Monday, 4 March 2019

Looking for Uthred’s Angels

Not being a millionaire nor a millennial I don’t have seventeen separate TV subscriptions so when season three of ‘The Last Kingdom ‘ switched from the BBC across to Netflix that meant I wouldn’t be watching their version of books five and six. Never mind, I do however have all the books and in number six, ‘Death of Kings’ there was a section which piqued my interest. Obviously I have no idea if this sequence got included in the latest series or if it was, then how they portrayed it, perhaps someone can let me know.

Uthred goes looking for an appropriate ancient burial mound so that he can manipulate his enemies through a deception which involves getting three whores and dressing them up as angels, then he has them make suitably contrived prophecies from within the mound in line with his scheme.

From page 238

“The Mound we discovered was on a high ridge with views stretching all around…I thought this ancient mound would suit us.

The place was called Natangrafum and it belonged to a Mercian Thegn….”

“ A circular mound lay in the centre and athwart it and beneath it was a long mound some ten feet high and over sixty paces long. Much of that long mound was just that, a mound of earth and chalk but at its eastern end were man-made caves that were entered through a boulder-clad doorway facing towards the rising sun. “

According to the list of place names in the front of the book , Natangrafum is now known as Notgrove in Gloucestershire.

A day out was therefore in order, with lunch of course.

Notgrove barrow sits quietly along the roadside about 11 miles east of Cheltenham, it has its own brown prehistoric site signpost and there is a lay-by close to it. Overall it is a little uninteresting, the site has suffered over the years and bears little resemblance I suspect to what it used to be like.

It appears that it was dug into and robbed and left open for many years possibly from as long ago as Roman times until it was backfilled by the local council in 1976 who didn’t do a very good job. I read one comment on the Megalithic Portal that likened it to a grassed over gravel heap which is a bit harsh.

I have linked the detailed site description from Historic England below:

Notgrove Long Barrow

Along with my pictures I have included one from the Megalthic Portal, an excellent site for all things mound-y and stone-y.

The Megalithic Portal

My next stop was seven miles to the NW where I wanted to look at the much more impressive Belas Knap, a site Jon visited last year (see link below). I don’t have much to add to his acceptable post, I can confirm the magnificent views of the valley below and Sudeley castle stands out along with quite a number of other impressive country mansions, one of which you pass on the way to the long barrow. From the road there is a short steep climb through woods until you get to a steeper field, several stops may be required in the process, I know as I took quite a few. After a while it levels out and there is a dedicated path leading to the site, it was a bit more of walk than I had expected after looking at Google Earth prior to my trip and the site itself appears a little bit squashed in due to the
surrounding fenced off fields. It’s a shame that they couldn’t agree with the local farmer for a bit more space as you lose the sense of how big this barrow actually is.

Belas Knapp aerial view

Belas Knap Long Barrow - Cotswolds 2018

This Barrow is much more impressive and if I had three whores dressed as angels then ….
Then I suspect I would probably never ever leave my house again however in my opinion Belas Knap is a much more likely spot for Uthreds scheming but who am I to argue with Bernard Cornwell.

Time for Lunch and I had picked out a likely prospect which was conveniently in-between the two sites, The Craven Arms at Brockhampton, 16th C and built in typical Cotswold stone with a pleasant beer garden at the back, it looked very appealing. Unfortunately they don’t do Steak Pie so I had to settle for Ham, Egg and Chips; proper ham, proper eggs, proper chips, proper job. Washed down with a very decent pint. Excellent.

Thoroughly recommended.

On the way out I got talking to a delivery driver from Otter Brewery which is a local East Devon supplier of excellent beer and one of my favourites, apparently I was in the same class at school with his wife and he also originally came from Cardiff near to were I currently live; this isn’t the first time this sort of coincidence has happened recently, I am starting to get very suspicious.

Gloucestershire Pubs - Craven Arms

This has been a day out with Mr Steve


  1. Very interesting, and thank you for the research. QI was disappointed that the angels didn’t make it into Last Kingdom’s third season. Nonetheless, an excellent series.

  2. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing. Im also a huge Bernard Cornwell fan, and I have almost every book he has written. I don't get access to the BBC shows you referenced, but I assume in time I'll see them. I'm curious if they do justice to the books.

    As for your last part of your story it made me chuckle. I've been places with my Dad, he's a former high school teacher and coach, and he meets former students everywhere...bottom of the Grand Canyon, beaches in Maine, top of a mountain in Colorado. My mom discovered early on that she can't take him anywhere without expecting to meet someone he knows. I'd wager in your case the old adage that its just a small world, but that is a really neat coincidence.

  3. Wait, "Mr Steve" . You aren't a millennial ?

    Whoever backfilled that barrow should be shot.

    Nice report "Mr Steve". I made a similar trip to Oxton House, near Starcross, the area which is extensively mentioned in an earlier book in the series.