Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Pilsdon Pen - Dorset

A trip across the border into Dorset. Pilsdon has a long history of occupation. Flint tools over 10,000 years old and two Bronze Age burial mounds are evidence that the site was in use long before the hill fort was built. The hill is topped by an Iron Age multivallate Durotrigian hill fort which was excavated in the 1960s by Peter Gelling of the University of Birmingham with his wife Margaret Gelling at the request of Michael Pinney. The remains of 14 roundhouses were uncovered near the centre of the hill fort. From 1795 to 1797 Dorothy and William Wordsworth lived at Racedown House - a property of the Pinney family, situated to the west of Pilsdon Pen. They walked in the area for about two hours every day. Thomas Hardy's Wessex has it as Pilsdon Crest.

Like the other hill forts in Dorset, Pilsdon was abandoned after the Roman conquest, after which it's thought that it was used for rough grazing, much as it is today. It was bequeathed to the National Trust by the Pinney family in 1982. It's the second highest point in Dorset, though there's not a lot in it, and the other one is nearby.

The Pinney family have an unusual legend associated with them, in that they have one of the best known 'Screaming Skulls'

As it says here a screaming skull is a type of paranormal object. Supposedly several such exist today or did so in the past. Screaming human skulls are only found in England, where most counties have at least one such tale. When a skull of this type is removed from a house, screams will be heard and general poltergeist-type disturbances will be felt. This will continue until it is replaced or returns on its own. Supposedly, the person that removes the Bettiscombe skull will die within a year. In some stories these skulls have almost become the 'luck' of the house, in much the same way as some stately homes and castles have an heirloom, which in tradition must be kept safe to maintain good luck for the home and the family. These screaming skull stories seem to originate in the 1600s.

The tradition (which has many variations) to account for its presence suggests that it was the skull of a black servant of the manor some time in the distant past. It was his dying wish to have his body returned home to the West Indies. Unfortunately the master of the house - a man called Azariah Pinney - had no intention of returning his earthly remains to the West Indies, and he was interred locally in Bettiscombe Churchyard. Soon after his burial terrible screams and strange guttural noises issued from the grave, and the house was plagued by poltergeist activity. Finally after the local villagers and family members could take no more, the skeleton was recovered and brought into the house, whereupon the haunting ceased. The bones of the skeleton became lost over the years until only the skull remained. Any attempts to rebury the skull are always said to have resulted in the same disturbances.

Apparently it was examined by an archaeologist called Michael Pinney (unknown if related) in 1963, who dated the skull to the Iron Age. He suggested that the skull was that of a female, and was most probably associated with the Iron Age settlement of Pilsdon Pen close to the Manor House.

The pointy hill in the third photo is not Pilsdon Pen but Colmer's Hill near Symondsbury, and the last, aerial view, is not one of mine but from somewhere else that I can't find at the moment.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Saturday, March 12, 2016


A brief visit to Haytor, as we were in the area and I haven't been there for many years. Haytor is one of the most famous and reconisable features on Dartmoor and it bulby protrusion can be seen from many miles away. From the carpark (free and with a handy ice cream van) the walk to Haytor looks easy and gently sloping. This is an illusion, and in the fact the hill rises quite sharply to the summit, although it isn't a long way to walk. I had to stop a few times on the way up to take some photos, look at the view and catch my breath a bit. I was starting to feel that I'd become unfit over the winter, but was cheered up by the huge wheezing sound coming from a party of young french schoolchildren, all being marched up the hill on a geology field trip of some sort, or maybe just a sightseeing trip, but many of whom sounded much more breathless than I felt. Odd really, shouldn't young people be fit rather than wheezy?

Being one the famous and easily accessible tors, Haytor is very busy, and people really do feel the urge to climb right on top of it for some reason, something I never really get the feeling to do, but each to their own. There are certainly some good views from here on a clear day, southeastwards to Teignmouth and the sea, or northwards to various other bits of Dartmoor. I should imagine on a windy and wet day this place might be an altogether different experience.

In 1953, Haytor was used as a major location for the feature film Knights of the Round Table starring Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner. An "elaborate and impressive castle" was built between the two main rock piles of the tor and traditional medieval sports, including jousting, were staged here for the film.

There are quarries in the area and Haytor granite was used in the reconstruction of London Bridge which opened in 1831 and was moved in 1970 to Lake Havasu City in Arizona. The last rock was quarried here in 1919; it was used for the Exeter war memorial.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016