Sunday, 1 April 2012

A is for Alfred’s Castle, Berkshire

Alfred’s Castle is an Iron Age hill fort near the Ridgeway – one of the ancient trackways used before the Roman roads criss-crossed our land – which passes near many Neolithic, Iron Age and Bronze Age sites as it goes from Lyme Regis to Hunstanton: I liken this track as “a Bishop’s move in chess" – a diagonal cut across the body of England to East Anglia.

Alfred's Castle - aerial view c/o Oxford University

Lyme Regis is on the Dorset coast of south England (home of Jane Austen’s The Cobb in Persuasion and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by local writer John Fowles) to Hunstanton, Norfolk on The Wash.

The hill fort dates from 6th C BC and has been authenticated by the ‘cropmark’ – an area of land where the crops grow in better conditions (over a ditch), or worse conditions  (over a wall)... depending on the underlying abandoned prehistoric site ...

Romano-British farmstead overlying Iron Age Pits
c/o Oxford University Archaeology Department
Alfred won a great victory against the Vikings at the Battle of Ashdown (8 Jan 871) – which probably deterred the Danes from striking further west into Wessex.  

Alfred had needed his Saxon troops and to call them he (according to legend) used the nearby Blowing Stone – an ancient perforated sarsen stone – which generated a booming sound around the countryside – thus summoning his men to defend their homes.

Grim's Ditch in Spring
on the Ridgeway near Alfred's Castle
Alfred’s men gathered at the valley-fort now called Alfred’s Castle.  The site is being excavated by Oxford University Archaeology Department from which more historic information will become known.

That is A for Alfred’s Castle ... originally an early Iron Age fort, six thousand years before the Romans reached our shores ... part of the ABC series Aspects of British Castles

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


  1. Interesting post and at least I know the Ridgeway and the castle here. I have even been to Blowing Stone :) Lucky we did not live far away when we were at Wantage. Looking forward to B. Have a great day Diane

  2. Happy A-Z Hilary. I am impressed with the name of the castle Alfred and looking forward to learn the rest of the names.

  3. Wonderful Hilary especially about Lyme Regis which I know very well.
    Excellent choice.


  4. Another beautifully written post Hilary! Julie

  5. Luv the Grim's Ditch in Spring picture with those beautiful flowers lining the pathway into the thick forest. A bit eerie!

  6. Very interesting. Noticing a lot of "historical" themes going on this year. Is this going to be your theme?

  7. lovely A

    here is mine

  8. Aren't you a good girl with the short post as instructed. Here I was with my cup of tea ready to settle to one of Hilary's long and enjoyable posts and you've nipped it in the bud. Love it all. Lyme Regis. Lovely.

    I'm pretty sure you would have visited me anyway, maybe, probably, but just letting you know Ann is on mine today.


  9. Hilary, I had made a promise to myself that I would spend more time visiting different parts of the UK, really looking forward to seeing what other delights you present, blessings Amanda

  10. I love British castles and have visited a lot of them, although mainly in the north of England. Will be returning to find out which others you are writing about, Hilary!

  11. I have a book somewhere about walking the Ridgeway. I always planned to do a chunk of it at some point in my life - but I'm starting to think it won't ever happen. I've done a few of the sites along it - but never visited this one. Thanks for the photos and information.

  12. I love this bit of castle history! Alfred's Castle - a wonderful start to A to Z. Cheers!

  13. @ Diane - funny I should pick a Castle you do know a little about! Wantage always looks a lovely place to visit ...

    @ Lisa - Hope you'll continue to enjoy the theme and names

    @ Yvonne - yes, Lyme Regis is near you .. isn't it ..

    @ Julie - many thanks, hope you'll be happy with the rest ..

    @ Gail - good to meet you - yes I couldn't resist the photo of bluebells in Grim's Ditch - I'm sure there are ghosts around there riding and walking the byways ...

    @ Jessica - are there - I'm doing Castles .. and I know another British chap who is doing the same .. whether we match up with our selections - we shall see ..

