The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

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Cold Aston (Long Barrow) — Images (click to view fullsize)

<b>Cold Aston</b>Posted by Anthony Adolph

Notgrove (Long Barrow) — Fieldnotes

We visited this long barrow on 21 August 2011: I can see now why some of the other posts here indicate some disappointment, but despite the fact that the mound had obviously been hacked about a bit, we thought it was rather a lovely place, and its thick coat of grasses and flowers (harebells, scabius, knapweed, little bindweed) was a pleasure in itself. The views are excellent, and it is on the same ridge, more or less, as the Cold Aston long barrow, which we visited as well - they seem somehow to be siblings.

Squerryes Park (Hillfort) — Fieldnotes

A bright, clear Boxing Day was a fine time to walk south from Westerham and find this beautiful spot. The hill fort itself, sadly, is covered with wretched rhododendrons, but you can still see some small banks, remains of the earthworks that one can only imagine were once very magnificent.

There is an interesting bank along the edge of the field at the base of the wooded hill, made more noticeable, perhaps, by the snow. I expect this was created by the river, perhaps when in full spate at the end of the last Ice Age, and the way it deliniates the bottom of the hill may have seemed fortuitous to the first inhabitants, who may indeed have increased it as part of their defences.

The site's location is perfect: the springs of the Darenth are in the meadow at the hill's base, so the inhabitants always had fresh water, and a fertile pastrure for their animals. As it leaves the vale, the nascent river describes a bend around a hilly spur, which thus encloses the place, giving it a great feeling of homeliness and safety.

I am grateful for the earlier post here, that the two mounds that one passes on the way to this place from Westerham are from an air raid shelter: we spent some time wodnering if they were barrows or not: they seemed too small, and it is good to have confirmation of their red-herringness - but it is a shame: it would have been a good spot to have been buried.

The site's size and location seems to indicate that it was a satelite of Oldbury Hill, which lies to the east.

All in all, thoroughly worth visiting.

Squerryes Park (Hillfort) — Images

<b>Squerryes Park</b>Posted by Anthony Adolph

White Horse Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Folklore

The White Horse Stone is important because it reminds us of the Neolithic presence here: whilst the railway cutting was being dug, a Neolithic long house was found, with 'and undefined bronze age timber circle plus a late bronze/early iron age settlement'. The stone is important, too, for the legends that have become attached to the stones, that now focus, inevitably, on this one, the only one that is left in this immediate spot. The Welsh historian Nennius (c. 800s AD) tells us that, in the mid-400s AD, after the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain (410 AD), the king who emerged in Kent (Ceint) was Guoyrancgonus (or Vorancgonus), of unknown origin, though more likely than not an elderly Roman military official who had stayed on, or the son of such a soldier. Guoyrancgonus's rule was cut short by the High King, Vortigern, who gave Kent to the Jutish mercenary leader Hengist, in return for Hengist's daughter Renwein.

For this and other outrages, Vortigern was deposed and his sons Vortimer and Catigern fashioned an army of the sons of the Romano-British, dusting off old, discarded standards and brushing rust off kit left behind by the Imperial legions, and set out to drive out the Jutes. History does not recall whether Guoyrancgonus was of their number, but I would like to think he was.

The North Downs are broken by a series of river valleys that flow south-north into the Thames, including the Darenth Valley and then, the next to the east, the Medway. The Romano-British brothers' first battle was in the Darenth Valley and, against the odds, they were victorious. The Jutes fell back to the next river, the mighty Medway, making their stand at Aylesford, that the Jutes called Episford and the British, Nennius tells us, called Set Thirgabail. Here, the British princes made their second attack, their motley legion and cavalry routing the Jutes at the ford itself and driving the enemy back up the slope of the downs, if the legend is correct, to here, where the White Horse Stone stands. The date assigned to the battle by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is 455 AD.

