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Thornborough Henge, North Yorkshire England
A GOVERNMENT service which champions England’s heritage has condemned a scheme to site a 960-panel solar farm near the most important ancient site between Stonehenge and the Orkney Islands.
Historic England said the small-scale renewable energy scheme at East Tanfield, near Ripon, could harm the neighbouring Thornborough Henge Scheduled Monument complex, which featured ritual structures, massive circular ditches and banks dating back 4,000 years to the Bronze Age.
North Yorkshire County Council archaeologist Lucie Hawkins has called for the application to be withdrawn, stating she was disappointed the plan had been submitted to Hambleton District Council without any assessment of the impact on the historic environment.
Text and images © Roy Goutté
King Arthur’s Hall, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall
After many previous visits to King Arthur’s Hall on King Arthur’s Down to the North-West of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and a few Heritage Trust articles later, I thought a further visit, but this time with a Cornish group of dowsers, would be of interest to readers.
A very well-known group are the West Cornwall Dowsers led by Bart O’Farrell, a well respected and experienced Cornish dowser, so I knew if they accepted my invitation to make a site visit a thorough and enlightening investigation would take place. This was something I was really looking forward to with relish. Alternative views are something one should always take into account, or most certainly be prepared to consider at least on sites of particular interest and intrigue as one can get very set and focused in their ways and see only what you want to see or believe, rather than a fuller or somewhat different picture. Surely there is nothing worse than a closed or cynical mind not prepared to at least listen to what others may have to say, then when they do, ridicule their findings if they disagree.
I asked Bart if he would be prepared, along with a few of his members, to visit the Hall with myself and another well-known figure from Tintagel, Susan Hockey, as members of the TimeSeekers archaeological group to observe. Susan owns and runs the Cornish Heritage Safaris tour service and sometimes carries out tours to King Arthur’s Hall and other places on Bodmin Moor, and of course all interesting areas of Cornwall down to the far west. Having a passing interest in the art of dowsing herself, Susan was keen to gain more knowledge that she could maybe pass on to her tour customers. A pair of dowsing rods are always on hand during her tours, and in certain special locations even the most sceptical participant has been known to see and feel results.
And so, on the 2nd November 2014 we all met up and made our way to the Hall. Bart brought with him fellow members Andy Norfolk, Alan Gilbert, Bob Bailey and Peter Hartwell. All are experienced dowsers and I had one or two questions already lined up to ask them once they were underway.
Bart O’Farrell getting his first feel of King Arthur’s Hall
We gathered initially on the southern bank of the hall as it gives a good vantage point over the whole enclosure. The dowsers then stepped into the enclosure itself and moved around independently of each other. Without prompting, I was asked what I would like to know?
As my previous articles on King Arthur’s Hall written for the Trust suggest (please see King Arthur’s Hall, King Arthur’s Hall: A new discovery? and King Arthur’s Hall Update) I am convinced the enclosure is a special place and not as simple as just a medieval animal pound as suggested by others. The large upright stones and raised bank surrounding them are more complicated a structure than would be required for animals. The internal area is always wet. Could this tendency to flooding have happened after an animal pound had been built? It is much more than that, but what exactly, as no major excavations or dating has taken place here?
So, I began by asking if the enclosure was a mortuary enclosure that contained buried human remains, either in skeletal form or cremations? Without exception the answer was a definite NO by all of them, it was not a mortuary enclosure or graveyard!
Susan commented that tour participants were fascinated by King Arthur’s Hall. “They want to know why more is not known about it and will an archaeological excavation ever take place. But, I like the air of mystery. When I bring people here they always ask what it is. But I always ask people what they think, before suggesting possibilities and I don’t tell them immediately about the Arthurian name. Suggestions such as a swimming pool, sports arena, meeting place, place of judgement have come up.” Susan asked the dowsers if the two large stones in the middle of the West bank represented a ‘king’ and ‘queen’? They replied not, but that those stones were attracting energy, passing between them. When she asked the dowsers about the corners and the gaps between stones, they explained that they felt the North East corner was an important entry point, with a flow of people arriving from the Rough Tor direction.
