Finding Bardon – An Arthurian Quest

As a person of Welsh descent, it is disappointing to have to face up to the fact that the Welsh connection to the story of Arthur has been almost irretrievably subsumed by the enthusiastic input of a plethora of external sources.  The filigreed embellishments of an ever-expanding number of Arthurian afficionados have diminished the kudos of dusting off lost fragments of history.  It doesn’t quite stir the imagination somehow.  After all, why spoil a rollicking good adventure by further unsettling shaky realities?

But it needs to be said that the Welsh connection has actually got the real potential to provide a solid trail of tantalizing clues and hints and tangible evidence that can weave a whole new interpretation into the events of the past…

…just by letting the language take the role of leader while you faithfully follow its track, just to see where it goes.

It has worked before with words that don’t confound the English tongue.  We’ve been happy to identify Arthur’s burial ground as being on the Isle of Avalon (an island of apples) and we have no problem accepting this as being a translation of the Welsh word ‘Afal’ – meaning apple, even though the plural for ‘afal’ in Welsh is actually ‘afalau’ (not Afalon).  We accept that Welsh is a funny language, so it’s natural that we might not get it 100% right.

Similarly, it’s generally acknowledged that the name Gwenivere, Arthur’s queen, must be Welsh in some way because “gwen” is the Welsh word for ‘white’, and Gwenivere, at a stretch can be ‘sounded’ in Welsh as “Gwen-eferwi”…which means “bubbling whiteness”.

Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, also has a name that has been systematically dissected and explained for its Welshness : ‘pen’ meaning ‘head’, and ‘dracon’ in Old Brythonic (Welsh) meaning ‘leader’, with these two words being the root cause of long-term dramatic results when the Romans historically confused the word  ‘dracon’ with the Latin ‘draco’ meaning ‘serpent’ – thereby giving birth ultimately to the dragon on the Welsh flag.  So that in reality, there were no mythical dragons, just one big fierce-looking, angry-sounding, fire-breathing clan chief.  Curiously also, Uther Pendragon is suspended between reality and myth as a result of his name.  His title ‘Pendragon’ describes his (or anyone else’s) position and standing in the community in pre-Roman/Celtic times, while his given name ‘Uther’ marks him as a particular character with a role in the Arthurian legend.

We accept these snippets of Welshness because they don’t despoil the magical myth, but rather, help to add mystical elements to the story.

But we are not so sure when the Welsh language dares to give us an extra twist, such as, let’s say, a “treigliadd” or a “trickle mutation”, which is a grammatical facility whereby the first letter of a second word changes in order to make it easier to say.  This is what has happened when we learn that Arthur’s final battle took place at the battle of Camlann – or Cam-glan, with the dropped ‘g’ so that it becomes “a crooked (river) bank” in translation – something more mundane than the sound of the word might suggest.

However, none of these oddments can prepare us for the utter misdirection which has resulted from  a misunderstanding of the simple Welsh word for ‘the’ – ‘y’ or ‘yr’.  The confusion over this particular word is so profound that it needs to be isolated and examined in and of itself.

‘Y’ and ‘yr’ have been tragically mispronounced by the English and some serious red herrings have arisen as a result.  ‘Y’ has been used fondly as a mark of respect in the past, as in “Yr Hen” – ‘The Old”, and to this day, the word ‘y’ is still used to name and separate different identities in Wales, as in Jones the butcher, Jones the baker, and Jones the candlestick maker (Jones y Cig, Jones y Bara, Jones yr Olau)

It is not spoken with an ‘i’ sound, or an ‘ee’ sound, but rather as a lazy ‘er’.  In fact, the best way to grasp the pronunciation is to copy the sound of the word ‘Sir’ without the ‘s’.

And this can lead into a whole new field of discovery…which hinges on the word ‘Sir’ as it is derived from the French ‘mon-sieur’ (my lord).  The French connection is important because the legend of Arthur doesn’t really come alive until the French-Norman invasion of Britain in 1066, (co-incidentally about a hundred years after the poem “Y Gododdin” was first recorded in the 9th century).

It is difficult – at this distance in time – to imagine a world where French was the predominant language spoken in Britain, but for 300 hundred years, English was the patois of the peasants, Welsh was the tongue-twisting gobbledegook that the Saxons suppressed as they established their four- hundred-year (6th-10th) reign of dominance, and French became the language of the hierarchy within the castles and courts the length and breadth of the country from 1066 to 1385.

Contrarily, it is easy to imagine how the arrival of the French might have heralded a renewed interest and revival of the Brythonic language since these two Gallic cousins shared many linguistic similarities, with some words even sounding exactly the same : llyfr/livre – book, ffenestr/fenetre – window, mor/mer – sea, mur/mur – wall, trist/trist – sad, pont/pont – bridge, eglws/eglise – church, to list a few examples.  But this crossover and pairing of words with similar Latin roots was not without its problems and mismatched results.  The Welsh word ‘Y’ being one of them.

Just imagine the buzz around the ladies of the French-speaking courts as the Norman castles expanded into the north of the country and into the historic lands of the Brythonic-speaking Gododdyn, and the kingdom of Rheged.  Gossip in different languages would have flowed freely among the peasants and servants in the marketplaces, kitchens and alehouses, and whispered into the ears of the nobility in their private quarters.  Bardic verses about the exploits of warrior heroes would still have been “sung” among the surviving Celts, even though the Saxons had pushed their tribes to the western fringes.  And, for the French, the funny-sounding names would have rolled more easily of the tongue than for the English.  Galahad, Gawain, Tristan, Percival, Gareth, Lancelot, Kay were all names that would have been spoken with an easy familiarity.  Yet these identities were nowhere to be found in Celtic times.

The only name that crops up – in the negative – is that of Arthur in the poem ‘Y Gododdyn’ when Aneurin, the poet, wrote of the leading warrior of the day, saying that he was not Arthur – “ d’oedd o ddim Arthur”.  And, of course, the other name we hear is that of Uther, his father. Added to which, these two names closely resemble the Welsh word “rhuthr” meaning, ‘rush’, or ‘charge’.

Uther, Arthur and rhuthr, all sound the same in Welsh.  In fact, it is too easy to see how they might have been confused and mistranslated as the story was orally narrated down the ages.

Even so, these words only take on special significance when you add the word ‘Y’ to them in the Welsh way.  Then, when spoken out loud in a Welsh accent, the sounds are virtually indistinguishable.  Yr Uther, Yr Arthur, and Y Rhuthr blend into one, meaning : “the leader of the charge”.

In isolation, this might seem like nothing more than an interesting minor detail, but when you apply the same linguistic quirk to some of the other leading “knights of the round” table, a whole new picture begins to emerge.

