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Fieldnotes by RiotGibbon

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Medmenham Camp (Hillfort)

Very subtly situated on Henley-Marlow road, it sits at the point where the Chilterns meet the River Thames. Better know now as "Danny, Champion of the World" territory, before Roal Dahl there was Sir Francis Dashwood, keeper of the "Hellfire Caves" - http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/browse.php?site_id=549 (it'll look neater when I figure out linking). Just to the south of this almost obliterated site is the infamous "Medmenham Abbey", where Dashwood would have parties-cum-rituals that involved almost the entire gentry and their genitals, and lasted for weeks. Baboons were also often in attendance.

You can read more about Sir Francis and his antics here:
http://www.blather.net/archives3/issue3no1.html

As for the Camp, sadly very little remains, with the north-western corner being the last vestiges of the earthworks. But rejoice! The site is crowded with gorgeous trees, and seems safe enough for now, as long as the scrambler-crew don't overdo it ...

Sunningdale Barrow (Round Barrow(s))

Took some finding this one, and I'm not satisfied. It's marked on the map as being sandwiched between some houses. Actuallly going up there, it turns out that it's deep in enemy territory, "GolfLand". To the east lies the mighty Sunningdale Golf Club, but our quarry is in what is known as "Sunningdale Ladies Golf Club".

About 100ft wide, this is more like a pitch and putt. To have so much money, but yet be content with being treated like a child, it's beyond me. Anyway.

There's no obvious sign of any barrow where it's marked on the map. I knocked on the clubhouse door, was ignored by two lunching Ladies, had a chat with the kitchen staff, until the Club Secretary arrived. He's only been in his job for a week, but we spent a happy half hour walking the edges of the course, looking at the map, looking at the terrain, until we gave up. We had our suspicions about the edge of a bunker, but nothing firm. He suggested that it might be in the grounds of one of the houses on the eastern side of the course, and as long as the house wasn't occupied by an arab family, I'd probably be alright peeking over (the alternative would result in me probably being shot. Apparently).

Couldn't find it, so I cycled off to Ascot to see the Heatherwood Hospital barrow. Much more entertaining ...

Lake Group Earthwork (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

Far down the track from Stonehenge and past Normanton Down, as you approach the Lake Group, the path climbs up a hill. About half way up, leading up the edge of the Lake Group wood, an earthwork is marked on the map. No longer a ditch or bank, a strong cropmark jumps out at you. I've seen pictures of cropmarks in ariel photographs, but have been disappointed on the ground. Not here.

The cropmark is only visible on the eastern side, where grass is growing, becoming thick and lush on the site of the earthwork. A different crop is growing on the western side, and the site of the earthwork isn't visible at all, not when we visited.

Not the most imposing of sites, but certainly worth the walk if you're in the area (but the walk itself is certainly worth it), just to see what this cropmark business is all about, without the use of a plane ...

Spring Equinox, 2002

Devil's Quoits (Henge)

Devil’s Quoits, 9th March 2002

This site has occupied a curious place in my imagination for several years now – I’ve always known almost exactly where it was, but always felt as if it was untouchable, beyond reach, to be imagined but not experienced. I first read about it, as a passing reference, in Aubery Burl’s field guide many years ago. Not quite so many years ago I failed to get onto a rare organised visit organised by organised southern stone circle freaks. Only when the topic of the site was raised a few weeks ago did I finally decide to get down there and find out just what was going on, and why this site is so difficult to visit, or at least seems that way.

Located just south-west of Oxford, on the edge of the village of Stanton Harcourt, the Devil’s Quoits have suffered unjustly from their favourable location. Once the centre of considerable Bronze Age activity (records show this to rival Avebury, Flag Fen and Glynsaithmaen as a prehistoric cultural centre), first medieval agriculture, then wartime ‘necessity’, then construction (this is a rich gravel bed extraction area), and finally, the greatest insult of all, landfill. The henge and barrows ploughed out and destroyed, the stones flattened to build the runway, the earth scarred and ripped to provide the raw materials for road-building, and the wounds tended with the rotting garbage of our throw-away society. To study the progress of British civilisation, look no further.

