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Fieldnotes by Rhiannon

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Wick Barrow (Round Barrow(s))

I visited one of the nuclear power stations yesterday, and was delighted that when I asked one of the guides "Where's the Pixie's Mound?" they did not look at me like I was mad, but explained exactly where it was (next to the roundabout) and that I'd have a good view.

At the moment, at least, there are no check points you need to go through to get to the roundabout (the second now along the road). Though I imagine you'd potentially cause a bit of a stir if you stopped to get out. Especially if you were wielding a camera. But if you gave them some spiel about prehistory and fairies, it'd probably be put down to eccentricity, who knows? Maybe it's not worth the risk. I imagine you're on CCTV simply everywhere. The England Coast Path does skirt the edge of the field though, so perhaps you could view it more leisurely from there.

I enjoyed the fact that there seemed to be two thorn bushes on the barrow. I was also pleased to see that the road into Hinkley 'B' was named after the Pixie.

I explained to my colleague that it would definitely be bad luck for anyone to disturb the mound. He thought it was probably best if the builders of the new nuclear power station kept the pixies on their side.

Cley Hill (Hillfort)

I've not been up here for a very long time. Perhaps you're guilty of the same sort of thing - tending to overlook local places for new and exciting ones that are further away. But my sister and I found this excellent, complete with its air of weirdness. (A couple of vaguely peculiar things happened while we were here, although normal people wouldn't have given them a second thought. Maybe you find more weirdness when you're expecting it.)

It was exposed here but dry, and we could see great globs of low dark cloud moving across the landscape, pouring on less fortunate places. There's a 360 degree view - quite uncommon round here where lots of high spots are joined onto bigger bits of land like Salisbury Plain.

We were mostly here for the wildlife (we saw kites, a yellowhammer and oil beetles among other things) and specifically for the snails. It got hilariously competitive as we hunched over little chalky scrapes out of the wind, my sister triumphantly brandishing a tiny shell a few millimetres high - What?! Why haven't I got that one... (Competitive snailing eh, whatever next. But it's amazing how much variety there is, and because they're empty, you don't have to feel too guilty about collecting a few shells.)

On reflection I suppose we climbed the hill in a spiralling way like the shape of a shell. Much nicer than the more ghastly straight-up approach - it's precipitously steep in places. Most of the hill is so windswept and open, but the quarried area on the south is such a strange muddle of lumps and bumps. They loom up over you and it feels strangely enclosed and surprisingly claustrophobic. But the quarried area doesn't take up the amount of space that you expect from the carpark. It's only a little area really.

There are other earthworks too -the Iron Age ridge that circles the hill for one. It doesn't feel very usefully defensive but maybe the slope would be enough to put most people off storming up. I did start to wonder, did anyone ever really live up here? The top isn't particularly big or flat like nearby Scratchbury and Battlesbury. You can imagine people in their huts there but not so much here. Yet Martin and Dave from the National Trust did find some here with their resistivity experiments.

This strange isolated hill advertises itself from all sorts of spots for miles around. You'd want to know who was in charge of it. And who was buried in the Bronze age barrows on top? It's funny to sit in their lea and have the same sort of view that people have seen for thousands of years (if you ignore industrial agriculture). There's also a linear dyke that's said to cut across one of the barrows, dating it at least a bit.

We also walked down the amazing sunken lane on the hill's south (part of the Mid-Wiltshire Way) - recommended as another numinous spot.

Bostadh (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

I'm not saying Mr Rh and I are unsociable, but we do seem to tend to head for the emptiest reaches of beyond on holiday these days. And the beach at Bostadh does feel like quite a long way from anywhere. You need to leave the Scottish mainland for Skye, catch the ferry to Lewis, drive up north and over the bridge to the island of Great Bernera, then aim for the furthest tip of that. It should probably be called the Outer Outer Hebrides if you ask me.

I can promise you pale sand and properly blue water that wouldn't look out of place in the Caribbean (it's just a bit draughtier). It was nice to just sit and watch the local birdlife flying around and bobbing about. But if you walk to the back of the beach you'll spot a thatched mound, its roof held on by long ropes weighted with holed stones. It's a recreation of the houses that once stood here in the Iron Age - a number were revealed in the 1990s when a storm blew away some of the dunes.