The most revelatory knight to apply this system of nomenclature to would be Sir Gawain.  Gawain, spelt Gwain in Welsh, is a ‘scabbard’.  Sir Gawain thus becomes “Y Gwain” – The Scabbard.  In the same vein, Sir Galahad, with some adjustment, becomes “Y Galwad” – The Caller.  Sir Kay becomes “Y  Cau” – The Closer.  Sir Percival – becomes “Y Perisigl” The Shaking Spear.  Sir Gareth becomes “Y Garreg” – The Pebble.  Sir Tristan becomes “Y Trist” – The Sad.  Sir Lancelot becomes “Y Llawn-selog” -The (one who is) Full-of-Zeal (Latin).

These adjustments, when you include “Y Rhuthr” – The Leader of the Charge, take on a far more militaristic bias than the original naming of the Knights of the Round table would allow.

The French, with their linguistic penchant for sliding the letters of words into one another, took a functional descriptor and elevated it into a lordly title.  “Y Cau” become(s-S)yr Kay” with sublime ease thereby resulting in the creation of a class of lordly heroes, rather than a band of warriors with a particular role in battle.

A fragile concoction resulted which had nothing to do with the pseudo-historical facts recorded by Gildas or Nennius, but was more in line with the heroic panegyric of Aneurin’s “Y Gododdyn” as it was captured and embellished by the jealous fancies of francophile courtiers to be later fixed into the record books by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

But if that Arthurian fantasy were to unravel at this distance in time, what realities would we be left with?

No-one knows how a Celtic battle might have been conducted back in the 1st– 4th centuries.  Certainly, we know that Roman warfare was highly structured, whereas the Celtic forces they came up against in Gaul and Britain have been depicted as a wild rabble.  They weren’t trained soldiers in the way the Romans were.  But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have some kind of battle plan and organization.

The Romans overwhelmed the Celts systematically when they took Britain, but as the Roman forces became stretched and weakened along the fringes of Empire, they resorted to parlaying with the local tribes to the north to act as their proxy armies in keeping the untameable Picts at bay.

When the Romans were forced to retreated from the Antonine Wall in 160AD, they made use of a confederation of Brythonic-speaking peoples who saw themselves as being separate groups of equal-standing led by their own chiefs.  Not so much conferring at a “round table”, as at a ‘table of crowns’.  The Welsh word ‘cron’ meaning ‘round’ being indistinguishable, orally, from the word ‘coron’ meaning crown.  Their old beliefs in reincarnation would still have been alive in their minds and would have sustained them in battle.  To be reborn as a more prestigious person by dying courageously in battle would still have mattered in the 2nd century.  Their old battle-cry of : “Escar-i-fore”, meaning ‘a rebirth to the morning’ would have breathed energy into their spirits.

For over three hundred years they patrolled the border in exchange for certain freedoms from the Roman conquerors.  They would have been well-practiced at summoning a makeshift army at short notice and organizing peasant farmers into a defensive force.

So that when a new enemy arrived at their shores in the 5th century, they had established systems to fall back on.

And when Merlin led Arthur to the sacred lake to extract the old long Celtic sword – still shiny from having been preserved in an acidic peat bog, and exposed when the “craig” or “rock” split open as the peat loosened out in summer rains, a new ‘Arthur’ (Rhuthyr) might have extracted that sword, held it aloft and cried out “Escar-i-fore!” – a rebirth to the morning…stirring the idea of a renewal of the old ways.  And his followers might have enthusiastically echoed his words, possibly making the word sound more like ‘Excalibur’ over time.

The sword would not have been raised out of the water by a ‘lady of the lake’.  This is a misunderstanding of translation.  The word for a woman, in Welsh, is ‘gwraig’.  ‘Craig’, the word for ‘rock’, will mutate the ‘c’ to a ‘g’ according to its position in a sentence, and become ‘graig’.  ‘Gwraig’, and ‘graig’ are aurally sufficiently so similar that it is easy to see how the myth of the ‘lady of the lake’ was created.

It is worth noting that a find of an old Celtic sword in the 5th century would have been a precious, rare occurrence.  Most of the weaponry that had been thrown into the sacred waters as an offering to the Celtic Gods would probably have been lifted out of the lakes at the time of Boudica’s (Welsh Buddiga, meaning “victory”) rebellion in the 1st century.  It is rarely stated that this uprising coincided with Suetonius Paulinus’ torching of the sacred groves of the Druids in Anglesey.  The smoke would have been visible throughout Snowdonia and up the west coast of northern Britain, almost to the Lake District.  Those Druids who were not at home on ‘Mon’ at the time of the massacre would have heard the news and furiously led the Celts into the sacred lakes to retrieve whatever weaponry was still useable and carried it across to join Buddiga’s forces. (Bearing in mind that Buddiga’s forces burned the Temple of Claudius and all the people sheltering within it to the ground, it is not impossible to surmise that a few avenging Druids might have been seeking retribution and directing matters covertly from within.)

For the next four hundred years, the Druids and their detested religion were suppressed.  Whatever loyal adherents remained survived by staying hidden. Merlyn’s Druidic provenance would have been kept secret by the northern tribes.  The word ‘merlyn’, in Welsh, means ‘pony’.  Merlyn’s role in any battle plan might have been to keep in the background and muster the reserves of horses. But the old Druidic belief in a rebirth by heroic death, would have been essential to the fierceness of the fighting in battle.  Merlyn’s presence would have given the warriors spiritual sustenance.

The territory between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall was patrolled by the men of “Yr Hen Ogledd” – the old north.  Brythonic warriors.  Uniquely, the men of “Yr Hen Ogledd” were a fighting force that managed to hold onto their Celtic identity separate from the excessive influence of the Romans.  They fought in the old way.

If trouble started brewing with the Picts – or even the intermittent incursions of the Irish from across the sea to the rear – then the tribal leaders might meet at a known location, possibly the Camelot (Caer-maelor) of the legend.  ‘Caer-maelor” means, a ‘fort of merchants’, or a ‘trading-post’.  Here, they would exchange information, identify a battleground, talk strategies, decided where and when to assemble and deploy their fighting men.  And the fighting men, from different tribal groups, would need to readily recognize who their troop leaders might be. Simplicity of recognition would be a necessity.  The leaders’ names would have to be understandable to any peasant.

The stone-throwers and slingshots might be assembled under the one called ‘Y Garreg’ – the pebble, and they might be responsible for the opening salvos of the battle.  The spear-throwers would be controlled by ‘Y Perisigl’.  And their reserves of weaponry supplied to them by ‘Y Gawain’ – ‘the scabbard’.  ‘Y Llawnselog’ might ride amongst the fighters stirring up their enthusiasm. ‘Y Galwad’ might call the moves with his Carnyx, or Celtic war-horn.  And when everything was set, then the main attack of mounted swordsmen might gallop into the fray led by the bravest of them all, ‘Y Rhuthr’ – the leader of the charge.  ‘Y Cau’ – the closer, might be bringing up the rear with the last reserves of warriors, and ‘Y Trist’ – the sad, would not be needed until after the battle to help the wounded and deal with the removal of broken bodies.

