Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Walking into the past

I think it is possibly, even probably, my favourite walk. It involves driving to a car park on the Ditchling Road, walking across 39 Acre Field, through the woods at the top of the Wild Park, across a golf course and so onto the Roman camp. The proper name for this is Hollingbury Fort although locals have for decades if not centuries called it the Roman camp. It predates the Roman occupation of England by centuries, even millennia given that the earliest occupiers were there in the Bronze Age. The remains that we see today, however, date only from the Iron Age but that still makes them about 2,500 years old.

The fort is roughly in the shape of a squared-off circle with a diameter of some 500 metres. The only real evidence still existing is the ditch and rampart. Walking round the rampart provides glorious views over the city of Brighton to the sea in the south, across the Downs to Stanmer Woods in the north (with a glimpse of the sails of Jack and Jill windmills on the Downs above Clayton), over the Moulsecoomb valley to Bevendean and Woodingdean to the east and across Patcham and over ridge after ridge of the Downs to the west. I have posted numerous pictures of both the fort and the views over on Fern's blog, including a fresh series of pictures that started yesterday. and there is a good explanation of the fort on this web site.

When walking the ramparts I do sometimes wonder about the people who have trodden the path before me. I suspect that there were few people other than the occasional shepherd for several centuries until mid-Victorian times, but what about those Iron Age men who dug the ditch and built and defended the ramparts? How long must it have taken them with the primitive tools they had? Who decided just where the ditch would be situated and how did he communicate that decision to the diggers? What sort of language did they use? There is no sign of the ghosts of those Iron Age settlers when walking round the fort nowadays so it is impossible to ask, but what a history lesson could be built by an imaginative teacher.

And let's face it, 'History is who we are and why we are the way we are,' as David McCullough said. And I'm not going to tell you who he was: that's your homework for today.

1 comment:

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

"The past is what happened. History is what is written down."

I read that... or something like it the other day.

I have a few of David McCullough's books