    @ Pa-ul .. I'm not sure if that's your name - and I struggled to work my way through to your blog postings - you're obviously very technical .. and I couldn't find you on the A - Z list .. but welcome regardless ... your meet up and Care for Arts is interesting ..

    @ Denise - I'm trying to keep them all reasonably short .. one or two have an extra para in -- for my sake! I couldn't ask people to 'endure' 26 of my long ones - though I could easily write them!! Sorry you didn't have time for tea!!

    Yup - I've been over and learnt more about the amazing woman who is Ann Best .. great idea you had for the challenge

    @ Amanda - I hope I can tempt you to visit some of the castles I'll be posting on ... England's got so much to offer ..

    @ Paula - I have one or two from the north and Scotland ... you might have some salient additions to add ..

    @ Anne - I think walking the Ridgeway sounds a great idea, a bit like the South Downs Way from here (Eastbourne to Winchester) .. but sadly like you - it'll be short distances for me now! Pleased I could give you a new place to find out about ..

    @ Lynn - thanks for following and am pleased Alfred's Castle matches up ..

    Lovely seeing you all - cheers for now .. Hilary

  14. Great start. You must have a real love for history, because you present it so well. Happy A-Zing!

  15. I have always wanted to live in a castle even if for couple days.

    Great post.


  16. Wow, cool! The Cobb from Persuasion, eh? Well, that's my favourite one. I'm going to have to keep that picture in mind when I read it next time.

  17. Yay for Alfred's castle and for Alfred's use of the blowing stone!! Take care

  18. A great start for Alfred the Great. Hilary. One down 25 to go!

  19. Fascinating stuff! I'm going to enjoy these - interesting to see how many I've been to.

  20. Hi Hilary. What an interesting post. I look forward to reading more of your posts during the A to Z Challenge. Have an awesome day!


  21. That photo of Grim's ditch is gorgeous! I wonder what they'll discover during the excavation?

  22. the picture of Grimm's Ditch looks like something out of a fairy tale

  23. How fascinating! Like others have said, the Grimm's Ditch photo is amazing. I know I am going to love this A-Z history lesson. :)

    Happy April to you, Hilary!

  24. @ Susan .. thank you - I love history and anything interesting now .. I seem to absorb it like a sponge - delighted to read you enjoy the presentation ..

    @ Teresa - oh that would be fun wouldn't it .. I'll join you!

    @ Clarissa - Alfred's Castle is not really in the neighbourhood of Lyme Regis .. but on one of those ancient tracks/routes used for trade and messages ...

    @ Old Kitty - it was fascinating to read about the Blowing Stone and call to arms, as such ..

    @ Bob - loved your Amberley Castle haunted story .. Amberley is a beautiful place to visit ..

    @ Simon - ok well let me know if you've been to them as we go down through April .. fun to read about .. Good to meet you ..

    @ Susanne - glad you enjoyed it ..

    @ Laura - I loved the thought of a walk along the old route .. with the smell of damp earth and bluebells ... the excavation has been going on for 10 years .. I guess finding the Iron Age Hill Fort was pretty exciting ... the pits will hold invaluable forensic evidence .. yes it would be good for an update ..

    @ BayGirl - good to see you again .. a few people writing fairy stories .. the 'ditch' would be a good draw into the woods for some poor unsuspecting soul ...

    Thanks everyone - lovely to have you here .. cheers Hilary

  25. Oooh, Hilary, I knew I was going to love your posts. I'll want to plan a trip going to all the castles you are going to feature!

  26. I love going to places, I may never see... thank you for taking me on a virtual trip...

    Great start... to the challenge "A" is for Awesome!
    Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]
    A to Z Co-Host
    IZOMBIE: Visit the Madness

  27. I just knew I would love your first post, Hilary. And I know I will love the rest!

  28. I'm afraid I always found these forts to be so uninteresting, I remember visiting at least one in Devon, don't remember where, I was on my first honeymoon at the time. Just a flat area with possibly a wall or some terracing. For me a castle has to have some walls at least. Rochester castle comes to mind. I wonder what the excavations will discover. Grim's Ditch looks lovely though, I miss bluebells.