Susan continued, “I read that the stones represent the back of the knight’s chairs, but of course we all know Arthur had a round table…and what if the name is significant? What if Arthur’s sword was offered to the spring, or found in the spring?” She also pointed out that she didn’t agree with the animal pound theory either! Bart explained about an energy flow that went around the site with the North South sides of the stones set in a regular pattern.
Peter Hartwell gets down to work
I asked if it was a ceremonial or ritual site. The response to this question was rather mixed, so they settled on it being for a more spiritual use. The other big puzzle here of course is the water that is always lying in the central area of the ‘pond’ whether it be winter or the height of summer. We have often wondered if the monument was purposely built over a rising spring and if so, was that the reason for its being? The reply was unanimous this time…it was! “Its reason for being was the spring which is still active.” replied Bart. “We noticed the behaviour of the two Labrador dogs (Susan’s Magic and Mystery)….they loved it, chasing each other over the energetic spring. It is toward the northern end…south is where the moss is and they didn’t go there.”
In some ways this supports what I was saying earlier, that you get your own ideas in your head and can easily overlook the obvious. Of course the dogs were tearing around like mad things, but only over the ‘wet’ end, the rest being totally ignored and I never considered that once even though I have always considered myself as being observant! On the other hand, like certain other breeds, Labradors are known for their love of water.
The boys walked over every inch of the site and it was fascinating to see how they went about their business. My knowledge of dowsing is very limited and I always assumed you had to walk over the area you were seeking things out to get a ‘reading’. This is not always the case as I noticed they often stood on a spot and ‘asked’ what lay ahead of them, not what was directly underfoot. Again, I always thought the rods reacted to ‘something’ underground as you passed over it, but it seemed to me that the rods reacted when a question was ‘asked’ in their heads, not audibly!
And boy oh boy didn’t the rods react as well. There didn’t seem to be any slow movements where the rods casually crossed over while you held your breath, they sort of snapped into place in an instant. Like a typical sceptic (which I’m not) I was watching their hands intently to see if the rods were given any ‘assistance’, but they weren’t. It was fascinating to watch and being inside the enclosure with the banks protecting us from any wind that was about, the possibility of wind moving the rods was kept to a minimum.
At the end of the day this is what the dowsers were able to reveal based on their findings:-
King Arthurs Hall, King Arthur’s Downs, Bodmin Moor (SX12967765). Visited 2nd November 2014.
This is a large rectangular enclosure at the top of a hill on a North-South alignment, with 56 flat slab stones on the inside of the banks still visible. The rectangular centre, due to a spring, is mostly wet with reeds and to the south it has rising sphagnum moss.
The view to the north-west is highlighted by Rough Tor and Brown Willy with the large Fernacre Stone circle beneath them. It was not an animal pound, neither would it ‘work’ as one. Sheep would suffer with foot rot and cattle would destroy the base, as would ponies after a short while. At least it’s safe to say that would be the assumption of a countryman.
It was not ‘a place for the dead’, i.e. a Neolithic graveyard. Neither was it ‘roofed’, or a ‘swimming pool’ or a ‘let’s eat and get drunk’ meeting hall. Its reason for being was the spring which is still active! We noticed the behaviour of the two Labrador dogs….they loved it, chasing each other over the energetic spring. The spring is more to the northern end, south is where the moss is, and they didn’t go there.
It was a happy, communal site. It was for families, not just the elders. ‘Meditation’, and ‘sanctuary’ came to mind. You would be ‘still’ and ‘safe’ here. A good spot is a good spot. Erected between 3,100-3,500 (earliest) BCE. (This depends on different dowsers and from which area they were doing the dating from). Nobody actually got 3,500 but 3,100-3200 BCE came up most. In active use for about 900 years, so, Neolithic to early Bronze Age.
