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Imagine digging ditches up to 7 metres deep with an antler pick to create Segsbury Camp…..this is how Iron Age people created some of the biggest and most striking features of The Ridgeway. The banks and ditches of The Ridgeway’s hillforts were constructed thousands of years ago to command six high points along the Trail, including The Ridgeway’s end point on Ivinghoe Beacon. The size and vantage point of these hillforts demonstrate not only defensive power, but also the status of its former inhabitants. They served various functions – stock enclosures, places of refuge and permanent settlements, controlling movement across the landscape, centres of redistribution for subsistence products and craft items and more. Read on below….

Banner image: Walking past the ramparts of Barbury Castle.

Most visitors are mesmerised by the mystery of Uffington’s chalk horse, but the huge size of White Horse Hill’s hillfort should draw some attention. It extends 3.2ha across the hill, with ditches still measuring around 3m deep despite being infilled over time. Large univallate hillforts like this are rare, with between 50 and 100 examples recorded nationally. Univallate hillforts comprise a single boundary rampart, unlike multivallate hillforts which have more than one rampart. Slight univallate hillforts such as Liddington hillfort are the earliest form of hillfort, dating to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth – fifth centuries BC) and the majority were used for 150 to 200 years prior to their abandonment or reconstruction. Large multivallate hillforts such as Barbury Castle came later and date to between the fourth century BC and the first century AD, although evidence for earlier use is present at most sites.

Barbury Castle is a good example of a multivallate hillfort with two rings of banks and ditches enclosing an oval area of c.4.5 ha (see image gallery above). Visitors walking or riding along The Ridgeway pass through the hillfort’s eastern and western entrances, one of which was widened for military practice during World War II. Visitors back in 2006 would also have seen an Iron Age roundhouse which was created to demonstrate how people once used the hillfort (see image gallery above). Barbury Castle finds have included an Iron Age blacksmith’s hoard – sickles, spear heads and chariot parts.

Pulpit Hill in the Chilterns is another hillfort with double ramparts and it is thought there were timber palisades on the ramparts. Today it is hidden in woodland but it once enjoyed far-reaching views across the vale below. Archaeologists have found ‘occupation debris’ in the form of pottery sherds, animal bones, oyster shells and a boar’s tusk.

Excavations at Uffington’s hillfort have shown that ramparts were built in phases and comprised timber bracing and chalk rubble and also sarsen. Uffington’s main rampart was originally lined with sarsen stone, as was Segsbury Camp and also Alfred’s Camp.

There are yet more hillforts to explore a little further from the Trail, including Wittenham Clumps in Oxfordshire and Cholesbury Camp and Boddington Camp in Buckinghamshire.

Notes: More information about The Ridgeway’s viewpoints and military heritage is available in other Top 50 entries (not all Top 50 entries will be available until end of December 2023).

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