  29. Forgot to say, I hadn't heard the legend of the blowing stone. New one on me. I am enjoying reading your blogs.

  30. If this is any indication, you are going to be faascinating reading for this month. I have always wanted to visit places like this. Although if I did I may never leave!

  31. I know both Lyme Regis and Hunstanton very well but didn't realise that they were joined by an ancient track. Fascinating.

    I’m doing the A to Z Challenge too at A to Z of Nostalgia

  32. Hi Hilary,

    I love your theme. I was born in Germany and traveled when I was younger, but have never made it into your neck of the woods.

    thanks for stopping by


  33. Hi Hilary - I'm going to really enjoy learning about British Castles during your A - Z posts.

    Alfred's Castle sounds intriguing.

    Cheers, Jenny @ Pearson Report
    Co-Host of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

  34. This is such a wonderful topic. I'd love to be part of the excavation team! The image of Grim's Ditch is beautiful.

  35. I like the idea of sounds that give instant information to all. The blowing stone. Like a church bell that gives a message to everyone. All fore-runners of the modern day TV news and you didn't even have to turn on the TV. :) Have fun with the A-Z.

  36. What a "grim" name for something so beautiful!

  37. Goodness, Hilary. Strange that I think we live in an historic area (near Jamestown 1607). That's nothing compared to where you are.

    Thanks for your amazing and wonderful stories. I love to read them.

    Mary Montague Sikes

  38. Hi Julie .. I think Grimm's Ditch brings us Spring in England .. glad you're going to enjoy the journey with me ..

    @ Karen - great news - a longish journey around Britain .. should be fun though ..

    @ Jeremy - hope you continue to enjoy the virtual trip .. thank you!

    @ Glynis - you'll find some interesting castling facts along the way ..

    @ Jo - I tend to agree .. but we know such more now - I find it fascinating being able to read up about them and learn about those times.

    I agree re castles with walls - but I wanted to write something different and cover different parts of England .. and if I did 26 posts of castles with walls - I'd be bored!! Glad you appreciate Grim's Ditch though ... and the info re the blowing stone ..

    @ Chuck - I aim to please! So enjoy your tour with me looking at Castles ..

    @ Ros - nor did I know about the Ridgeways until read about Alfred's Castle - another reason for posting on the King's castle ..

    @ Alex - well hope these posts give you some inspiration for a visit ..

    @ Jenny - very pleased to hear it .. the countryside around Alfred's Castle is beautiful

    @ Holly - I'm sure they'd love some help .. universities are always looking for interested parties! Another Grim's Ditch fan ...

    @ Manzanita - yes you're right .. and the buglers in the army, or horns, or the fluttering banners giving messages to the battalions .. interesting our ways of communication ..

    @ Birdie - it appears that Grim is one of the many names for the Anglo-Saxon god Woden (Odin) and meaning "the masked one" ... so there are a number of Grim's Ditches, Grim's Dykes etc around England ..

    @ Monti - yes .. it always amazed me when I came over for the 200th anniversary in 1976 - and Americans were raving about how old everything was .. I found it difficult to hold my tongue with our ancient history ... which of course isn't as old as Persia, India and China .. glad you enjoy the stories ..

    Cheers everyone .. see you when I see you! Hilary

  39. Hilary,
    This is so fascinating! I wish I could visit an excavation site like this... my heart pounds just at the thought!

    Excellent "A"!


  40. Would love to see this castle for sure. I'm looking forward to the rest of your posts, Hilary! Love learning from your research.

  41. I love interesting history bits like this. Hope you share more of this type of post, as Oxford University keeps investigating.

    Am now following, Hilary. Great post!

