Iron Age Hillfort, Bronze Age Disc Barrow & a Roman Road

There is so much history in this picture. At least 5000 years of it. I have been wanting to get this shot since forever, this snapshot gives us a small glimpse into our ancient past. The early Bronze Age Disc Barrow bottom right, is significant.

These funeral relics are so rare with only 200 known to exist here in England. The current thought in academia that these Disc Barrows were exclusive to high-ranking women.

Disc Barrow

A disc barrow is a unique type of burial mound from the Bronze Age, primarily found in the Wessex region of southern England. It consists of a circular or oval-shaped flat platform that is surrounded by a continuous earthen bank and inner ditch.

In some cases, the platform may be elevated above the surrounding ground. On the platform, one can find one or more small mounds covering human burials, which are placed in cists or grave-pits.

Read More: The Largest Pre-Historic Hillforts you Should Visit

Disc barrows can sometimes be mistaken for wide-bermed bell barrows, but they can be distinguished by the presence of a platform that supports the small barrow mound and the continuous bank encircling the outer edge of the barrow ditch.

These disc barrows are relatively uncommon and are considered to be the burial sites of significant individuals during the Bronze Age.

While some researchers have proposed that the Wessex disc barrows were specifically used for the burial of important females, this conclusion is based on the examination of a limited number of cremation deposits and assumptions regarding the types of grave goods found.

We are lucky that over 1000s of years it hasn’t been ploughed out. As with all burial mounds, it is on the highest location in the surrounding landscape. These are gateways to our ancestors.


In the background is the massive Eggardon hillfort – it is from the Iron Age.

The hill displays its earliest archaeological features in the form of linear earthworks that traverse its interior. These earthworks were partially excavated between 1963 and 1966, revealing their Bronze Age origin.

Additionally, within the confines of the hillfort, two bowl barrows have been identified and dated to the Middle Bronze Age. Outside the hillfort’s boundaries, atop the hill, there are three more bowl barrows and a disc barrow.

Read More: Iron Age Trackways That You Can Still Walk Today

The hillfort itself, which is characterized by multiple ramparts, dates back to the Iron Age.

Its extensive earthworks enclose a total area of approximately 21 hectares.

The defensive system comprises three ramparts accompanied by two intermediate ditches, and there are additional outer banks situated to the north-west and east.

Staggered entrances and the south-western section feature ditches and counterscarp banks, which offer further protective measures.

The Iron Age in Britain began around 750BC and lasted until the coming of the Romans in AD43. The ramparts are vast and as always, it is hard to understand the work and manpower involved. Hillforts were an important part of the Iron Age British, most certainly here in the west.

Iron Age Britain was tribal, and they lived in extremely well organised tribal groups, ruled by a chieftain. Hillforts are defensive in nature. Used to protect themselves from other warring tribes (man doesn’t change much).

The forts would become the place of safety and retreat when the tribe was under threat. We can liken them to walled medieval city.


The Saxons also considered it such a significant place that they held their hundred moot here, a sort of forerunner of West Dorset District Council.

During the Anglo-Saxon era, a Shire court, also known as a moot, served as a crucial legal institution responsible for upholding law and order at the local level.

Read More: Shire Reeve: You Know Him Today as The Sheriff

It fulfilled a range of administrative duties, such as collecting taxes for the central government.

Originating in Wessex, the system gradually spread to other regions of England.

Even after the Norman conquest of 1066, the Shire courts continued to exist, albeit with diminishing authority. Eventually, with the enactment of the 1846 County Court Act, the formal abolition of the Shire courts took place, marking the end of their historical significance.

Led by an Earl, the shire court consisted of influential local figures, both secular and religious, who convened to govern the affairs of the shire.

The county sheriff, or shire-reeve, also attended the court, serving as the king’s representative following the Norman conquest.

Subsequently, it became customary for the local bishop to preside over the court proceedings, issuing judgments while the sheriff ensured their enforcement.

