Greetings Fellow Adventurers!
This week’s Sunday drive took us out into the stunning Cotswold hills and in search of the homes of the ancient dead. Although we’ve spent a lot of time travelling through the Cotswolds and visiting its famous towns and villages, this particular part was completely new to us, as was just how many pre-historic features that it hides within its landscape.
- Location: Cotswold Hills, Near Stow on the Wold.
- Total distance traveled: Approx 70 Miles
- Total time at the wheel: 4 pottering hours on and off
- Packets of square crisps eaten: 7
- Website: Wikipedia entries for Belas Knap and Notgrove
Thought to have been built around 3000BC, Belas Knap is a neolithic long barrow located on the hillside overlooking Winchcombe in Gloucestershire. To find it we had a wonderful drive up into the hills and their winding single lane roads, enjoying stunning views of the rolling hills as we went. The car park, what there was of it, was located where the road winds through a woodland, below the ridge line where the barrow sits. Reaching it involves a very steep walk up the slope until you reach the Cotswold Way. You follow this long-range footpath for a few hundred yards at the top of the ridge before you reach the barrow itself (the path carries on across the hills – great walking country). The views from the ridge line are superb, as is the walk back down.
Shaped like an elongated egg that is higher at the widest point, the barrow is nearly 200ft long and 60ft wide, and is surrounded by a ditch and bank. It has what appears to be a large blocked opening at the front, which is in fact a false entrance made to fool grave robbers, and possibly provided access for the spirits that dwell there. The barrow is actually entered through two access points in the sides. These are open to a shallow degree so that you can squeeze inside, although they have been restored and shored up to make them safe (but alas has lost the feel of how they would have looked).
The barrow’s location is beautiful, with lots of nice scenery and atmosphere to soak up. However, when we were there the barrow was very busy, as a large and very noisy walking party had met up right on top of the barrow, making it hard to connect with the place. However we’ll return one morning soon with our breakfast.
About 5 miles away from Belas Knap, Notgrove Long Barrow is located right on the edge of the A436 on the way to Bourton on the Water. Not much seems to be known about Notgrove other than it is a prehistoric long barrow. It is also in very poor repair, having been very badly back-filled in the 1970’s to protect the stone work that had been exposed for several centuries. It is doubtful that any of the dead remain in the barrow sadly, and the barrow is a very misshapen shadow of its former self.
Unsurprisingly, the views from the barrow are fantastic, being on the edge of a valley and over looking more of the hills.
There was something about this place that got to me a bit, partly the setting sun and the winding down of the day, but mostly the sad state it was in… it was hardly the noble tribute our ancestors had envisioned for their beloved dead. I have to say I felt a bit ashamed that my generation had let it fall into this state. I’m going to return soon, and lay my own small tribute to these forgotten people.
I could have lingered much longer, watching sun go down and standing guard, but the temperature was dropping, my lady was getting cold and home and jobs were calling.
On the way back I was feeling the need to connect to the ancient times once more, so even though it was soon to be dark, I pulled over and had a quick walk around the Rollright Stones near Chipping Norton – another wonderfully atmospheric place well worth a visit.
What a fantastic Sunday drive. Plenty of stunning views, lots of wildlife – several hares, a few deer and a hooching amount of pheasants – and some great historic place to explore.
Farewell my friends!
P.S. Looking at the road map, the Cotswolds has a massive amount of ancient sites scattered around them, especially out in Gloucestershire, and we’ll certainly be back in future to explore more of them – it’s great to be able to find these new places!