Circumstances changed, however, and in the 5th century, the Saxons became the primary enemy.

As the Roman Empire began to collapse, Roman armies retreated to defend Rome from the Barbarians and by 410 AD Britain was abandoned.  The string of signalling stations along the Eastern seaboard, known as the Saxon Shore, was left to become derelict.  The most northerly fort on a promontory high above the river Tees at Huntcliff, was occupied – casually – by local Celtic families for a while, but they were murdered by emboldened raiding Saxons and their bodies thrown into a nearby well.

The Celts knew that the Saxons (Saeson) were not to be trusted and monitored their activities from the hillside hidden by the trees as they came in ships from the sea and set up camps along the lower reaches of the Tees river, almost on the mudflats.  The Celts might have prayed to their gods that a great storm would come in from the North Sea and sweep them all away.  The seas had risen almost two feet since ancient times and the Romans had had to retreat to their garrison fort at Catraeth or Cataractonium.

Even though many of the local place names had been given a Latin-sounding equivalent, the Celts knew the area well.  A Celtic hillfort was located nearby.  The ‘Men of the North’ hadn’t ventured down this far in the days of the Romans because it was the territory of the Brigantes.  The Gododdin and the Brigantes would all have had to work together in order to combat the threat from the North Sea.  They had to halt the ever-increasing menace. And their countrymen from the kingdom of Rheged brought their men into the fight too.

But when and where did this great battle take place?

Scholars down the years have disputed the location of the battle of Bardon Hill – the last great battle fought between the Celts and the invading Saxons.  We know that a decisive battle was indeed fought at Catterick, but did it have Arthurian significance?

Some nit-picking Welsh translations might give us direction.

Firstly, with regard to the River Swale.  The derivation of the word ‘Swale’ is given as meaning “fast-flowing” – but this is not enough.  The River Swale is indeed fast-flowing, but the similarity between the word ‘Swale’ and word ‘Wales’ cannot be discounted. ‘Wales’ comes from the Old German word ‘Wealas’ meaning ‘stranger, or foreigner’.  It is not impossible to imagine that the Saxon intruders settled unimpeded on the flatlands of the Tees river because this land had been abandoned as being unstable by the Celts due to the rising sea-levels in the 2nd– 5th centuries.  But as the influx of invaders grew – because their own homelands were being similarly swallowed by the sea – then they would have ventured further inland…until they came across the “foreigners” or ‘wealas’ – Celts, from the river Swale upwards into the hills.

These hills have Arthurian significance.

It is not a small matter that the word ‘Badon’ or ‘Bardon’ has not been assigned a meaning in Welsh.  Particularly not when all other Welsh placenames are highly descriptive.  Yet a key battle was said to have taken place at Badon Hill which everyone participating in would have to know how to find.

To the Celts, who had no signposts or road maps, people and places could only be found if they were appropriately described.  To this day, Jones the butcher, Jones the baker and Jones the candlestick maker would be described as Jones the meat, bread or light. ‘Jones Y Cig’ does not translate as Jones the Butcher, but ‘Jones the meat’…because the simpler form informs a greater number of people who he is, what he does, and where he might be found.

Similarly, with place names.  They are designed to enable a stranger to the district to know what to look for.  “Pen-y-Bryn”, for instance, is a place name which means ‘the-top-of-the-hill’. “Tal-y-Bont” is a pay-bridge, “Betwy-y-Coed” is a ‘prayer-room in the woods’, “Tan-y-Graig” means ‘under-the-rock’.  Places had to be found without signposts in the old days.

It is impossible to imagine that with so many descriptors being employed elsewhere, that the naming of a critical battleground would have been left as a meaningless sound.  Badon Hill is not self-explanatory in Celtic-Welsh.  Badon has no meaning.  Badon, Bardon, Baddon, Mons Badonicus, are just empty noises.  It is a hill which has a place in history, but no geographical location.

To retrieve a meaning from it and a place on the map, we would have to imagine how it might have been mis-spoken or misunderstood by a narrator excitedly telling everyone that a great battle took place at Bardon/ Badon.

In Welsh, a mutation of the initial letter can occur after the word ‘in’, which is either ‘yn’ or ‘ym’ depending on the combination of words.  “In Bardon” becomes “Ym Mardon”.  “Ym Mardon” can shift in emphasis to become the expression “Yma’r don”, meaning “Here are the waves”.  Thus, Bardon becomes a hill from which you can see the waves.

Obviously, with Britain having so much coastline, the number of locations where you can see the waves from a hill are endless.  But the fact that it was worthy of particular note as a place where you could see the waves would seem to suggest that it was something of a surprise that you could do so – in the same way as a place called “Kissing Point” might be identified as an especially romantic location to locals, even though it was possible for ‘kissing’ to happen anywhere, anytime.

Bardon – ‘Yma’r don’ – was a special place because it was possible to see the waves of the sea, as might have been spoken in the Brithonic language – which places Bardon in the north as part of the ‘Hen Ogledd’ – ‘Old North’.  It would have had significance defensively, since most of the threat in the 5th century came from the sea in the form of the invading Saxons…so the view of the sea would necessarily be on the eastern, not the western, coastline.

Bardon, as a naming word, also had a Latinised version in the form of “Mons Bardonicus”, so that it was of strategic importance to the Romans as well as to the Celtic Britons.  But the word would have been originally Celtic since the landscape was there before the Romans arrived.  However, Roman buildings in the form of defensive forts would have been originally identified by their Latin names, and the local Celts would have given those names a Celtic flavour.

The old Roman fort of Catterick, named ‘Cataractonium’ by the Romans, and Catraeth by the Celts, sits in a most advantageous position defensively.  It has the fast-flowing river Swale close by, with its numerous waterfalls – making it highly suitable for the industrialised tanning of leather which was conducted there (Roman army uniforms demanded a constant supply of leather). It sat on top of a small discrete hill, which has a wide stretch of moor on top of it which, to this day, is called “Barden Moor”, and it was at the nexus of a number of Roman roads which radiated out across the inlands of the North.

The territory inland and North had been Celtic for centuries : anything along the eastern shore had already been despoiled by Germanic invaders.  The Celts were people of the hills and the rivers; the invaders were people of the sea.  The Celts only took action when the encroaching Saxons reached the hills…and Bardon Hill was the targeted hill giving access to the higher grounds beyond.

It is often considered that there might have been two battles of Bardon Hill.  The first battle is identified as the last of Arthur’s twelve battles and is dated to have occurred at some time between 500 and 540 AD.  540 AD is a date in history which marks the beginning of a cessation of the massive Saxon invasion.  The first battle might therefore be considered to have been a success.