Here, Geoffrey of Monmouth relates, Horsa, the brother of Hengist, came face-to-face with Catigern: Germanic battle-axe clashed with Roman sword: each met its bloody mark, and both princes were slain. Horsa's white horse standard came clattering down onto the now lost Kentish Standard Stone. A folk tale of a ghostly flaming horse and rider, said to be seen here sometimes, may recall the burning of the bodies after the battle. But Vortimer bore his slain brother Catigern up onto the crest of the downs and buried him in the Neolithic longbarrow that now bears his name – Kit's Coty . Already some 2,000 years or more old, the longbarrow was 180 feet long, and contained, perhaps, several internal burial chambers of upright sarsens supporting capstones. It is all gone now, victim to rain and plough, all except one of set of three uprights, and a capstone. This stands alone, encircled by railings to keep the curious at bay, and looks out west (as the barrow itself did once) over the Medway Valley.

Having buried Catigern, Vortimer pressed east, trouncing Hengist's army twice more, once, perhaps, at Stone near Faversham, and finally in the marshy desolation of Thanet, where the Jutes took refuge in their longboats and skulked away back to Jutland. The story ends tragically, however, for Renwein later poisoned Vortimer, her husband Vortigern regained the throne, and allowed Hengist and his following of Jutes, Angles and Saxons to return – this time, for all Aurelius Ambrosius and Arthur tried to emulate Vortimer – never to leave.

That is the story of the White Horse Stone, and Kit's Coty, and the fall of Britain.

White Horse Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

I have posted a map to show a nice way of walking round the different monuments in this area, starting with the (Upper) White Horse Stone. It must have been awful to have been here when the Eurostar link was being built, but now, the dust has settled, and wild flowers have grown over the banks around the tunnel, from which the occasional train whizzes forth.

Over the hill we came, across the bridge over the railway line, and then up a wooded path between two fields, and to our left we saw the dark eyes and flaring nostrils of the great, oblong sarsen stone, that was nicknamed 'the Western Sphynx', but is probably the back-stone of a Neolithic burial chamber. Just near it are some other pieces of sarsen stone – other parts of this burial chamber, maybe.

Two lost monuments were nearby, both destroyed by 19th century farmers to make way for their ploughs: 'Smythe's Dolmen' was in the field that you see when you stand under the trees, looking at the White Horse Stone. The other lost stone(s), the Lower White Horse Stone or 'Kentish Standard Stone' was in the field behind you. Both may once have been burial chambers too: the former contained two human skeletons and the skull of a mole.

White Horse Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Images

<b>White Horse Stone</b>Posted by Anthony Adolph

Kit's Coty (Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech) — Fieldnotes

Kit's Coty is in the most beautiful location: it is certainly near a lot of transport links, but it isn't spoiled by them at all. We sat up by the standing stones, the last remnants of this great longbarrow, gazing out across the meadow, over the Medway Valley to the scarp of the downs on the other side, that mark the location of the Coldrum Longbarrow. After a while, a New Age-ish couple turned up and started decorating the railings that surround the stones with flowers, in preparation for a hand-fasting ceremony: it is nice to see the place still being used.

I have posted a map, above, to show how it is possible to park nearby and walk round these monuments using the footpaths, keeping roads to a minimum: even those stretches we had to walk along were not that bad, and drivers, as on all country roads, were obviously keeping an eye out for walkers. It really wasn't too bad at all, and while we were on the footpaths, it was lovely - dog roses in the hedges, yellowhammers singing and a few swallows overhead.

Lower Kit's Coty (the Countless Stones - I counted 10 and Scott counted 18) lies in a field surrounded by blue flax: yes, there are pylons nearby, but pylons have been a feature of the countryside for a long time and is is possible simply to ignore them. In fact, it was a very peaceful and reflective place. Nobody should be remotely put off visiting these wonderful places.

