above steyning crop

River and Hill


By Jim Hindle, Mar 8 2012 09:00AM

Long before it turned into a place associated with conflict, or shelter from conflict, or with watching the roads and waterways, or managing the region it was in the centre of, it stood simply as a stubborn looking, knuckleheaded hill. It may have been known just for that even then; prominent above the river valley, shrouded in trees, its earliest sign of the interest of people surviving only in the single, broken, leaf-shaped arrowhead attributed to sometime in the Neolithic.

Certainly hunters and foragers making their way up the Ouse would have known it but the only real measure of any according of special significance came much later with the barrows on the ridge that seemed to point towards it; each one only visible from the next in line and only the last giving clear sight of the hilltop. Whether these Bronze Age pointers speak as well of an earlier significance attributed to the place is difficult to tell.

Before then we know nothing but the piecemeal speech of pollen analytics. Woodland management is suggested in the Neolithic by a peak in lime pollen; trees then that may have been coppiced or pollarded or subject to the related but less husbandry-like sounding process of shredding. There may have been limited planting in woodland clearings at the base of the slope in around 3750 BC - as signified by a decline in elm and the appearance of cereal grains - but the trees returned a few centuries later and yew woodland was established; something that continued for the next fifteen hundred years.

A grove of yew existed on the hill itself till the late Bronze Age and would have distinguished it even apart from its characteristic dome and its salient place above the valley. It reminds us in this of other hilltops further West; though Chanctonbury’s famous ring came much later, the thought of both hills with their crown of trees remains intriguing. However much we may associate the place with what we see today, the image of yews on the hill speaks of something far removed from forts and dykes and cattle raids and war.

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