You must cross a little moat (which unfortunately isn't putting off the rabbits who are eating the roof - they've got the sense to use the bridge like you do) and descend into the sheltered low doorway. Then ducking down (even I had to duck) you enter the house.

It's absolutely pitch black, and although you can hear a welcoming voice telling you all will come clear in a moment, and inviting you to sit just there (or somewhere thereabouts) - well it's just as though you've gone blind. But gradually your eyes adjust, and in the meantime you can listen to the superb soft Lewissian lilt of the lovely and knowledgeable woman who is the house's curator. Eventually you'll believe her that it's even possible to read a book in this dim light.

I thought I might like to live in a house like this, cosily out of the draught, with my strongly-scented peat fire burning, doing a bit of weaving.

I thoroughly recommend you visit, it feels like time travel.

Sherrington Motte (Artificial Mound)

Moss recently posted a link to Jim Leary’s paper on the Marlborough Mound. Towards the end of it there is a section discussing ‘other potential prehistoric mounds in Wessex and beyond’. Sherrington motte is picked out as very promising, ‘given its low lying setting next to the river Wylye and with springs nearby [it] is surely a contender for a Late Neolithic mound.’ So today, encouraged by what feels like this year’s first view of the sun, my sister and I made a visit.

We parked just opposite the Codford turnoff on the A36 and walked down the narrow lane towards the River Wylye. As you may have noticed, it’s been raining a bit recently, and the ditch along the side of the path was full and running swiftly. Running over the chalk the water is so beautifully clear. Growing up amidst quite different geology, I always think chalk streams are rather magical. The Wylye always strikes me as rather magical, weaving about so cleanly in its valley.

After you nip across the railway line, the footpath is obvious and bends round a couple of amazing houses. One had swans lounging in the garden - the river was up an absurd amount. This became very obvious when the two of us had to cross a footbridge across it, barely above the water. Here the river wasn’t clear at all, it was murky and speeding rather scarily.

To see the mound, go into the churchyard. It’s on the far side of a seemingly still ‘moat’ though with restricted access it’s hard to see how the water connects up with all the rest round here, but the river's very close. I imagine there’s a little more water in the moat than usual at the moment. Leary’s article says the mound is 48m in diameter and 5.5m high, adding encouragingly that ‘mottes are quite rare in Wiltshire.'

I’m sure you would also like the painted Jacobean wall texts in the dinky church of St. Cosmas and St. Damian immediately opposite, while you're there. And back at Codford St. Peter there is a superb bit of Saxon stone carving. It was a very nice stroll. There are some more photos of the mound on Paul Remfry’s website . He says the moat is full of water all year round (which at least in the present would be in contrast to the situation at Silbury and Marlborough).

Eggardon Hill (Hillfort)

Don't you find it interesting when something that strikes you about a site isn't mentioned at all in other people's fieldnotes. For me, one of the things here is the Dorset coast stretching out into the distance. Maybe that's because I've spent 95% of my life a long way from the sea, so I enjoy it more when I see it. But for me it gave the massive view a bit of a focus and more of a sense of distance. We'd been down on the weird Chesil Beach earlier (with its curiously sorted pebbles, pea size at West Bay, potato size at Portland, said the notice) and bits were still dropping out of my pockets when we got up here on the hill. I wondered what the prehistoric inhabitants would have thought. You couldn't live this near the sea and not eat fish now and again. The view completely distracted me from the slope below (I didn't realise its suicidal steepness until we were driving back down and I saw it from afar). It's got a rather similar feel to Westbury with its dry chalk undulations.

The other thing that really grabbed me was something you can only see from the northwest point of the fort. It's a line of rocks sticking out from the hillside ahead. It's a curious looking thing, I mean obviously it's some strata of harder rocks, but it's strange, a ledge jutting out from the smooth slope. I felt certain it should have a name, and looking on the map afterwards I see it does: Bell Stone. oh how there must be / must have been a story to go with it. John Curtis has a photo as I saw it from the hill on Panoramio; also a close up here.

Also I was interested to notice a bronze age barrow (cut in quarters like a currant bun by some treasure hunter no doubt) - it was interesting to think it was preserved by the later builders of the fort. And speaking of barrows, there's what I took to be a massive disc barrow next to the road - obvious enough to draw the eye.

