A Day of Archaeology on Exmoor

A number of archaeologists are currently working with Exmoor National Park Authority in a variety of roles.  We’ve tried to present a complete picture of our ‘day of archaeology’ although unfortunately our HER assistant decided to take the day off to do something entirely un-archaeological so her work is left to the imagination.

Working on Exmoor on 29th June:

  • Faye Balmond (Me), Moorland Heritage Officer for the HLF funded Exmoor Landscape Partnership Scheme
  • Rob Wilson-North, Conservation Manager for Exmoor National Park Authority
  • Dr Lee Bray, Historic Environment Officer for the Exmoor Mires Project
  • Janette Henderson, MA student Placement

Janette’s view of Exmoor

Faye Balmond:

My role has a public and community archaeology focus, but this morning Rob and I were driven out to a remote part of the moorland to take an architectural consultant to look at a building known as Hoar Oak Cottage.  Although remote, it lies just off the Two Moors Way, so we passed a number of walkers braving the constantly changing weather conditions.  Once a farm house dating back as far as the 18th Century, Hoar Oak Cottage is now a ruin in need of consolidation. We left the land agent and architect to return in the land rover and walked towards Furzehill, an area identified by the National Park as a PAL (Principal Archaeological Landscape).  This means that it demonstrates particular characteristics of Exmoor’s archaeology particularly well.  In the case of Furzehill, it has a mixture of prehistoric features such as hut circles, cairns and stone settings and a high level of relict field systems and boundaries.  Along one edge lies the boundary of the former Royal Forest of Exmoor and a number of boundary stones are still evident.  The purpose of this visit was to determine how it is possible to assess the condition of the PALs.  Surprisingly difficult and not helped by the inevitable Exmoor weather, which had lulled me into a false sense of security leading to a taking off of the waterproof trousers, only to be regretted minutes later when the driving misty rain returned and didn’t really stop for the rest of the afternoon.  However, we are used to this (or should be) and persevered. A long, muddy and archaeology filled walk brought us back to the car and back to the office with just enough time to check emails!

Boundary Stone Furzehill

Rob Wilson-North:

Friday 29th
June, 2012 was spent out on the wild moorland of Exmoor National Park North Devon.

I was picked up by Land Rover and driven for 20 minutes with 3 colleagues (a land agent, architect and another archaeologist) out onto remote moorland to visit the ruins of a Victorian cottage which we are in the process of conserving in the Hoar Oak Valley. Following the site meeting two of us parted company with the others and trekked out further into the moor to do some assessment work on Exmoor’s Principal Archaeological Landscapes (PALs) which have been designated because of their exceptional historic and archaeological interest. Here we looked at the condition of medieval boundary stones which delineate the edge of the former Royal Forest of Exmoor. By now it was lunchtime and we ate our sandwiches within the earthworks of a Bronze Age roundhouse. As we did so, a large group of between 16 and 20 red deer emerged from Ruckham Combe, a deep valley below us. After lunch we headed off to find and assess the condition of other Bronze Age archaeology in this area, including another roundhouse, a stone row and several burial cairns.   By this stage it was time to head back to the car, which entailed a long walk over the moorland during which we came across the traces of old medieval field boundaries, peat cuttings and finally, a tiny stone-built bothy to shelter a shepherd in bad weather.

Boundary Stone and moorland Furzehill

Dr Lee Bray:

The day started with a telephone discussion with a geophysical contractor concerning the initial results of a high-resolution magnetometry survey undertaken on a flint scatter site in advance of mire restoration. The focus was the possible interpretation of the anomalies identified by the survey. I then moved on to initial planning of mitigation measures necessary in response to geophysical results.  The remainder of the day was spent reading draft reports and drafting comments on walkover and metric survey on other mire restoration sites on Exmoor and on designing posters for an upcoming outreach event, highlighting the archaeology of mires including liaison with Exmoor National Park Designer, concerning poster layout and image sourcing.

Janette at work

Janette Henderson:

I’m a mature post-graduate student studying for an MA in Landscape Archaeology at Bristol University.  I’m currently doing a six week work placement with Exmoor National Park and am just at the end of my fifth week.  One of the things I am doing as part of my placement is to design a couple of historic walk cards.  This is one of the methods that the Park will use to inform people about the archaeology on the moors.  Today I am making some changes to the text (route description and details of the archaeology) for the walk cards, looking for suitable images to go in them, checking a map produced in GIS, and liaising with IT to pull it all together.  I’m doing this mainly from my room in a B&B just outside Dulverton and the photographs which accompany this blog are of me sitting at my ‘desk’ in the B&B (taken by my landlady), and of the fantastic view of Exmoor from my bedroom window.  As you can see, I am surrounded by 50thbirthday cards.  I recently celebrated (if ‘celebrated’ is the word) reaching that advanced age, and what a place to do it in!  Tonight a friend of mine is coming to visit for the weekend.  She doesn’t know it yet, but tomorrow she is going to be a guinea pig to test out the walk cards!