On Sunday 25 October, around 40 FoA volunteers descended on Winkelbury Camp, above Berwick St John – possibly the largest concentration of humans the site has witnessed since …. maybe since the Anglo-Saxon cemetery was still in use. The advantages of numbers were soon evident when it came to understanding the topography of the site and its inter-visibility. Using garden canes with pieces of cloth attached, it emerged that visibility of the main, lower, enclosure is actually complete when viewed from the southern entrance even if, as Pitt-Rivers noted, there is dead ground on the slopes below. The southern ramparts are also visible from the southern entrance of the main enclosure.
Our volunteers were soon spread out all over the site, periodically re-assembling to pool our impressions and understanding, much to the confusion of the sheep we shared the space site with. Sketches began to emerge; Robin Walls gathered bio-diversity data, pronouncing the ramparts to be very healthy chalk grassland (even if the interior of the site had probably been re-sown), the mysteries of hachures were explained and discussion began as to the indefensible nature of this supposedly defensive site.
After lunch in the village hall, with cakes generously provided by one of the volunteers, but with the site still very much a presence still looming over us, impressions were gathered and contrasted with the Pitt-Rivers perhaps over-military evaluation of the site. To our early 21st century eyes the site sent out a more complex and contrasted message – this is surely a multi-period and multi-functional artefact. Not only are we not 19th century generals but we do of course have the added knowledge that the Iron Age lasted a full 1000 years. Pitt-Rivers benefitted from a relative rather than an absolute chronology.
The day was a foretaste of more rigorous, but non invasive, work to come – geophysics, supported by the University of Winchester. In a well attended talk on the previous evening, for the residents of Berwick St John, we had been warned that Winkelbury was not a place to be in bad weather. Fortunately we have not yet had to reckon with this aspect of the site as conditions were perfect on the day of our invasion. The site is open-access and we would very much encourage those who were unable to be with us on the day to enjoy the stupendous views and ponder why this site was an important place in at least three discrete periods: the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Saxon period.
Author Phil Planel (FOA Coordinator) Sketches by Jenny Farrer (FOA Project Volunteer)