A month or so ago we went to visit friends in Wiltshire and they took us to see Barbury Castle… not an actual castle but an Iron Age hill fort. it’s on the edge of the Marlborough Downs, on the Ridgeway, and it’s huge! It covers about twelve acres, and adjacent to it are also some round barrows which are ancient mounds or tumuli usually over a burial site. There is also a Celtic field system, and from more recent times, flint workings.
It is a massive and spectacular place to visit, and the shape of it, the double ramparts and the two entrances, are very clear to see, as well as the ditch surrounding the walls. There may even have been a third rampart, but as there never seems to have been a complete full-scale archaeological excavation or examination, no-one is really sure.
Looking across the central area, it’s easy to imagine people in former times living here; those farmers left pottery which can be dated to the early and middle Iron Age, 1300 – 200BC. A hoard of iron tools and weapons, and fittings for carts and chariots from 300B.C. Later, inhabitants left the remains and left-overs from metalworking from around the time of the Roman occupation. it also seems that there Saxon burials, and grave goods including weapons such as a knife, spearhead and a seax.
Legend has it that the West Saxons defeated the Britons at the Battle of Beran Byrig in AD 556; as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says “Her Cynric 7 Ceawlin fuhton wiþ Brettas æt Beranbyrg” – “this year Cuthwin and Ceawlin fought with the Britons at Barbury Castle”.
However, it seems that the hill fort as a living area was abandoned about a century BC, although it was still used as the evidence shows. In more recent times, during World war II it was again used by a military force, as part of the local anti-aircraft defence. The site may have been damaged, but it survives magnificently; there are stunning views across Wiltshire…