Back on the main path, the summit is obvious straight ahead. The map shows a big group of barrows and it’s coming back to me that Thelonious posted some photos a while ago. The going is not too bad as the weather has been dry, but would be horrible in wet conditions.
The first barrow (Burrington 11) is to the north of the path, another substantial mound despite erosion and probable excavation. From it the barrow that the trig pillar sits on obscures the linear group to the east.
The summit mound (Burrington 13) has obviously been resurfaced fairly recently with a new cap of stonework to protect it from erosion. This is the highest point of the Mendip hills and a fantastic viewpoint. As well as the views north and west that I’ve had for most of the day, there are now views south that take in Glastonbury Tor as well as Exmoor away to the southwest.
It’s a well visited place as you’d expect, and while I’m here there are walkers, cyclists and horseriders at various times.
The linear barrow group (Burrington 14-16) immediately east of the summit is also cracking, with wooden signs warning visitors that it is ancient monument and to keep off to prevent erosion. I imagine that the summit barrow itself was always going to be the target for most visitors, so this seems a good way to compromise and keep the other monuments from further damage. Two more barrows (Burrington 18 and 19) lie to the south, providing an excellent spot to head away from the other people and admire the linear group profiled along the skyline.
On such a lovely day, with the wind and sun on my face, this is as good a place as I could wish to be. But by now it’s getting on for 3 o’clock, so I bid a reluctant farewell to the barrows and head east. The path has been resurfaced here and initially provides nice easy going after the boggier ridge. There is a last barrow on the south side of the path (Burrington 20) which sets me on my way downhill.
Eventually the path comes to the edge of the open access land, with fields laid out to the east and another path running north-south. Right at the junction of these paths is another barrow (Burrington 22), but it’s low and buried in heather, offering little in comparison with the group on the summit. I head north briefly to look for a final barrow (Blagdon 1). It proves to be buried under the fence line and badly eroded.
From here my path goes southwest, becoming increasingly wet and marshy. I’m soon hopping precariously from tussock to tussock, and it should come as no surprise to learn that one of the tussocks proves to be less solid than it looked. My tired legs refuse to keep me upright and I’m down on one knee, with an unpleasant feeling of cold, black water trickling into the top of my boot. Gah.
This is a true 'palimpsest' of a landscape. There are a lot of bumps, and yes, some of them are bronze age barrows. But some of them are actually the remains of a bizarre scheme from WWII: an attempt to recreate the street plan of Bristol on top of a heathy hillside, to lure the bombers away from the city. You can read more on MAGIC's extract from the EH schedule: http://www.magic.gov.uk/rsm/33064.pdf
From up here you can see for miles in practically every direction, and I am sure this is where I could see from the outlying circle at Stanton Drew.
The summit of Beacon Batch is crowned with a superb round barrow cemetery, one of which has been rebuilt and topped with an Ordnance Survey trig pillar. A further two barrows lie to the east on the edge of the open access land.
Details of the prominent barrows from Somerset HER:
Burrington 11/T170 (ST 48375725)
A low mound with a cover of heather except at the S where the path has removed a broad swathe of vegetation. The stone of the mound is exposed and being loosened.
This barrow is the most westerly in a group of six (PRNs 24104, 24105, 24106, 24107 and 24108). The barrow is defined by a sub-circular mound which measures 10m in diameter. The barrow appears to have been incorporated into the Black Down bombing decoy (PRN 24114).
Burrington 13/T172 (ST 48455726)
2m high and 15m diameter with triangulation point on top Good turf cover apart from the top where everyone stands. Here stones are exposed but stable.
Burrington 14/T173 (ST 48485726)
1.75m high and 13m diameter. Whole of the top area dug into and stones exposed. There is active erosion down into the central hole which is 4m diameter and up to 1m deep. Grass covered with little heather.
This barrow is the third most easterly in a group of six (PRNs 24103, 24104, 24105, 24107 and 24108).
Burrington 15/T174 (ST 48525725)
2m high and 15m diameter. The maximum height is at the rim due to upcast from the centre hole which is 4m diameter and up to 1.75 deep. Loose stones lying in the bottom. Good turf cover.
This barrow is the second most easterly in a group of six (PRNs 24103, 24104, 24105, 24106 and 24108). An external ditch is situated adjacent to the eastern side of the mound measuring up to 2m in width.
Burrington 16/T175 (ST 48545725)
1.75m high and 15m diameter Marked central depression but no stone exposed. Good turf cover, some heather.This barrow is the most easterly in a group of six (PRNs 24103, 24104, 24105, 24106 and 24107). The mound has an external ditch measuring up to 3m in width. A sub-oval depression is visible in the top of the mound, probably the result of an excavation in the past, measuring up to 6m in length by up to 3m in width.
This next is to the SE of the trig point and the linear group, on the south side of the path:
Burrington 20/T126 (ST 4861057150)
Mound 2m high and 15m diameter. Flat topped with a central animal hole Slight berm to the S. Heather covered. Major trackway passes by on the N side.
The next two lie to the south of the trig point:
Burrington 18/T168 (ST 48455711)
0.25m high and 11m diameter. Not as obvious as some of the others in the group. Cut into on the SE side by a trackway running S from the trig point. Here cairn material is spilling out and being spread along the track. Central depression with a few stones exposed. Heather covered.
This barrow is the most westerly in a group of four (PRNs 24109, 24111 and 24112).
Burrington 19/T167 (ST 4848057080)
2m high and 15m diameter crossed by a trackway running c.SE from the trig point. Marked central depression where cairn stones are exposed. Covered with turf, heather and gorse on the SE side.
Appears stable under a cover of dense heather and low gorse. There is a narrow path across from N-S which is causing some erosion of the N crest of the mound. This barrow is the second most westerly in a group of four (PRNs 24109, 24110 and 24112).
The final two barrows marked on the OS 1/25000 are to the east of the summit, on the edge of the access land:
Burrington 22/T166 (ST 4899056930)
Round barrow, isolated under heather and moorland 0.9m high and 18m diameter.
Possibly mentioned as "the broken barrow" in the Anglo Saxon charter of AD904 for Wrington. Path to west eroded by bikes and horses - path to east not as bad.
Blagdon 1/T165 (ST 4908057030)
Mound crossed by stone wall running c.N-S which is the old Burrington-Blagdon parish boundary. 1m high and 11m diameter, the W very small part lies in undisturbed heathland. The E part is very stony, part of very rough grazing. Stones cleared from the field at some time lie along the wall and on the barrow. There is also a certain amount of brick and mortar, possibly from a small building at one time, on the mound. Could have been recently dumped. A drainage ditch to the E of the stone wall approaches the barrow but stops short of it. The mound is very spread and almost devoid of vegetation.
Possibly the "broken barrow' referred to in the Anglo Saxon charter of Wrington (AD904).
Circular ditch identified indicates that centre of barrow is mostly destroyed by a path which is now avoided as muddy - path now diverts over ditch causing further erosion.
Phill Quinn's 'Holy Wells of the Bath and Bristol Region' mentions a spring below Black Down. It was / is? at ST484580, in a field called 'Hawkeswell Quoit' - so presumably it was the Hawkeswell. But what's this 'quoit'? Isn't that (bar referring to the game) a word for a standing stone? As Quinn says, it would be interesting if there was once a stone associated with the spring. Though perhaps we have got the wrong end of the stick in the pursuit of a good story.