Looking at the map of prehistoric sites across the land, where there are just so many to see, I wondered just how long it would take to visit them all. Most of Britain is the same once you get outside the cities…
…except the place where I live. There is not a stone circle, dolmen or standing stone for miles. Granted, we have our fair share of historical landscapes and plenty of holy wells, but other than a handful of barrows and the odd hillfort, trackway and chalk carving of debatable age, there is not much to see of the prehistoric landscape.
What is found tends to be unearthed during the archaeological investigations made prior to building work… and subsequently re-interred where only future archaeologists will ever see it.
I was enormously excited to read of a massive prehistoric burial complex on the edge of Bicester, just fifteen miles from my home. Archaeologists investigated a hundred and thirty-four trenches and found archaeological remains in forty-one of them, including a Bronze Age axe head, an Iron Age settlement and hearth, plus later Roman and Saxon remains. If that wasn’t enough, the site was declared of national importance when the burials were found to be around 5,500 years old! The building developers had been slammed with an exclusion zone around the remains so that they would not be lost or damaged. The plans had to be altered… perfect. I was all ready to grab my camera and go!
Until I read further. The remains are now perfectly safe… and buried beneath a primary school playing field, with no trace of them showing above the surface…
It is undeniably frustrating. When our adventures were drawing such inspiration from the oldest churches, my area was the perfect environment for our forays. Very many ancient churches remain here, often no more than a mile or two apart. It has always been a relatively wealthy area and the churches have been well preserved. Wall paintings and carvings have survived, stained glass windows survive from medieval times… symbolism drips from the walls and we had a field day exploring their bounty.
It is not a tick-box affair, visiting these sites. When we visit a site we stay long enough to get a good feel for the place. It is almost always a first visit, not an only one. We tend to go back, sometimes very many times, and each time we look at the site with a different perspective born of an increasing familiarity and intimacy with its earth and stone. We had done the same with the churches, learning our way around them, little by little, missing much, to begin with… until we learned what to look for. The same methods we use now in an older landscape.
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