I was thinking about some of the previous video incarnations of the Bald Explorer the other day and I recalled a film I made in Wiltshire which looked at some of the old tombs that have been left on the landscape. It was called History You Can Touch and concentrated on ancient man and his need to build a monument to death. It fascinated me at the time as I researched the history of the Long Barrows and Round Barrows which had been constructed by our ancestors about six thousand five hundred years ago.
One of my favourite ‘tombs’, if we can accurately call them that, is of course the fabulously preserved West Kennet Long Barrow, but a slightly lesser known and usual place is the Devil’s Den. I liked it so much I even started my film with it, journeying there on a glorious hot March morning. But it is not so easy to get to if you have a load of heavy video equipment because it is off the beaten track up on the Marlborough hills. It stands today stark against the ploughed fields of rural Wiltshire, all forlorn and out of context. Most people wouldn’t guess it’s true purpose if they stumbled across it by accident and it would appear ambiguous and almost an enigma.
If you could travel back in time six centuries you wouldn’t see the stones as presented now for they would have been buried under a mound of earth, chalk and turf. The Devil’s Den, back then, was the entrance piece to an important long barrow belonging to a forgotten tribe whose name and numbers we can only guess at.
One of the reasons I called this video by this peculiar title was simply that there are some historical places that have not been fenced off, put in glass cases or had turnstiles installed requiring a fee to pass through. My imagination is also ignited by the fact that even the professional university lecturers and senior archaeologists do not really know precisely what these mysterious remnants of our past were actually for.
The prehistoric barrows in Wiltshire are definitely worth exploring. You will get a buzz visiting these old Neolithic tombs. Parking is usually easy and they tend not to be over crowded. Places like the Belas Nap, which now run by English Heritage, involves a delightful walk and simple climb. It was excavated in 1863 and 1865 and the remains of 31 people were found in the chambers.