Walked up to Segsbury Camp today from the village of Letcombe Regis (having started from Letcombe Bassett).
A steep but steady uphill walk to Segsbury Castle - the narrow road is little used except for farm vehicles. Segsbury is a huge hillfort cut in two by the road and on the edge of the Oxfordshire section of the Ridgeway. The hillfort and surrounding meadows are under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and Countryside Access Scheme; sheep graze on one side of the hillfort whilst wild flowers flourish on the other.
There is something about the downland hillforts that never fails to have a rejuvenating effect - today I walked up there under my own personal dark cloud. The clean fresh air and this grand Iron Age endeavour with its magnificent skyscapes blew my cloud away, somehow everything fell back into place. I had a strong sense that this hillfort must have once held a community of people - its massive diameter seemed far too big to be just a defensive position.
Leaving the hillfort for the Ridgeway caused a minor problem as the step to the very high stile was missing. Not blessed with paticularly long legs I had to do a bit of precarious clambouring and jumping to gain access to the Ridgeway before walking for about half a mile or so to another stile (this one fine). Then a lovely downhill walk on springy meadowland back to Letcombe Bassett. Spotted my first ever stoat which ran across across our path several metres ahead.
Undertaking a weekend tour of a few sites in the vicinity I arrive at Segsbury, the last on my 'itinerary' - for want of a better word (since my trips always seem to descend into improvised chaos) - too late to do it justice.
I therefore decide to kip in the car and have a proper walk the 'morrow, bright and early. Segsbury seems handy in this respect since the road actually penetrates the hillfort's defences before morphing into a dusty track to meet the Ridgeway beyond. It's a brilliantly clear, calm, moonlit night, the thought of actually sleeping within a hillfort not at all unappealing - I simply love being in ancient places, me. I check in with home and am 'jokingly' told to remember to keep quiet and not upset the ghosts of the previous inhabitants..... Yeah, right. I'd probably have a chat and ask them what they thought about their neighbours on the Sinodun Hills....
All is fine until, some time after 3 am 'something' hurtles past the car in the pitch darkness - and in total silence - making it judder with the displaced air. I freak out, jump out of the car to have a look, but whatever it was is long gone - no lights, no noise, nothing. I assume I must have been dreaming...... although there's no doubt that the car moved without a breath of wind around... ooer. Check the handbrake. On.
Next morning dawns perfectly as I go for a wander around the hillfort's powerful univallate, D-shaped ramparts. It's a long walk, too, this being a large enclosure, no doubt home to quite a substantial population and their animals in times of trouble. The surroundings are great, too, even the cooling towers of distant Didcot power station appearing deceptively aesthetic.
Nethertheless Segsbury clearly has the potential to do funny things to a traveller's psyche.......
Just another Ridgeway hillfort, (though better if you don't get out a lot like me.)
Worth a visit though, if only to be reminded of the sheer effort involved (this is a pretty big one). Needs some imagination to get the full impact though - deeper, steeper ditches, higher ramparts and timber stockade on top - not at all pretty or softened like now but a place of power and warning, something to force you to feel huge respect even if you viewed it from ten miles away. People not to be messed with lightly.
It's not as it was though, Fresh badger diggings adding to the erosion, just like they've been doing constantly since their Nth grandparents were doing it. But there's a long way to go. It'll still be impressive in a thousand years.
Hardly a speck of it is quite how it was, its a different place. Even the amazing view to the North. So its best to keep the imagination in gear. Just one thing's the same maybe. The loud plaintiff hiss of the wind in the stunted hawthorns, at precisely the same pitch as they heard. So if you close your eyes you're back in the authentic Iron Age.
Open them again though, this isn't the place to spend the night with a broken leg.
There is good evidence that the banks of Segsbury Castle were originally faced with sarsens. The following quotation is taken from T Hearne's Letter containing an account of some Antiquities between Windsor and Oxford (1725) -
...Sackborough Castle (by which name they call certain strange works, or an old camp) on the South-East side of Wantage in Berks, about two miles from it. It is in a manner round, tho' I cannot call it a perfect round. I take it, however, to be Danish. Within the Bank that lies on the Inside of this Camp, or as they vulgarly call it, Castle, they dig vast red stones, being a red flint, some of which a cart will hardly draw. They have dug up a great many loads of them, and with many of them they build. They are placed in the banks of the dike or trench in form of a wall. ... When first I walk'd in those parts, I inquired, where it was they could either dig or meet with such stones? It was answer'd that the like occur'd upon Lambourn Downs. Upon which I concluded, and afterwards found, that they grow upon those downs.
From White Horse Hill and surrounding country, by L V Grinsell