Jon Appleton

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The Danebury Ring

Landscape calender…

Danebury Ring is an Iron Age Camp on a hilltop (323377) which lies to the southwest of Andover in Hampshire, at a latitude of 51degrees 8 minutes, between the Stockbridge and Salisbury roads.
Use this Google map to explore West Kennet long barrow.
It is well worth a visit to enjoy both the extensive views over the Hampshire landscape and the atmosphere created by the still impressive banks of chalk that were thrown up to build defensive walls for the community that used this site over 2000 years ago. The paths that once led from the great entrance at the eastern end of the camp can still be trodden and, in the minds eye, the people, houses, huts and the “temple” that stood on the crest of the hill seem more ancient.
Four thousand years ago, instead of the army helicopters that now buzz and roar overhead, larks filled the air with song above the flocks of sheep kept by the pastoralists and farmers of the chalk uplands. They were kinsfolk of the builders of Stonehenge and Avebury and may even have gone over to help them haul the huge Sarsen stones down from the hills beyond Marlborough, when those magnificent “temples” were being erected. People of this time also built the barrows, tumuli and banks, not to mention Silbury Hill, which have fascinated so many generations since. Here, with Wiltshire, Berkshire and Sussex in sight, evidence of these early ancestors is still visible, scattered over the hills and recorded on our invaluable Ordnance Survey maps.
The Beltane/Lammas line runs up to Bulford Down, just South of Beacon Hill, where there are a pair of aligned tumuli (192445). Back down the line towards Danebury are two more. One North of Quarley DownFarm and the other at Palestine near Grately. Seen from Danebury the midsummer sun sets over the terraced slopes of Quarley Hill and actually reaches the horizon on the edge of the southernmost wood on Snoddington Hill at (264443). This is where the ancient earthwork that winds its way across the fields up from Quarley Hill ends. On this spot there are the last traces of a dew pond and a mound. Mysterious Place Last but not least in this circuit of the horizon is the most Northerly moonset position. This is at Sidbury Hill (216506) northwest of Tidworth. Despite being ion the middle of a military training area and surrounded by tank tracks this is another mysterious place full of atmosphere. This time uplifting and romantic. It is beautifully situated with wide open views out to the west over Salisbury Plain.
Click the audio play button above to hear what Jon wants you to do…

