This walk to the Youngsbury Burial Mounds had been on my itinerary since the summer of 2015 when I’d marked the tumuli and earthworks of the Upper Lea Valley and the Hertfordshire plateau on an old Ordnance Survery map. But somehow I’d never managed to get out there. A few days before Christmas seemed like the perfect time, the day after the winter solstice, when the white light slices through the bare tree trunks.
The Youngsbury Mounds had been excavated in 1890 by County archaeologist John Evans who wrote a report published as, ‘On the Exploration of a Barrow at Youngsbury, Near Ware, Herts’. Here’s an extract from his report:
“The more eastern of the two barrows is recorded to have been opened a hundred years ago by Mr. David Barclay, the then owner of Youngsbury, and there is a tradition of spearheads, coins, and other objects having been found in it, none of which however are now forthcoming. According to Clutterbuck’s account, it was nevertheless Roman pottery and coins that were found in the barrow, which he says proved it to be of Roman origin. Judging from the appearance of the barrow a shaft has been sunk in it from the top, but I am by no means sure that the original central interment has ever been reached. This barrow is of much the same dimensions as the other, the opening of which I am about to describe, and in all probability it belongs to the same period.
Both barrows stand at the edge of a field known as the Hilly Field, and are partially overgrown with whitethorns and maples. On my arrival at Youngsbury,, by the kind invitation of Mr. Giles-Puller, on the 11th of June last, I found that a preliminary opening had been made in the upper part of the mound on the south side. At its outer end this cutting extended over about a sixth part of the circumference of the barrow, but its vertical sides converged so as to leave a face about 6 feet wide at what was apparently the centre of the mound, and at this point the cutting was about 9 feet in depth. The diameter of the barrow as nearly as could be judged is 60 feet, and the height about 12 feet above the surface of the adjoining field.
Clearing out the loose gravel and soil still further, a magnificent sepulchral urn became visible, lying slightly on one side. It had split into three principal sections and a few smaller fragments, but is in wonderfully good condition, and has been well repaired by Mr. Talbot Ready.
It is an olla formed of well-burnt grey ware, with a bold rim nearly an inch in depth round the opening, and its surface ornamented with parallel markings somewhat like corduroy. These at the neck are wavy, but on the body run in graceful curves. This ornamentation is by no means common, but is not unlike that which occurs on some Late-Celtic urns.”
Not only was the walk a magical experience, the power of the location that had inspired the positioning of the mounds still resonating across the millenia. But also my subsequent visit to the British Museum to look for artefacts excavated from similar Romano-British burials. Passing the abandoned church at Thundridgebury added another layer to the expedition and reading reports of the site being adopted by ghost hunters and occultists who perform rituals in the medieval church tower. It’s a deeply storied and beguiling terrain – I’m already planning my next trip.