After a bracing visit to a busy Leckhampton Hill, this is an oasis of quiet, the perfect New Year's Day objective for legs lacking a certain degree of energy and a brain turned sluggish by lack of fresh air.
Low winter sun slants through the trees topping the long mound, painting tiger stripes across the field. The horses pay me no mind today.
I can't help feeling that, on the quiet and unheralded, this is one of the Cotwolds' finest long barrows, for all that the chamber has been destroyed. It's always a pleasure to come here, anyway. A good harbinger for this year's stone-hunting pleasures.
The path climbs up towards the edge of the escarpment, joining the Cotswold Way as it enters Barrow Piece Plantation. This name records no dredged memory of a forgotten barrow, for here is one of the finest of the long barrows of the western Cotswolds. Tree-covered, even with mound mutilated and chamber wrecked, this remains a fine, upstanding monument, every bit deserving of its “long” classification.
Stark, black-limbed trees tower protectively over the white-shrouded mound laid out beneath their feet. There is deep peace here, in this quiet place. The only sound is the crunch of my footfalls breaking the crust of snow. I came here in winter once before, when a bone-deep cold threatened to strip the skin from any hand left ungloved for more than a few moments. Today, despite the snow, the cold is much less, almost an abstraction. How easy it would be to lie down in its warm blanket, nestled here amongst the sentinel trees.
But that way lies the fate of Dr Wilson and I depart, spotting for the first time the ghost of the nearby round barrow, its very slight existence revealed by the snow.
The last day of September and it feels like a summer's day. My first ever visit to Crickley Hill hillfort with its amazing views towards the towns of Gloucester and Cheltenham. A long barrow spotted on the OS map took us up into and through a beech wood on Crickley Hill. It took a while to find this barrow as it is screened from view by a line of trees. Coming upon it through the beech trees, it seemed instantly familiar and I recalled the splendid 'long shadows' photographs posted here on TMA by people like the Sweetcheat and Gladman.
The gate to the field with the barrow was padlocked today so we carefully climbed over a wire fence to take a closer look. A lovely barrow in profile; closer up, however, the centre of the barrow is sunken indicating that is has been excavated and the chamber stones possibly removed.
The first time I found this barrow was entirely by accident, not even knowing it was there - a real "wowee!" moment. As I've lived in Cheltenham (about four miles away) for most of my life I couldn't believe I hadn't found it before, and made a return visit a couple of weeks later. Although it's in an open and exposed spot on the crest of the hill, the place is far enough off the beaten track that I had the place all to myself on both visits.
There are two ways to approach it by road: the most direct is the tiny little lane up past Ullenwood Court, which is single track and no fun if you meet a car coming the other way. You can park on the roadside next to the bridleway which runs past the barrow (a short walk), but doing so in February both me and the car got covered in mud. The other alternative is to walk up to it from Crickley Hill Country Park. It's a longer walk, and you have to stump up a quid for the car park, but it's a beautiful stroll. To get to it, walk northwards from the car park (i.e. the opposite direction from Crickley hillfort) through the gorgeous ancient beechwoods, and keep following the path beyond the boundary of the country park until you reach the strip of woodland called Barrow Piece. Within this wood is the gate leading into the field where Crippets barrow is impossible to miss.
The horses in the field are indeed very friendly and like to come over and check you out. On my second visit I was taking some infrared photographs which involves slow exposures and faffing around with tripods etc, and while I was busy composing a shot, a grey pony crept up behind me and began rummaging through my camera bag looking for treats. Having ascertained that I didn't have anything for him he strode forward and contemptuously smacked the underside of my lens, sending camera and tripod flying, and walked off in disgust. Most of the others were more friendly though and just wanted their ears rubbed.
The eastern end of the barrow has a distinctive shape which I thought at first was a 'horned' entrance of the type common on Cotswold barrows but it turns out to be the damage left behind by 18th century pillagers. On my first visit I didn't notice the capstone (if that's what it is) sticking out of the ground, but I found it readily enough when I was looking for it the second time. It's a fairly chunky slab but you can't see much of it as it's pretty nearly submerged in the earth.
I also missed the nearby round barrow on my first visit, but went back armed with a large-scale map and my best intuitive faculties and managed to find it. There is practically nothing left of it though, and I agree with the other reports - it's been ploughed flat and is only distinguishable by a very slight circular undulation and a slight change in the texture of the ground.