Practicalities: the turnings off the A35 are tiny and easy to miss but we came off at Askerswell and parked at the top of the hill in a sort of decently offroad council-approved spot at SY549948. Then you can walk in a level straight line across a couple of fields (hopping the stiles) to end up at the original entrance to the fort. You do have to climb up a bit to get in though - as if the almost encircling slopes weren't enough defence. And there are some lovely brownish sheep up there at the moment, with curly horns, I suppose they are looking after the chalk grassland for the National Trust.

Smoo Cave (Cave / Rock Shelter)

Smoo Cave. You know it's going to have something about it, just from the name :) Though it's supposedly one of those daft names like River Avon that means the same thing twice. Perhaps that makes it even better.

Although it should be a pretty remote spot, there were a good deal of tourists stopping here, some in massive buses having come all the way from Austria. But somehow, the site's just about escaped being over-domesticated. There are fences to stop you falling to your doom, and some nice interpretation boards next to the car park. But the balance seems alright.

Firstly, up on the land, there's Allt Smoo, a babbling stream that disappears suddenly into a hole in the ground in an alarming way (for fans of the mysterious karst feature, that's the origin of part of the caves). That's quite a strange thing to see. And then you can wander down many steps into the curiously long inlet from the sea (Geodha Smoo) and into the massive cave entrance itself to see the golden-brown peaty water emerging back out into the world. You can't help imagining what such a huge interior space would seem like to anyone from countless centuries who'd have never otherwise been in such a place. Today we've been to big halls, shopping centres and so on and rather take it for granted. But this would be something quite novel. Not that you yourself are likely to have been in such a big sea cave before, it's said to be the largest in Britain. So you'll be impressed, but possibly in a different way.

Once inside the cave you can pad around on the earth floor looking up at the strange shapes of the rocks above you, but then you can hear the sound of the water pouring in from the stream, and you are drawn to the narrow entrance into the next part of the cave. In this smaller chamber there's some natural light that spills down with the waterfall, and the noise from the water is very loud. It's rather impressive and elemental. Everywhere smells mossy and earthy and damp.

The waterfall chamber is completely flooded, and you're only there easily because of a little platform that's been built. It would be quite something else to have had to paddle or wade through to see it in the gloom. You might have felt a little reticent.

There are even further chambers, as Carl mentions. They're lit up with amber light in my photo. But I just can't imagine wanting to have ventured in there with a burning torch, ducking under the low rocks. I'm a bit of a coward when it comes to dark, enclosed, water-filled underground places. I don't think that's too unreasonable.

If the people who lived here in prehistoric times thought Strange Things about this unusual place, I wouldn't be surprised. They may have just thought it was cool. Which would be fair enough.

The Sweet Track (Ancient Trackway)

I spent a very tranquil afternoon at Shapwick Heath today. It was so sunny, and when you're wandering along the tracks in the dappled shade, dodging the soggiest peatiest spots, and being followed by dragonflies, it's just marvellous. We sat in a hide for ages, looking out over one of the lakes, listening to the rustling reedbeds. It really is so quiet and remote feeling, you've got Glastonbury Tor poking up on the horizon, and you feel miles away from modern life. It's very good for me. But to get to the point, at the moment, English Nature have opened the path that follows the line of the Sweet Track - it's not always open as often it's too wet. But at the moment you can walk through the wet woodland, brushing through all the sedges and the ferns (there are Osmunda royal ferns mmm) and walk pretty much where the builders of the track walked, back in 3800BC. How mad is that. It was a total pleasure. I recommend it very much.

There's even a very decently surfaced path to where you can see (imagine) where the track was - EN take access pretty seriously at Shapwick. The other tracks around the reserve are variously accessible (most very much so), and of course they are all pretty flat, it being the Somerset levels. The specially-opened track does require you to climb up and down a few steps, wind along a narrow path, and hop across trainer-swallowing squishy peat though.

There's some good information about the way the Sweet Track was built at Digital Digging. (And I finally discovered today that it's called the 'Sweet' track because Mr Sweet was the man who spotted it. Just in case you were wondering too.)

