27/08/2014 12:56 BST | Updated 27/10/2014 05:59 GMT

Heading for the Hillforts


Dorset is a county awash with hillforts. It tops the charts as the place to go to see some pretty amazing archaeological sites dating back thousands of years.

And Hambledon Hill in north Dorset is right up there. It's one of the best hillforts in the UK. It looms large in the landscape, towering over the countryside. From its grassy summit you can see the three counties of Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset.

Human activity at this place predates when the stones were heaved to Stonehenge. You can find signs here of the early evidence of farming going back six thousand years.

This place, which in area is the same as 50 football pitches, is dripping with the history that encapsulates the story of the British Isles. Its layers take us through the Bronze Age, Iron Age and into the early days of Roman Britain.

Hills became the place where communities settled - the line of vision was good and the ability to defend settlements was easier. Hambledon Hill is a prime example of where the theory of defence became a reality over the centuries.

And as technology advances more layers of this special place will be revealed, shedding a light on the people that climbed these hills hundreds of generations ago and called this chalk grassland home. When you wander around a hillfort you're instantly transported back, taking in the experience of what it would have been like to live in a place such as Hambledon Hill.

For three decades a partnership between the Hawthorn Trust and Natural England looked after Hambledon Hill. And now the baton of custodianship has been passed on to the National Trust.

The first hillfort that the Trust has bought in thirty years, it completes a magnificent seven hillforts in Hardy country. These jewels in the National Trust crown have drawn people for a huge variety of reasons. Whether as a place to escape the rat race, a place to be at one with nature or a place to fire the imagination.

As Thomas Hardy said in 1896: "There are some heights in Wessex, shaped as if by a kindly hand For thinking, dreaming..." Historian Harry Mount has described how the Bronze and Iron Ages shaped the countryside. Travel to the rolling hills of Dorset and you get a real sense of a pre-Roman landscape; to the beating heart of the pre-Roman world.


And yet it's not just human history that makes Hambledon Hill such a rich place. It's also teeming in wildlife and was made a National Nature Reserve in 1992. Careful stewardship by Natural England has created an oasis of nature, a hill full of natural treats to whet the appetite of any wildlife lover.

The uniqueness of many hillforts is how they're so magical for understanding our ancestors and giving us a window on the natural world.

Picture a summer's day walking along the hill. A cloud of Adonis Blue butterflies take to the wing and wildflowers gently sway in a light summery breeze. You might come across a bee-orchid and hear the distinctive and thrilling sound of a skylark ascending beyond view.

Or as the mists gather around the hill it feels as though you're 'riding a whale' in one of the mighty oceans; an experience to fire a lifetime of memories.

Hambledon Hill is a place of national and international importance for its cultural and historical heritage and for that it needs to be celebrated. Its ancient contours have witnessed much history and the passing of our evolution over the millennia.

If you visit this hill it will touch your heart and creep into your soul. It plays its part in defining our national story and gives us the perfect canvass to connect with that past, present and future.