Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Pools on the Hill

A Sunday walk, up onto the Beacon Hill. New Forest geology consists of layer up on layer of gravel, flint and sand. The raised beds of an ancient sea. Sometimes flat for miles where it is covered by heath and woodland. In other places , lifted into gently undulating hills.

On the long Beacon hill, there is an outcrop where iron age people lived for generations in a small hill fort. We walked to what remains of their long ago village. Among the gorse and birch scrub, there are still signs of ditched ramparts,where wooden pallisades would have protected the villagers from the wind and from their enemies.

Among the flat spaces where wooden homes would have been built, are many pools and shallow ponds. The photograph above shows a light streak of the thick clay that stops water draining through areas of otherwise sandy Forest soil. Up on the hill, clay must have lined dips in the land where water now collects. We wonder if these pools were here before the ancient people settled, or are they the result of digging and earth movement as the villagers constructed ditch ramparts , pits and foundations for their wooden buildings? Maybe, existing pools of water, which dry out only in high summer, would have been another reason for settling this hill top place?

The still pools reflect a looking-glass other world of stark winter trees and a clouded blue winter sky.

Trees and bracken grow on the still visible long mounds which were a part of the higher rampart protecting the hill fort and village. The mounds would have been topped by a wooden palisade fence.

This hill fort afforded a long view for its inhabitants. They would have seen friend and foe coming for many miles. Layers of land stretch into the misty distance, across the Forest, the valley of the River Avon and to the coast and the far line of the Purbeck Hills.

In the near distance, lie the tumulus burial mounds where ancestors would have found their final resting place.
Another view shows a sandy Forest track that leads to low-land water pools to the south. Did the iron age people use this way across the heath in their daily travels , as it is still used now by walkers and riders making their way to the far side of the village?

This quiet place of still pools reminds me of the Wood Between the Worlds. In C.S.Lewis`s first book of the Chronicles of Narnia, "The Magician`s Nephew", two children find magical rings in an old attic. When they put on the rings, they are transported to the Wood Between the Worlds, which is where their adventures begin. Digory, the boy, finds himself under water......

" Then his head suddenly came out into the air and he found himself scrambling ashore,out on to smooth grassy ground at the edge of a pool.

As he rose to his feet he noticed that he was neither dripping nor panting for breath as anyone would expect after being under water. His clothes were perfectly dry. He was standing at the edge of a small pool- not more than ten feet from side to side- in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves : but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others - a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots..."

In the Beacon wood it was still winter and there were ponies cropping heath and holly by the pools. Still ,there was the feeling that jumping into one of those clear and wood-mirror pools might take you to another world.

Pasture on the sheltered slopes behind the hill fort woods.

Trees on the lane bank show signs of coppicing and hedge layering long ago.

Oaks and holly in an old hedge that surrounds a commoner`s cottage and pasture land.

Pussy willows opening on a tree by the lane. A small sign of the coming spring.


Bovey Belle said...

What a lovely walk. I did enjoy it, and the history, and the magic of the Magician's Nephew too! I wish I'd read that as a child - no excuse really as we still have the complete set which we bought for our three to read.

I wonder if the some of the clay-lined pools were enlarged by the Iron Age folk for their water supply? It's a long way to go for water down into the valley. But probably a long way to carry clay too! I bet that particular hill has been colonized since post-Glacial times.

Kath said...

That little grey pony looks like a wee ghost, what a lovely place.

ChrisJ said...

Oh, Oh, OH! Pussy willows! I miss them too!

By the way, my theory about the pools, based on the ones in Flamborough and Hawaii, is that they were made to keep fish in -- the ones that they caught. It would keep them fresh and hopefully produce more.

Dartford Warbler said...

I too have a feeling that the pools were made, or at least exploited and managed, by the Hill Fort People. Chris, that is a fascinating thought about the pools being used to keep fish in.

Kath - the grey pony has been very ill with an infection almost like strangles. It was good to see her looking so much better on Sunday.

BB - you should dip into your copy of The Magician`s Nephew. Quite a dark book and often left out in film versions of the Narnia stories.

Morning's Minion said...

The grey pony looks almost magical peering from her screen of branches. Maybe this is how unicorns came to be part of folklore [?] I'm glad the pony is recovering--I had thought strangles meant almost certain death.
This would be an interesting walk to take in all seasons, but not necessarily in all weather.