Scratchbury (Hillfort)

Taking advantage of the decidedly spring-like weather I have just made my first visit to Scratchbury. There's room to park just off the roundabout at ST914437 and then you can walk up the slope of Cotley Hill and across the down to the hillfort. I am not built for slopes and it nearly killed me (it's not that bad really and is quite a decent path. There's a stile right at the bottom and a kissing gate further on). The advantage of physical exertion and lack of oxygen to the brain means that when I do finally get to the top of these places, I'm feeling slightly peculiar. And this adds to their sense of being above the mundane. You can see and hear the traffic below but you're well out of it in another world. I do like that.

Cotley and Scratchbury are an SSSI and there will be very interesting things to see there soon
Today I was accompanied for some way by my first butterfly of the year, a brimstone. The plateau is full of peculiar mounds and dips, some of them clearly barrows, some of them more mysterious. Lumps of flint and chalk are everywhere. As usual I had my eyes peeled for that elusive arrowhead, in vain.

When you get to Scratchbury from this direction you are met by a huge bank. In fact the whole place is much bigger than I was expecting. I see now from this photo at Last Refuge that there is also a distinct inner enclosure. I was quite happy sitting on the very prominent barrow overlooking the view and unusually didn't feel the urge to pace round the whole perimeter. I felt quite at peace. Thus I can't really comment on the parking / climbing opportunities from the other direction. But I enjoyed the walk to and from the fort. I saw half a dozen people while I was up here, a positive Picadilly Circus compared to many similar spots.

It was rather restorative. I think I'll be back.

Figsbury Ring (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

The track up here is atrocious: you really fear for your car's suspension. But there was a notice when I visited yesterday and it seems this month they are closing the track for repairs. So if you visit very soon, you'll probably have to walk up. but it's not far, just a bit steep.

I suppose it's unnecessary to repeat what everyone else has said about the inner ditch but I can't resist. This place does not feel like a fort. For one thing, where's the extra reinforcing outer bank round the entrance(s)? Where are the extra banks you'd expect on the flatter side? Why is it so awfully symmetrical feeling? And as for the inner ditch... well it's just not Normal is it, especially so far into the middle of the area, it's not like it's right next to the outer bank. Nah, this place is a bit weird. The banks felt like they were keeping out Prying Eyes, but you could still see the panoramic view from the central area. Or maybe the banks were for sitting on to view whatever was going on in the middle, who knows. I wouldn't buy anything about cattle enclosures either because the young ones here quite liked the challenge of the ditch.

There was a steady stream of visitors. I guess it's free and near Salisbury, I don't blame them but I was expecting to get the place to myself. Also you'll find a lot of sloes in the hedges around the car park, so if you visit you'll soon be able to gather some for your sloe gin. The rings themselves are an SSSI and there are lots of nice chalkland plants to check out.

Giant's Cave (Long Barrow)

It's a long time since I was last here and it wasn't quite how I remembered it. There are some huge stones here. One good thing about the masses of vegetation at this time of year, is that you can spot strangely flat areas that probably hide more stones. But mostly the nettles and the grasses hinder movement and stop you seeing the stones. But it's a great spot, and clearly visited by others as you can tell by the trampling of the plants. It was soothingly peaceful and shaded from the hot sunshine. I sat near a superbly large stone on its edge right in the middle of the barrow. Below it there was an intriguing dark hole veiled by another smaller stone and a spider web.

But I found it kind of concerning that there were loads of large flat stones kind of stacked up at the far end. They looked strangely unmossy/licheny as though they'd been uncovered or moved quite recently. Surely no-one would bother moving stones from the barrow? I felt confused. I've posted a photo, if anyone's familiar with the site and can comment.

Starveall (Long Barrow)

This long barrow is so cute, because it's very small. It's clearly a haven for sheep, but today there were no sheep in the enormous flat field, and it was very tranquil indeed. I was impressed by the view - you can see out to Wales through a gap in the hills, and back to Wiltshire in the other direction. It did feel like the barrow had been unfortunately nibbled at over the centuries, as though it was much smaller than it should be, but it still has some height. It was deliciously shadey in contrast to the dried out field. There were a lot of small stones around but it was hard to decide if there'd ever been part of a wall - maybe the barrow looks like that through and through. It just had a very nice atmosphere here. And it's extremely easy to find (and park near).

