If you have been fortunate enough to be able to get outside recently, you may have noticed the increase in bird activity, as many of our overseas visitors return to our shores and fill the air with their song. Those returning include the redstart, the swallow, the sandpiper, the house martin, the cuckoo, and the nightingale. My dad mentions them in his column from 5th April 1980, summing it up beautifully: “Their arrival will be marked by song, and our resident birds will be in full voice too, and it is this music of the countryside that makes us realise that winter is truly behind us.”
It was my mum’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and we all went out for a lovely family meal at The Carpenter’s Arms at Felixkirk. I’m so glad we took the opportunity to get together as the following day was when Boris Johnson announced that we all had to avoid large gatherings and places such as pubs, restaurants, clubs and theatres. So it was the last chance for us to meet up as a family in a social situation. I’m so glad we took it!
Felixkirk is a lovely village lying north east of Thirsk, just below the Hambleton Hills. It’s what visitors might call a typical English village, with gorgeous cottages clustered around the church of St Felix and the pub, which at the back has stunning views out over the vale of Mowbray and the Yorkshire Dales beyond.
Unusually, at the heart of the village stands a statuesque oak tree atop a large grassy mound. As we sat in the pub looking out, we discussed what it might be and why it was there, and so I determined to find out.
In fact, the man-made mound is known as a bowl barrow, and is a very ancient burial site dating to between 2400 – 1500BC. It is so-called because its shape resembles an upturned bowl and there are believed to be more than 10,000 such sites in the country, many of which, like this one, are designated ancient monuments of national importance.
Some sites have been excavated for their archaeological interest, but this one hasn’t, and remains pretty much unchanged since it was first constructed, save for the addition of the oak tree. It is assumed, therefore, that the remains of the deceased within it are undisturbed, apart perhaps from being moved by tree roots.
Because it has never been dug up, we have no way of knowing how many bodies lie within, be it just the single person or multiple people. It is known locally as Howe Hill, with ‘howe’ being another word commonly associated with burial sites.
One of the most well-known collections of barrows is the Devil’s Humps at Stoughton on the South Downs. At its centre are four well-preserved barrows, including two bell-shaped barrows and two bowl barrows. There are also two pond barrows nearby, which got their name due to the fact they dip in the middle.
One of the bowl barrows was opened up in 1853, and they found it had already been disturbed and robbed of artefacts although they did find some burnt bones, a whetstone, a horse tooth and some Iron Age pottery fragments which are now in the British Museum. One of the bell barrows was also excavated in 1933, and a number of Iron Age and Bronze Age pottery fragments were unearthed.
These barrows are found all over the country, often in remote rural areas, and the scale of them can be seen particularly well from the air. In fact if you search for ‘burial mounds from the air’ on the Internet, it brings up lots of images, and reveals very clearly how our ancient forefathers dealt with their dead.
Before I finish, I just want to say that that my thoughts are with everyone affected by this awful Covid-19 pandemic, not only those directly touched by the illness, but also people whose businesses and livelihoods will be suffering. I fervently hope the Government’s actions will be enough to see us through this trying time.
As a last note, if you are stuck inside and looking for something to entertain yourself, then you could do worse than re-read my Dad’s Constable series of books, which have recently been re-released by an exciting new publisher. Just follow this link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nicholas-Rhea/.
Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 3rd and the Gazette & Herald on 1st April 2020