But the second battle of Bardon Hill, conducted in the same Arthurian style, took place in 595 – fifty years after the original battle – was a noble disaster resulting in the rout of the Celtic army and a collapse of the Celts of the North.  It was the last time that Celtic battle-tactics were employed, and it marked the end of an age and the disappearance of the Brithonic language from ‘Yr Hen Ogledd’.  Somehow the threads of that life and language trickled down to North Wales…fleeing the rear-action assault of the Irish pouring into the Dal Riata region on the western shores as they mauled the remnants of the devastated local inhabitants.

This second Battle of Bardon is the one which Aneurin describes in his epic poem ‘Y Gododdin’.

Aneurin’s poem tries to memorialise the heroic efforts of the “gwyr y Gogledd” in their defence of their homelands at the battle for Catraeth.  It gives away numerous subtle clues.

Aneurin does not mention that it was a battle for the fort of Catterick itself, only that the “three hundred” went to Catterick : “gwyr a aeth Catraeth”.  Neither does he write of any siege tactics such as attacking a gate or scaling walls. Rather, he writes of men who ‘led a charge’ or participated in a charge.  In one case, he writes of a warrior who rode up ‘the slope’.  And yet another who was a ‘good caller’.  Of another warrior, Aneurin writes that he had his men form a wall – indicating that this warrior was probably the head of a clan and had brought other men with him to the battle.  Aneurin uses the word ‘gwr’ (plural – gwyr) meaning ‘men’ to describe the participants in the battle.  Actually, the Welsh word for a man is ‘dyn’, “gwr” means ‘husband’.  This is significant because ‘husbands’ have the responsibility of wives, children and homes. This gives special meaning to the fact that they were ‘fighting for their lands’.

Most tellingly, Aneurin writes of the ‘three hundred’ that they wore the golden torc.  Torcs were only worn by high-order Celtic warriors, which not only designates the three hundred as leaders in charge of other men, but it indicates that there was an effort to maintain a direct connection with the old Celtic way of conducting a battle…a full-out charge by the defenders of the land.

Bardon Hill.

Nennius, Gildas, Aneurin, Taliesin all tried to record great moments in the defence of Prydain, as they knew it.  Historians in their way.  But they failed to take account of the difference in the kind of information a Celtic peasant farmer and a Romano/British General might need in order to get to the battlefield.  A peasant might carry his slingshot across from Carlisle to Catraeth, but a general might need to know the lay-out of the field of action.

Barden Moor would have seen many battles over time which went without notice in the wider world, but the noblest battle of all was fought by the last “Y Rhuthr” – leader of the charge – on a hill where you could see the waves from 30 miles away.

© Janet Williams

(Rough Bibliography)

“When was Wales’” – Gwyn Williams

Y Geiriadur Mawr – 1978 Edition

“Bulfinch’s Mythology”

“Saltburn by the Sea “ – website

“Y Gododdyn by Aneurin” – English Translation by John Williams


Also – various legends of Arthur in movies, books, magazine articles and websites over a lifetime.

Near Moor, North Yorkshire

Rock Art on Near Moor

Site Notes

For all my Grid Reference i give are from Ordnance Survey outdoor leisure 26 map ”North York Moors” western area.

At SE48090 98917 this Neolithic Pointer lay’s close to a Bronze Age Field System. I have explored this area several times and find that much more time is needed as it is a vast area called Near Moor and was due in pre-history connected to Scratch Wood Moor to the north west. The pointer itself has a tapered cup mark it lay’s in deep heather but don’t show much of erosion. And indeed it points N-W at summer solstice sunset just where the tree line end at far horizon. In Neolithic times it would a been 1 degree to the right on your compass and today it sits 2 degree’s to your left on your compass reading due to earth rotation.

It can be accessed  in several ways or though there is no direct footpath to it , in June 2014 i took the sheep wash – red way route over the top this is the longer way. In July i went over sheep wash- pamperdale ridge which seems shorter  and either way you will come across some boggy area with small beck crossing not to bad due summer month’s I’ll say comes autumn and winter this bog will be deep.




Yorkshire’s “Sacred Vale” – The Dawn of Brigantia

The “Sacred” Vale of Mowbray – Brigantia’s Neolithic Capital?

More than 2,000 years before the discovery and widespread use of Iron an unprecedented bout of monument building in the centre of Brigantia created the Britain’s largest religious monument complex, a place that has been suggested as being Britain’s religious capital during the Neolithic Period.

Whatever it was, these monuments were amongst the largest in Britain and will have been an important part of Brigantia’s cultural heritage.

The first monuments erected within the Vale of Mowbray were the cursus monuments. The largest cursus in the north of England was Scorton Cursus, this was over 2.1km long and is now mostly destroyed by quarrying. The other cursus,Thornborough Central Cursus was smaller at approx. 1.2km and is now mostly destroyed by quarrying.

These are seen as the first communal ritual monuments ands clearly mark out an area that is interpreted as being “ceremonial ways” – places for processions. Cursuses often are associated with a number of funery monuments, as can be seen at Scorton – a number of barrows cluster round it. At Thornborough the cursus is close by a Neolithic mortuary enclosure – a place for the laying out of the dead prior to burial. The cursus monuments, though these have yet to be dated, are believed to date from around 3,500 BC.

These cursus monuments created within the area two sacred spaces that in many ways define the area of the “Sacred Vale” – each is associated with a river – Thornborough/Ure and Scorton/Swale – these two rivers join at Boroughbridge to create a clearly defined region that in later years was to become a very significant place.

Around 3,000 BC, the Sacred Vale was created. The critical locations of Thornborough, Boroughbridge and Scorton (via Catterick) were linked with two great alignments of henges. In all, at least six henges were built – The three at Thornborough, Catterick Hutton Moor, Nunwick and Cana Barn. Catterick was the smallest henge in the Vale at 100m in diameter yet this is still one of Britain’s largest henges. The three henges at Thornborough and those at Hutton and Cana were possibly as large as 300m in diameter originally and had an outer bank and inner segmented ditch that created multiple entrances, this created the largest concentration of henges in Britain and was the largest building project attempted during the Neolithic as far as we can tell.

Thornborough Henges Devil's Arrows Catterick Henge Scorton Cursus Hutton Moor Henge Pickhill Artificial Mound Kirklington Barrow


Hutton Moor Henge, North Yorkshire


Hutton Moor Henge, North Yorkshire.

Hutton Moor Henge, Photo by Ray Selkirk


The Kingdom of Venutius

The Kingdom of Venutius – Brigantia – AD 69

“Inspired by these differences between the Roman forces and by the many rumours of civil was that reached them, the britons plucked up courage under the leadership of Venutius, who, in addition to his own natural spirit and hatred of the Roman name, was fired by his personal resentment towards queen Cartimandua. She was ruler over the Brigantes, having the influence that belongs to high birth, and she had later strengthened her power when she was credited weith having captured king Caratacus by treachery and so furnished an adornment for the triumph of Claudius Caesar. From this came her wealth and the wanton spirit which success breeds. She grew to despise her husband Venutius, and took as her consort his squire Vellocatus, whom she admitted to share the throne with her. Her house was at once shaken by this scandalous act. Her husband was favoured by the sentiments of all the citzens; the adulterer was supported by the queens pashion for him and by her savage spirit. So Venutius, calling in aid from outside and at the same time assisted by a revolt of the Brigantes themselves, put Cartimanua into an extremely dangerous position. Then she asked the Romans for protection, and some of our auxiliary troops, cavalry and infantry, after meeting with indifferent success in a number of engagements, finally succeeded in snatching the queen from danger. The throne was left to Venutius, the war to us.” Tacitus (Histories iii, 45).

