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Wansdyke visits
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Tuesday 30 July 1996
Robert Vermaat

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A Visit to Wansdyke - Maes Knoll

Our little car, 1996Garden of Jeffrey's Mill, 1996After 1989, 1992 and 1994, this was my fourth visit to Wansdyke. Actually, the first two did hardly count for anything, as you can read for yourselves. But then, two years ago I had vowed to come back and re-shoot my sadly failed pictures (though the scanner salvaged a little bit). This year I had read everything scientific that had been published - archaeology, survey, landscape, history - all about the Dyke. For this reason I had planned to see West Wansdyke as well.

Robert and dr. Russell Rhys, Caerleon 1996The holidays had started out pleasant enough with a week near Worcester, from where we visited 'Shakespeare-City' (commonly known as Stratford-on-Avon) in blistering heat. We made some trips to Hereford and Worcester, but also to Wales and the 'City of the Legions' (Caerleon), where at the 'FWRRWM' (yes, that means Forum in Welsh, meaning here the local Arts & Crafts shop) the famous dr. Russell Rhys (click here to enlarge) severely tempted me to take a seat in a 'Goblin's throne'! Thanks, but no thanks, I'd rather stick to Arthurian matter and other stuff one can be sure about.. If you're interested in all the Roman stuff there, I'm preparing another site about those, sorry.

Arthur's Grave, Glastonbury AbbeyNo fun - Philippine in Glastonbury, 1996We were now in our second week of the holidays, staying just north of the somewhat depressed town of Frome, where we had lodgings in an old watermill ('Jeffrey's Mill') with a beautiful garden along the river Frome. Speaking of spirits, we had visited Glastonbury the day before in beautiful weather, though we were struck by the economic changes in the area. Where there had been few shops apart from the ever present alternative ones,we found these had been driven from the High street in favor of the more financially capable sects (Maytrea might not be an omnipresent god/prophet, he/she/it does have very big investors!). But we were not in such high spirits (no pun intended) anyway, because of Philippine's severe morning sickness (click here to enlarge). Expecting a baby can be very exciting, but there tend to be at least some setbacks. One A grand day out - Robert near West Wansdyke, 1996of these is an absolute lack of appetite, which leaves you without energy or the ability to enjoy the holiday... Anyway, the town was still very pleasant in this our third visit, which means that whenever we're in the area, I guess a fourth visit is in the cards..

That morning we set out across the back roads north of Frome to Radstock. The road took us to the southern outskirts of the City of Bristol, over which towers the ancient hillfort of Maes Knoll (197m). This iron Age fort was refurbished in the later Roman period, after which it became the most western point of Wansdyke.

The top of Maes Knoll, with aircraft overhead.
Lying on the top of maes Knoll, an aircraft buzzes overhead on its way to Bristol

 

Butterfly near Maes Knoll, 1996We parked the car along Norton Lane, after which I took the small, steep track to the summit. Wansdyke crosses Norton Lane below the fort, and can be seen crossing the next two fields in the direction of Publow Hill, where it vanishes.

The Dyke is far less impressive here than the Wiltshire or East Wansdyke section. The main reason for this difference is not a different building scheme (as

has been suggested), but a different type of soil, which is much more fertile than the chalky Downs to the east. As a result, Wansdyke has unfortunately been ploughed down along large stretches, and is sometimes downright invisible as a result. This becomes much clearer when you climb Maes Knoll itself.

Maes Knoll hillfort, 1996The path up Maes Knoll is difficult, and I must warn you of barbed wire and agressive deer, but on reaching the top, the track simply vanishes in the grass and you'll have to fend for yourselves. I must advise anyone to not needlessly aggravate the landowner and keep to the side of the fort, even if that means you'll have to make quite a detour. The views from Maes Knoll are a reason in itself to attempt a visit. You'd best start at the large blocking wall, also known as Maes Knoll Tump, on the northwestern corner of the hillfort. This is considered to have been the real end of Wansdyke, blocking any access from the west. The views here are spectacular; the Avon valley to the north, Bath to the east, the Mendips south and maybe Bristol Channel west of you. Small wonder why the builders of Wansdyke chose this hillfort as their main aligning point.

The Tumb and views to south and west
click here for enlargement

In this spread, you can see the Mendips and the Chew valley lakes to the south, while the ridge plateau of Dundry Hill is to the west. The sprawl of modern Bristol dominates the view north.

Though the northern slope is overgrown with trees, it is quite clear how the old wall was exchanged for a new one, that was in turn connected with the Dyke at a certain point.

Yonder lyeth Bristol Town - the north face of Maes Knoll, 1996

There are still some stones to be found, not belonging to Wansdyke but to the Iron Age wall. Unfortunately, Wansdyke is much too overgrown to examine properly. It remains unclear if Wansdyke really used the Tump and the north banks, or that it started on the east slope, not using but only touching the defences. I found some stones on the north-eastern shoulder, but I couldn't say if these belonged to the ancient circuit or more modern activities.

Click for enlargement
click here for enlargement

In the above spread, you can see this corner being cut-off, the original defences running along the hedgerow.

Either these defences were changed during the Iron Age, or maybe they were only upgraded during sub-Roman times, at which time Wansdyke was constructed as well. The point of junction between Wansdyke and Maes Knoll is right below the rampart (see map left), where the ditch (with no longer a bank attached) peters out.

Wansdyke follows the hedgerow across the left.
for enlargement, click here

In this spread, you see the original defences following the hedgerow, but Wansdyke starts to the right, where the fence ends and the shrub begins.

Wansdyke due east of the Whitchurch - Norton Malreward road
click here for enlargement

In this spread, you can see that Wansdyke due east of the Whitchurch - Norton Malreward road, following the hedgerow to the little wood in the middle distance, where it is crossed by the former railroad. In the left corner lies Publow Hill.

Stanton Drew megalithic Stone Circles, 1996When you visit Maes Knoll, you really should visit Stanton Drew as well. This ancient monument might not be as impressive as Stonehenge or Avebury, it is larger than the latter and consists of more than three circles! And not unimportantly, you won't find the massive crowds that the others are associated with. The peace and quiet makes this monument, which you can actually see from the summit of Maes Knoll, well worth visiting. The cicles can be accessed from a small car-park, which is well-signposted in the north of the village (click here to enlarge). The circles are not very well-defined, so you'll need a map to determine if you're actuall in the Great Circle, or the NE or the SW smaller circles which adjoin it. The stones are of a reddish-brown colour, which seems quite odd at first.

The Great Circle and stones of the N.E. Circle of Stanton Drew
click here for enlargement
In this spread, you can see the view to the north of the Neolithic (2500-2000 BC) Megalithic Stone Circles of Stanton Drew. Maes Knoll is left on the horizon.

Stanton Drew, the Cove near the pub, 1996And of course I really should mention the local pub (the 'Druids' Arms), where you can easily visit another part of this great 'Henge'. This is the 'Cove' (click here to enlarge), which you'll find by starting back to the village and following the road south, until you see the pub. The monument, consisting of three stones, is right in the picknick-area! Also, you'll find good food and drink there, not unimportant on a day's outing!

And while you're there, don't forget to support the local farmers: order a nice lump of British beef! (Of course, you might be a vegetarian..) No, I'm not British, actually (Dutch and proud of it Dutch and proud of it!), but we all want to preserve the British countryside and its Support British Beef!working inhabitants, don't we? (Click here to enlarge)

Enough with politics. We went home after a good meal and on to Oxford, and of course the final visit to East Wansdyke in Wiltshire.


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