But you can’t. This site is still a working landfill site, home of a never-ending procession of bin-wagons, bulldozers and responsible landscape gardeners, as an unwelcome a prospect for Neolithic explorers as could be imagined. But prompted by a throwaway question, and still smarting from being too disorganised to make the previous visit 2 years ago, I took the bold step of ringing up the site, and asking, no, demanding, to be allowed on to the site, to inspect the damage for myself. In one of those strange twists that came to define the day, the lads on the site were really helpful, and could see no problem in me turning up, with up to 9 friends, pretty much any time I liked. That’s it, you can visit anytime you like, you only have to ask, and you’re in.

As the site is still a working landfill site, and is going to remain that way for a while, you have to follow Health and Safety regulations when on-site, which means high-visibility jacket/vest and hard-hat, but the site office can lend you these, and you really want to be wearing wellies as well.

7 of us got together, and turned up on a fiendishly blustery day in March 2002. We parked up, signed in, kitted out and walked the 800 feet from the site office to the remains of the Devils Quoits henge, alongside an enormous gravel pit lake, which according to my map of the area, previously was home to dozens of barrows. By the waters edge are a variety of felled stones in a variety of conditions, piled up, half-buried and up on display. Most prominent is the stone clearly recognisable from the 19th century photograph (aka “Quoit A”), then towering above the self-photographer, now lying on the ground, still with a deep groove on it’s right-hand side. Slightly to the south are 2 half-buried stones, man height, which we took to be the other 2 stones standing in 1940. To the north is a genuine “pile of broken rocks”, which were apparently discovered in the 1988 excavations. These are not thought to have been part of the circle, but have been kept anyway, “just in case”. If all you’re interested in is seeing big stones tower above you, then you’re going to be disappointed, for the time being anyway. All the stones have been recovered from their graves, but await res-erection.

To the east of this megalithic graveyard is a far more impressive sight – the henge returns! And what a beauty it is, roughly equal in size to an Avebury inner-circle or Stanton Drew. This was a true giant among the henges, the focus of what seems to have been a site of huge importance, quite plainly the result of a lot of effort and hard-labour. The reconstructed ditch is deep and wide. It’s hard to imagine on a bleak pre-equinox spring morning, with rubbish blowing about, a disturbingly large number of dead birds crunching underfoot, and heavy plant roaring in every direction, but this was the centre of a barrow cemetery stretching for miles in every direction, the focus of a determined and extremely able society, of which we know just about nothing, and have literally thrown away the chance of discovering.

The Oxford Archaeological Unit (OAU) are working hard to make amends and cling onto what little we have, along with the heavy machinery of the Waste Recycling Group. 3 excavations have uncovered the surviving stones, the location of the stone holes, and the dimensions of the henge ditch. The ground has been brought down to the level of the site at the time of construction (various datum levels remain to show the level before work started, with little grass hairpieces) and the immense ditch dug out. The OAU have calculated the labour required to raise each stone by hand, and plan to reunite each surviving stone back to it’s place after their oh-so brief immersion in the soil. Missing stones are to be replaced with likely substitutes, from the local conglomerate. An awesome weekend awaits the strong, curious and adventurous.

The end-result should be a cut-above the average “landfill-turned-countrypark” that are becoming increasingly common. A great scar has been inflicted on what was once a site of intense activity. The countless barrows are gone, never to return, but a peaceful place for the future beckons. Visit it often, and marvel at the changes.

The Cop, Bledlow-cum- Saunderton (Round Barrow(s))

Finally, we reach The Cop. Deep in the cougar-infested woods on the Bledlow Ridge, on the eastern spur, opposite the Bledlow Cross, a small mound, deep in trees.

Now hugely overgrown, this must have been a magnificent place to be buried (along with the other barrows in this small group) - the Chilterns fall away (the Ridgeway marking the boundary) to reveal an enormous plain, a view for eternity, still takes my breath away every time I see it.

Trees, nettles and rabbits occupy this site now ...

Boddington Hill Camp (Hillfort)

A tidy little hill-fort, with spectacular views across the western chilterns and all the way to Oxford and beyond --- I didn't pick out Wittenham Clumps/Dorchester-on-Thames complex from here the day we visited, but they should be visible.

At the top of a massive hill, just south of Aylesbury, this forms part of the Icknield Way family of settlements, from Ivinghoe Beacon to the north, and joining up with the Ridgeway further south. Cholesbury is a 20 minute walk

The banks are pretty eroded, and obsucured by thick vegetation, but it's still a highly popular spot for picnickers. Go there.