Tacitus, Roman historian of the 1st Century AD. has provided us with most of the written history of the Brigantes at the time of the Roman conquest. The above text, written about a time when Nero had fallen and Rome endured several emporers in one year – AD69 clearly illustrates the date when Venutius finally became king of all Brigantia.

The few references thast we have from Tacitus and other Roman authors provide a dim glimpse of the events that surrounded the Roman conquest of Brigantia, yet the story is a tantalising one, a tail of royal adultery, power struggles, revolution and conquest. began life as an experiment to see if it was possible to recreate more accurately this lost history of Brigantia, to see if recent developments in archaeology could help fill the gaps left by those ancient authors.

Firstly, we need to understand the gaps – Source Documents

This map outlines a postulated border for the Brigantia of Venutius in AD69. By this time Venutius had ousted Cartimandua from her throne and was King of Brigantia. A small area to the south shows the territory already lost to Roman rule.

In order to verify this border, this research attempts to locate the defences that Venutius set up in anticipation of the Roman advance.

The map has click zones which identify major military sites available to Venutius, although many have date yet to be proven, most can be demonstrated to be pre-Roman, and therefore available for use.

The southern border, shown in red, complies with the Roman frontier, as implied by fort locations and other dating evidence.

Devil's Arrows Standing Stones  Roman border area AD69 Boltby Scar Hill Fort Roman Rig - Venutius' southeastern border Ingleborough Hill Fort Tor Dyke - Defense Mam Tor Cartimandua's territory Brigantes border with the Parisi Carl Walk Hill Fort Devil's Arrows Standing Stones Stanwick Hill Fort Boltby Scar Hill Fort Rouslton Scar Hill Fort Cleave Dyke Defence System

Cleave Dyke Defensive System, North Yorkshire

Cleave Dyke System

The Cleave dyke system is several Dykes which combine to create a boundary of between 9 and 18 kilometres running north south to the west of Thirsk. To date excavations have found minimal dating evidence, but a pre roman date has been given which means if not built by Venutius the Dyke system was certainly available for use by Venutius. The Dyke itself is in close very close proximity to the hill forts of Boltby and Roulston Scar. Other dykes has been reported to the north and south of this system and it is therefore likely to have been used to define the border and to create a defensive possition against possible Roman (or Parisian) attack.

Interestingly this defence is some distance from the later Parisi – Brigantes border (other side of York) and may indicate (1) That the Parisii occupied a larger area prior to the Roman conquest, (2) Venutius moved the border to a more defensable position, or (3) the apparent “defending the barrows” position was deliberate, aimed a providing a defensive wall for the earlier Bronze age barrows. Or a combination of the three.

Boltby Hill Fort Roulston Scar Hill Fort

Cleave Dyke overview

Tor Dyke, North Yorkshire

Tor Dyke – North Yorkshire

Preliminary Report

Tor Dyke can be seen traced by the full length of the wall seen in the picture, it extends the natural escarpment of Cam Head which can be seen to the far left. This view is from the eastern side looking west.


“Around AD70 the rebel Brigantian Chief Venutius built the ditch of Tor Dyke close to Great Whernside as part of a defence system against Roman invasion. Despite a hold on other areas, (including Ingleborough and Gregory Scar north of Grassington), Venutius and his forces were overcome by the Romans.” This reference was taken from one of Mike Harding’s walking guides. A site visit to Gregory Scar has been performed, and although it has been dubbed “Fort Gregory” by the Dales Park Authority it does not appear to be much more than a small, very unusual settlement.

Tor Dyke appears to have been attributed to Venutius which dates it of the period AD 52 – 70. The presence of a legionary size marching camp a few miles to the southwest at Malham certainly indicates an active role in the Roman advance of AD 70. However, given the lack of published research so far a clear picture has yet to emerge.


The above multimap air photo shows the much scale of Tor Dyke, it streatches almost the entire width of the photo. To the right, almost at the end of the visible works is the entrance shown in photo’s below.

Tor Dyke is a large escarpment type hill fort a 2Km stretch of man – enhanced fortification links with natural escarpment to create a 3+Km defensive rampart.


Tor Dyke is close to Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales. OS Landranger 98 1:50,000 ref. 986756

Getting there

The narrow road from Kettlewell to West Witton cuts right through Tor Dyke about 4 Km north of Kettlewell. Immediately after cutting through the dyke the grass verge by a cairn is good for parking. A clear footpath travels the whole length of the fortification. For the best effect, a climb up Great Whernside is not as hard as it looks. The site is always muddy and boggy, although the footpath in the main is free from serious boggy bits.

Warning – Shake holes

The area is strewn with shake holes, which are the remains of mining from later periods. In some cases these are very deep, have steep sides (usually conical) and are filled with water.

On the east side the main entrance is to be found. Way in from the south is to the left of the picture.

Another view of the entrance, to show possible aditional ditch heading south.

This view shows the eastern side of the defences, they follow the wall almost to the point where it takes a sharp left turn to head up Great Whernside. This is an obvious weak spot and it is possible that it had additional defensive works.

Following the rampart towards the western side, in places outer defencive ditches can still be seen to an approximate depth of 2m. This indicates a possible original depth of 6m. Width estimated at 6m.

Further Research

1. Small enclosure located attached to rampart, needs to be investigated and mapped if in period.

2. Diagram of the fortification required.

3. More accurate sizing information for the rampart is required.

4. Excavations happening by Archaeologist Dr. Roger Martlew (University of Leeds) is planning an extensive project to explore the entire area – watching brief.

5. If this dyke defined a frontier, then other defences will have been required in parallel valleys to provide the required level of enclosure. Dykes of this sort will have been used to regulate frontier traffic with minimum manpower commitment.


Still looking

The Gallus Frontier – Brigantia against the Romans

The Gallus Frontier – Roman Rig and associated Iron Age Forts

Brough-on-Noe Leicester Lincoln Owmby Hibaldstow Old Winteringham High Cross Mancetter Willoughby-on-the-Wolds Margidunum Thorpe-by-Newark Brough Owston on the Trent Doncaster Chester Camp Farm Whitchurch Wall Pennocrucium Flint Scraptoft Crossing of the Poulter Templeborough Littlechester Chesterfield Mid-point Rocester/Brough-on-Noe Rochester Trent Vale Northwich Wilderspool Mid-point Wall/Littlechester Mid-point Northwich/Brough-on-Noe Broxtowe Marton Pentrich Almondbury Hill Fort Barwick in Elmet Hill Fort Osmathorpe Newton-on-Trent Rossington Bridge Roman Rig Carl Wark hill fort Wincobank hill fort Scholes Coppice Camp



The Gallus frontier, outlined in blue, south of the line, the Roman fortifications, to the north, Venutius’ kingdom.