Jon Appleton

Megalithic Insights               						Jon Appleton
It has been excavated in the last few years under the supervision of Professor Barry Cunliffe and, as a result, been the subject of television programmes and now also provides the central theme of the Iron Age exhibits at the museum in Andover. It stands in splendid isolation, rising in the middle of a wide bowl of agricultural landscape surrounded by chalk downland which creates a raised horizon between 5 and 20 miles distant.
But, as a site, Danebury is much more ancient than the Iron Age, which lasted for about 500 years prior to the Roman invasions of Britain. Earlier it had been an important place for the “first farmers” of the Neolithic (new stone) era and the Megalithic “Bronze Age” people. The tumulus (327377), now bearing an Ordnance Survey trig point, outside the eastern gateway to the fort dates from this period. Down in the valley to the north of Danebury are the remains of three long barrows from the Neolithic era. They are more than twice the age of the Celtic Iron Age hill fort. All around, the surrounding landscape is full of traces of occupation from the earliest times. Mounds and tumuli abound on the hills in all directions.
On an evening in early May, twenty years ago, I stood on the tumulus, with its trig point, just outside the gateway into Danebury camp and was entranced by the beauty of the whole sweep of green and gentle landscape around me. The still, warm air was filled with the sound of sheep and lambs calling to each other and the slanting light of the sun, as it set in the northwest, picked out all the mounds and hollows in the fields below. Among those mounds were three Neolithic long barrows, the earliest of the ceremonial structures left by the people who lived in fixed settlements here on the eastern edge of Salisbury plain. Much reduced by ploughing, they lie within a few hundred yards of the tumulus upon which I was standing. I had come up here once again to pursue the line of investigation which had been sparked off by my first visit a year earlier. On that occasion I had picked up the little leaflet issued by the Hampshire County Council which mentioned that excavation had revealed some post holes, big enough to take three foot wide tree trunks, which had been found just to the NW of the tumulus. They had ritual deposits of animal bones at the bottom of the pits. I wondered what they could have been for and thought that any three foot wide post would have been quite tall and therefore visible from a long distance away. I was also immediately reminded of the post holes discovered in the car park at Stonehenge which had formed footings for tall wooden indicators for solar and lunar settings viewed from the henge. Perhaps the people here at Danebury, lacking access to large stones, had also used wooden posts to make astronomical markers. So, with my mind alerted to the possibility that the site at Danebury, with its ridge top tumulus, might be part of a setting with astronomical and calendrical alignments I considered the situation. Earlier experience of mine with something similar in Pembrokeshire had given some clues to what might be found. (See the piece on Stonehenge “0” elsewhere on this website.) I started to look at the mounds around and their relation to the points on the horizon where the sun rose or set on various significant dates in the year. The more I looked the more interesting and exciting I found it. Long Investigation I had started a long investigation, which is still not fully complete, but which I now want to share, so that some of the destruction of these important and fascinating ancient sites can be halted. In recent years more and more grassland has been ploughed and many of the mounds that have lasted four or five thousand years are being eroded and lost in a decade. In the space of a short presentation such as this it is not possible to set out in as much detail as I would like all the elements of the work, on the large piece of landscape that I have examined, but I can give a sufficient outline of the essential aspects to identify the significant sites and alignments.
Sun and Moon First of all one needs to know the days which were regarded, and indeed still are, as significant. They are the Solstices, midsummer and midwinter; the Equinoxes March 21 and September 21 (equal day and night). These divide the year into four parts. Then the traditional cross quarter days which subdivide the preceding quarters into eighths: they are Candlemas /Imbolc February 2, May Day/ Beltane May 2-5, Lammas/Lughnassadh August 2-8 and Halloween/Samhain November 2. It also appears that the positions of the most northerly and southerly moonrise/set were indicated. The bearings of these solar and lunar risings and settings are given in figure 2 and shown on the sketch map figure 1. The precision of the alignments can be appreciated better on large scale maps such as the 1:25,000 O.S series. Even more satisfying, however, is the experience of actually seeing the sun perform “before your very eyes” when you stand in the light of the dawn watching the warm glow in the sky turn bright and be pierced by the sharp flash of the first light as the solar orb clears the horizon at the appointed spot. Alignments The first thing I noted when I looked at the landscape was that the three long barrows close to Danebury all lay on significant alignments. The one to the N.E. (335381) was on the May 5th/ August 8th sunrise line. In Celtic times these were the festivals of Beltane and Lammas and had clearly been important for millennia before that. This line is also extremely interesting because, when extended to the horizon, it crosses Abra barrow (503473) which lies 13 miles away near Overton. On the way there it passes over two tumuli, marked by the OS (350390), north of Charity Down farm and also an interesting mound (358395) on the ridge along which the road from Longstock to Goodworth Clatford runs. This mound, which is on an intermediate horizon from Danebury, lies in the hedge and has been cut away on oneside by the road and on the other by the ploughing in the field. It remains as a narrow slice of its original form. I suspect there may be others across the country “lost” in a similar way because the mounds formed a natural mark through which to run hedges and boundaries. Abra Barrow, out on the distant horizon, is interesting too because it is not on the top of the hill, as one might expect, but down on a saddle of land to the south. It looks as if the deciceive factor in its placement was the need to have it on the horizon as a marker for the Beltane/Lammas sunrise line from Danebury. There are therefore six, probably contemporary, ancient mounds in a line pointing to sunrise on a significant date. There are no other similarly placed mounds in the area. On any reckoning that’s an extremely interesting alignment and hard to dismiss as coincidental.
