Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hill forts around the Blackmore vale

Hod Hill, Hambledon Hill and Rawlsbury Camp are all hill forts on the escarpment around the edges of the Blackmore Vale in Dorset. The Blackmoor Vale is largely created by soft clays from the Eocine period whereas the large rounded hills are from an older Cretaceous period and are made on top of Greensand deposits. Greensand is a hard blue green rock whereas the clays are the low lying soils that retain a soft slightly undulating look.  
edge of vale looking west
The Geology, which gives rise to subtle variations in height and appearance,  has had an impact on land use. The majority of human settlements are built on the drier strips of Greensand and limestone, whereas the more poorly-draining clays are more sparsely populated.

Hod Hill, Hambledon Hill and Rawlsbury Camp are all placed high on the landscape and with the views they give over the Vale make them seem like outposts on the edge of a wilderness.
A description of these forts was noted by the biographer "Suetonius" who travelled with the future Roman Emperor Vespasian during an invasion of England. He described the forts as Oppida. Oppida translates to a fortified market town, whose main purpose was explained as a gathering place rather than a habitation centre. Small farms and holdings would have been outside its walls more as they are today dotted around and on the lower slopes of these hills. Perhaps an obvious clue to the lack of permanence is that  water doesn't flow uphill.
stourpaine village
Stourpaine from the hill fort entrance
The climb up hod hill is steep and I usually find myself flat on my back and staring at the sky when I reach the top. Looking back down the hill south from the entrance is Stourpaine. A pretty village that looks like a middle class version of Hobbiton.
Walking the large ridge to the east  you see towards the edge of the Cranborne chase where unusual hogs back shaped hills delete themselves off into the distance.
hod hill, hambledon hill, Rawlsbury camp,
View North East from Hod Hill
At the North East corner of the fort  Hambledon hill becomes visible. Hambledon hill is neolithic in construction and is an even older settlement than Hod. It's symbolic age increased by a small Yew forest growing up its steep slopes.  There is a noticeable interplay between the two forts where a single road cuts between the two hills.
hod hill, hambledon hill, Rawlsbury camp,
 Stereograpic projection 360 degrees looking north from Hod Hill
By the end of the north ridge heading west the landscape opens out to the truly vast looking Blackmore Vale and beyond.  From here you can really get a sense of past and present English settlements with clearly delineated villages spaced across the flatness of the clays.
hod hill, hambledon hill, Rawlsbury camp,
 Stereograpic projection 360 degrees from the highest point of Hod Hil
Here you can imagine what life would be like up in the clouds, watching the changing weather patterns. Cloud shadows morph themselves across the slopes of the surrounding hills and serve to add to a sense of time passing without any particular regard for chronology.
hod hill, hambledon hill, Rawlsbury camp,
Stereograpic projection 360 degrees from Hod Hill towards West
Going south on the western side of the slope is a nice gentle slope and as the slope descends the pace of the walk increases.  Walking down the hill to the south and lowest slope gives you the best vantage of Stourpaine. Whereas the north Hambledon hill side seems more wild and ancient the contrasting south side has more a feeling of calm with the villages of Stourpaine and Durweston closely visible.
hod hill, hambledon hill, Rawlsbury camp,
Stereograpic projection 360 degrees from Rawlsbury  Camp
Anywhere where people have built on for such a long time is probably a good place for humans to stay. Thumbs up to English Heritage who along with others care for and maintain for this area. As the song goes " This Land is Your Land, it was made for you and me". Enjoy it while you can paradise is often just a blink away.
hod hill, hambledon hill, Rawlsbury camp,
Digital Sketch of Hod Hill Entrance

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