Long before the Romans arrived in the Cotswolds, the native population had their own civilisation established and evidence of these earlier people has been left on the landscape by several massive whale shaped, long barrow chambered, burial tombs.
These Neolithic structures such as Belas Knap pictured here and other similar ones such as Hetty Pegler's Tump and Stoney Littleton have common attributes not just associated with their size and shape but also their positions atop high hills with commanding views over the neighbouring countryside. Not only that but they all seem to enjoy the most peculiar names.
The dominant placement of these long barrows would suggest an expression of power or dominance by the families that built them as monuments and shrines and the resources in time, effort and manpower needed to construct them at that time has been likened to the effort expended long afterwards in Egypt and the construction of the pyramids.
As well as position and design other aspects have been discovered that link these long barrows with the excavation work done on them in recent centuries revealing variations on the layout but generally having a lengthways chamber where remains of burials were deposited together with other smaller crypts.
Outside is a forecourt close to one of the main entrances which is often a false one, but where it is thought rituals involving fire, feasting, dancing and perhaps sacrifices were conducted. This false entrance is the one pictured above, and in the sketch from the original excavation in 1863-5.
Belas Knapp, whose name means 'Beacon Mound' is about 174 feet long, 60 feet wide and 13 feet high, orientated north-south and surrounded by a revetted dry stone wall.
|The entrance to chamber C indicated on the diagram above|
The remains of over thirty people have been found inside the tomb with some of them showing signs of having received a heavy blow to the back of the head before or just after death.
The entrances to each of the chambers are now open to view but would have originally been sealed off.
The picture below shows the interior of chamber C with Carolyn at the entrance showing how low and narrow this, the higher of the three chambers is.
The chamber entrances become lower and narrower as you move towards the southern end with chambers B and E pictured below respectively.
|Chamber E at the the southern end of the mound|
The final chamber, pictured below, is Chamber D where fourteen skeletons of varying ages were found including that of a woman and child showing fatal head injuries.
Belas Knap is, as mentioned in the start to this post, one of group of such burial tombs in Gloucestershire and is part of of an ancient landscape that includes other sites from the period such as sacred and complex stone circles together with later examples of hillforts.
Perhaps one of the best ways to experience these sites and the accompanying countryside is by walking the Cotswold Way, part of which can be seen below pictured from the tomb site.
Mr Steve and I are planning to walk part of the Ridgeway later this year and having been to Belas Knap I think the Cotswolds might be one we might like to include on the list for future expeditions.
|The Cotswold Way leading up to Belas Knap|
The walk up to Belas Knap soon revealed how it got its name, and as well as getting the cardio-vascular system working at maximum we were rewarded with some stunning views of Gloucestershire from the top.
The view from the top also gave a birds-eye look at Sudeley Castle former home to Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII's wives and one who managed to survive him by his timely demise. In addition the castle also served as a headquarters building for King Charles I and his nephew Prince Rupert during the Civil War, causing the building to be slighted by Oliver Cromwell at the end of the war.