While looking to the N.E. it’s worth checking the midsummer sunrise line. The one that gets so much attention at Stonehenge. What lies on the horizon in that direction? The answer is the village of Hannington (359555), with its churchyard in a raised enclosure and pond in an oval banked ring, the whole place surrounded by a low bank. Looking back down the line towards Danebury one finds, within a couple of miles, a tumulus, a long barrow (507528) and then another tumulus. Looking a bit further round to the N.E. is the line for the most northerly moonrise which occurs every 18.6 years. This line crosses the horizon on Watership Down where, not so surprisingly now, we find a pair of tumuli on the crest of the hill. Back down this line to Danebury is a large tumulus (463528) and a “dewpond” at Angledown. The Moon Comes Close Just for variety we can check the S.E. horizon where the winter sunrises and the low moonrises occur. Here stands Farley mount an enormous ancient barrow (404290), now a folly, which marks the position where the moon on its lowest passage across the sky when it seems closest to the Earth, rises. This mound marks the place on the horizon where the moon rises at its most southerly swing, which is interestingly some way past the sun’s extreme position. The moon also does its sweep across the skyline each month instead of the stately annual march from the North at midsummer to the South at midwinter made by the sun. In 1987 I was able to observe the lunar risings over both Farley Mount and Watership Down. The folly on Farley Mount was erected as a monument to a horse called “Beware Chalk Pits” and consists of a small building erected in the 18th century by the horse’s owner who had survived a fall into a chalkpit on the horse which, the following year, won a race at Stockbridge racecourse within sight of the mound and hillfort at Danebury. The midwinter sunrise line leads to another tumulus (425296) on the horizon in Crab Wood by the Roman road in the Farley Mount Country Park. Further north the line for the Imbolc/Samhain sunrise produces another surprise.
It goes out past the Beacon, a hilltop close to Danebury, over Stockbridge Down with its tumuli and earthworks, over Winchester and Telegraph Hill, over Warnford and King John’s House and finally up to the long barrow (672201) on Salt Hill south of East Meon. This is the longest line of all and because Salt Hill is 230 metres high it is just intervisible with Danebury. It would seem that the system extended over a very wide area and must have involved intertribal cooperation. The equinoctial sunrise line to the East does not have a very clear indicator on it, although there are some suggestive points at the trig point at Bugmore Hill near Godsfield Copse and the tumulus north of Medstead (653377). Towards the West and the setting points Turning now to the western side of the “Landscape Calendar” we can look first at the most southerly moonset. This point is marked by a beautiful and, once again large, mound (290330) called the Turret on Whiteshoot Hill near Broughton, now tragically being steadily reduced by ploughing. The midwinter sunset line is also marked by a large mound (258330) being sacrificed to the crops of wheat which have replaced the ubiquitous sheep which used to crop the short grass of all the uplands of Hampshire. This is just to the north of the intriguingly named “Khyber Pass” at the N.W. end of Broughton Down. The Imbolc/Samhain line seems to run to the “Settlement” (260349) in Ashleys Copse. This is a mysterious and, to me, slightly sinister enclosure, the banks of which are made with rounded pebbles which seem out of place in country of chalk and flint. It’s set in a wood which, on the afternoon I visited it, was humid and clammy with an atmosphere of secrecy and isolation. On the equinox line to the East there is a tumulus on the Northern slope of Suddern Hill (266378). This is no longer accessible because it is behind the fences erected by the Ministry of Defence when they enclosed and sealed off Porton Down. In fact even trying to see the mound with binoculars led to me being chased off by some heavies in a car that made an immediate appearance when I stopped.
When I was last there the sky toward the sunset was breathtakingly filled with high cirrus cloud set in a translucent backdrop of rose and violet. At the centre of the “camp” in a wood on the hill is a very deep pit which seems to be the source of the same “beach pebbles” that are found at the “settlement” in Ashley’s Wood on the Imbolc/Samhain line and also, in smaller amounts, on Snoddington Hill. In May nightingales sang in the wood on Sidbury Hill and it’s nice to remember that they also sang at Beltane for our predecessors more than four thousand years ago who left us this legacy. We have not yet fully understood it or completely investgated and recorded it. But we are in danger of destroying many of the fragile traces of it forever.
I have only been able to touch briefly on the evidence for this extraordinary and perhaps unique “Landscape Calendar” and there are many more significant points in the broad spread of beautiful country round Danebury that I haven’t included. I know that I shall be drawn out again and again to investigate and discover new enchanting spots as I try to gain a complete understanding of this wonderful piece of ancient geometry drawn across the land and tied to the eternal movement of the sun and moon across the sky. Eventually, when I have a fuller picture I hope to publish a book describing all its intricacies and beauty.
If you’d like to explore the country around Danebury click on the google map below

