Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sodbury Hillfort



This is a somewhat updated version of an earlier blog, it relates to the hillfort at Sodbury, though in actual fact defended settlement would be a much better term, on the A46 to Cirencester. The best way to approach this hillfort is from the village of Little Sodbury. Park up somewhere near the church and head for the path that goes past the small school, walk through the fields following the path, the escarpment will be on your right and to the left  the flat farming land that heads west to the Bristol Channel. The path curves upward through the trees, and then comes out on a little lane, follow this for a short while, then turn right down a driveway. Here I went wrong, and continued down the drive, but a gardener put me right, in actual fact, just off the lane turn sharp right up into the woods along the path.
Either sneak past the back of the farmhouse at the top, over their lawn to the wicket gate that leads between the banks of the fort, or find another path that leads more directly through the wood.



It is an amazing place, the ground is as flat as a pancake, 24 acres (according to Nicholas Thomas's Guide to Prehistoric England) he describes it thus;

"Its outer bank and ditch are iron age; the earthworks at the S.W. end enclosing 12 acres are probably Roman. In places the inner (Roman) bank is 10 foot high> Original entrance to the I/A camp is approached by a track up the escarpment along the N.W.side of the camp (the one already described). It enters just S.W. of the N. corner of the pre-Roman earthwork; here there are in-turned banks defining it. Date of pre-Roman earthwork; 3rd to 2nd century B.C. Traces of earthwork to the N belong to deserted medieval village"

surrounded on three sides by two high banks, the internal one, neatly 'romanised'. The fourth side is of course the steep escarpment, now somewhat obscured by trees. This is the largest of the three hillforts that lie close to each other along this particular bit of the escarpment, Horton and Hinton (Dyrham) being the other two.
As a pleasant walk it lingers in the memory, taken in June 2006, the sun was warm and the banks were covered in ladies Bedstraw, a sweet smelling herb, the place was absolutely deserted and apart from Moss I wandered round marvelling at such a place could be so unexplored by archaeologists with its rich tapestry of history.
Its size as an Iron age defended settlement is huge, and must point to a largish settlement with animals penned in as well. Sometimes with the wonder of the Avebury bank and ditch, we forget to look at the work of people 2000 years later who also built such large defence systems, did it for instance have a wooden palisade on top? It points to a time of hardship, of having to protect ones animals from raiders, there is some evidence that the weather was poor through this particular millenia, wet weather would have meant reliance on animals rather than crops, perhaps that is why we see such a burgeoning growth of hill top settlement around this part of the country.


                                                    Looking back to Little Sodbury Village



This well known Roman camp is situated in the parish of Chipping Sodbury, two miles east of the town, and eleven miles due north of Bath. The defended area, which contains upwards of twelve acres, is rectangular in shape, with the west side resting on the escarpment of the hill, the other three sides being defended by a double line of intrenchments, each consisting of a single bank and ditch. There are entrances both on the west and west sides, the camp in all respects being very perfect in form. Mr. King says:— "This seems to have been incomparably well adapted to have contained three cohorts, with double the number of allied foot and half as many more allied horse, encamped after the Polybian.

Taken from Archaeological Handbook of County of Gloucester by George Witts 1882

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