Order of building. Scoop out the earth from the centre to form the banks would of course come first. Paving laid on southern end and you may have the bedrock floor on the north (there is a difference in the flora). The flat slab upright banking stones last. These stones were interesting in themselves, different heights, and where they were positioned. All were as dead as a gatepost, unlike stones in circles. Standing Menhirs all have ‘intention’ in them and energetically transmit at 7 levels. These didn’t, they are just flat brought-in moor stones. Possibly back-rests for sitting people? Well, it’s a thought. Why go beyond that? Largest for the elders, smallest for the children? Why not a simple explanation? If you were sitting there for a time, wouldn’t you like a back-rest? The clockwise energy of the site comes from the banking. People naturally walk around stone circles in a observable clockwise direction, i.e. following the sun. So do cattle feeding in a field. This was enhanced by the Megalithic builders, by using the stone`s magnetic North/South memory, and placing them N/S, N/S, N/S alongside each other. Much like a car “alternator”. You can tell when a restored circle has a stone wrongly placed back to front, because it breaks the rythym (e.g. Nine Maidens Circle on Penwith Moors, N/S, S/N, N/S…..it’s a break in the magnet field).
North side, the outside banking contained a number of later cremations (Iron Age?) only a few on the outer south side. The settlements the site serviced were to the North, and we have the North East corner as originally the main entrance.
We think that the area of low level water was never high, only ankle deep. Could have to do with sun and moon reflection and all of us got a strong September/October usage of the site. The Autumn equinox sunset acutely visible from there. The North/South alignment meant the Summer Solstice could be observed, sunrise, sunset from saddle ‘notches’ in the distant hills, plus the midday sun passing over the water, and we today now think they celebrated midday as well…..and what of the winter Solstice Moon, over that water?
The question was raised, was the site Ceremonial, Ritual, Religious, and/or Spiritual? Well, those words had different meanings to each us, so we settled for more Spiritual. And water was its reason for being. Also, a solstice/equinox observation site. Rather magical in its day.
The early Islamic scientists used to study the sun by observing it in water reflections…pools, ponds, oasis. Didn’t damage their eyes so much. What science did our ancients know that we have forgotten and are still forgetting? Water is also regularly used as a means of “Scrying” and “Divination”.
The Arthurian Connection, A comment worthy of passing on, although the site is much earlier than Arthur’s time (500 CE), that mirror of water and the seating, would have made a wonderful “Round Table”, and around that time, 530-540 CE, there was considerable Comet activity in the skies. Just a thought….a good site, is a good site.
Our Group will return to explore in the Spring of 2015 the sites to the south of KAH. Very strong energetic pull, if we had the time, that’s where we will go next. Not north, the Fernacre circle area, but south…..now isn’t that interesting!
It was a totally fascinating day out, and on behalf of the TimeSeekers group I would like to thank Bart and his own fellow group members for taking the time to journey up from West Cornwall and to share their personal views with us on this wonderful and mysterious site. We would certainly like to get together in the future and share and discuss our views once again. It may be that some readers may also like to know or learn more about dowsing, so why not contact Bart’s West Cornwall Dowsers group where I’m sure you would be made most welcome.
David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent for The Independent, reports on the discovery in Southern England of –
…what may be one of the largest medieval royal palaces ever found – buried under the ground inside a vast prehistoric fortress.
The probable 12th century palace was discovered by archaeologists, using geophysical ground-penetrating ‘x-ray’ technology to map a long-vanished medieval city which has lain under grass on the site for more than 700 years. Located inside the massive earthwork defences of an Iron Age hill fort at Old Sarum in Wiltshire, the medieval city was largely founded by William the Conqueror who made it the venue for one of Norman England’s most important political events – a gathering of the country’s nobility at which all England’s mainly Norman barons and lords swore loyalty to William.
Section of the ditch at Old Sarum
The Heritage Trust
A guest feature by Roy Goutté. Text and images © Roy Goutté
King Arthur’s Hall, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall
Many, many years ago, nobody really knows quite when, work began on constructing a banked ‘enclosure’ on the north-west corner of Bodmin Moor near St Breward, an area known for its collection of early stone circles, cairns, hut circles and settlements. The enclosure was eventually to become known as King Arthur’s Hall and the portion of moor it was located on, King Arthur’s Downs… but what was the exact purpose of this Scheduled Monument?