Jon Appleton

Continue
Click the audio play button above to hear Jon talk about his Danebury Ring discoveries. .
Back

The Danebury

Ring

Landscape calender…

Danebury Ring is an Iron Age Camp on a hilltop (323377) which lies to the southwest of Andover in Hampshire, at a latitude of 51degrees 8 minutes, between the Stockbridge and Salisbury roads.
It has been excavated in the last few years under the supervision of Professor Barry Cunliffe and, as a result, been the subject of television programmes and now also provides the central theme of the Iron Age exhibits at the museum in Andover. It stands in splendid isolation, rising in the middle of a wide bowl of agricultural landscape surrounded by chalk downland which creates a raised horizon between 5 and 20 miles distant. It is well worth a visit to enjoy both the extensive views over the Hampshire landscape and the atmosphere created by the still impressive banks of chalk that were thrown up to build defensive walls for the community that used this site over 2000 years ago. The paths that once led from the great entrance at the eastern end of the camp can still be trodden and, in the minds eye, the people, houses, huts and the “temple” that stood on the crest of the hill seem more ancient.
But, as a site, Danebury is much more ancient than the Iron Age, which lasted for about 500 years prior to the Roman invasions of Britain. Earlier it had been an important place for the “first farmers” of the Neolithic (new stone) era and the Megalithic “Bronze Age” people. The tumulus (327377), now bearing an Ordnance Survey trig point, outside the eastern gateway to the fort dates from this period. Down in the valley to the north of Danebury are the remains of three long barrows from the Neolithic era. They are more than twice the age of the Celtic Iron Age hill fort. All around, the surrounding landscape is full of traces of occupation from the earliest times. Mounds and tumuli abound on the hills in all directions. Four thousand years ago, instead of the army helicopters that now buzz and roar overhead, larks filled the air with song above the flocks of sheep kept by the pastoralists and farmers of the chalk uplands. They were kinsfolk of the builders of Stonehenge and Avebury and may even have gone over to help them haul the huge Sarsen stones down from the hills beyond Marlborough, when those magnificent “temples” were being erected. People of this time also built the barrows, tumuli and banks, not to mention Silbury Hill, which have fascinated so many generations since. Here, with Wiltshire, Berkshire and Sussex in sight, evidence of these early ancestors is still visible, scattered over the hills and recorded on our invaluable Ordnance Survey maps.
On an evening in early May, twenty years ago, I stood on the tumulus, with its trig point, just outside the gateway into Danebury camp and was entranced by the beauty of the whole sweep of green and gentle landscape around me. The still, warm air was filled with the sound of sheep and lambs calling to each other and the slanting light of the sun, as it set in the northwest, picked out all the mounds and hollows in the fields below. Among those mounds were three Neolithic long barrows, the earliest of the ceremonial structures left by the people who lived in fixed settlements here on the eastern edge of Salisbury plain. Much reduced by ploughing, they lie within a few hundred yards of the tumulus upon which I was standing. I had come up here once again to pursue the line of investigation which had been sparked off by my first visit a year earlier. On that occasion I had picked up the little leaflet issued by the Hampshire County Council which mentioned that excavation had revealed some post holes, big enough to take three foot wide tree trunks, which had been found just to the NW of the tumulus. They had ritual deposits of animal bones at the bottom of the pits. I wondered what they could have been for and thought that any three foot wide post would have been quite tall and therefore visible from a long distance away. I was also immediately reminded of the post holes discovered in the car park at Stonehenge which had formed footings for tall wooden indicators for solar and lunar settings viewed from the henge. Perhaps the people here at Danebury, lacking access to large stones, had also used wooden posts to make astronomical markers. So, with my mind alerted to the possibility that the site at Danebury, with its ridge top tumulus, might be part of a setting with astronomical and calendrical alignments I considered the situation. Earlier experience of mine with something similar in Pembrokeshire had given some clues to what might be found. (See the piece on Stonehenge “0” elsewhere on this website.) I started to look at the mounds around and their relation to the points on the horizon where the sun rose or set on various significant dates in the year. The more I looked the more interesting and exciting I found it. Long Investigation I had started a long investigation, which is still not fully complete, but which I now want