Blowing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

A must-stop on any visit to the Uffington White Horse or Lambourn Seven Barrows. Head east from the White Horse towards Wantage. Look for the crossroads at Kingston Lisle, with the sign pointing North to the "Blowing-Stone" inn - turn South (towards Lambourn), and the Blowing Stone is on your left, at the start of the row of houses at the bottom of the hill. Parking is dodgy, but there's gate further up on the right where you might squeeze in.

The stone was moved here sometime in the 18thC, when it was the centrepiece of the old Blowing-Stone inn ... the story is that if positioned correctly, you can get a note out of this (like so much around here, there is a local-boy King Alfred story attached). However, you would need to be both insane (to put your lips anywhere near the thing) and have the lung-capacity of an elephant to get even a peep out of it.

If you do, then the whole valley will resound to it's magnificent timbre

Good luck

Bedd Arthur (Stone Row / Alignment)

No-ones really sure about this site ... is it a "true" site, or is it a later addition? It stands by Carn Bica, on the path along the top of the Preseli ridge (by the famous "crossroads" that have caused so much speculation). The stones are about 2 ft high, and all tend to lean inwards.

The site isn't listed in Burl, but is definitely there, and in one of the most spectacular locations. You'll need to walk for at least 30mins/hour to get there from any road, but it's worth it.

White Brook (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

There's not a lot going on here now ... it's in the middle of a "pick-your-own" field. Arial photography has picked up fairly substantial crop marks here, suggesting a bronze age barrow cemetary. On it's own, not that interesting, but it's part of a chain of mounds and other sites dotted along the banks of the Thames

Access is possible at certain times of the year, but you need to be quick, and there's nothing to see anyway ... but, remember --- Context and Landscape!

RG

Heatherwood Hospital Barrow (Round Barrow(s))

This is a cracker ... Heatherwood Hospital is just across the road from Ascot racecourse, on the big roundabout. Strictly speaking, you should really be a patient, or visiting one, to gain access, but they'll spank you for the parking fee regardless.

Inside the hospital, inside a tiny quadrangle, is a fair sized bowl barrow, probably late Bronze age. There's a little sign by it, but otherwise absolutely no acknowledgement of it's existence. Even the size of the space allocated to it demonstrates the begrudging nature of it's survival ...

London Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

visit: 5/11/2001, 1:15pm

The saddest sight ... a captive stone. The London Stone sits near it's original site across the road from Cannon Street tube station, in the front of the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation.

Once a considerable landmark megalith, all that remains is a tastefully lit micro-wave oven sized lump. It is "preserved" behind bars and toughened glass, tamed, humiliated, ignored. Just the act of stopping to look caused passers-by to look at me curiously ... getting out my camera led to outright derision, pitying looks from the sophisticated city-set to the easily-impressed out-of-towner ...

An uninspiring, depressing experience ...

Cock Marsh (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

Spicey little Bronze Age site, set in the northern bend between Marlow and Cookham. To get up here:

from the South, walk down the path alongside Winter Hill Golf Course, down the insanely steep chalk hill, across the bridge across the marsh, and dodge the wild horses

From the North: walk down the side of Bourne End train station, past the auction house. Right at the end of the car park, you'll see a slight gap in the fence. Sashay down the shady path, and up onto the railway bridge. All the way across, and turn left (upstream). Go up past "The Bounty", through all the gardens backing onto the river, through the gate and towards Winter Hill

and behold! Cock Marsh!

It's formed by sediment piling up from the river over the years in front of Winter Hill, forming a completely sealed off island - steep hill on one side, natural semi-circle of river on the other.

There are 3 barrows still visible, one just as a crop mark. The biggest is about 3m high, with a bit of a ditch left on the north side. The others are in pretty poor repair, but this is a delightful, resting, calm place. Stop by, if you're in the area (there's a pub handy as well)

RG

Bulstrode Camp (Hillfort)

Bulstrode Tree Chimneys
-----------------------------

These are the strangest things - not neolithic, just 100 years old, but if you're visiting Bulstrode Camp, you really should go and see the Tree Chimneys.

They're in the trees at the North-West corner of the camp - walk around, look up in the trees, and stop when you see a brick wall half-way up one.