Lambourn Sevenbarrows (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

I wasn't really expecting the barrows to be so low in the landscape. They're kind of in a dip with very little view - so I guess the view is all focused on them (although trees have been planted one side of the road, so I don't know what the view that way would be). They seem to follow the lie of the valley.

I read Wysefool's suggestion that maybe a now-lost spring here was the reason for their location. (although what about the significance of his beloved nearby long barrow?) But in support I can tell you that I didn't dare drive my car up the track to the small car park, because there was a huge patch of deep mud I was scared to get it stuck in - surely the only mud in the whole county on this baking Sunday, so maybe there's still something springish here.

There's a kissing gate into the field, which is a nature reserve, and currently full of rough vegetation that you have to kind of wade through. I spent a lot of time looking at all the weird plants (dropwort, quaking grass, knotted clover, I won't go on) but my best moment was when I suddenly realised I was looking at a disc barrow, its shape suddenly leapt out at me. It was extremely serene here and I lounged under a beech tree on one of the barrows. The only noise was the occasional passing car and the sound of hundreds of crickets like tiny machine guns constantly firing away.

Lambourn Long Barrow

I liked it here although there wasn't much to really see. You wouldn't really know there was anything here at all if you hadn't been forewarned. The barrow is where there's a rough patch of ground (awash with lovely pyramidal orchids at the moment) and across some confusing lumps in the edge of the wood. So it's hard to understand what's what. I was totally taken though with the huge flattish stone lurking under one of the trees, I was very pleased to spot that, I had to give it a pat. Perhaps others would be easier to find at another time of year when there's fewer leaves about. Also it didn't help that the sun was extremely hot and I was starting to feel a bit odd. Fortunately it's only a short flat jaunt back to the road (there's masses of space where you can park your car).

Blowing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

I caught sight of this in the corner of my eye as I hurtled past down the hill. After a rapid bit of uphill reversing to the space opposite the top cottage, I trotted cheerfully across. It's so nice that such curious things have managed to survive, and its neighbours are clearly proud of it, judging by the boldness of their house signs for 'blowing stone cottages'.

I ought to admit that the first thing that popped into my head was that cheesy film from my childhood, Flash Gordon. You know, that stupid bit where the bloke off Blue Peter plunged his arm into the tree stump full of holes and got fatally mauled. Surely you remember. My point is that there are just so many holes in the Blowing Stone. How would you know which one to try blowing into? You could be there all day without instruction. Quite a few of them contained snails. I balked and chickened out. Partly because of the snails and partly because I could hear the occupants of the nearest cottage in their garden. I thought I'd save them from having to listen to me spitting and coughing.

There's a little box containing postcards and leaflets - the leaflet by good old Mr Grinsell.

There's a round flat stone right in front of the Stone - I'm intrigued to see it's probably the same one raised up in Wysefool's vintage photo?

King's Play Hill (Long Barrow)

This place is totally mad. It's impossible for me to take photos that describe it. That's because for one thing, there are these mad 'earthworks' - they're not really earthworks, they're dry chalk valleys. But from some angles you'd think you were looking at a hill fort with snakey defence ditches. Secondly, once you've climbed up to the top, the slope drops off in an insanely steep way, very suddenly. And thirdly, you are confronted with the most enormous view. From the vantage point of the round barrow on the crest, you have a 360 degree view - one way out to the north and west out over the steep slope and away to goodness knows where (I felt like I should be able to see the glitter of the sea, but that's a bit too much) - but with a quite different feel to the south and east, which has that vast minimalist curveyness like the Salisbury Plain.

The long barrow is barely perceptible, but you just think: what on earth is it doing where it is? You had that view and you stick it there? Clearly the builders' priorities were different from mine. Surely it is knowingly near the Edge but yet deliberately not near enough to see the view. A liminal spot but not on the distracting boundary. I don't know. I'd love to know what others would think.

Having footled about for a bit I sat for a while looking out in the late afternoon sun. There's Heddington church at the bottom of the hill but a place like this has surely always to have been better for thinking about stuff.

(I left the car backed up to a tree near a barn at SU010656. This is the old Bath-London coach road - you can rather imagine it when you know? Then I walked back and through a squeaky gate near the sign 'dogs to be kept on lead' (not the track through the open gate to the sign's right). This side of the fence is open access land with a little on the other side of the sunken lane. Then it's not too badly uphill a walk for long, just rough grassland underfoot, though don't go too near the water trough or the reservoir, as the ground's craftily boggy :) Aim for the corner and the world opens up in front of you).

