Danebury (or ‘Danebury Rings’) is an Iron Age hill fort in Hampshire. The hill is 143 m (469 ft) in height, not spectacular in itself but its prominence in the landscape gives clear, distant views in all directions over the county and beyond. The fort itself covers around 12 acres, and was extensively excavated in the 1970s. The evidence suggests it was built in the c6 BC, and was used for some 500 years.
We hadn’t walked on Danebury for many years, though we drive past it frequently. When we set off for a walk there, I didn’t even know about the trig point – though the location makes perfect sense for one. I had no camera with me, just an iPhone. On a chilly, cloudy May day, these photos will at least give some idea of the extensive views from the Trig Point across the patchwork of fields. Next time, we’ll choose a clear sunny day for a walk there…
Batcombe in the heart of Dorset is a hamlet of farms, cottages, and a tiny medieval church with a fine stone screen. It is also the name of the long hill that rises steeply above it, which we see from our house. This is green Hardy country. The sinister ‘Cross in Hand’ mentioned in Tess is still there, a small battered stone pillar by the roadside now protected by a neat council fence. The fields have mostly been cleared of flints, on the surface at least. There are three trig points across the length of the hill. The advantage of Trigs is that their tendency to be on high ground often goes with nice countryside and scenery. The middle one on Batcombe is a perfect focus for an easy country walk with huge views in 3 directions, especially south towards Hardy’s Monument and the coast. Time to explore.
TRIG POINT S1513, BATCOMBE, DORSET
Looking back towards the Trig Point down the ‘tractor avenue’
This was one of the few sunny days in February and the ground was firm and dry despite the appalling rain that had flooded the lower land and swathes of the Dorset valleys, e.g. those of the Yeo, Frome and Stour. Every 20 metres or so we put up snipe that were invisible amid the stubble and stones on the ground. We were accompanied throughout by a throng of skylarks. These were annoyingly hard to photograph both on the ground (hard to see) and in the air. Here’s an effort.
Some fields were very flinty, with some surprisingly large chunks. Despite the sunshine, it was easy to image poor Tess (or any other Hardy tragic heroine) shivering out in these fields in terrible winter winds and sleet, clad only in a thin kirtlet and shawl, picking the stones bare-handed and putting them in the thracking stoop for transportation as building material to the expanding Casterbridge.
St. Catherine’s Down is a chalk down near the southernmost point of the Isle of Wight, rising to 240 metres above the level of the nearby sea. There is a rewarding walk from a car park on the road, climbing steadily and in places quite steeply. On the way up there are spectacular views across to the Needles to the west.
Eventually the track opens out near the top of the hill to reveal an amazing medieval prototype for a skyrocket near the summit.
This is in fact St. Catherine’s Oratory, known locally as the ‘Pepperpot’, a stone lighthouse built in the 14th century by Walter de Godeton. It is the second oldest lighthouse in the British Isles – only the Roman-built lighthouse at Dover is older.
De Godeton was convicted of scavenging wine ‘belonging to the Church’ from a shipwreck. He was ordered to make amends, under threat of excommunication, by building a lighthouse. Wreck plunder / lighthouse penance – a rare early example of punishment fitting the crime at a time when theft of a sheep might mean death. Fires were lit in the lighthouse tower to warn ships at sea that they were close to the coastline.
There was an attached chapel at one time – hence the ‘Oratory’ – but it has been long since demolished. A replacement lighthouse was begun in 1785, but never completed. Locally this half-finished building is known as the ‘salt pot’.
The hill is surrounded by unspoilt downland, with long views on all sides
There is also a trig point, providing an unstrenuous target for ‘trig-baggers’. Anyone interested in using trig points as a purpose for a nice walk and needing an incentive for the achievement might like to look at http://www.trigpointinguk.com