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Sacred Sites | Crook Peak and the Mendip Summits

Sacred Sites

Crook Peak

Crook Peak (628ft) is not a notable ancient site, though it does have some ancient burial tumuli located on it. But it is a prominent hill on the Mendip scarp, clearly prominent to ancient people and worth a climb. A great place for kite-flying.

It's very noticeable from the M5 motorway as it sweeps south past the hill down onto the Somerset Levels toward Brent Knoll. It's prominent from the Levels, and noticeable because it is the only dramatic, up-standing peak of the otherwise relatively level Mendip escarpment. This will have been significant for ancient people by dint of its outline and visual dominance, even though it is not the highest point on the Mendips. It's the home and perch of a giant of old, a mountain-being with a stature greater than its height.

To get there, walk along the top of the Mendip scarp from Wavering Down or, from Glastonbury, drive to Axbridge, then Winscombe, then proceed along the lane toward Loxton, stopping at a pull-in on the left below Crook Peak, then follow the footpath up the hill. Take a snack, and once you've done the peak, walk along the scarp for a while - the views are dramatic and the landscape shapely.

Towerhead

Also known as Banwell Hill, Towerhead is a strategic iron age (possibly earlier) hillfort overlooking one of the passes through the Mendip Hills. There is a reasonable claim for the village of Banwell being the birthplace of St Patrick of Ireland (who was British) - see here. Banwell has certainly yielded significant Roman period remains, as well as early Christian burials.

Dolebury Warren


At Dolebury there is a legend of buried treasure and an enduring tradition of a fairy presence (the fairies locally being called Redshanks). The defences and Celtic field systems at Dolebury date back to the 300s-200s BCE, though they might mask earlier developments - the hill is so prominent that settlement over a much longer period is likely. The views from here are spectacular. Settlement certainly continued after the Roman period too - being a lead-mining area, issues of wealth and security will have been important.

Towerhead - Banwell Hill - from Brean Down


Seen from Brean Down, Banwell Hill and Dolebury Warren are impressive hulks overlooking the northern edge of the Mendips and commanding the plain below. Dolebury is rich in butterflies and other wildlife and it is a nature reserve.

Getting there. Take the A38 toward Churchill, and on the way down the hill look out for a sign to Rowberrow and the Black Swan pub, then for a sign for the Limestone Link footpath - take the turn at this sign, and follow the narrow road past the houses up to the car park. Dolebury is a steep climb from there, up the steps.

Beacon Batch

This is the highest point on the Mendips and, strangely, it constitutes ancient and modern archaeological sites. The modern one was a decoy and bombing range in WW2. The ancient one is a series of Bronze Age barrows from around 2000
BCE, a hilltop ritual burial site which forms part of the Mendip complex. It has impressive views in several directions.

Charterhouse

Charterhouse lies below Beacon Batch and above Cheddar Gorge. The general area will have been a major area of ancient settlement not only because of its location at the crossing point above the descent into Cheddar Gorge, but also because of its major lead deposits. This was a prosperous and strategic area from ancient and through Roman times, into the Middle Ages.
Charterhouse ancient lead mines

Lead was a rare and valuable metal in ancient times, for use both as an ingredient in alloys, but also for its pliability and inertness as a metal - almost an ancient plastic. Arguably, one of the key reasons Rome invaded Britain was for lead - and to stop the Britons exercising economic power in the Roman empire through lead price and supply manipulation (not unlike Iraq and Saudi Arabia today). This is the site of quite ancient industrial devastation - the Mendips too will have been stripped of trees at an early date, to fire smelters.

A small Roman town was here, linked by roads east ward toward Bath and Salisbury, and west toward the coast at Uphill, whence lead was exported by boat. Apparently the town was not successful longterm. The miners themselves will have been Britons and foreign slaves.

There is a tradition that Jesus visited not only Glastonbury, but also Priddy, a few miles away. The tradition has it that his uncle or relative Joseph of Arimathaea was a rich metals trader - and it is presumably because of the lead deposits at Charterhouse and Priddy that Joseph and then Jesus came to visit.

So Charterhouse and nearby Velvet Bottom, a delightful upper valley feeding into Cheddar Gorge, was more an ancient industrial area than a sacred area. But sacredness and economics were not far away - the nearby henge at Gorsey Bigbury being one example. In slightly warmer times, life on the Mendips will have been quite pleasant. Except perhaps for the wretched miners.

Gorsey Bigbury

Gorsey Bigbury is a circular henge - a ditch with a bank outside it, with a causeway leading north. It is not in itself notably attractive or interesting, except if you go to the place, go inside yourself and feel the historic presence of the place.

A lot has happened here, and its proximity to Cheddar Gorge and the .lead mines and other ancient remains of the Mendips makes it a part of a bigger 'megalithic park'. A direct alignment passes through it, continuing south through Westbury Beacon, Glastonbury Tor and Butleigh Church.

Over 4,000 flint flakes were found here, together with pottery, charcoal and hearths, dating back to 1900-1700 BC. Unfortunately most of the finds and archives concerning Gorsey Bigbury were destroyed in WW2.

NEXT: Stanton Drew

 
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