Looking down on Fingle Woods from a position high above the Teign valley, stand the spectacular earthworks of Wooston Iron Age hillfort. For many years they have been shrouded in mystery and hidden by layers of gorse scrub and impenetrable conifers but, for the first time in centuries, the ancient ramparts will benefit from some conservation work at the hands of many volunteers. Under the supervision of archaeologists, the volunteer teams have started to reveal some of the mighty earthworks that have been covered by vegetation for decades.
The Scheduled Ancient Monument area spreads 500m from north to south along a promontory above a bend in the river Teign and some magnificent banks and ditches have just been opened up. Fred Hutt, the new National Trust Ranger for Fingle Woods is managing the work plan for this area and the Teign Valley National Trust volunteers with the help of Chagford Conservation Group set to work and made an impressive start. After hundreds of small trees have been felled, they have been carefully stacked for extraction by horse which will minimise erosion to the earth banks. This voluntary activity is causing a lot of interest and help is willingly provided by other teams of volunteers from National Trust properties at Killerton and Parke.
The history of the Iron Age hillfort at Wooston is known to go back more than two thousand years, but recently, another step back in time has taken the restoration project back to the Bronze Age. After the discovery of a hut circle platform in an adjacent conifer woodland the stories of peoples’ lives in the valley reach thousands of years further into prehistory.
Standing in the ancient hut circle, surrounded by 20-year-old conifers two of Fred’s volunteers were preparing to start work last week. To protect this real-life record of our ancestors, some careful tree felling and extraction is needed to prevent damage to the feature. Rachael Mooney and Nigel Axford have been with the National Trust on Dartmoor for three years and, before starting up their chainsaws, spent a few minutes absorbing the sense of history around the hut circle. “It’s phenomenal, I feel utterly privileged to be a part of this project from the beginning” Rachael said with obvious excitement, and Nigel mused “I wonder how many people lived here. It must have been a bit like the settlement at Grimspound”. Only time and some careful investigation will tell.
Trained to operate chainsaws last year, Rachael and Nigel started to put their new skills into action to get the rescue process underway. Their task was to cut the brash off standing conifers to open up a line for the horse drawn extraction team to get in and out. Trees will also be cut away from the Bronze Age platform itself and carefully taken off site before the archaeologists can investigate further. There are so many questions, the volunteers agreed “it’s what makes it so exciting to be involved!”
by Matt Parkins
Photos: Matt Parkins and Paul Moody