Many ideas have been put forward as to what its purpose was, including things as diverse as a Neolithic mortuary enclosure, a Medieval animal pound, a gathering place for ceremonial or ritualistic purposes or an ancient reservoir, but until it has been professionally excavated and dated in the quest for clues its use has to remain speculative as there is little or nothing to compare it with.
Basically, earth appears to have been extracted from a rectangular north to south orientated area 160ft x 66ft and banked up on the four sides of it, thereby forming a type of sub-level ‘tank’ with an 8ft ‘apron’ between that excavated area and the banks.
Removing the earth to form the banks from the centre of the structure strongly suggests that the sunken tanked appearance was a pre-requisite, otherwise the soil would surely have been either imported from elsewhere, or obtained from the immediate area surrounding the entire structure, thereby leaving a level surface internally. This lowered area must then surely be our first clue as to its possible use.
It then appeared that granite standing stones of varying heights and profiles were erected to the inner face of the banks on the apron in what appears to be a continuous pattern of stone-gap, stone-gap sequence until reaching what could have been an original entrance to the south-west corner.
However, I have now, due to a recent fortuitous discovery made by myself and a co worker as part of a team of clearance workers, re-named these standing stones the façade stones, as they stand immediately in front of what appears to be a revetment wall built to retain the inner bank that had never been recorded before as far as I can determine as it lay hidden within the banks. Due to time, and one assumes roaming cattle, sheep and ponies over the centuries clambering over the banks and those same banks being washed over the top of the revetment wall, the majority of what was once around 140 uprights, have now either fallen and lie buried beneath the ground surface, lying recumbent on the surface itself, or indeed still standing but angulated.
Discovering this revetment wall has made me rethink what the original sequence of build was and whether the upright standing stones were an original feature, or introduced later and if so, for what purpose?
The revetment wall lying behind the granite standing stones makes its presence known during a clearance of the eastern bank in 2013. A modest investigation in 2014 showed it continuing in at least a northerly direction with other stones beginning to protrude through the newly exposed bank
Prior to the revetment wall discovery, the former description is really all we knew about its possible method of build but nothing about its age and purpose, whilst others, myself included, believe it could be much older and possibly Bronze-Age or even Late Neolithic in keeping with many of the ancient remains over this moorland landscape such as the three ‘ceremonial’ stone circles of Stannon, Louden and Fernacre about a mile or so to the north, the twin stone circles on Emblance Down to the south-east and Leaze stone circle just beyond them about half a mile away from the Hall. To the immediate west and east are the settlements of Candra and Garrow. King Arthur’s Hall sits comfortably in the centre of this wonderful landscape overseen by both Roughtor and Brown Willy and it would be easy to believe that there just may be a shared connection between them all. I would seriously like to think that is indeed the case!
So what exactly could its purpose have been and why are there not more structures identical to this spread over the vast expanse of Bodmin Moor known historically for its roaming cattle, sheep and ponies if indeed it was just an animal pound as suggested in a study carried out by Cornwall Archaeological Unit (now Historic Environment Projects) in 1991:-
‘Although King Arthur’s Hall is actually on King Arthur’s Down in the Manor of Hamatethy, it features significantly in the landscape of the Manor of Blisland. The rectangular earthwork is considered to be originally an early medieval animal pound for the hundred of Trigg, later retained as a pound for both the manors of Hamatethy and Blisland’.
A ‘pound’ was where straying animals were impounded. Some probably date from the Bronze Age but most of them won’t be more than around 1400-1500 years old. When some of the early Cornish settlements were evolving into villages, many of the ancient Commons became literally just open fields. Although most of them were hedged the banks were often quite low and often in need of repair. As no-one in particular would have been responsible for their upkeep, other than collectively, they would, on occasion fail and stock escape. Livestock allowed to wonder and roam free on the Common land were often found straying on to someone’s private land so would have been driven into the local pound from which the owner could only retrieve them by paying a fine. About fifty of these pounds, or the remains of them, have been found in Cornwall although there would originally have been many more because every Parish had them, sometimes two or three. In fact Mawgen-in-Pydar is recorded as having four!