The Frontier changes made by Gallus

In “Rome against Caratacus” Graham Webster put forward the proposal that Gallus was forced to remodel the existing Plautian northern frontier on the Humber-Trent line in order to protect Roman interest in the unstable Brigantia. He did this Webster suggested, by moving forward a network of forts towards and into the southern border of Brigantia. It should be noted that specific dating evidence is not available for all forts, and Websters proposal, and our interpretation are based on as much deduction as knowledge.

The above illustration shows the possible northern Roman frontier attributed to Gallus c.57 A.D. At Sheffield, along a significant stretch of this possible frontier, within a couple of miles of the front line forts there is a defensive dyke and possible fort system which has been suggested by some archaeologists as representing the Southern border for an anti Roman section of the Brigantes at in the first century AD. In short, Roman Rig may well have been Venutus’ defence against the Romans in preparation for the Roman invasion C69-71AD.

This research article aims to collate any related research so that a clear body of evidence can either prove or disprove this theory. Currently, there are a small number of positive findings with regards to Roman Rig and the associated Brigantian forts, as well as the Roman counterparts, some evidence is relatively new and still being investigated. However the lack of negative evidence gives a good indication that this key element to the Brigantian jigsaw – Venutius’ south eastern border 69AD.

To investigate the evidence currently to had click on the site indicators that are clickable, this will lead to individual site reports.

The Dyke is built to defend against the south and runs from Sheffield, past Templeborough and carries on almost to Doncaster. If this is an Brigantian dyke it would certainly add weight Websters definition of the border.

By accepting that this dyke may be a Brigantian counterpart to the defences set up in the period of Gallus’ governorship, we may examine the implications of the dyke as belonging to Ventutius or Cartimandua, and thus we can place a possible border for one of the two adversaries at a particular time..

One conclusion could be that the dyke belonged to Cartimandua, built as part of her defences against Venutius. If this were the case then this would date the age of the Dyke to c. 69AD when Venutius is believed to have overthrown Cartimandua and taken control of Brigantia.

The other conclusion is that the dyke belonged to Venutius, in the same period, but built against the Romans as part of his defences after he ousted Cartimandua.

Roman Rig Defensive Dyke, South Yorkshire

Roman Rig

The Roman Rig is a defensive dyke built to defend against attack from the south. It runs from Sheffield, past Templeborough and carries on almost to Doncaster. If this is a Brigantian dyke it would certainly add weight to Websters definition of the Roman border in the period.

Wincobank Iron Age Fort

Wincobank Iron Age Fort Scholes Coppice Iron Age Fort Templeborough Roman Fort

Diagram of Roman Rig (based on Boldrini and Bailey)

Picture by

The case for the Roman Rig in Sheffield being of a 1st c AD construction, whilst still not proven, grows increasingly stronger, as was highlighted recently by Nick Boldrini in his reassessment of the Rig. In fact for over a hundred years, antiquiries have been linking the existence of Roman Rig to the local archaeology and concluding they were part of a Brigantian defence against Rome. In fact if these were built by Venutius, the lack of dating evidence would be expected, given the potentially short active life of these earthworks.

Picture by

Picture by

What the antiquarians thought

Many antiquarians were attracted to the Roman Rig, many thought it was a Roman Road, however others of more insight interpreted it as a defensive system and linked it to the Iron Age hill forts and camps which appear on it’s northern side. Some of the more famous antiquarians to comment of Roman Rig included Mrs. Ella S. Armitage, Mr. John Danial Leader, Mr. John Guest, Mr Sidney Oldall Addy, Mr. Joseph Hunter and Mr. Elijah Howarth:

“on the north side of the river, over against Templeborough, is a high hill, called Wincobank, from which a large bank is continued without interuption almost five almost five miles, being in one place called Danes bank. And about a quarter of a mile south from Kempbank (over which this bank runs) there is another Agger, which runs parallel with that from a place called Birchwood, running towards Mexborough, and terminating within half a mile of its west end; as Kempback runs by Swinton to Mexborough more nore” – Gibson (Camden’s editor) 1695.

“Mr Leader tells us of a time when this earthwork was seen on the northern bank of the River Don, in Sheffield, near to the Wicker, in the region known as the Nursery, and so not far from the place where, much later than the date of the earthwork, was built the Lady’s Bridge, which probably had superseded a ford, with perhaps a line of leppings. At Neepsend, the Don was crossed by Leppings until the year 1795.

From the Done, the rampart followed a course where there was afterwards a footpath, but that track became Occupation Road, known now as Grimesthorpe Road; and here Mrs Armitage becomes our guide, telling us that if we had to proceed to the Upper Grimesthorpe Road in her time, then, near to the point where the Osgathorpe Road turns out of the Grimesthorpe Road we should have seen the first traces of this dyke. Here it was “gnawed away to its original course of stones, and very little of that; but follow it to the point where it descends the hill into the Grimesthorpe valley, making a sharp turn to the left, and it will be found as perfect as anywhere on its course.

“On the opposite side of the valley it has been entirely cut off by a quarry; but reappears at a point which shows that without climbing to the camp which crowns the Wincobank Hill, it ran like a terrace along the side of the hill, and followed the line of a remarkable fault or upheaval of the sandstone strata, till it crossed the Blackburn valley, where the Yorkshire Engine Works have destroyed all trace of it. But cross the valley and it will be found again near Meadow Hall, first on the right, then on the left hand side of the road.”