to share, so that some of the destruction of these important and fascinating ancient sites can be halted. In recent years more and more grassland has been ploughed and many of the mounds that have lasted four or five thousand years are being eroded and lost in a decade. In the space of a short presentation such as this it is not possible to set out in as much detail as I would like all the elements of the work, on the large piece of landscape that I have examined, but I can give a sufficient outline of the essential aspects to identify the significant sites and alignments. Sun and Moon First of all one needs to know the days which were regarded, and indeed still are, as significant. They are the Solstices, midsummer and midwinter; the Equinoxes March 21 and September 21 (equal day and night). These divide the year into four parts. Then the traditional cross quarter days which subdivide the preceding quarters into eighths: they are Candlemas /Imbolc February 2, May Day/ Beltane May 2-5, Lammas/Lughnassadh August 2-8 and Halloween/Samhain November 2. It also appears that the positions of the most northerly and southerly moonrise/set were indicated. The bearings of these solar and lunar risings and settings are given in figure 2 and shown on the sketch map figure 1. The precision of the alignments can be appreciated better on large scale maps such as the 1:25,000 O.S series. Even more satisfying, however, is the experience of actually seeing the sun perform “before your very eyes” when you stand in the light of the dawn watching the warm glow in the sky turn bright and be pierced by the sharp flash of the first light as the solar orb clears the horizon at the appointed spot. Alignments The first thing I noted when I looked at the landscape was that the three long barrows close to Danebury all lay on significant alignments. The one to the N.E. (335381) was on the May 5th/ August 8th sunrise line. In Celtic times these were the festivals of Beltane and Lammas and had clearly been important for millennia before that. This line is also extremely interesting because, when extended to the horizon, it crosses Abra barrow (503473) which lies 13 miles away near Overton. On the way there it passes over two tumuli, marked by the OS (350390), north of Charity Down farm and also an interesting mound (358395) on the ridge along which the road from Longstock to Goodworth Clatford runs. This mound, which is on an intermediate horizon from Danebury, lies in the hedge and has been cut away on oneside by the road and on the other by the ploughing in the field. It remains as a narrow slice of its original form. I suspect there may be others across the country “lost” in a similar way because the mounds formed a natural mark through which to run hedges and boundaries. Abra Barrow, out on the distant horizon, is interesting too because it is not on the top of the hill, as one might expect, but down on a saddle of land to the south. It looks as if the deciceive factor in its placement was the need to have it on the horizon as a marker for the Beltane/Lammas sunrise line from Danebury. There are therefore six, probably contemporary, ancient mounds in a line pointing to sunrise on a significant date. There are no other similarly placed mounds in the area. On any reckoning that’s an extremely interesting alignment and hard to dismiss as coincidental.
While looking to the N.E. it’s worth checking the midsummer sunrise line. The one that gets so much attention at Stonehenge. What lies on the horizon in that direction? The answer is the village of Hannington (359555), with its churchyard in a raised enclosure and pond in an oval banked ring, the whole place surrounded by a low bank. Looking back down the line towards Danebury one finds, within a couple of miles, a tumulus, a long barrow (507528) and then another tumulus. Looking a bit further round to the N.E. is the line for the most northerly moonrise which occurs every 18.6 years. This line crosses the horizon on Watership Down where, not so surprisingly now, we find a pair of tumuli on the crest of the hill. Back down this line to Danebury is a large tumulus (463528) and a “dewpond” at Angledown. The Moon Comes Close Just for variety we can check the S.E. horizon where the winter sunrises and the low moonrises occur. Here stands Farley mount an enormous ancient barrow (404290), now a folly, which marks the position where the moon on its lowest passage across the sky when it seems closest to the Earth, rises. This mound marks the place on the horizon where the moon rises at its most southerly swing, which is interestingly some way past the sun’s extreme position. The moon also does its sweep across the skyline each month instead of the stately annual march from the North at midsummer to the South at midwinter made by the sun. In 1987 I was able to observe the lunar risings over both Farley Mount and Watership Down. The folly on Farley Mount was erected as a monument to a horse called “Beware Chalk Pits” and consists of a small building erected in the 18th century by the horse’s owner who had