They weren’t always huge secure areas either as they varied according to the size of the parish and the likely amount of stock likely to be escapees. The pound at Stratton for instance only measured 20ft x 24ft and was still in use in 1826 when its 9ft high walls were rebuilt. The hedges around a pound had to be especially stock-proof in order to keep in livestock which had already strayed from home so were often built more as walls than hedges. Anyone who has sheep for instance will know that the first thing they do when introduced to a new field or paddock is look for a way to escape… and often do!
King Arthur’s Hall prior to its perimeter fencing being seriously erected. These sheep had no trouble getting in as well as out! Note the gap between the façade stones which would have allowed for an easy escape route at any stage in its history
There are too many differences I feel between King Arthur’s Hall and a typical pound in Medieval times on Bodmin’s various moors. Where is there another that has been built in the same manner and so grand? A level patch of scrubby land with a basic wall/hedge or timber stockade high enough to prevent an animal escaping was good enough without going to all the trouble of digging out a massive hole by hand, banking all the soil up around it and held back by a revetment wall that had to be built, then lining it with granite standing stones of varying heights, some only about 2ft high! Add the 2ft wide gap between most of them that an animal could walk over or through and it’s like being jailed in an open prison! It makes no sense at all.
Assuming the sub-level tanked area of King Arthur’s Hall was indeed an integral part of its usage and purpose which seems highly probable, then it would obviously have filled with water, either rising or from rainfall being the two natural ways. Now, was that water purposely retained until overflowing, or was it drained out automatically by a purpose made ditch or possibly a stone-lined gully to keep it dry or at least free of standing water if not a pre-requisite? There is an entrance-way to the south-west corner but that may be more recent and as it stands higher than the excavated base of the tank any drainage construct would have to be formed underground. This is an important point as it would help our understanding more of what possibly the Hall was used for. Obviously if the water was retained then it would certainly not have been built as an animal pound that’s for sure and if constantly damp would turn into a mud swamp if it was!
The depth of the excavated area seems to be variable but is now entirely silted up with sedge-type grass growing profusely to the outer perimeters of the tank and to around a quarter of its length to the southern end. It is this and the other vegetation/plant life that proliferates here that indicates to the trained eye that the excavated area to this southern end and to a lesser degree the northern end and all perimeters is shallower than the more central parts and this could be significant.
I have plumbed the depth as best I can with rods and have found the southern and northern ends to be two feet deep increasing to nearly three feet as you move further away from their perimeters. At the end of the sedge grassed areas the plant life changes and the depth increases and it gives an indication of being ‘stepped’ as the depth increases slowly. I was able to rod down to around 6ft toward the centre on one occasion but unable to reach the absolute centre as it became very bog like underfoot and dangerous as water is always present! I had to wonder if the base has been paved or actually taken down to bedrock as all my probing, with the exception of near the centre, was met with a solid feel to the heavily silted base. On another occasion when accompanied by a friend, we were only able to reach a depth of just over a metre when nearing the centre.
Without dating or a fully investigative excavation having taken place, the mind is allowed to go into a speculative mode and consider alternatives to an animal pound.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that it wasn’t used as a pound at some stage in its history, but too many things tell me that wasn’t its initial purpose, one being that there are no others like it on any of Bodmin’s collection of Moors and Downs which are famous for its wandering ponies and other livestock… in fact there is nothing like it anywhere in the UK! Why not if it’s just a pound?
I’ve always felt it was a gathering place, but for people (and maybe not all living ones), not animals, so the term ‘hall’ may not be far off the mark. The ‘tank’ is the sticking point because what would it have been used for other than containing water?
