Coldrum Long Barrow & the Lost Village of Dode

I’m reading Ben Aaronovitch again so magic is very much on my mind and this landscape had it in spades. A fella had stopped me on Leyton High Road during the first lockdown, while I was out on one of my daily walks and told me I had to visit the ‘Lost Village of Dode‘. He then disappeared down the road on his bike before I could enquire further. I made a note on my long list of walks and thought no more of it til one evening a couple of weeks ago when I realised it was not far from the neolithic Coldrum Long Barrow that had been on my list for a few years. The walk formed in my mind.

This expedition into the Medway Valley was blessed with some magnificent early Spring sun – with temperatures hitting 20 degrees (in late March). I was released into the hills and started the climb onto the Downs from the village of Halling, crossing the ancient Pilgrims Way on the way up. Chalk breaks through the tree roots. I cross a field of pylons and a Richard Long style path. The enchantment of the walk never fails. It takes the first couple of hours to process and shake off your worldly worries then they just dissipate and disappear, the walk takes over and you are claimed by the landscape.

Coldrum Long Barrow, Kent
Coldrum Long Barrow, Kent

The video above maps out what follows. Arriving at Coldrum slightly earlier than expected, ready for a rest and lunch, I sat on a bench in the sun by this 6,000 year old burial chamber for nearly an hour. It was hard to wrench myself away to walk the paths, roads and fields back to the station at Snodland. Now I’ve experienced this terrain on foot, felt it through my boots and in my soul, I’ll certainly return to continue along the Pilgrims Way. It’s going to be a great summer of walks. Hiking season has well and truly begun.

Journey to the Neolithic at Maiden Bower

This expedition out to Maiden Bower marked the final installment in a trilogy of film collaborations with Dave Binns and Gary Lammin – and what an incredible journey it’s been. We started in Spring 2015 with a visit to an Iron Age burial mound near Ware in Hertfordshire overlooking the Lea Valley. This was followed the next Spring by an incursion into the Bartlow Hills on the Essex/Cambridgeshire border to the enormous burial mounds Dave dubbed the ‘pyramids of Essex’. Maiden Bower marked something slightly different, not a burial site although with a surface layer of Iron Age occupation overlaying a much earlier Neolithic causedway enclosure.

Maiden Bower Houghton Regis photo

Southern England: An Archaeological Guide (1973), James Dyer

“A number of disconnected ditch sections containing broken human and animal bones were found during chalk quarrying in the last century, and both neolithic and Iron Age ditch sections are still visible in the quarry face. Neolithic pottery and an antler comb have been obtained from the site.”

Southern England: An Archaeological Guide (1973), James Dyer

As we made our way across the field of waist-high wheat Gary lugged his heavy stainless steel guitar. He stopped on the gravel track plonked the case down and cracked out his axe. This was a place to play slide blues guitar he said, and proceeded to knock out a glorious riff to the hedgerow seed pods flickering in the breeze.

Gary Lammin guitar

Dave soon started to prepare the ground. The recurring theme of site re-use across the ages spanning thousands of years – and how this site, like the other 2 in the series represented the emergence of new hierarchies that slowly eased out the old primitive communism of hunter-gather societies. Except here with the causewayed enclosure we were delving much deeper into the past than on previous field trips.

Maiden Bower Houghton Regis

Maiden Bower

“This roughly circular earthwork encloses about 11 acres. There is an original entrance on the SE, the gap on the N not yet having proved to be original…. Occupation probably began in the 5th-4th centuries BC and lasted until the arrival of the Romans.”

– Guide to Prehistoric ENGLAND (1976), Nicholas Thomas

Maiden Bower occupies an imposing position on a plateau at the top of Dunstable Downs with expansive views stretching out from the sheer drop down into the chalk quarry. The circular enclosure is maintained by trees and shrubs, the camp interior populated by grasses, wild flowers and butterflies. Gary played again, Dave held forth on how modern society arose from sites such as this. We sat in the grass, Gary slept, and we somehow lost time at Maiden Bower, a magical place.

View from Maiden Bower Dunstable Downs

Sat amongst the tall grass with the sun bronzing our heads, Dave started talking about how recent discoveries at Gobekli Tepe have changed our view of the neolithic transition and how this could lead to a further video. Maybe we could link it with nearby Waulud’s Bank, the ‘henge monument’ embracing the source of the River Lea, he suggested.

‘I’m up for it’, I said drowsily, keen to further explore this area rich in prehistoric sites. ‘But it messes up the trilogy’, I add.

‘Maybe it’s the start of a new series’, Dave posits.