Hunter, in his “South Yorkshire,” does not seem to have examined the earthwork between Wincobank Hill and Sheffield. He says that “The earthwork at Wincobank is amongst the wood, and is not to be discovered without a strict search. The carriage road from Brightside to Wincobank village passes at a distance of about three hundred yards on the east. It cuts the Roman Rig, which appears on the right, raised high above the heads of the passengers. This is near the summit of the hill. It points directly to the work. Here it appears with a wide huge back, deep sloping banks, to a base which can hardlt be less than one hundred and twenty feet. The slope towards the north is the longest. A footpath is carried along the top. Persueing this path for about three hundred yards we enter a wood. The ridge may be traced through the wood, but is lost in the meadows between the wood and Blackburn Brook. It has evidently dissapeared from the labours of agriculture. We recover it again at Meadow Hall. Mr Fletchers barn stands on it. It is here on as wide a base as at Wincobank, but the elevation is not so great. In a field which is separated from the Meadow Hall homestead only by a lane, it is perfactly visible; and here, looking back, we have a fine command of the whole line from Wincobank. It accompanies the horse road from Meadow Hall to Hill-top, keeping a little to the left of it, and it is here and there hearly warn down by the plough. It appears evidently a little to the south of Hill-top village, crossing the road called Sopewell Lane, which connects that hamlet to Kimberworth. Here it is not called the Roman Rig, but Scotland balk, and the reason which is given for the name is, that it is a portion of a line which is drawn the whole length of the country to Scotland. Balk, it may be observed is a generic term for any lengthened line, as long as a piece of timber. Near Sopewell lane it is very evident, but I was told not more than three years ago it was more distinct than now. It may be traced, persuing a direct course, with few intermissions, for about a mile further, passing a little to the north of the village of Kimberworth, and crossing the road from Rotherham to Wortley near the second mile-stone. Three cottages, which cottages are known by the name of Barber Balk, stand upon it. Here it is very distinct indeed. A foot path runs along it, and it has been planted with a double row of oaks, Next it enters a plantation belonging to Lord Howard of Effingham, called Hudson Park. It’s course between Hudson Park and Greaseborough is affected with some uncertainty; but probably the horse road by the little village of Whinfield may coincide with it. At Whinfield I was told that thereabouts it became divided in two branches, one going to Greaseborough, the other in a more northerly direction, near a wall of Earl FitzWilliam’s plantation, from thence to the fish ponds in the park, where about a hundred yards of it where said to be very distinctly to be seen, and thence by Hoober to Wath wood, Swinton, and Adwick.”

He continues “At Greaseborough it is very distinct. It is there called the Balk. It Crosses the high road from Rotherham to Wentworth House. A foot path is carried along it to the head of the mill dam. It is lost for about three hundred yards, but appears again ascending the opposite hill to Nether Haugh, by the sides of Cross close and Lime Kiln Close. Between Nether Haugh and Upper Haugh it forms a wide road still in use today. The methodist chapel, built in 1817, stands upon it. At Upper Haugh it is lost, but a little portion of it is seen in a field about a quarter of a mile from the village, pursuing the same direction, and called the Roman Bank. It lies on the north-west side of a small natural valley, the other side being covered with wood. It comes to an abrupt termination in the middle of a large field, about half a mile south of Swinton pottery. It has evidently been dug away. It is still pointing towards Mexborough, but the indications of it beyond this point are, to say the least, very indistinct in that direction.”

Hunter appears to have become confused as to the splitting of Roman Rig – “But in another line they are still evident. At Abdy, about a mile and a half from Upper Haugh, the ridge is as evident as at any other part of its course. But wether it connected with the line we have traced to Upper Haugh, or with the line which at Whinfield was said to have taken a more northerly course, is uncertain. One of the two, however, cannot be doubted, since the appearance and the construction of it are the same.”

However, Mrs. Armitage is able to clarify the situation – “at a certain point in it’s course, somewhere in what is now called Lady Rockinghams Wood, it sends out a branch, and henceforth runs towards Mexborough in a double line, sometimes as much as a mile apart. It’s course is by no means straight, but sometimes turns sharply at right angles, as for example near the road by “Roman Terrace” near Mexborough. A very fine piece, showing well the ditch and counterscarps, may be seen in Wentworth Park, near the Greaseborough Entrance. At Mexborough the local name for it is the ‘barmkin.'”

Hunters description continues – “It may be traced descending the hill leaving Abdy a little on the left, and descending the opposite hill to a wood. It crosses the road from Wath to Rotherham, at Shaywell close, where about fifty yards of it are entire. Between this place and Swinton it is scarcely to be seen; but from Swinton to the tunnel of the Dearne and Dove Canal it is very distinct. It lies over the tunnel, and may be seen on the Shrugs, where it presents the usual appearance, a bank covered with furze and broom. Here it divides Swinton and Adwick. It bends round to Mexborough, and is distinctly visible at a cottage belonging to Mr. Joseph Green, near Thief Lane. This is about half a mile from Mexborough, It can be traced no further.”

Amongst the trees at Wilkinson Spring, Mr Addy examined the earthworks there, and he interpreted them as being part of the Roman Rig. These fragments, an embankment and a ditch, about 80 yards long he considered must have originally stretched from one end of the river Don, alongside the line of Grimesthorpe Road, running along the hill in a south-westerly direction; the other end of this fragment continuing in a north-easterly direction, accross the brook at the bottom of the hill, where Grimesthorpe stands, so as to be continuous with the ridgeway as it goes up the hill through the wood to Wincobank Camp, and so to Kimberworth and Greaseborough.

Addy also proposed that not only did the earthworks extend in the other direction, along or near the Grimesthorpe Road, by Meadow Head, Hall Carr and Burngrave to the River Don, but that there was a fortified line the other side of the River Don, carrying the defence through Upperthorpe, Steel Bank, Walkley and Stannington to the earthworks at Bradfield. His arguments were based chiefly on the local tradition and placenames.

Many antiquarians ventured to suggest that these earthworks were of Iron Age origin, many suggesting that they could be equated with a southern border of Brigantia, suggesting that they may have been built by Venutius as part of his preparations for the Roman advance. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Samuel Mitchel, a local antiquary suggested that the Roman Rig may have originally been part of an even larger defensive measure. He suggested that an original fortication stretching from Combs Moss in Derbyshire (near Chapel-en-le-Frith) through Sheffield and Doncaster to Hatfield Chase may have existed. Beyond Hatfield Chase he argued, the ground was so boggy as to need no further defensive measure. He also suggested that the hill forts and enclosures of Mam Tor, Carl Wark, and Wincobank may have served as rallying points for people guarding the defences. To that list we can add the enclosures of Scholes Coppice, Hathersage and Great Roe Wood, others may have existed and the locations of Hoober and Mexborough seem likely candidates if we assume that such camps (if this defensive arrangement actually existed) were probably placed at equal distance along the line of the fortification. Added to these further possible indicators include Blacka Dyke, in south west Sheffield, and a place name in Sheffield called Castle Dykes, both of which are in broad alignment with the Docaster-Sheffield arrangement, and a defence following these would work with Carl Wark.

The other plausable explaination offered for Roman Rig by antiquarians was that is was constructed after the collapse of Rome as part of the defences of the kingom of Elmet, during the Saxon period.

There were also various attempts to link Roman Rig with a much wider seemingly defensive measures of a seemingly similar period the more popular notion was that Roman Rig and other measures created a defense from Manchester to Doncaster and beyond, this was related to a further line from Leeds to Aberford, created by the Aberford Dykes, and a further line ran from Richmond to Stanwick, thus enclosing, partially at least, the entire east and south borders of the Brigantian Pennine area. To this list we could also add the Cleave Dyke system, which would go some way to filling the gap between Aberford and Richmond.

