This afternoon the weather blessed us with fine but not too hot so our guided walk was comfortable as well as interesting. The walk began at the village hall in Eaton Bishop where people were able to park their cars and gather together. Chris Atkinson, our community archaeologist met them and led them down to the village of Ruckhall, the edge of the hillfort, where they met up with us locals who had foregathered at the crossroads to wait for them. 43 people in all came on the walk, some from as far away as Solihull and Sussex.
Chris began by showing and telling us about the ramparts at the back of the hillfort; it appears it may well have been extended, increased in size; this was not uncommon in hillforts, they grew to accommodate their population’s needs. Much of the ramparts are in or the edges of, private gardens – obviously we cannot dig these up so the archaeologists must work from experience and conjecture but there is much evidence from other sites to help us.
We carried on around the back of the hillfort and down the green lane to the new steps leading up to the national Trust land. These are such a help and enable a circular walk around the hillfort. Inside, Chris pointed out the ramparts again from the other side, it made a lot of sense. He also explained how the old field system had been in mediaeval times, long strips probably of an acre each … an acre was as much as one horse and man could plough in a day. The attached picture of the Forrabury Stitches – an ancient field system owned by the National Trust, near Boscastle, and still run on the mediaeval lines – shows how it would have looked.
We had an extra member arrive at this point, a beautiful black cow just about to drop her calf and calling to us. We moved off as we felt we were right where she wanted to give birth … hope all goes well for her.
Chris led us on to the main, highest point of the hillfort. Here he explained more of how the archaeology had been done so far, drawing up detailed maps of every bump and hollow – painstakingly done by local volunteer members of the Eaton Camp Historical Society. Then there had been the first level of geophys which had highlighted some potentially interesting spots that might be the bases of roundhouses. Archaeophysica a locally based international company expert in this sort of thing, recently did a magnetronomy survey of all the National Trust land which has added more information. We intend to test it out in October when begin the actual digging.
Chris took us down to the banks that are the edge of the old orchards. These were laid down by much more recent quarrying for “road-stone”, the terraces being filled in later to provide the basis for the orchards. They must have been glorious to look at in the spring, a steep hillside covered in apple blossom; then in the autumn the trees all sparkling with rubies and garnets as the ripe apples hung waiting to be picked. There were a lot of cider apples but also some desert apples – it’s possible we may find some half-forgotten Hereford varieties, part of the conservation work maybe.
Chris speculated on what the promontory point at the end of the site might have been. It stands out almost into the wye, like the prow of a ship. You could certainly get a good view from there when the scrub is cleared. It stands at the confluence of the Cagebrook and the Wye, often such places had a religious significance for our ancestors. There have been mills on the Cagebrook for centuries and there are the ruins of an ancient quay where the brook joins the river. The Wye has been a high road for trade for millennia.
We came on down from the hillfort. One of the local residents had generously offered to host tea and cakes at her lovely house; we all foregathered there quickly as the sky opened and all the rain it had saved up came down in bath-loads! The land around was very grateful for the downpour, we were very grateful for the shelter of the porch, kitchen, tea coffee and homemade flapjacks, banana cake, almond slices and more.
It was an excellent afternoon. We’ll be doing more such things over the coming months including talks on the apple orchards, the old farming systems, the way the village has grown and changed over the centuries, and more on the archaeology of Eaton Camp hillfort. Keep a watch on the blog here and in the local papers for the next Eaton Camp Historical Society event.