East Kennett (Long Barrow)

East Kennett and West Kennett couldn't be much more different really, not in our century at least. I wondered whether to write these fieldnotes, it's like drawing unnecessary attention to something that's quite happy nice and quiet and unknown, despite its proximity to the show sites of Avebury. Not to mention the fact it's off the footpaths and I shouldn't really have been there at all. But your tma-ish type values EK for what it is. And most normal people don't want to trudge to an overgrown hillock somewhere up a muddy track. Besides, there's nowhere obvious to leave a tealight. So maybe EK's ok.

Even as you walk up here, you can see that the place is massively, surprisingly, tall. I thought it was an optical illusion until I got very close up and then I had to believe it. As you're walking up the track, the barrow glowers ominously above you. But on arriving, the near end seems like the less important back, it shuns the view of West Kennett's fancy frontage and Silbury hill. With the wintery lack of undergrowth I could walk along the barrow's crest, to the far end which is higher and more sheltered. That has a much more enclosed feeling. There's a kind of amphitheatre effect, with the skyline at a single level all around. But curiously the skyline isn't consistently close, some of it's made up of much further away bits of landscape, but it all overlaps to give this constant line. It's totally different to the open feel of the other end, with its distant views to all sorts of places that make you go ooh! when you recognise them.

It was very quiet indeed at the far end. It's riddled with burrows. Flakes of chalk and pointy flint nodules are everywhere (as are spent shotgun cartridges). A rabbit sprang out of one of the holes just in front of me and I don't know who was more startled. Partridges muttered in the field below but otherwise it was just that distant treetop noise like the sea. My crisps ruined the atmosphere really. I liked the distorted writing on some of the beeches and all the tiny snail shells with their strange little umbilical holes.

On the way back (after another guilt-ridden dash silhouetted against the sky) there were loads of yellowhammers to be seen and heard along the White Horse track. If you keep going straight down, the path comes out where the road crosses the Kennet. It's amazing to watch, a beautifully crystal clear chalk stream with its vegetation waving about in the current. It was a nicer way to walk back to where I'd parked near the church.

St. Lythans (Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech)

If you're coming from the direction of Tinkinswood, this place is well signposted, and there's just enough room to park at the side of the road. It's a short uphillish climb to the stones (through a kissing gate at the edge of the rough field) and then you can't help wondering why this place gets all the height and view compared to its neighbour just down the road. The sign at the road said 'burial chambers' so I thought I was supposed to look for something else, so like SwastikaGirl, I got confused by the (ex) ring of trees. It might be nothing old but it's a peculiar sort of thing in any case.

The tomb couldn't be more different from Tinkinswood and yet it's equally impressive. It really is like a giant greyhound's kennel, any giant greyhound would be happy to live here out of the rain chewing on a bone. I had the urge to draw it from all four directions, it's just so sculptural and solid. The drawings didn't come out very well but it was enjoyable at least, I felt like I'd seen it properly. Unlike Kammer it didn't occur to me to leap up onto the capstone - I'm sure you'd feel on top of the world up there - it would have been an undignified failure in any case.

Any sensible person might travel a long way to see either of these places. But here you have two top quality megalithic destinations just down the road from each other. What more do you people want.

Tinkinswood (Burial Chamber)

Ooh I did enjoy this place very much. It's such a pleasant walk across the field, and then there it appears, with its tidy and inauthentic herringboned stones at the front, looking like a little thatched cottage sunken into the ground or something. But when you see how big the capstone is - I couldn't help smiling. It's amazing. No one else has mentioned this, so it must just be me being weird, but there was only one obvious course of action to me. I had to leap up on the top and lie down immediately. The stone is like a gigantic golden mattress, it really is, albeit a bit on the hard side. But lying there you'll realise it is at the perfect angle for gazing at the sky, it's gently sloping and very comfortable. I watched the clouds float past. It was a bit like being anchored at the centre with everything moving round. ?Or is that just my overactive imagination. And of course you'd get all the benefits of the Ancestral Wisdom seeping up through the stone. Imagine what it would be like to look at the stars from here, just marvellous. It was a bit cold this afternoon to be honest, but when the soon-to-be-setting sun peaked out from the clouds - and it happened to be directly at the right angle for the capstone - the stone turned such a beautifully warm colour.