If what I’m saying is proven to be accurate, then it has a longish southern shallow end and sides with a deeper middle. What does that suggest to you in Neolithic or Bronze-Age terms… a pool where a possible ‘ritualistic’ or ‘ceremonial’ practise took place taking into account ancient man’s apparent reverence to water and the belief in the underworld and afterlife? Water rising out of the ground via a spring, a distinct possibility here as I have never once, neither in the height of summer or winter, not seen water in the centre section of the enclosure. This would have been seen as a very ‘holy’ place indeed if ever proven to be far earlier than Medieval times and purposely built directly over an active spring!
And why so complex for just a pound? Surely a stockade fence/wall erected on a level surface would have done the job in a fraction of the time and negated the need for this hand dug mammoth excavation! Aside from the excavation, the building of the revetment wall and the façade of standing stones that would have had to have been dragged over the moor from wherever they came from would have taken considerably more time? I can’t see it as much as I try. Even English Heritage’s own website, PastScapes, doubts it:-
‘There are no traces of associated linear banks or earthworks. The origins and purpose of the enclosure remains obscure but the effort required to both excavate or import material for a bank of such proportions and to erect the slabs suggests that it had a more important function than just an animal pound’.
More recently, after gaining permission to undertake a small remedial clearance excavation, a granite paved area was discovered by myself and two other Heritage Trust members when removing the turf from what was taken to be a fallen upright that was thought to have broken off from its base to the eastern bank. The ‘fallen upright’ although identified as such by probing, was actually paving with a raised centre-line and not a stone at all. It abutted the remains of the façade stone perfectly and gave the appearance of a possible buttress to it. If it was intended as a buttress, then it has succeeded, because the standing stone it abutted to is one of the only ones to have remained completely perpendicular! The paving itself was ‘proper paving’ inasmuch that it was around two/three inches thick, laid flat with no upturned corners and selected or cut to fit its allocated position perfectly.
Paving at the base of a façade stone to the eastern bank discovered in April 2014. As far as could be determined by probing, it continued throughout the whole immediate area
It is said that another small paved area was discovered in the north-west corner either on the apron leading up to the façade stones or indeed in the shallow area of the tank many years ago, but I don’t have, or know of, any official documentation for this claim. But why would you require paving for an animal pound? I can’t think of a reason, but can if it was for people to walk on or to cover something up!
While we were there a small incision was made above the assumed line of the newly discovered revetment wall in a northerly direction. I am happy to say that it did indeed continue and probing along the western bank at the same level also produced a positive result and at one point, stone was beginning to reveal itself naturally. We were more than a little surprised that this walling had not been detected before by more qualified people.
After removing the turf from above the line that the newly discovered revetment wall would have taken, it does indeed reveal itself running behind the façade stones
Walling/revetment stones revealed in the west bank
I am of the opinion that this entire site should be re-evaluated because I believe there is far more to it than currently understood as proven by the new findings. What else lies hidden here you have to ask? A section cut through a bank to confirm its construction and to determine the original land surface would be a good start, plus an excavation within the ‘tank’ to see what lies beneath… and of course a dating! At least that would really tell us what exactly we have and whether or not Cornwall has something really special and unusual on its hands… a distinct possibility… or just that Medieval animal pound all along!
Easily said, but how does one go about making it happen when there is likely to be no funding available and possibly not enough interest shown anyway. I firmly believe that this is a special place and hope that one day someone with more authority and knowledge than myself will finally get someone to listen!
Offa’s Dyke descending to the Clun Valley in South Shropshire. This is not the section that has been destroyed
Used with permission
Jim Saunders, the Offa’s Dyke Association
According to the Wikipedia entry, “Ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for “ignorance of the law does not excuse” or “ignorance of the law excuses no one”) is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because he or she was unaware of its content.” It’s puzzling, therefore, that The Daily Mail reports today that –
A traveller who destroyed a 1,200-year-old listed monument will not be prosecuted because he ‘didn’t know it was an important ancient site’. A section of the world famous Offa’s Dyke, which marks the boundary between England and Wales was completely bulldozed by a traveller known as Danny. The ancient listed earthwork on the Welsh border is a World Heritage site which sits alongside the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal in terms of importance.
See our earlier feature here
Reconstruction, by Ian Dennis, of the Whitehawk Camp causewayed enclosure in (circa) 3,600bce