Kit's Coty (Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech) — Images

<b>Kit's Coty</b>Posted by Anthony Adolph

Oldbury Rock Shelters (Cave / Rock Shelter) — Fieldnotes

Regarding the rock shelters, we learned a lot from local archaeologist Angela Muthana, and from Sir Edward Harrison's article 'Oldbury Hill, Ightham' in Archaeologia Cantiana (45, 1933, pp. 142-161), most of which corrected what we had through we knew before. Mesolithic tools have been found around the area, and people may have sheltered under Oldbury Hill's rocks in that period, but the rock shelters are most closely associated with the very end of the Middle Palaeolithic, specifically about 60,000-40,000 years ago, and thus with Neandertals, as there were no Homo Sapiens here at the time.

The discovery was made by Benjamin Harrison (1837-1921), the grocer in the nearby village of Ightham. He had found many ancient tools around Ightham, but realized that they were particularly associated with the hill and its outcrops of greenstone (so coloured because of it contains glauconite, that turns a slight green on exposure to the air). These greenstone rocks overlay a softer sandstone, that, when exposed, were liable to greater erosion than the harder rock above, leading to the greenstone overhanging a space below and forming shelters. In two spots, small caves had been dug into the sandstone as well, though at what period it is difficult to say.

In 1870, Harrison was electrified by seeing the London exhibition of Neandertal finds from Le Moustier, France. He recognized the similarity of the tools to those from Ightham, and reasoned that the rocks of Oldbury Hill may have been home to Neandertals just as the cave of Le Moustier had been. His great discovery, in 1890 with help from the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was a Neandertal flint-scatter at Mount Pleasant, on the slopes the north-eastern side of the hill (the precise site of which has not been rediscovered, despite several archaeological digs), directly below a rocky outcrop that is now much reduced by 19th century quarrying. Here, he found '49 well-finished implements or portions of them and 648 waste flakes have been found at this spot, leading', as he wrote in his report (co-authored by Dr John Evans, father of Sir Arthur, Dr Joseph Prestwich, who lived at nearby Shoreham, and H.G. Seeley), 'to the supposition either that this was the frontage of a rock shelter, or that the material had slipped down from above'.

It is on this basis that Harrison reasoned that the Neandertals, like those of Le Moustier, had made flint tools here and would most likely have sheltered under the rocks. That is the sum total of the evidence: no Neandertal remains have been found at the rock shelter. The rock shelter is on the edge of the hill's plateau (and the edge of the hillfort: the fortifications at this point have been largely destroyed by the 19th century quarrying). There are several other points around the hillfort where there are exposed rocks: some of these may have been shelters as well. A considerable cave (5' high and about 14 or 20 yards deep) used to exist on the south east side of the hill, presumably partly, at least, burrowed out by humans, but this was destroyed by quarrying. However, some of the rocks we see now may only have been exposed when the hillfort was made. What looks like a good shelter, on the right of the path going up to the ramparts from the top of Oldbury Lane, and which could easily be mistaken for an ancient rock shelter, may actually have been exposed only when the path and nearby steps were cut by the Victorians.

Oldbury Hill is within easy striking distance of London. It has impressive Iron Age fortifications, and is closely linked to Neandertals. Who needs Time Machines?
I am a professional genealogist, with an interest in tracing as far back into the past as possible. We cannot name most of the numerous generations that stretch back to the time when the wonderful stones and mounds shown on this website were constructed. But this does not mean we are not connected to their builders by numerous bloodlines: indeed, DNA testing is now creating more tangible connections with these distant ancestors of ours.

In my genealogy books on Ireland and Scotland and my latest, for children (see I have tried to develop this idea a little. I am working on a substantial study of the myths we have in Britain about our origins, particularly the myth of BRUTUS - myths that are partly rooted in Classical mythology, but which also draw lifeblood from the ancient stones and mounds that lie all around us.

All credit to Julian Cope for the innovative way in which he sees and describes these sites - combining scientific and archaeological fact with his own, personal reactions to these magic places, and striking exactly the right balance. "The Modern Antiquarian" has added considerable to my appreciation of British sites, and his "The Megalithic European" contributed a great deal to a recent trip to Greece, enabling us to see beyond (as he says) the overwhelming emphasis that the Greeks seem to give to the periods from the Mycenaean onwards, and the consequential belittling of anything that went before.

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