Eggardon hill with its Iron-age fort is a well-known landmark in West Dorset, from which you can see for miles, a view that takes in the sea and coastline and several more hill forts in this area including Abbotsbury Castle, Lewesdon, Pilsdon Pen, Lambert’s Castle and Coney’s Castle. Of all these I feel most attached to Eggardon. One branch of my mum’s family farmed here and as her side were embedded in this part of the country going as far back as we can know, I often wonder if some of my ancestors lived up here. It was first occupied in the Bronze Age, probably, although the ramparts visible today are deemed to be from the Iron age. I have often associated the place with a sense of loss and hurt pride, thinking of the coming of the Romans in AD 43, or thereabouts. Last weekend we were lucky enough to hear about some of Eggardon’s history from Steve Wallis, Dorset County Council archaeologist, who pointed out that we only have two lines reporting the campaign led by Vespasian, and that very little is truly known of what happened. He also showed us things about the place I didn’t know about at all such as the ditch and bank of an eight-sided enclosure, all that remain of a fenced-in stand of trees planted by famous smuggler Isaac Gulliver as a mark for his ships. (Despite what it says in the link I’ve given, interesting as it is, the trees are long gone. Certainly, they were not there half a century ago. Are they thinking perhaps of Colmer’s Hill?)
Steve also pointed out that the hill and the fort are divided into two parts, one owned by the National Trust, the other being in private hands. Separated now by a fence line through the middle of the fort, the south (N.T.) part is in the parish of Askerswell and the north part in the parish of Powerstock. Eggardon Hill would have been a convenient meeting place for conducting the business of Eggardon Hundred, the collection of parishes known at the time of the Domesday Book and on through the centuries.
The weekend was part of the poetry parks programme, organised by Marc Yeats and poet Ralph Hoyte of Satsymph. There’s a series of these workshops connected to the Dorset AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and the South Dorset Ridgeway, the Land of Bone and Stone. The aim is to create poetry which can be accessed via an app. By finding the correct GPS location – or poetry pool – you can hear the recorded poems. You don’t need a mobile phone signal and the app is free.
On Saturday we were all up on Eggardon. The rampart slopes were thick with pyramid orchids and there were bee orchids too, red-winged burnet moths and dragonflies. Below us three deer watched from a field. Buzzards wheeling, skylarks warbling overhead. Perfect midsummer. It was a lovely way to spend the day, a break to get away from the laptop and just work with pen (or in my case pencil) and paper and try something different. If prose sometimes feels like my day job, then poetry is recreation, an adventure, something I can just enjoy. Also slightly scary, which is part of the fun.
On Sunday, David of Diva Contemporary came to Askerswell village hall to record our finished work. Throughout the day we were sharing books, knowledge and impressions, writing, re-writing and recording. Amazing to hear some of the work produced in such a short time. Schools in the area are also joining in with this project, so not all the poems will be in the app but I managed two examples of an englyn milwr (three-line poems, seven syllables to a line, all lines end-rhymed), a short history of Isaac Gulliver’s enterprising enclosure, another poem speculating on the original name of the place (not Eggardon, which is probably from the Old English for Eohhere’s Hill) and something a little more free, mostly about the feeling of being up on the spur of rampart so high I was eye-to-eye with the buzzards while the deer swam through the landscape below.
The experience of being up on Eggardon for those hours and hearing from Steve Wallis about the many different ways in which has been of importance to the people who live in or visit Dorset helped me to lengthen my sense of its timeline instead of focussing on that one period of defeat and change two thousand years ago. I look forward to finding out more of Eggardon’s roughly 5000-year history of occupation.
I liked the weekend so much I’ve signed up to go to Maiden Castle too. This is said to be the biggest and most complex of all the hill forts in Britain. Many years ago we had a trip up there from our primary school but I had no idea what to expect, no clue of what the place was like and so was disappointed, having heard the word ‘castle’, to find myself on what seemed to be a bumpy hillside, with no towers or turrets. Now I find it a thrilling sight when passing by Dorchester and with Steve Wallis once again sharing his knowledge I’m looking forward to learning something I don’t yet know.
Photo credit: by kind permission, Mark Yeats of SATSYMPH