Bronze Age

Lewesdon Hill

In a single day, winter had turned to spring. Monochrome and sepia were now rimmed with green, and the verges studded with spring flowers. We were walking, or rather, meandering up Lewesdon Hill in West Dorset – 279 metres high.

The fabric of this ancient hill is woven with tree roots of enormous trees, mostly beeches. These roots are exposed across the path, forming an organic staircase up towards the sky. Through the bare branches we catch glimpses of the landscape below. To the North, the distinctive shape of Gerrards Hill, crowned with a clump of trees. To the south the sculpted form of Golden Cap on the coast. The blue of the sky seems to have leached into the air, casting a azure haze over the distant hills so everything appears slightly unreal and two-dimensional.

The trees lean inwards, their soft mossy sides and contorted shapes reminiscent of mythical creatures. It seems natural to touch the trunks and climb the gentle curves of the branches. On the lower slopes violets, primroses and celandines were pristine in the bright light. The occasional Yellow Brimstone jinked by like a scrap of sun, but as we moved in among the trees, the ground crunched underfooot with a granola of beechnut husks.

Among the moss on a log, the glossy black of a bloody-nosed beetle scurrying for cover. It disappeared into the leaf litter. Tree roots fan out across the path, threatening to trip us. In places the root ball of a fallen tree towers over us like a ruined building, beams and arches broken and stark against the sky.

Finally at the summit of the hill, a smooth grassy plateau draped the hill surrounded by pines. This is the site of an ancient Iron Age fort, but was probably inhabited in the Bronze Age. Worked flints have been discovered here. An aura of peace and stillness prevails and, as I walk over the springy grass, I can’t help thinking of those people who dwelt here high among the clouds until just after the Roman conquest. Their lives had left memories here in the contours of the hill.

As we descend we find a huge fallen beech covered in carvings of names, dates, messages. Even now, people feel compelled to leave traces of their lives for others to decipher . . .

Eggardon Hill

I took the old narrow road to Eggardon Hill – ‘The Roman Road runs straight and bare/ As the pale parting-line in hair’ (Thomas Hardy). The hedges either side were stark against the pale December sky, a few leaves still clinging to the bare whips despite the gales. Dog wood and coppery beech leaves added touches of colour to the otherwise monochrome landscape. A buzzard flew up in front of me like a shape cut from the hedgerow.

Eggardon Hill in West Dorset is the site of a prehistoric hill fort. A dramatic chalk escarpment bears the remains of an Iron Age settlement. Bronze Age tumuli top the skyline and the whole area has an ancient atmosphere. I have known it since childhood, but found out later that, in the Middle Ages, a gallows was sited in the centre of the hill fort. There are traces of henges and ring barrows which pock-mark the hillsides when the winter sun is low in the sky.

I took the single-track lane west where strange happenings have been reported over the years. I remember in the early 1970’s hearing about a strange blue light sighted here, and of cars’ engines stalling suddenly. It is said that raised voices have been heard here – perhaps the sounds of a battle from long ago.

The track-way is raised like a causeway above the fields either side and, several years ago, I was driving along it in thick fog at twilight. The mist swirled around me like a sea and it was quite difficult to stay on the track. I stopped at the cross roads at the end and suddenly two white deer appeared in the middle of the road. They hesitated for a moment as if on the cusp of the real world and the underworld before disappearing back into the mist.