turf a couple of days before the big shebang? Anyway, I lit a smoke (not recommended on the way up but extremely welcome at the top), explored the site and set up office in the NW chamber - which was sheltered enough from the sun to enable me to use the laptop - hey, I'd lugged the damned thing up there so there was no way I was going to leave without some words on screen. It was incredibly peaceful in the chamber and ideas came easily. I have two stories in the formative stage and others keep springing to mind. Thank you Belas Knap. Happy Searching.
Finally got around to visiting Belas Knap yesterday, even though it is fairly local & it was well worth the effort! Just be warned that the climb never seems to end; after getting up the slippery mud bank you're faced with a trek through two fields & woodland before the barrow suddenly appears from nowhere behind a stone wall.
Unfortunately you can't get inside the chambers proper as restoration work has blocked them off. I also agree that whilst this was probably necessary, it has also detracted from the feel of authenticity. The obligatory 'tourist info' board was pretty lacklustre in terms of information - being new to the subject I had no idea the shape of the barrow was supposed to represent the female form. My 11 year old bro-in-law seemed in awe of the thing & we grabbed five minutes sat in what there is of one of the chamber entrances...I haven't experienced calm & stillness like that for a very long time. The view from the top of the hill is equally memorable, just make sure you wear the appropriate footwear as the Cotswold Way is notoriously well-trodden!
I visited this site in October 1999 whilst on holiday with my wife. We arrived nearing the end of the day and she, being well pregnant at the time, said the hill looked "a little steep" and decided to stay in the car. Too right its a little steep! bloody buggerring steep I'd say! However, it is definitely worth the effort to get there.
I arrived as the sun was starting to set and saw some of the chambers turn a marvellous golden orange. Stepping back toward the wooded area I was able to observe the mound bathed in a golden halo. This was spectacular stuff and I felt in awe. I just sat there unable to move but just stare. These monuments often have a magical feel to them, but I had obviously caught this one at the right time.
I made a mental note to bring my wife and new child up here in the future, probably for another Autumn sunset.
Belas Knap, 1 Dec 2001: A deeply impressive site and gratifyingly well signposted on the lane that leads from Charlton Abbots to Winchcombe. You can park by the sign, (don't forget to briefly admire Sudeley Castle) and walk up the sunken path from there following the Cotswold Way. And what a hike uphill! Just when you think "it's gotta be there soon!", it is, looming out of the trees. Oh, and by the way, if you're going up there in the winter, or in the damp, wear grippy waterproof shoes/boots!
Climbing to the top of the mound the views are impressive - it's no wonder that the builders of the Knap chose this place. It certainly seems to be the highest, most strategically important point hereabouts. We got there at 3pm, the sun sinking low in the sky, casting deep, sculptural shadows over the smooth, curvacious surface of the longbarrow. The wind was biting on the top, though and so we retreated into the cosiness of North West chamber with a flask of tea. Had it been dry I would have crawled into the low chamber on the other side.
I struggled to find a place from which to photgraph her. I took some shots, (I'll upload shortly) but she is so big, and the site so small you can't get back far enough. JC was right to illustrate it with an aerial shot.
I was very happy to see that the site is so well cared for - neat drystonewalling shoring up the edges. But it almost felt too new, too cosmetic in a strange way. There was no sense of discovery, like when one "stumbles" across Wayland's Smithy for example, so secretly hidden among the trees besides the Ridgeway. Nevertheless, there is such a delicious feminine vibe given off by Belas Knap. You really do feel that those who were buried here were returning to Mother Earth, from where they came. Looking forward to returning when it's less cold and I can hear the breeze rustle the corn in the neighbouring field.
This is my 'local' - I live in Winchcombe. Its a beautiful place on the very edge of one of the most atmospheric places in Southern England - Cleeve Common. Not counting the views to the Black Mountains and beyond and ignoring the bloody golfers (and hopefully they will go away..for good) , head North, through skylark and yellowhammer song, to valleys hidden in lunar (post-quarried) landscapes and Belas Knap - try sheltering from a thunderstorm (OK - difficult to predict!) in one of the chambers - a womb with aview indeed!
I was there 2 years ago, dragging the wife, my (then) 2-year-old and the in-laws up the hill, to get a real taste of I feel is the Right Ancient stuff. Although they were pantingand moaning, they really appreciated the site.
Does anyone know that when you walk back down to Winchcoombe, there are the remains of a hidden Roman villa just below the treeline, with a beautiful mosaic?
Got here at the end of a day away from the kids doin' the village thang. The TMA filled us with trepidation but road-signs were pretty good. The walk up the hill wasn't too bad either but then it was the middle of August; almost summer. It's well worth the trip, the views on the way up are cool, but who planted those bloody trees to obscure the eastern view from the barrow ?!
Best views enjoyed again on the way down in the field. Where did all those walkers go ? They weren't at the site. Do people do things in the country other than explore ancient sites ?
"One warm summer afternoon a family from the Midlands, visiting the mound decided to picnic on top of it to enjoy the view. They laid a large table cloth on the mound and loaded it well with food and crockery.The day was still and warm without a breath of air about.During the course of the meal the table cloth suddenly leapt into the air, scattering food and the people.The family were so upset by the incident that they quickly packed everything away and hurriedly left."
Paul Devereux reported this modern story in issue 153 of the Fortean Times:
"Paula C climbed to the top of the ancient mound. From that height she saw a group of hooded figures walking briskly across an adjacent field towards the monument. She couldn’t see their lower limbs and assumed they were walking through tall grass. The hooded and apparently robed figures never seemed to get any closer despite their energetic gait. Concerned that they were about to be disturbed by strangers, Paula climbed down to where her family waited. When no newcomers appeared, she returned to the top of the mound. No one was in sight, but the field looked different – there were fewer trees around it, the path was in a slightly different location, and what had seemed to be a deep dip in the ground was barely apparent. "
I don't want to be a killjoy but whilst we were at the site there were a lot of hikers passing on the nearby footpath (the Cotswold Way). A surprising amount of them didn't come over to look at the mound - so you thought 'oh god, all those people will be here in a minute' but after a while they never turned up, having quietly gone round a different way. But don't let me put you off the story.