Clappers command an impressive outlook

BACK in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, defence was a big issue for early settlers in the Chilterns.

And as hill fort locations go, few can boast quite such a commanding position over the local landscape as the wonderfully named Sharpenhoe Clappers, a scheduled ancient monument in Bedfordshire, part of a wildlife oasis sandwiched between the urban sprawls of Bedford, Dunstable and Luton.

BIG SKIES: the view towards London from Sharpenhoe Clappers PICTURE: Mary Tebje

Chilterns travel blogger and tourism marketing professional Mary Tebje sets out to explore Sharpenhoe, and discovers an ancient chalk escarpment that nowadays is a place of big skies, wildflowers and a sense of calm, criss-crossed by waymarked trails and looking spectacular against a foreground of rape fields.

It is one of a quartet of National Trust properties lying adjacent to each other, with the Sundon, Moleskin and Markham Hills to the west and Smithcombe Hills to the east. Reputedly haunted by a Celtic tribal chief, these days the hills are frequented by ramblers and picnickers, butterflies and red kites.

The article is one of numerous entries in Mary’s “quiet exploration” of the Chilterns which shares the stories of the people and places that have shaped the region. See more of Mary’s adventures here.

Project unearths iron age hillfort

LASER technology has helped researchers identify a previously unknown prehistoric hillfort in the Chilterns.

The discovery was revealed by the Beacons of the Past team based at the Chilterns Conservation Board following a recent laser scanning survey of the entire Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which citizen scientists have been poring over.

It adds a new monument to the score of existing Chilterns hillforts like Pulpit Hill, Cholesbury Camp, Church Hill, or Medmenham Camp – although the exact location has not been revealed.

SIGNS OF THE PAST: an enclosure at Pulpit Hill PICTURE: National Trust / Hugh Mothersole

Hillforts are a class of prehistoric monument constructed in Britain from between the Late Bronze Age and the Middle Iron Age, between four and 12 centuries before Christ, although they are often not on hills and may have been used for a variety of functions.

Confirmation of the new hillfort in the AONB coincides with the Online LiDAR Portal’s one-year anniversary. Launched in August 2019, the portal now has nearly 3,000 registered users, who have created records of more than 10,000 archaeological features.

LiDAR stands for “Light Distance and Ranging”, an airborne laser scanning survey technique used by archaeologists for nearly 20 years which can reveal underground features hidden beneath tree cover.

Beacons of the Past is a National Lottery funded project to discover more about the local hillforts, which seem to have a fairly regular distribution, with a few notable gaps.

“One of the aspirations of the project was to locate any hillforts that might have been hiding in plain sight or under tree cover,” said project manager and archaeologist Dr Wendy Morrison.

Archaeologist Dr Ed Peveler, landscape heritage officer for the project, and several citizen scientists independently identified an earthwork in the southern Chilterns as a potential hillfort.

Following careful assessment and an extensive walk-over survey by the team with the full co-operation of the landowner, the existence of a new hillfort was confirmed.

Dr Morrison said she thought it was likely from visual inspection of the rampart and ditch that it dated from around 800-500 BC – “Although one can never be certain of the age of a prehistoric earthwork without excavating for dating evidence.”

There is no public access to the site and the exact location is currently being withheld to protect sensitive archaeology and the landowner’s privacy.

Funded by a £695,600 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and a number of partners such as the National Trust, Chiltern Society and local authorities, the project provides a focus for community and public involvement through techniques such as remote sensing and survey, practical excavation and research, as well as a programme of events and educational activities.

With full training offered, the Online Citizen Science Portal can be found here.