Drawing breath

There comes a point when even I have to stop talking. When it seems the supply of words – written and spoken – is drying up, and it’s time to retrench, or retreat, or recharge, or something. The well is empty, and it needs time to refill. So while the editor ponders the first draft of Ruso 7 (which should be published in the spring and may not be called ‘Habeas Corpus’ after all, but more on that at a later date) I’ve been exploring ways of getting in touch with our ancestors that don’t involve sitting at a desk.

Two trowels, one worn down to half-size.The digging of archaeological holes (sorry, “sections”) is always therapeutic, even when the medieval ditch fill you’d hoped to find isn’t there. Still, it was a chance to spend time in the countryside in good company and to try out the new trowel. So much quicker than the old one.  It wasn’t until I put the two together that I realised why.

Then there’s the nearest hill fort (which I’m certainly not digging, and neither is anyone else, as it’s a Scheduled Ancient Monument). You may need the eye of faith to spot the ramparts on the horizon, but those parallel lines running across the bracken are man-made. Although of course women may have been involved too.

View of hillfort ramparts from below

We know absolutely nothing about the people who built the ramparts back in the Iron Age, but here are a few things they may have seen up there. Plus some they definitely didn’t.

Pink Thrift flowers

Bracken fronds

White flowers



Orange and brown Wall butterfly

Tree growing from side of grass bank

This path runs across the hill between the ramparts.  That’s what those banks are. (You’ll have to take my word for it.)

Wooden steps down overgrown slope

This helpful set of steps on the path was created by a community volunteer group (ahem: *takes modest bow*) under the watchful eye of an archaeologist. One of the volunteers spotted a flint in the soil, which is far more exciting to archaeologists than to anyone else.

It’s important to watch one’s feet here and not be distracted by the view:

View down hill to sea and harbour with yacht.

People assume that the hill-fort was created here to keep an eye on the harbour, but nobody really knows. However, it’s fairly certain that the sea was not sloping as steeply as this in the Iron Age. That only seems to have happened this morning. Sorry.





8 thoughts on “Drawing breath

    1. Ah, sorry. The dig was in a hamlet between Great Torrington and Oakhampton. The clay pipe kiln that was our official target proved as elusive as the medieval ditch fill. The hill is overlooking the harbour at Ilfracombe.

  1. Thanx for………Ruso & Tilla so far. Looking forward to more adventures to come, for they have become part of my household.

    Your new trowel as compared to your old one is like a teaspoon vs a ice cream scoop……should lead to much more satisfying excavating.

    Faithful Reader/Listener in Texas

    1. Hi Barbara,
      Ruso and Tilla hope to be back with you early next year!
      Meanwhile I think the old trowel will be honorably retired to gardening duties. Excavating with a teaspoon is dreadfully inefficient.

  2. I certainly understand needing to take a break and recharge. Take a break, draw your breath, and then please, please, please continue writing!

  3. I did a bit of university sponsored field archeology back in the day… North American version, looking for elusive remnants of our pre-contact native American population. I spent hours contentedly scraping layer by layer of dirt while crouched on the ground with a trowel and the time flew, metaphorically as well as perceptually.

    So, will your Scheduled Ancient Monument ramparts/suspected hill fort ever be officially excavated? And where is the location of that intriguing hill you picture, overlooking the water?

    By the way, when archeologists don’t know the use or reason for something they find, it is usually declared “defensive” or “ceremonial”. I don’t claim otherwise, but could it be that those ancient people living on that hill over looking the water did it for the same reason we might? Ie, enjoying the fine view?

    1. Hi Mimi – yes, the scraping of dirt is strangely therapeutic, isn’t it? There has been talk of excavation on the hill (which is overlooking Ilfracombe Harbour, on the north coast of Devon) but so far nothing’s happened. Geophysics hasn’t revealed a great deal, so the mystery continues. Meanwhile there may well be something in the ‘fine view’ theory – the earthworks don’t seem to continue right across the hill, so they might not have made much of a defence. Maybe they were just put up for show – making some local chief’s mark on an impressive vantage point.

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