Saturday 21st August 2010

Cadbury Congresbury and

Bickley Wood - Guided Walk

The final event of the summer Programme for 2010 was a guided walk over the hillfort at Cadbury Congresbury. Our expert guide was the North Somerset Archaeologist Vince Russett.

We set off from the car park of The Star Inn and were soon at the entrance to the site. Vince explained to us how the site sits within two modern parishes: Congresbury and Yatton, though it was doubtless all one estate at one time.

The name Cadbury means something like "The fortification of Cadda", one of several hillforts with that name, Cadbury Tickenham and South Cadbury, being the two best known local examples.

The Hill is jointly managed by YCCCART (Yatton, Congresbury, Claverham and Cleeve Archaeological Research Team) and YACWAG (Yatton and Congresbury Wildlife Action Group), the aim being to gradually remove the scrub and to allow the regeneration of calcareous grassland, a habitat type that develops on thin, grazed limestone soils. The benefit for the archaeology is that hidden features are now becoming better defined and damaging tree roots are kept at bay.

The Congresbury Tithe Map (c.1840) shows the hill as being all open grassland, though interestingly the slopes located in Yatton were maintained woodland, evidenced by the presence of the wood anemone which grows only on the Yatton side of the boundary.

The hillfort probably originated in the period between 700 and 500 BC, though the site has gained renown for the evidence it has yielded about later periods.

The clearance work has begun to reveal clearly defined banks and ditches around the north and east sides of the hill, the steeper south side. We walked along one of the cleared ditches, trying to imagine the ditch deeper and the banks higher.

Vince suggested that the hillfort had, like many others around the country, probably been abandoned during the Roman era.

The hill was reoccupied in the 5th century, when the hill was divided in two, a new bank was built and two guardhouses installed. A major hall was built as evidenced by two huge post holes. It is this period of Post-Roman re-occupation that has occasioned much of the recent interest in Cadbury Congresbury. Evidence for continued contact with the Mediterranean comes in the form of pottery imported from Anatolia, North Africa and Spain. The suggestion is that a form of Roman life-style, perhaps with Roman Law and other civil institutions persisted until the mid 6th century. The end may well have been brought about by the well-recorded events of 540 when a series of very bad summers coinciding with a major plague pandemic caused widespread hardship throughout Europe.

With the arrival of the English, believed to have been around 660, following the supposed Battle of Penselwood in 658, any remaining occupation of the hill would have been discouraged and new centres of administration and Christian worship established on the plain below, i.e. the site of modern Congresbury.

The morning's walk concluded with a visit to the nearby site of the Henley Wood temple. Nothing now remains as the archaeology was totally destroyed by quarrying, which itself has been almost entirely back-filled. All that remains is a splendid view over the North Somerset Levels and the opportunity to walk under the site of a former Romano-British temple.

Grateful for the opportunity to park so conveniently for our visit we repaired to the Star for a welcome lunch.

Bickley Wood

In the afternoon a bonus was on offer in the form of a visit to Bickley Wood, a private site, which is not open to the general public. This was eagerly taken up by those who were able.

Just over the road from the Star lies Kings Wood, of which Bickley Wood is a part. We found ourselves in a completely different environment of gloomy ash and lime woodland. At one time, though, it had been a much busier setting with evidence of quarrying and mining at every turn. But we were there to explore some rather different features. These were the puzzling pen-annular or YCCCART type enclosures, which have recently been recognised and described by Vince and the YCCCART team. They are not properly understood and, intriguingly, do not seem to have been described elsewhere. Basically they are stone-built enclosures with walls having two dry-stone faces and rubble infill. So far no dating evidence has been found, although they must be quite old, as in one of the examples that we viewed the parish boundary between Cleeve and Congresbury respects the structure. They appear to come in three fairly standard sizes of , , and 1 hectares, and so far nineteen of them have been identified across Broadfield Down. Some appear to have a hut circle inside. The current working hypothesis is that they had some function related to the herding of sheep. But until some thorough excavation can be undertaken, the date and purpose of these features is likely to remain a mystery.

Our thanks go to Vince for his inspiring exposition of both sites, and to the owner of Bickley Wood for allowing us access on this occasion.

To learn more about the Hillfort, a visit to YCCCART's website is recommended. Please follow link below.

Peter Johnson