Lack of Dating Evidence

“The dating of the ridge is very ambiguous, as none of the excavations have lead to any firm dating evidence. The only dateable evidence to emerge from the excavations was a rim fragment of a hammer head mortarium. type 3b’ (Greene & Preston 1957. 27) which appeared in South Yorkshire circa A.D. 270. The sherd was found on top of the secondary filling of the ditch, suggesting the feature had fallen into disuse by the time the sherd was deposited, although how long after the construction of the ditch this was it is impossible to say. However this does not prove a pre-Roman or Romano-British date for the ditch as the sherd could have been incorporated into the ditch fill even if the ditch was constructed at a much later dale. Other dating evidence has been found; the antiquarian Addy (1893) mentions that the Blackburn coin hoard – a hoard of thirty coins dating to the first and second centuries AD found in 1891. had been found buried under a flat stone in the ditch of the ridge. However, the imprecise recording of these coins does not allow us to firmly date the ridge, although the find does strengthen the case for a Roman or Pre-Roman date.

Fleming (1973) also excavated a section through the ridge in 1973, and obtained two samples for radio carbon dating. Sample A was given a date of 1670 BP (circa A.D. 280). whilst sample B was dated to 4040 B-P- (circa 2090 B.C) (AERE nd). However, the excavation archive was poor and the context of the samples is unclear. Sample A appears to have come from the bottom fill of the ditch, but Sample B also appears to come from the ditch, giving us two widely different dates for the same feature. There appears to be no way to clarify this disparity, and it is probably best to ignore the dates due to the poor records associated with their location.” Boldrini. 1999.

Recent Assessment

In his recent assessment of the Roman Ridge – CREATING SPACE: A RE-EX AMINATION OF THE ROMAN RIDGE, Nick Boldrini sets out the most recent archaeological evidence for the date and reason for Roman Rig, although far from conclusive, Boldrini lays out a substantial case for a Brigantian origin for Roman Rig given the lack of clear evidence available so far; “On the balance of probabilities, my own view is that the ridge is probably from the period of Roman Brigantian interaction, as there appears to be a clustering of evidence suggestive of this period.”

The clustering of evidence Boldrini refers to, apart from the dating offered, is based on more general archaeological evidence as to the manner of construction, which indicated it was built quickly and went out of use soon after, and also with regard to its relationship with surrounding archaeology, the Iron Age sites have already been mentioned, but on top of these we must also add the Roman archaeology:

“Ryder however, who wrote an unpublished survey of the ridge in 1980. favoured the idea that the ridge was pre-Roman in date. ‘Ihis area of South Yorkshire was for some time a border area between the limit of the Roman advance, and the indigenous Brigantes to the north, who are thought to have been a confederation rather than a single tribe. When the Roman advance halted, the Brigantian Queen Cartimandua was on good terms with the Romans, probably as a form of client ruler. This suited Roman policy, in that they had a secure border with a friendly neighbour, but this did not prevent them building what has been described as a cordon of garrisons (Hanson & Campbell 1986) along their borders to watch the Brigantes. and it is likely that the fort at Templeborough just south of the river Don (Fig 1), formed part of this cordon. However, in A.D. 68. according to Tacitus (1996). Cartimandua divorced her husband Venulius and married his armour bearer. This led to internal strife between Venutius who was also anti-Roman and Carlimandua, with Cartimandua being rescued by Roman Auxiliaries. This changed the situation, leaving a hostile neighbour on Rome’s border and led to a series of campaigns by the then provincial governor, Q. Petilius
Cerialis. and his successors, to pacify the Brigantes.

With this historical evidence, Ryder is tempted to see the Roman ridge as being built by the Brigantes as a border with the Romans or alternatively as some sort of defence against Roman attack. Whilst this would fit in nicely with the historical evidence, one must be wary of fitting archaeology to history, especially when daling of the archaeology is difficult. However, some archaeological evidence does lend credence to this theory. The crude construction of the bank without any form of revetting (Ashbee 1957) could be an indication that it was built fairly hurriedly, perhaps as a quick defensive earthwork by Venutius’ followers. Furthermore, the fact that the ridge appeared lo have had a short use span (Atkinson.1994) would fit in to the timescale of the Brigantian evidence, which spans just under three decades from contact to conquest… …The proximity of Templebrough Roman fort, which has been dated in its first phase to 51-57 A.D. (May 1922). and the way the ridge could be interpreted as being built to face and dominate the fort, could be seen as suggesting that the construction of the ridge was a response to the setting up of this fort. If the ridge is interpreted in this way, this adds further weight to the possibility of a Brigantian date.” Boldrini, 1999.

Research Notes

“Though not yet dated by excavation, these earthworks are likely to be pre-Roman perhaps part of a defensive system dug by the Brigantes against enemies (Romans or other natives) advancing from the SE. They follow fairly low ground, never far from the river Don. They start about SK358880, run as a single earthwork NE through Grimesthorpe, E of Wincobank hill-fort to Hill Top (SH 397927). Here they fork, the W branch running .5 mile E of Scholes Wood hill-slope fort to Wentworth Park where it is well preserved, showing two banks and a medial ditch. It bends E at SK420985, can be found in the S part of Wath wood and E of the A633; it is visible across Bow Broom and ends W of Mexborough hospital. The E branch crosses Greasborough and runs through the E end of Wentworth Park where it is visible until Upper Haugh. It bends here towards Piccadilly where it disapears at SK 448981.” Guide to Prehistoric England, Nicholas Thomas, 1960.

Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire

Uffington White Horse – Uffington, Oxfordshire.

The white horse at Uffington dates to around 1000BC and sits amongst lofty company, close to Uffington Castle Iron Age Hill Fort and also to Waylands Smithy, a Bronze Age passage grave.

The horse was dated to between 1400 – 600 BC by the Oxford University Reasearch Unit in 1995 using optical stimulated luminescence dating, it age is probably late Bronze Age. Uffington Horse is the largest hill figure in Britain, it is 110m long and 40m high. The horse is on the northwestern side of the Ridgeway, close by and is built on a Bronze AGe cultivation terrace. A bronze age long barrow lies between the horse and Uffington Castle, a modified hill – Dragon Hill is also related to the white horse, although it’s purpose is not known.

Multimap air phot of the white horse, which can be seen above the clear outline of Uffington Castle.

David Miles and Simon Palmer did small excavations of the horse in the 1990’s, and were able to deduce that the horses shape has been largely unchanged over the centuries, although it was originally 1m wider.

The white horse as shown on the 1850 OS map.

A key problem with the white horse is that it was apparently made to looked at from the sky. It’s location on the Bronaze Age cultivation terrace means that at 20 degrees, the viewing angle even from quite a distance is quite narrow, yet, it a were built just a few metres lower, the angle would reach 40 degrees and would have given a much clearer view from the ground.

The view from Dragon hill obscures most of the horse, it is unlikely to have been a “viewing platform”.

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