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Maes Knoll to Stantonbury Hill
Living all my formative years within the charm and mysticism of Stantonbury Hill, its ancient hill fort and earth works, yearly crop circles and of course the Wansdyke, has left its mark on me.
My Dad, a staunch Somerset patriot, professed a desire to walk along part of the Wansdyke and discover first hand more about it and its location. After a long year abroad, missing home and a budding trainee archaeologist (when time away from work and family allows) I jumped at the chance to join him.
Undeterred by a thin mist of continual drizzle, armed with a trusty OS map and the seemingly infinite wisdom and knowledge of my Dad, dressed in his usual attire not dissimilar to a Somerset version of Indiana Jones, we set off! This part of the Wansdyke is not well preserved and shows itself intermittently on the OS map. Our aim was to walk and hopefully rediscover as much of the Wansdyke as possible.
Starting at Maes Knoll we climbed to the top to take in the views and start the walk properly by ascertaining where the Wansdyke started and walking along it from there.
We could see, quite clearly, the earth work present in a field a little way SSE of Maes Knoll . We tracked this across to where we stood at the top of Maes Knoll roughly where we thought it started. Our first obstacle was a big ancient hedge right over where we assumed the Wansdyke was. We walked along the hedge keeping an eye out for any evidence of the earth work and there certainly was a clear ditch all along the middle with a hedge growing either side of this.
Crossing over and through into the next fields we walked in the shadow of a huge impressive earthwork, one of the few places, this side of Bath, where the Wansdyke clearly remains preserved for all to wonder. An amazing sight to see and so early on in our walk, showing us what we were looking for and what an impressive sight this must have been 1500 years ago and the amount of man hours involved in its construction.
With Dad trail finding (again Indiana Jones style) fighting his way through torturous soaking wet bracken, we found the old Somerset & Dorset (Slow & Dirty) railway. An amazingly interesting site, although the lines have been removed there were still signs of the old railway, the occasional sleeper and boundary posts and I am sure with further investigation, buried deep in the bracken, a wealth of interesting artefacts waiting to be found!
We thought that may be the Wansdyke had provided the base for this part of the railway and as we considered this, walking a little further along where the old tracks were, we noticed, to our left, quietly following us, a large bank and ditch covered in trees, bracken and the like, could this be part of the Wansdyke or was this part truly obliterated by the railway?. It certainly falls perfectly to where the Wansdyke must have run.
The rain now easing, from the knees down soaking wet, it felt good to be having this amazing adventure in an area, right on the door step of my family home, an area I knew so very well but also knew so little! Incredible how the details of an area can so easily escape us.
The sun putting a spring in our step we crossed the A37 and back up a small lane parallel to the A37 to where the OS shows the Wansdyke again. It was a little difficult to find initially as we were taken off route by roads and private lands so had to swing back around. But there it was in its ancient grandeur alongside the house nestled strangely along side.
Walking steadily along the squelching public footpath to Publow Hill we ventured into the much talked about territory of the missing Wansdyke. We kept our eyes peeled hoping for some glimpse or indication, perhaps showing itself after the downpour, half an eye always on the map discussing the possibilities of where, how and why. Needless to say our efforts were fruitless. We took a short break at the top of Publow Hill, looked back from where hence we came. We looked around at the earthworks here.
Was this really a heavily forested area? What was the usage and ages of the habitation here? Who were they? Did the Wansdyke make it up here?
Tracing a line with my finger across the OS map it was easy to imagine the earthwork stretching across this relatively short distance. Perhaps the earthworks at Publow Hill were an integral part to the Wansdyke. May be they took another form due to environment restrictions, may be they were smaller so deteriorated quicker......... Ok so maybe my imagination is running away with me. What do I know with my limited knowledge of archaeology and earthworks of this type! NOT MUCH!!!! But this gap just doesnt make sense to me! We dont really know enough about this amazing historical monument; was it a boundary or defensive, who built it, was it built at the same time or in stages over a period of ages......... the questions go on and on.
Whatever the answers, to me it doesnt make logical sense to leave out an important section. So what are the alternatives?!
Stomping down now on less saturated ground we head into Woollard, a village once inhabited by generations of my Dads family and our scheduled lunch stop. I wonder if some distant relative at Woollard helped built the Wansdyke....may be not so ridiculous, they proved one of the inhabitants of Cheddar was a direct descendant of the Cheddar cave man, 9000 years earlier!
Sitting on the bench at the new Woollard bridge I listened to another recounting of Woollard family history and of course the dramatic July 1968 floods, of which incidentally my Great Great Aunt May the oldest surviving village resident at the time and now long since gone, unveiled the new bridge. Our leisurely intake of refreshments and the ensuing sugar rush gave way to more Wansdyke talk..... are these strange mounds slightly north of the river heading up to into the woods earthworks, could they be? And if so could they be part of the missing Wansdyke......where are the Time Team when you need them!!!!
We reached the top of the hill in beautiful sunshine looking out over breathing taking scenery and glimpses of Stantonbury Hill, our ultimate destination. Coming down through Pepper Shell woods it is easy to become lost in another world and the mystical beauty takes over the senses. Coming back to the real world, alongside the meandering river Chew, we were immediately welcomed by the fresh certain site of our ancient friend the Wansdyke.
I thought back to how many times I have driven or walked past this huge monument now impossible for me to ignore.
The Wansdyke remains clear
My Dad taught me so much along the way, opening my eyes to an area I thought I already knew. It has left us both with a great appreciation for the Wansdyke and its endurance to time and has left us with more questions than when we started. May be we didnt walk along the whole path, may be some of our assumptions were wrong, may be we will never know the full extent, the path and the reasons to where and why the Wansdyke was built. For me the day was a perfect one, one of a rediscovery of a stunning area of the country steeped in layer upon layer of history.
Copyright © 2007, Lisa Newton-Goverd. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: Lisa Newton-Goverd
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