Thursday, 23 April 2009

Liddington Hill

"I felt immortality as I felt the beauty of a summer morning"
Richard Jefferies
The memorial to Richard Jefferies and Alfred Williams set on a large sandstone rock at Liddington Castle on Liddington Hill, dated 2000 so presumably to mark the Millennium. A place much loved by both writers particularly Richard Jefferies - Alfred Williams wrote these lines for Richard Jefferies who died in 1887 at the age of 39, ten years after Alfred Williams was born in 1877 (who died 1930). They did not know each as some people believe:
Of times on Liddington's bare peak I love to think and lie,
And muse upon the former day and ancient things gone by,
To pace the old castellum walls and peer into the past
To learn the secret of the hills, and know myself at last,
To woo Dick Jefferies from his dreams on sorrow's pillow tossed
And walk with him upon the ridge, and pacify his ghost.
Liddington hillfort looking towards Swindon

The chalk track up to the top of Liddington Hill

A dried up dew-pond at the top of Liddington Hill
Today I met up with two of my favourite people to walk with - Hilary and Pippa both former colleagues, now firm friends. They were very patient with me as I wanted to follow a specific walk from the Ramblers Association booklet '20 walks around Swindon'. We discovered the long barrow which sits on the ridge of the hill, much damaged now by badgers but still with a sarsen stone protruding from the top. This part of the walk was lovely and although we could see the motorway in the distance, today we could not hear it. We came downhill and then started the gradual ascent up towards Liddington Castle; near the summit of Liddington Hill we found a dried up dew pond, possibly quite ancient.
Extract from Dew Ponds (1907) by Edward A Martin FGS
Messrs. Hubbard, in their " Neolithic Dew-Ponds and Cattleways," give some details as to the formation of these ponds, although the source of their information is not stated. They say that there is at least one wandering gang of men, who will construct for the modern farmer a dew-pond which will contain more water in the heat of summer than during the winter rains. The space hollowed out for the purpose is first thickly covered with a coating of dry straw. The straw is in turn covered by well-chosen, finely-puddled clay, and the upper surface of the clay is then closely strewn with stones. The margin of the straw has to be effectually protected by the clay, since if it becomes wet it will cease to attract the dew, as it ceases to act as a non-conductor of heat and " becomes of the same temperature as the surrounding earth." This would, of course, follow quickly if a runnel or spring were allowed to drain into the pond. The puddled clay is chilled by the process of evaporation, and the dry straw prevents the heat of the earth after a hot day from warming the clay.
On the the hillfort itself where we spent some time by the Richard Jefferies/Alfred Williams memorial - which overlooks Swindon. Liddington Hill can be seen from the Lawns, Coate Water and the great Western Hospital and many other parts of Old Town and east Swindon.