I really have no idea about how or why they got their ... since one of them has "1900" inscribed into the top, then all I can assume is that is a Victorian turn-of-the-century celebration.

Rather odd.

Slough Glebe Farm Barrow (Round Barrow(s))

went roaming about for this on Friday (28/8/2001), but couldn't see anything, only arable farmland.

hot and sweaty, and stumbling over footpaths across fields being harvested ... dust in the air.

Bledlow Cross and Wain Hill (Hill Figure)

Went up here for sunset last night (24/aug/2001). Absolutely breathtaking, not least because the awesome gradient of the hill.

The Ridgeway runs along the bottom of the hill, but the real action takes place further up, if you dare ascend (or park at the top). Densely thick woodland, paths twist and turn off in every direction, some leading to burial mounds, some to large bushes of stinging things. Forget getting a signal on your phone or gps, you're on your own up here.

Just before sunset, I burst out into a clearing. This view stretches on for miles, bathed in a golden light. The sun sank, I sweated like a pig, flying ants swarmed and I was in the middle of thick woodland on an incredibly steep hill. The Gps reckoned the actual cross was about 300m away to the NE, but there was no way I was going to make that and back before sunset.

Tumbled down the hill down what looked like a path, but probably wasn't --- found some strange things facing out towards the sunset that looked like burial mounds lodged into the hillside (but probably weren't) - like the ones in Malta, back into even more woods, steeper hill,clinging onto the battered fence-cum-bannister, out onto more twisting turn paths ... a path dug into the earth like it was a trench ready for a cable ... this path has been walked for *thousands* of years

creepy creepy ... paths go up and down, dunno which way to go, the compass says go this way, but it's all dense wood, can't go that way, don't want to go up again, my heart can't stand it

hit a path that goes down, thank you, where am I ... GPS technology marvellous with a clear sky, no use in woods. Bloke with a dog, at least I'm still in 2001 ...

road ahead --- open air, check the gps to find where I am ... wallop, it's the *exact* same way as I came in ... cars 2 minutes away

woah

never made the cross, knackered, smelly. Get yourself up there ... it's all rather strange. I think you'll like it ...

RG

Whiteleaf Cross (Christianised Site)

It's great when you find somewhere by accident. I was out with the Gibbonnettes, barrow hunting.

I knew that there was a couple of barrows at the top of a hill outside Princes Risbrough, and it was just about the only place open (this was during F&M time)

We parked up, and had a good scramble around the hill and in the woods ... noticing what appeared to be a bit of quarrying on the hill, but not paying too much attention to it ..

We skirted around the bottom of the hill, and looped back up. There's a lovely walk in the woods, and it opens out to a *stunning* view towards Oxford. With a barrow at the top of the hill.

Perhaps eager to avoid the barrow for as long as humanely possible, the Gibbonnettes roved down the front of the hill towards a big wooden log fence, saying "hey, what's this?"

Still preoccupied with the rather sorry state of the barrow on top, I didn't pay a lot of attention to them (shame upon me), but they persisted, so I had a look ...

the whole side of the hill was cut away into huge cross. This thing is *massive*. Huge. Enormous ...

I just couldn't comprehend it ... I've read books, driven past Princes Risbrough more than once, know people who've walked the Chilterns, but never, ever heard of this, or anything about it.

Fantastic place, go and have a look

RG

The Growing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

We stopped by here just before dusk. Driving down from Crickhowell, it's in the gate area of an abandoned army base on your left hand side.

There's a big sign saying "MOD Property: No Tresspassing, No Photography".

Walk past this, and it's on the left hand side of the driveway, about 15 meters down. It's not really visible from the road, as it looks a bit like a tree stump from a distance.

Get a bit closer, and a magnificent shard of rock is bursting out of the ground, straining at the earth and your perceptions of normality.

Gwernvale (Chambered Tomb)

What the Romans started, Powys County Council roads department finished

There's lots of little wooden stakes patterned around, like at Woodhenge.

Penlan Stones (Standing Stones)

Cannot be reached, but you can look at it from the road. Just up the hill from Pentre Ifan.

Windmill Hill (Causewayed Enclosure)

The water-pump on our old camper blew (unbeknown to us) when struggling up here.
Nice causeways on the enclosures though.
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