I smiled, knowing what was still to come… and knowing that our companion had picked up on something not yet visible when she had said that the place reminded her of the stone blocks of the old South American cultures. I knew what she meant, but while the precision of the masonry at Cusco still defies understanding over a thousand years old since its building, the place to which we were walking was older. Far older.
Following the path that climbs through the bracken, you can see the changing forms of the stones. Peering from the top of the plateau, they seem to shapeshift in the fading, afternoon light, taking first one form and then another as you approach the steps that lead into the enclosure. It is a strange place. To some, it is just another hill to climb. To others, ‘just’ another ancient hillfort. Cinema buffs may recognise one of the locations from The Princess Bride and geologists would have a field day. To archaeologists, though, Carl Wark is pretty much an enigma and unique in this part of the world.
As soon as you reach the plateau you begin to see how important the site must have been. No direct dating evidence has been found so far, but comparisons have been drawn between the construction of the enclosure at Carl Wark and one we would visit next day at Gardom’s Edge… and that has been dated to around 1300BC. The general consensus seems to be that although some of the more visible features date back only to the Iron Age, the site and features of the surrounding landscape have been in use since the Bronze Age. The trouble with such dates, however, is that they can only work with what they can see, dig up and measure. If a place becomes important in the life of a people, how long does its legend take to build before the walls are begun? How long before it becomes so entrenched in the life of the clan that its safety becomes a priority?
A natural outcrop rising around eighty feet from the valley floor, the hillfort sits much lower in the landscape than nearby Higger Tor. Even to a layman’s eyes, the Tor makes a far more defensible position, having much wider views of the surrounding landscape and being visible from a far greater distance than its smaller neighbour. Not only that, but the enclosure of the hillfort is completely covered by huge boulders, making any kind of settlement there impossible to establish and no evidence of such has been found. If it was a fortress in the sense that we understand it, what were they protecting? There is nothing there but the stones.
It was stone that greeted us as we reached the plateau… a great wall of boulders, carefully placed and buttressed from behind by an earthen embankment. The wall, so the archaeologists believe, dates back only to the Iron Age, which in Britain began around three thousand years ago. The site has been in use for far longer than that. Only one section of this rampart remains, a hundred and thirty feet long, twenty-six feet wide at its base and nearly ten feet high. Each stone is huge and the construction quite unexpected in the middle of the moors.
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