Thursday 22 April 2021

Belas Knap Long Barrow: a Piece of British History

A culture-rich walk in Gloucestershire and dressing for April

Chamber D (photo by author)

They told me it was a steep climb, but in the end it wasn’t much of an effort. The main issue was how to dress. TS Elliot got it wrong. April is not the cruellest month, but the most weather-uncertain one. Layer-shedding is what I call the fourth month of the year. And so it proved to be today.

I started uphill with a jumper, a hoodie and a jacket. Belas Knap, our destination, beckoned further up ahead. Going through a couple of fields, I realised that lambing season had already started. The evidence was the little, Easter-picture-perfect lambs gambolling about, not too far from the ewes’ watchful gaze.

Belas Knap Long Barrow, in Gloucestershire, is one of those sites that connects you to history straight away. It’s over 5,500 years old and it was built by prehistoric people, early Neolithic period. It was a burial place. At least the remains of 38 people were found within the four chambers that make up the mound.

The site was first excavated in the 1860s. However the barrow was left in ruins until 1928 when more digging and restoration took place. There are four burial chambers and a “false portal” (picture below). The latter might have been built to deter robbers, even though not many valuables have been found in the tomb chambers. Another theory suggests that the false entrance was a “spirit door”, making it easy for the dead to come and take offerings..

False entrance known as portal setting (photo by the author)

By the time we initiated our descent, my hoodie was wrapped around my waist and I was holding my jacket. I was also wishing I had at least put on a T-shirt underneath, instead of a thick top. It wasn’t the climb that was the problem but my sartorial choice.


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