above steyning crop

River and Hill

In The Round

By Jim Hindle, Apr 14 2012 08:00AM

Have you ever noticed how on Caburn, it’s hard to figure out exactly who is on the hill? You can approach it and see a figure or two but after you’ve climbed up from the ramparts they’re no longer there, or otherwise you stumble upon people yards away as you round the crest or wander round the general curve. The hill seems almost a law unto itself, as if it rotates when you’re least expecting it or somehow seems to help disorientate you as to your immediate surroundings even as the landscape all around serves to pin you in place within the wider area. The curve and seemingly exposed interior are characteristics the hill is famous for. Infact they help define our understanding of it.

Volunteers during fieldwork regularly found they kept losing touch with their supervisors and surveyors from the Royal Commission found it necessary to use walkie talkies to keep in touch, despite the hilltops relatively small size. It helps diminish the possibility the place formed a settlement; the implication is that any houses would have been almost individual affairs, cut off by sight from any others on the hill in a way that has been compared to the ‘tower block syndrome’ of so many socially isolated high rises, even if really the height is the only fair likeness.

An ‘intra visibility’ study was actually carried out, measuring the distance at which others could be seen. The results showed five largely separate viewing areas whose small size demonstrated how hard the site would have been to defend, as well as conduct other, domestic activities. If the site was indeed something other than - in this early stage at least - a classical defensively designed hillfort, what other function did the early earthworks serve? The roundness and the ramparts lower down monumentalize the place and the many pits whose contents imply ritualized activity help imply that the place’s purpose remained as sacred in the Iron Age as it did when it was covered with trees. Confusing close up at times, the place acts as a landmark and beacon from any distance and once it may have been watched from afar while devotions we only can guess at were laid down; signs in themselves of entreaties or a continuous faith.

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