Archaeological discoveries in Priddy area date back to 35,000 years ago. It was a busy area in the Megalithic period (Bronze Age), with a reasonably dense population (judging by the burial sites on the hill above Priddy) and facilities, such as Priddy Circles, which could accommodate quite large numbers of people.
Close to Priddy are lead workings going back to at least 300 BCE. It was these which contributed to the Roman invasion of 43 CE and afterwards - lead was valuable to the Roman empire, and extensive mining and export took place in Roman times in this and other Mendip locations. On the Old Wells Road past Priddy Pools is an extensive lead-working area - a piece of industrial devastation going back a long way.
One notable tradition is that Jesus visited Priddy. This connects with the tradition of his visit to Glastonbury and to other sites in Somerset (such as Crewkerne), Devon and Cornwall.
Priddy Circles are four large henges in an approximate north-south line - circular earth rings indicated by banks and depressions in the ground. The banks were made with earth, turf and stones supported by posts and stakes. No finds have been made from the time of the circles' construction in the Beaker period of the Bronze Age, in the Megalithic period around 2500 BCE. The circles are placed at the centre of the highest area of the plateau-like Mendips, at the furthest point from lowland access in any direction.
The circles are rather mysterious and look unfinished - especially the northernmost circle. One theory is that the builders discovered that the area was riddled with limestone sink-holes, which would make the ground unsuitable and unstable, and that they abandoned the project. Another more esoteric theory is that the circles existed for a ceremonial use fundamentally different from stone circles - certainly there seem not to be many ley-alignments from Priddy Circles. Or perhaps events took place which stopped construction.
Three of the circles are on private farmland accessible from the B3135 Cheddar road, just west of the intersection with the old Wells-Bristol road (B3134). Accessibility reasonable, with a little gate-climbing. The northernmost circle is just north of the B3134 to Burrington Combe, just past the Castle of Comfort Inn.
Priddy Nine Barrows
These are a well-placed series of seven burial barrows from the Bronze Age, in a rough NW-SE alignment. Quite good condition, and a rather magical feeling to them (especially in winter mists!). An inwardly calming and deep atmosphere is there, if you close your eyes. Access involves some fences and gates. On private property. Visible from various of the roads around Priddy.
The precise location is marked 'settlement', with 'tumuli', a little north-west from Westbury Beacon. It isn't easy to access, because of a few walls and gates to climb. To get there, go to Draycott on the Cheddar-Wells road, and climb the lane up the Mendips signposted 'Gliding Club'. At the top, with the gliding drome on your left, stop at a barn and gate on your right. Cut over the fields and a few walls to get to the settlement.
This is not suitable for the disabled or for those with an allergy to levitating over barbed-wire! This isn't a public right of way. Visit when the weather is benign and the wind low. Great for picnics in springtime - lots of flowers. A happy, light place for meditation.
There's not much to see on the ground at Westbury Beacon - just a few bumps - but two things stand out. The view is just fantastic - fifty miles on a clear day. And the feeling is - to me - clearer than in most places. That is, at times I have felt the villagers who lived here, and tasted their lives - the place-memory seems strong.
And what a desirable residence they had! On the escarpment edge of the Mendips, with beechwoods behind them and a vista over the Somerset Levels before them, this was a blessed place to live. In those days the climate was marginally warmer, and this place will have been free of flies, forest shadows and damp, safe, pleasant and inspiring. It probably had a wooden stockade around it to keep out the wolves and keep the kids and sheep in, but clearly defensibility was not an issue.
It might have been the summer residence of people who lived down below in winter, on the edge of the Levels, where the fishing would be plenty and the timber, hunting and forage good. Or it was people from a few miles inland (see Mendip Summits and Priddy), from the lead-mining areas and their villages.
The view stretches from the East Somerset hills to the Dorset heights, rightwards to the Blackdowns and Quantocks, and then again to Exmoor and the Severn Sea. From here you look down on Glastonbury Tor, Brent Knoll and Nyland Hill, and across the Moors, for miles. In former days this will have been a fine panorama, when rivers and lakes surrounded with reedy marsh and boggy woodland gave the Levels far more character than they have today. A fine place for a gaggle of roundhuts and an extended family of, say, 30-50 people.