Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Friday, 15 May 2015

THE OLD DROVE ROAD AND DEAD WOMAN'S DITCH

There are some landscapes in England - and elsewhere doubtless - where the history of our ancestors stands out against the skyline so clearly you can see it any old time you choose, whether or not you know what you are seeing. Round here we can glance up at Bronze Age Round Barrows while out shopping. There they are dot . . . dot . . . dot along the South Dorset Ridgeway. Given that they are in fields as well as in wild places and were constructed some time between 2,160 and 1,600 BC how come they are still there? Wouldn't it have been convenient to farmers to plough them down rather than go round them? Some, almost of course, have vanished. But there are enough remaining that they are a commonplace sight for miles around.

Beech trees roots and branches by tangled clumps of old grass.
Beach on the field side of the Quantock Drove road. April 19th 2015
All over the country history is simply lying around underground too and the dug-up kind tends to be widely reported because everyone likes a good pile of treasure. Gold is valuable and Viking jewellery was often well made and pretty. It's nice to dream that we can find treasure too and get rich. As for skeletons; there's something fascinating about skeletons - as long as they're old ones!

King Richard the Third was found under a car-park in Leicester in 2012 and in 2014 3,000 skeletons from the 1665 plague were found under the new ticket office for Liverpool Street Station in London. Coming back to the area generally examined in Loose and Leafy, about 50 decapitated Vikings were found in 2009 during excavations in preparation for the Weymouth relief road. It sometimes seems as if it's almost impossible to dig foundations, plough fields or make roads without turning up a Roman Pavement or a Viking hoard. (Buried Kings are harder to come by.)

And there are old roads. Roman roads maybe the most well known if only because many are still used. But those Bronze Age people had to travel around too and the Ridgeways - long hills which stretch along the country as bones do in a body - made very good routes. Once you are up there you can walk for miles without coming down; and if anything untoward is happening among the smaller hills and planes below - you'll see it. Throughout history - until the invention of lorries I suppose - these Ridgeway paths have been used for moving goods and cattle from one place to another. Drove roads.

Beech trees line the Old Drove Road, Quantock Hills, Somerset.
Quantock Drove Road Beside Triscombe Stone - April 10th 2015
In April I visited the Ridgeway in the Quantock Hills of Somerset. I wasn't there long. I'll need to go back. Some of it is in bleak landscape; and some is softened by trees where, about two hundred years ago, farmers began planting beech hedges on banks to make a barrier between the Drove Road and the fields along either side of it. They are hedges no longer. They have grown into a beautiful avenue of mature trees, their exposed roots all twisted into wonderful shapes like wrought iron sculptures.

(In the same area - at Cothelston Hill - there was a dispute in February 2014 about beech roots which were threatening to mess up a Bronze Age / Norman  rabbit warren. Intra-historical conflicts of interest! I haven't yet managed to find out whether the trees were felled or not. Anyone know?)

I began at the Triscombe Stone and just as with the post about the Valley of Stones, copying the information notice there seems the quickest, most informative and least pretentious way to introduce it.

'An important feature of this location is the track running along the ridge known as the Drove Road. This track has been used for thousands of years by traders, travellers and farmers moving stock. It is also on a 'Harepath' (a Saxon army route) recorded in the 14th century as the "Alferode". In the year 878 King Alfred may have been familiar with the route during his stay nearby at Athelny, on the Somerset Levels.

'Standing a mere two and a half feet high the nearby Bronze Age monolith called Triscombe Stone indicates that the Drove Road also had a pre-historic role, the stone is protected as a scheduled ancient monument.'

When time is short, some things have to be missed. So I dipped down to Nether Stowey (where, for all that he's mostly associated with the Lake District, Colderidge wrote some of his most famous poems - like 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and 'Kubla Khan') and popped up again in the 18th Century at Dead Woman's Ditch. (Bet you've been waiting for this bit!)

Beech lined path on Quantock Ridgeway. Trees bare because it's April.
The Drove Road heading back towards Triscombe from Dead Woman's Ditch - April 10th 2015
Here we go again with a notice, this time put up for the Quantock Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

'The ditch and the bank running along the west side of this car park is a prehistoric (probably Iron Age) territorial boundary.

'Although the name appears on earlier maps, Dead Woman's Ditch is often thought to be named after the notorious and gruesome murder of 1789 when John Walford slit his wife's throat and hid the body there.

'Born in Over Stowey, Walford was a charcoal burner who spent many nights in the surrounding woods tending to his slow burning stack. Walford had been forced to marry a local girl, Jane Shorney, who was pregnant with his child. Shockingly, just 3 weeks after they were married Walford murdered her at nearby Doddington where she had been drinking. The body was soon discovered and Walford was brought to trial and sentenced to hang. His public execution was carried out at a high point just off the Coach Road (opposite) where his body was put in a gibbet (there's a picture)  and was left hanging for a year. His remains were then taken down and buried at the site still known today as Walford's Gibbet.'

What a lot of history is scrambled together in the countryside! You look up at a hill. Or you see an avenue of Beech trees. You may see a slight rise or fall in the soil. But are you seeing what's really there? Impossible! People have been digging and walking and planting for thousands and thousands of years. Never underestimate a leaf nor a blade or grass.