It's slightly galling that you can see the disguised top of the brickwork pillar in the top of the capstone. It's not so bad as from the side. But where did the missing side of the burial chamber go? And I was interested to see the curved stone chosen to define the front entrance 'portal' too.

I didn't stay half as long as I'd have liked. But even so my imagination had been further carried away by the time I got back to the first of the kissing gates. It had a rather interesting multi-note squeak which I couldn't help thinking reminded me of the Authentic Prehistoric Music :)playing in the gallery at the museum in Cardiff, where I'd been earlier. If tma had an mp3 facility for gate noises, I'd have been tempted to record it.

The site is well signposted from the main road in St Nicholas, it has a proper hard parking spot, and the path (although undulating) is very smooth. No mud today, Postman. There are two kissing gates though, which I don't think can be avoided. The sign says it's open from 10-4 but I didn't feel too naughty being a bit later. Perhaps it's to discourage stargazers and those wanting to do a bit of dreaming like in the folklore. I tidied up the usual tea light cases as you can imagine.

Beacon Hill (Round Barrow(s))

Some of the barrows here are easy to see as they line up in a field, but the wood hides many more. Fat chance of seeing the latter today though, as it was all I could do to remain upright. The snow amusingly obscures all the dips containing freezing water and slippery leaves -hilarious.

The geology's a bit weird here. I visited on the pretext of sampling some acidic soil, which isn't that easy to find in this part of the world. And it turns out there is igneous rock here, andesite, which is quarried a bit further along the ridge. It's not really what I expected in Somerset. I wonder if the prehistoric types that frequented the ridge were able to use it.

Anyway all the be-wooded barrows and earthworks will just have to wait until spring. But there's a great view from up here, especially in today's snow. Glastonbury Tor looked cool.

Cherhill Down and Oldbury (Hillfort)

I came up here at the weekend for the first time. It was quite a steep climb for a weed with the sun bearing down, but I certainly felt refreshed at the top because the wind coming over the crest was relentless. And that's what struck me most about this place, that its various sides are quite different. I kept feeling quite disorientated.

There's the side you see from the road, with the horse and the obelisk, and more interestingly, the swoopy undulating dry valleys (one has a very closed entrance making a better manger than at Uffington). But once you're at the top, this side doesn't seem so important. Also the obelisk, which is so overbearing from the road, doesn't even seem in the 'right' place. It points aggressively up to the sky, but your mind isn't on the sky at all now, you're looking out over this enormous view. If no-one's got any objections I suggest we blow it up. It's only commemorating some toff's ancestor and it's falling apart anyway.

Looking to the southwest there are some more intriguing valleys at Calstone Down. I particularly liked that direction. It was fantastically blowy though and I had to sit behind one of the many, many banks and hillocks. It looks so clear on the map, but seems so complex when you're here. I wondered if some of the rounder dips were dewponds. It was lovely though amongst the woolly thistles and the anthills and the harebells. There are lots of windswept hawthorns that add to the atmosphere too. It was warm and I could have fallen asleep.

Walking round to the flat area ouside the banks to the east, I was delighted to spot Silbury Hill, as large as life. If you're on the road you have to wait some distance for a glimpse, but up here (as often happens at such places) everything was starting to fit into place. There was absolutely no-one around now, which was surprising considering the numbers of people over by the obelisk. And now somehow out of the wind, that gave the place a strange air too. I walked along the high banks back to near the horse and sat down for a bit.

I felt like my mind was working very clearly (for once). Maybe being up here in the fresh air, elevated above mundane things, encourages a clarity of mind. I wondered if the prehistoric people that lived up here felt the same. Or perhaps they were indifferent once they were fed up of the draught through their roundhouses. I skittered down the chalk path and back to the road.
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This hill, it has a meaning that is very important for me, but it's not rational. It's beautiful, but when you look, there's nothing there. But I'd be a fool if I didn't listen to it.

-- Alan Garner.

...I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn...

-- William Wordsworth.

Some interesting websites with landscape and fairy folklore:

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