In the southern shires, most legal matters, such as theft or murder, were addressed in tithing and hundred courts, while in the northern shires, they fell under the jurisdiction of wapentakes.

The shire court primarily focused on civil disputes, particularly land-related conflicts.

It convened at least twice a year and served as a Court of Appeal, considering cases that had been rejected three times by the hundred court before reaching this higher level.

The utilization of multiple courts often led to disputes over jurisdiction, causing delays in legal resolutions. These jurisdictional conflicts extended beyond the hundreds and included borough courts.

While it was feasible for wealthy individuals to prolong the judgment process indefinitely, only a few possessed enough power to do so on a regular basis.

Originally originating in Wessex, this legal framework gradually spread throughout England. A similar system was employed in Wales, especially after the enactment of the 1284 Statute of Rhuddlan, although certain distinctive Welsh practices were retained.

An important role of the shire court was to collect taxes on behalf of the central government. In rural areas, the Anglo-Saxon economy relied primarily on bartering and in-kind payments, rather than a cash-based system.

The court members were responsible for converting taxes paid in goods or food into coins, thereby facilitating the monetization process.


The Hillfort is close to 1000 feet above sea level and dominates the landscape, you can see the English Channel from here. On that note, Isaac Gulliver was a famous smuggler in the 1700s. He had built a smuggling empire.

We often look back at smugglers of that ages with a bit of romanticism – in fact they were violent and brutal times.

Read More: Smugglers of Britain: Kings of the Cove or Violent Gangs?

However, Gulliver was known as the “King of the Dorset Smugglers” and tended to be referred to as “the gentle smuggler who never killed a man”.

Isaac Gulliver, a prominent figure among local smugglers, gained recognition for his involvement in the illicit trade of wine, spirits, and tea. However, as time went on, he underwent a transformation and embraced a more upright lifestyle.

Known as the “Gentle Smuggler,” Isaac Gulliver stood out from his fellow smugglers, who lacked his purported gentleness. Born in Wiltshire in 1745, he later moved to Dorset, where he married Elizabeth Beale in 1768 at Sixpenny Handley.

Operating primarily from Lyme Regis, Gulliver managed a team of 40 to 50 men who sported distinctive attire, including smocks and powdered hair, earning them the moniker of the “White Wigs.”

They established a gathering place near the river’s mouth, providing them with a convenient spot to rest, dine, and wait for their smuggling endeavors, all within a mere 100 yards from the Customs House.

In 1763, Gulliver successfully smuggled contraband worth £20,000 into Lyme and other ports. He even daringly landed goods in full view of the vigilant Customs officials in 1776.

As a result of a legal development around 1789, which prevented the seizure of goods beyond the high water mark, Gulliver cleverly chose to land wine in close proximity to the Customs House. The contraband was then allowed to remain on the beach, conveniently situated near the Customs House and the Cobb-gate.

There is an interesting crop mark in the middle of the Hillfort it is thought to be from when Gulliver planted a group of trees that was used as landmark for the captains of his ships to guide to the coast of Dorset.

Roman Road

And finally, running right through the middle is a gorgeous Roman road. It was the road from Dorchester to Exeter, which in itself was the Roman road from London.

It is interesting to speculate that the Romans being the Romans would put their road, in a sense their ‘stamp’ on the landscape, just to let the local Iron Age inhabitants know who the new boss was.

Read More: How Were Roman Roads Built?

But in reality, the geology and landscape dictated to the Roman surveyors of where to build their new road.

The whole road from Dorchester to this point is on a chalk ridge, after which it descends down into the clay lands of the valley and is lost.

I have ridden a long some iffy mountains roads in the Alps and Croatia, and this stretch is just as scary as the Romans built it on top of one of the ramparts – get it wrong and you aren’t going to walk away from it with ease.

If you get the chance, stop by and check out the Hillfort, see if you can see our ancestors.

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