Just south of Tan Hill in the Vale of Pewsey is a place known as Rybury Camp. It is an ancient earthwork surrounding a flattened plateau on Clifford's Hill. I've always found it a fascinating place as when walking in this vale which contains the highest points in the whole of Wiltshire, Rybury can easily be spotted from many directions. It has a distinctive hillfort shape, with a ditch around the perimeter. While this is now a place of quiet, it was once bustling with activity as the top of the hill started off as a causewayed enclosure in the Neolithic period some 5,000 years ago.
Causewayed enclosures are quite rare in Britain, with around 70 recorded nationally. Built during the middle part of the Neolithic, they could have been used for a number of different functions including settlement, defence and ceremonial purposes. They could also have been trading centres or communal meeting places for feasting. Flint knapping debris discovered up here gives some clues about ancient activities, and there have been some chance finds of Neolithic pottery.
But human activity continued up here for thousands more years. By the time of the Iron Age, Rybury Camp had been remodelled into a hillfort, and in the fields below by the farm at All Cannings Cross, an Iron Age midden has been excavated. So by this time, there was a settlement in the field. Perhaps they used the hillfort as an extension to their daily life. Maybe it was a place to gather the community on special occasions, or a defensive retreat when they felt under threat.
In the summer of 2022 we had quite a dry spell. Local farmer, Tim Daw, had noticed some interesting crop marks in the field below Rybury Camp so I took my drone up to investigate. We were hoping to find something dramatic like a new unidentified henge. While I couldn't make out anything obvious, there were circular shapes which looked to me like Iron Age pits, and several boundary lines. Not being an archaeologist it's not my place to make definitive statements about any of this, but it was interesting to see the different colours and shapes running off the chalk hollows of this hill indicating water flows.
While this place was once a busy settlement in ancient times, today it is quiet and low on footfall . I've spent many an hour up there on the hill and had the place to myself. In fact Rybury Camp is mostly used for grazing today, so if you go up there in the summer you are likely to be sharing it with a herd of Ruby Red cows from nearby Bridge Farm.
If you look carefully on top of Rybury Camp you will find a solitary sarsen stone. This isn't a leftover from the Neolithic or the Bronze Age though. It is a memorial stone put up there by the Daw family, commemorating family members who once lived and worked on the farm here. If you go up there, you can read the inscription on the stone for yourself. A wonderfully thoughtful tribute, which now has one of the best views in the vale.