survived a fall into a chalkpit on the horse which, the following year, won a race at Stockbridge racecourse within sight of the mound and hillfort at Danebury. The midwinter sunrise line leads to another tumulus (425296) on the horizon in Crab Wood by the Roman road in the Farley Mount Country Park. Further north the line for the Imbolc/Samhain sunrise produces another surprise. It goes out past the Beacon, a hilltop close to Danebury, over Stockbridge Down with its tumuli and earthworks, over Winchester and Telegraph Hill, over Warnford and King John’s House and finally up to the long barrow (672201) on Salt Hill south of East Meon. This is the longest line of all and because Salt Hill is 230 metres high it is just intervisible with Danebury. It would seem that the system extended over a very wide area and must have involved intertribal cooperation. The equinoctial sunrise line to the East does not have a very clear indicator on it, although there are some suggestive points at the trig point at Bugmore Hill near Godsfield Copse and the tumulus north of Medstead (653377). Towards the West and the setting points Turning now to the western side of the “Landscape Calendar” we can look first at the most southerly moonset. This point is marked by a beautiful and, once again large, mound (290330) called the Turret on Whiteshoot Hill near Broughton, now tragically being steadily reduced by ploughing. The midwinter sunset line is also marked by a large mound (258330) being sacrificed to the crops of wheat which have replaced the ubiquitous sheep which used to crop the short grass of all the uplands of Hampshire. This is just to the north of the intriguingly named “Khyber Pass” at the N.W. end of Broughton Down. The Imbolc/Samhain line seems to run to the “Settlement” (260349) in Ashleys Copse. This is a mysterious and, to me, slightly sinister enclosure, the banks of which are made with rounded pebbles which seem out of place in country of chalk and flint. It’s set in a wood which, on the afternoon I visited it, was humid and clammy with an atmosphere of secrecy and isolation. On the equinox line to the East there is a tumulus on the Northern slope of Suddern Hill (266378). This is no longer accessible because it is behind the fences erected by the Ministry of Defence when they enclosed and sealed off Porton Down. In fact even trying to see the mound with binoculars led to me being chased off by some heavies in a car that made an immediate appearance when I stopped.
The Beltane/Lammas line runs up to Bulford Down, just South of Beacon Hill, where there are a pair of aligned tumuli (192445). Back down the line towards Danebury are two more. One North of Quarley DownFarm and the other at Palestine near Grately. Seen from Danebury the midsummer sun sets over the terraced slopes of Quarley Hill and actually reaches the horizon on the edge of the southernmost wood on Snoddington Hill at (264443). This is where the ancient earthwork that winds its way across the fields up from Quarley Hill ends. On this spot there are the last traces of a dew pond and a mound.
When I was last there the sky toward the sunset was breathtakingly filled with high cirrus cloud set in a translucent backdrop of rose and violet. At the centre of the “camp” in a wood on the hill is a very deep pit which seems to be the source of the same “beach pebbles” that are found at the “settlement” in Ashley’s Wood on the Imbolc/Samhain line and also, in smaller amounts, on Snoddington Hill. In May nightingales sang in the wood on Sidbury Hill and it’s nice to remember that they also sang at Beltane for our predecessors more than four thousand years ago who left us this legacy. We have not yet fully understood it or completely investgated and recorded it. But we are in danger of destroying many of the fragile traces of it forever. I have only been able to touch briefly on the evidence for this extraordinary and perhaps unique “Landscape Calendar” and there are many more significant points in the broad spread of beautiful country round Danebury that I haven’t included. I know that I shall be drawn out again and again to investigate and discover new enchanting spots as I try to gain a complete understanding of this wonderful piece of ancient geometry drawn across the land and tied to the eternal movement of the sun and moon across the sky. Eventually, when I have a fuller picture I hope to publish a book describing all its intricacies and beauty. If you’d like to explore the country around Danebury click on the google map below
Mysterious Place Last but not least in this circuit of the horizon is the most Northerly moonset position. This is at Sidbury Hill (216506) northwest of Tidworth. Despite being ion the middle of a military training area and surrounded by tank tracks this is another mysterious place full of atmosphere. This time uplifting and romantic. It is beautifully situated with wide open views out to the west over Salisbury Plain.
Click the audio play button above to hear what Jon wants you to do…
Megalithic Insights               						Jon Appleton