You know how it is... you love your job so much that you find yourself in the 'use it or lose it' annual leave situation upon entering February. How the hell did that happen. Again? So a week at The Mam C's in South Wales it is, then. En-route, however, the usual Gladman improvisation kicks in and I arrive a little past 8am just south of Cheltenham. As you do. Ah, Crickley Hill....
However, having visited the Cold Slad some years back, I've my little eye focussed instead upon an apparently rather fine long barrow the Sweatcheat kindly brought to my attention a while back. A minor road leaves the A436 near the A417 roundabout and, in a short while, a bridleway leads to the left beside woodland.... where it is possible to park a car. The path, initially very muddy - hey, this is a field after all - leads gently uphill to a further belt of trees, Crickley Hill rising to my left. The long barrow lies within the field beyond to the north, the field best entered by the gate mentioned by SC in its western (left) flank.
First impressions count for a lot, or so they say. Sadly I concur.... sadly, since I've no doubt we miss out upon so much which is not readily and immediately apparent at first glance. But not here. One glance is enough to completely entrall this early morning visitor, a classic copse of trees surmounting what appears to be a very substantial long barrow indeed. For once a foreshortened aspect does not deceive - not in the slightest. Horses grazing the surrounding pasture approach to check out the intruder and - apparently satisfied - resume what horses do best. Hey, perhaps that 'horse whispering' stuff actually works? Or perhaps I simply told them to 'piss off' in horsey language? I hope not.
As I climb the mound and settle down for coffee the sun breaks through the morning mist, sending well defined shadows of monument and tree line across the field. The moment resonates with abstract meaning I cannot define....
The long barrow is in pretty good nick, it has to be said, despite some obvious damage at the eastern end where, presumably, a chamber was once located? Not sure whether this was the result of 'excavation' or treasure seeking muppets, but needless to say the end result was the same. The visit turns into a full morning hang, the munching horses adding to the aura of calm and well being here. No reason to leave.
N.B - According to the OS map a 'tumulus' lies a little way to the approx south of the long barrow. Perhaps I'm not that perceptive, but it would appear very little remains save an almost imperceptible rise. If this is not the case, I guess the former applies!
Visited in freezing cold (1.2.2009) on a walk from Crickley Hill. I have visited twice before, when the barrow has been obscured from the Cotswold Way by vegetation. At this time of the year it is clearly visible.
The barrow stands in a private field in which horses are kept. The sign on the gate reads "Please close the gate to safeguard our horses".
The barrow is very impressive, larger than Belas Knap even. It is covered in trees, which if W.L. Cox's description is correct have been replanted since 1981. The excavation at the east end of the barrow has left a deep hollow.
The northern hedge of the field has recently been properly laid, with the result that the barrow can now be seen from Greenway Lane.
I can see no sign of the small round barrow recorded as lying at the southern end of the field.
From "Prehistoric and Roman Sites of the Cheltenham area" - W.L. Cox (2nd edition 1981):
"A Long Barrow, 189ft long, 100ft wide and 20ft high*. From the end of the last century it was covered with trees but has now been cleared. It was opened 200 years ago but the skeleton and grave goods have now been lost. The burial chamber in the East end measured 7ft by 4ft. Belonging to the Neolithic or New Stone Age, it is roughly 4000 years old. A footpath runs within a few yards of it from Greenway Lane south towards 'The Air Balloon' and passes the remains of a small and almost ploughed out round barrow, SO93521711."
*Compare with Belas Knap: 170ft long, 60ft wide and 12 ft high - this highlights the size and (presumably) importance of this long barrow at the time it was constructed.
This fine tumulus is a conspicuous object on Shurdington Hill, three miles south of Cheltenham, and three quarters of a mile north-east of the Crickley Hill Camp. The position affords extensive views over the vale of Gloucester... Many years ago the tenant of the land began to move away part of the earth at the southern extremity, and in doing so uncovered a cromlech, in which was found a skeleton and several articles of which no satisfactory account can now be obtained. The ground in which the tumulus stands is still called the "Barrow Piece."
The smr record on Magic adds that there is a flat stone at the eastern end, nearly 2m long, and that this is thought to be the capstone of the chamber opened in the 18th century. Rudder, writing in 1779, recorded that the barrow had been opened some years before. He claimed that a skeleton had been found in the burial chamber, with 'a helmet, which was so corroded by rust that it fell to pieces on the slightest touch.' Since the Neolithic people did not have metal helmets, was this body a later addition, or a misinterpretation of the find?