* * *
Apologies for the dull light in the photos. It was a dull day April so you are seeing everything in its true light!


Rather a lot of references but they seem better here than cluttering up the text.

Dorset Ridgeway Round Barrows - Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Snettisham Hoard - British Museum
Snetisham Hoard - Current Archaeology
Bedale Hoard - The Northern Echo
Bedale Hoard - Dail Mail
Richard lll - The Guardian On-line
Richard lll - Wikipedia
Liverpool Street Station - Evening Standard
Roman Pavement in Colchester Garden - Colchester Archaeological Trust
Avebury - Wikipedia (Some of the stones from this ancient site were used as building materials.)
Saving the Quantock Rabbit Warren - This is the West Country News
Alfred The Great - Wilipedia
Coleridge and Nether Stowey - National Trust
Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty  (Site)
Beech Boundaries - Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
What it means to be 'Gibbeted' - Wikipedia
Prehistoric Footsteps in the Sand - YouTube video by Michael Bott. I really, really, really recommend you look at this. It's only three minutes.

12 comments:

amanda peters said...

Very interesting post Lucy..
Amanda xx

liz said...

That is fascinating history and the pictures are amazing.

flightplot said...

A really interesting post and fascinating pictures. I've bookmarked it to look at the links over the weekend. Flighty xx

The Furry Gnome said...

I really enjoy looking for history in the landscape, but most of it here is at most 150 years old.

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Hello Amanda, Liz, Mike and Furry Gnome. Pleased you like the ancient history in the landscape post. Some time I must go up onto one of our local roundbarrows and see what's growing there.

Hollis said...

So interesting, especially in comparison with where I've been recently. There are so few relics of humans of the past – sometimes cliff dwellings, pots, arrowheads, a mine, an old falling-down cabin. I guess it's because the country is so harsh. Also – the day before I read this, I stopped at Fremont Indian state park (Utah) where a highway construction project revealed Indian pit houses and lots of artifacts (from 400 - 1300 AD). They moved the highway a short distance south, excavated and made a state park! Fortunately the government sees value in protecting "ancient" (for us) human history.

squirrelbasket said...

Great post. I always feel nostalgia for this landscape and I never know if it comes from my ancestors in Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset or from my archaeology days at university.
We once did a field class in the general area of the Ridgeway, part of which we walked, and I love the chalklands.
Those stones and trees and barrows have such a tale to tell. It must feel as if it is still all around there, like a ghost.
I always think the wonderful word palimpsest is the best for describing the English landscape, so overwritten by many generations.
I will follow some of your links - I never feel I really understand prehistory, even though my degree was in Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age archaeology...
Sad story about the murder!
Keep up the good work :)

philipstrange said...

I agree with you about the barrows, why have they survived, why have they not been ploughed up? It's a mystery.
Do you know the area around Dorsetshire Gap, a mass of ancient trackways (often sunken) which speak of ancient lives.

sue catmint said...

Hi Lucy, what a fascinating post! It is yet another way to view landscape - I think it is hard to really understand prehistory, we have some facts then I suppose we need to make an imaginative leap to try to imagine what life was like in the distant past.

Pat Webster said...

Your final paragraph is a jewel, Lucy. There is so much history scrambled together in many places around the world, but we rarely see what is there. One of my favourite quotes seems apt: "landscape is history made visible." It comes from an American cultural geographer named J.B. Jackson who was working in the 1950s and 1960s. A great post.

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Glad you like the Drove Road and Dead Woman's Ditch post, Amanda.

Hello Liz. So pleased you mentioned the pictures. The light was so dull that day - and duller among the trees - that I felt a bit awkward about posting them. It will be good to return when everything is in full leaf - though then there will be the challenge of loosing detail in dapples.

That is impressive - that the government was prepared to take the finds so seriously. As I write . . . IS (ISIS) has arrived at Palmyra in Syria. I am feeling sick - I mean properly sick; the pale and shaking kind; at the possibility that the ancient ruins might be intentionally destroyed. I'm puzzled at my reaction and wondering if I can understand a terrorist organisation killing people better than one which sets out to destroy history. Disconcerting.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-32820857

Hello Pat at Squirrelbasket. Given the knowledge you have already I hope you are not disappointed in the links as they are mostly of the newspaper report / Wkipedia / local information kind.

Hello Philip. I have heard of, but not yet visited, the Dorsetshire Gap. It's only recently that I've had access to transport other than public. It will have to go on the list.

Hello Sue. There are some things I can understand. We can imagine our ancestors driving cattle from one place to another. (This happened till very recently in Dorset - between pastures quite distant from each other and on foot to market.) So we get glimpses ancient times which touch on our own lives. But there are so many things we haven't a clue about and have to avoid the kind of imagining that fills the gaps with invention.

Hello Pat. In the middle of reading your comment I had a phone call from a friend in Oxford who is finding out about a mass grave of Vikings that was discovered there in 2008.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Brice's_Day_massacre

Apparently this burial place is also the site of an ancient Henge. The thought is that a Henge, having been built by people of a culture so old it had become alien, was considered the right pace to bury others of a newer but equally alien culture.

I'm wondering now if this was also the reason the mass grave of local Vikings was placed alongside the ancient barrows along our own Dorset Ridgeway.

Toffeeapple said...

What a brilliant report Lucy, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, thank you.