We stayed in Lincolnshire for a couple of nights in all, and then travelled down to visit Mr Stoatie’s Family in Herts for a day, stopping over at Fowlmere, at the campsite we couldn’t get into last time. We were put on the last pitch they had, which was on the residential field, so we had the weird experience of everyone getting up and driving off first thing in the morning. From there we had a bit of a hike round to his sister’s in West Sussex for a night. I bought a bike off eBay a couple of months ago and they had kindly picked it up from the seller and looked after it for me. Luckily we could get it in the camper fully assembled, propped backwards between the front seats, but it made the rest of the holiday a trial as we had to take it everywhere with us!
We were finishing our trip with three nights in Burford, which is a very picturesque old market town in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds and on the way up decided to stop off at Wayland’s Smithy, which is somewhere I’ve never managed to get to before. We parked up in the huge National Trust car park which is just below the Uffington White Horse and the Hillfort. We visited these when we were courting, way back when, it’s a pity we didn’t have to time to see them all this time, we shall have to go back.
We set off along the Ridgeway following the signpost to the Smithy. It was another hot day, although there were a couple of drizzly episodes which were quite welcome but didn’t do anything to improve the stickiness. Although the car park had been quite busy we seemed to be the only people heading off along the Ridgeway. The track to the Smithy turns off this, and leads downhill, through arable fields, to a clump of beeches. Both paths were lined with trees and a plethora of flowers and wild plants. There were beautiful blue cornflowers, and glossy leaved Byrony vines, laden with unripe berries climbing up the hedges.
The fingerpost at the car park said the Smithy was only 1 1/4 miles away but the walk seemed to go on forever! We had to cross a road at one point – it turns out there is a way of getting closer by car if only we’d known it at the time. Still we had a lovely walk, and it was all part of the pilgrimage. Judging by the wear and tear it’s a place that is obviously well visited but we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves. In the 1930’s it looked like this:
Teh monument was first investigated by archaeologists just after the First World War. In the 1960’s it was excavated again by two archaeologists called Atkinson and Piggott and they ‘restored’ the long barrow to it’s present condition. Replacing the fallen front stones, and using a stone wall to indicate where the other two missing stones would have stood.
The barrow is actually the result of two phases of interments, the original burial chamber was a stone floored, timber covered edifice, in the centre of the barrow as it is now, and was completely covered over by earth scraped from the ground either side, forming two ditches. In this chamber were found the remains of eleven men, two women and a child. Three of the bodies showed evidence of a violent death, and two had been chewed a bit by animals. It was reckoned only one of these had been interred complete, the other remains having been stored or recovered from somewhere else. Also in the chamber were pottery, leaf-shaped arrow heads and stone querns.
The second burials were made 150-200 years later, in a more complex stone tomb with three chambers. A greater mound was made in the same fashion over this – stretching 56 meters long and tapering to an end. The flanks of this mound were lined with stones but only a few of these remain, including this wonderful one with it’s own water bowl. I really do love these natural water collectors, stone ‘basins’, boles in trees, they’re all part of the magic.
It’s thought that some of the stones were removed in the Bronze Age – a piece of harness fitting from this period was found in their location – it’s surmised that they may have been interfering with ploughing. A ditch was dug to the west of the site during the Iron Age and filled in by the ‘Romans’ later. During one of these periods another body was placed at the site – to the west of the actual barrow. The top half of the body was found in the 1920 dig and the bottom half in the 1963.
There were offerings in the central chamber. Unfortunately someone had also run amok with white chalk, I suppose I should be grateful it was chalk and not paint!
They have cut steps in the side to try and prevent wear.
The site is very atmospheric. It feels completely cut off – physically as it is out in the country and away from houses etc and also because it feels somehow out of time.
I fancied a little time meditating in one of the chambers but the dogs put pay to that, for some reason we had an escalation of pack mentality this trip. Everything was fine as long as we all stayed within 6m of each other, in a virtual pack bubble. If Mr Stoatie took them so I could do Druidy stuff they whined, if I had them so he could take photos, they whined, if we tied them up, they whined. Hmm.. it was rather annoying!