    DG Hudson - Rainforest Writing

  42. Wow, A is for Awesome and Amazing!

  43. Awesome post! Great pics and info :)

  44. Very interesting. There are so many ancient hill forts and I look forward to reading more about them through your challenge:-)

  45. @ Doris .. many thanks - we keep having excavations going in and then finding more .. I hope we don't bury it all under concrete! Lost forever ..

    Great to see you ..

    @ Nutschell - many thanks you'll know the countryside if nothing else ..

    @ Martha .. thanks for the As x 2!!

    @ Jemi .. many thanks glad you enjoyed it ..

    @ Janice - there are many hill forts - I selected a range of castle types and locations it'll be a varied bunch of posts

    Thanks so much everyone - see you tomorrow .. Hilary

  46. I'd LOVE to be able to go visit the excavation sight. Awesome awesome post and Happy A-Z challenge!

  47. And located in such a beautiful place.

  48. Thanks for a great post Hilary. I love that pathway on the right hand side. It must be very peaceful to walk there.
    How is your Mom? Hadn't had a chance to read or write a lot lately, but this A to Z challenge is one thing I like to keep up with. Take care of yourself Cheers:)

  49. See? I told you I would learn stuff over here! That pic of Grim's Ditch is so beautiful. Alfred's Castle is amazing. It would be awesome to be there during the excavation, wouldn't it? Great post, Hilary! :-)

  50. Hey Hilary,
    How's it goin' 'a'? Seriously, I'm delighted that once again, you are using a bit of imagination in this challenge that basically sees me lose a bunch of my blogging friends for a month as they get involved with it all.
    I was hoping you would start with Alfred's Castle and thus, you didn't disappoint.
    Wanted to let you know, on a side note, that your comment on my site in regards to my satirical slant on this A to Z thingy, has vanished. It shows up in an email but not on my blog. Very weird and I'm getting very angry with blogger.
    Take care and I shall 'b' back :)

  51. ‘cropmark’ – an area of land where the crops grow in better conditions (over a ditch), or worse conditions (over a wall)... depending on the underlying abandoned prehistoric site ...

    That is so cool! I had no idea. Really, it's amazing to me that a place can be there, but then somehow get buried.

  52. So many castles where you are, but can you find one for each letter in the alphabet? Looking forward to finding out.

  53. Great post! So glad that I stumbled across your blog! I was brought up in a family obsessed with history and was taken to castles when I was a baby and have grown up ever since just loving them. I live in Wales so there are alot of castles dotted around here. I went on a family trip to North Wales a few years ago and we visited numerous castles; Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris, Dolbadarn. Just amazing. I couldn't believe the size of Caernarfon Castle!

    Not too far away from me is Caerphilly Castle and the folly Castell Coch. I just love castles and history and am now your newest follower :) Really looking forward to your posts throughout the month!

  54. I like your "A" choice, Hilary! Wonderful history, thank you for sharing.

  55. I am definitely following you through the alphabet, Hilary. This is a great beginning. I remember both reading and seeing The French Lieutenant's Woman. Castles are awesome. I love them!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

  56. Wonderful A post
    I always learn so much from your blog ; )

  57. More great information. Those Romans really got around in their day. I'll be featuring you on my "H" day at Tossing It Out.

    A Few Words
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  58. @ SL - delighted you are enthused by archaeology .. I imagine they've set up a visitor centre nor or some information nearby ...

    @ Diane - England countryside in the summer is stunning - you're right there - West Berkshire/Oxfordshire are particularly pretty .. mind so is everywhere!

    @ Munir - I expect there are some wonderful walks around the area. My Mama is fine - honourably mentioned in my last post! No worries life is more important at times - but it's nice to stay in touch.

    @ Robyn - thank you! Being in the area would evoke many historical memories if we could sit under spreading branches and let our minds wander back in time ..

    @ Gary - oh oh sorry that you're losing your pals during April .. Do you know Alfred's castle .. that's great.

    Sorry about my comment - I had one go to Spam, so needed to extract it .. it might be there?!

    @ Theresa .. I liked that bit of historical knowledge too - makes sense, but something we don't think about ..

    So much is built upon - even in those days .. they just added to the site .. and we still do!!

    @ Inger - well I got flummoxed for XYZ .. well X and Z - but I can be creative .. index, glossary, summaries, timelines - will turn up at XYZ!! Q - is interesting .... but there

    @ Becca - thanks so much - interesting to know you're in Wales - I don't feature any of the castles you mention, but we do go into Wales!

    It'll be good to see you during the Challenge and afterwards .. thanks for following ..

    @ Karen - many thanks, lovely to see you here ..

    @ Ann - your golden movies will be fun to learn about .. and am delighted I'll tantalize you with a few more castles!

    @ Ella - many thanks .. enjoy the rest!

    @ Lee - you're a star - thanks for getting here: you're doing so much for us ... I'm at H am I? You are so supportive of us lot scuttling around in the back ground ..

    @ DG - many thanks - Blogger sent you to spam, but I rescued you from the Iron Age pit!! Plenty more castles to come .. and am delighted to read you love history ..

    Cheers everyone .. see you all soon - Hilary

  59. Now that's one I never heard of. Actually I've probably never heard of hardly any of the castles you're going to talk about. That's one of the reason's I like your blog. I learn something new all the time.

  60. Hi Richard .. thanks very much - nor had I heard really been aware of Alfred's Castle, so it interested me ..

    B for Balmoral - I'm sure you will have heard of .. and some of the others, some not ..

    Really appreciate the thumbs up for the blog - cheers Hilary

  61. Hi Hilary
    You know I had to read this one too. I think the History Channel did a series on early wars in Britain and included Alfred. Grim's Ditch doesn't fit my concept of a ditch. It is truly beautiful.

  62. Way to fire off your A, Hilary. Wow, what a fascinating area. I've never seen a castle, but hopefully I will one day. Alfred's sounds worthy of your first letter. For all I know, one of my distant ancestors might have fought at the Battle of Ashdown.

  63. Might have arrived here a day late - but it is never too late to enjoy the excellent adventure before us as we visit castles and learn of the history from your good self!


    Anna :o]

  64. @ Nancy .. I don't see the History Channel - but hope to catch up one day. It's the name I think - bounded by high mounds of earth .. as the path gets worn down over the centuries, the mud etc gets put onto the banks - hence you get a 'ditch' .. but I agree it does look stunning ...

    @ Joylene - well it'd be great if and when you get over to show you round .. I wonder how far we could trace our genealogy back .. at least we survived!

    @ Anna - no worries re being late - always good to see you ..

    Cheers Hilary

  65. Hi Hilary,

    I will definitely need to point Grade 4 teachers over to your blog. That's the year they study Medieval Times and castles are a big part of that.

    This blog could be quite the resource for classrooms doing this unit of Social Studies now.


  66. Hi Chase .. that's really kind of you - hope they can find some useful stuff - remember Bob Scotney's Castles too ..

    Well Canadians will enjoy my H Castle - keep an eye out?!

    Cheers for now .. Hilary

  67. Is there a Q castle and a Z?
    neat series Thank you

  68. Hi Patricia .. well there will be a Q Castle .. now the XYZ will be glossary, index, info etc etc

    Glad you're enjoying the posts -cheers Hilary

  69. Wow, I like the picture of Grim's Ditch:~)

    That's an old castle and it was interesting to learn about the 'cropmark' and the Blowing Stone...I really liked that. How did they make the sound. Did they actually blow in it?

    You're off to a great start:~)

  70. Hi Sara - isn't it wonderful - that scenery .. another month and we'll be there ...

    Apparently it's by blowing into the perforations at the right angle and with the right volume of air - a booming sound is released .. check out Wiki Blowing Stone
    I should have used the picture ..

    Interesting isn't it - cheers Hilary