Wessex Attractions: Marden Henge

Marden Henge, 5½ miles southeast of Devizes, is the third of Wiltshire's major prehistoric sites, along with Stonehenge and Avebury, though less well-known than either. It is the site of Hatfield Barrow, a Bronze Age burial chamber. In July 2015, archaeologists from the University of Reading found a 4000-year-old skeleton believed to be that of a teenager, buried with an amber necklace at nearby Wilsford Henge.

Marden Henge covered some 26 acres, making it larger than Stonehenge or Avebury. Unfortunately, little of it now survives. It merits only the briefest mention in the book Prehistoric Sacred Sites of Wessex by Kent Goodman (Wessex Books, 1997), whose gazetteer simply describes it as "A large henge, now barely visible". However, anyone wishing to visit it once lockdown ends should use satnav postcode SN10 3RQ, or Salisbury Reds service 101 or 210 from Devizes.

Wessex Attractions: Prior Park Landscape Gardens

Prior Park Landscape Gardens is one of the must-see attractions in Bath. In the time before The Awfulness, it was undergoing restoration by the National Trust to help return it to its Georgian splendour, the way it looked in 1764 when its creator, Ralph Allen, died. Work was being done on the dams when lockdown began, to repair damage to the riverbanks by an invasive species, the American signal crayfish.

Allen, a Cornishman, became postmaster of Bath at the age of 19. He greatly reformed the postal service, and invested the money he made into local quarries at Bathampton and Combe Down. He had Prior Park, a Palladian mansion, built to showcase the local Bath Stone. It was designed by neo-druidical nutcase/genius John Wood the Elder, whose influence can still be seen in Bath's architecture to this day. The gardens were probably designed by Capability Brown. This is not certain, but £60 was owing to him at the time of Allen's death, so it seems likely.

The mansion house is now used as a Catholic secondary school, but the gardens are still open to the public, or at least will be once lockdown ends. The postcode is BA2 5AH, and the gardens are served by the no 2 bus from Bath Spa station, as well as the various sightseeing buses that operate in the city.

Wessex Attractions: Pepperbox Hill

Pepperbox Hill, six miles south of Salisbury, is the site of one of the earliest follies, built in 1606, before the term "folly" was in common use, at least in an architectural context. Built in 1606 by local landowner Giles Eyre for his wife Jane (not that one), its exact function is the subject of debate. The general consensus seems to be that it was some kind of hunting lodge for rich weirdos.

The octagonal building appears to have been modelled on the Tower of the Winds in Athens, as does a similar folly in County Down, Ireland. Now owned by the National Trust, the tower itself is closed to the public, but the surrounding chalk ridge offers magnificent views of the surrounding area. It is a popular spot with dog walkers, so watch where you tread!

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is SP5 3QL.

Wessex Attractions: Okehampton Castle

Okehampton Castle was once the largest castle in Devon. As with several castles that we've covered in recent weeks, it was originally built for one of the Bastard's extended family, in this case Baldwin FitzGilbert, husband of his cousin Albreda. It was still a working castle during the reign of Henry VIII, but when Henry Courtney, the 2nd Earl of Devon, was executed in 1539 for allegedly taking part in a Popish plot, the castle fell into ruin.

Today, it is owned by English Heritage. Entry is free for members, non-members should consult their website for prices. The grounds in particular are famous for the large numbers of bluebells that grow there in springtime. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is EX20 1JA.

Wessex Attractions : Deddington Castle

Like Berkeley Castle in our last blog post, Deddington Castle was built in the aftermath of the Conquest by someone close to the Bastard (in this case his half-brother Odo, bishop of Bayeux and almost certainly the man who commissioned the famous tapestry). Unlike Berkeley, little of the castle now survives, and it remains a magnificent ruin rather than a thriving stately home.

Archaeological excavations reveal that the area was settled before the castle was built. With an enclosure 200 metres wide and ramparts 15 metres high, it must have been a powerful symbol of Norman domination in the area.

Remains of a 13th century chapel have been found on the site, and there were four fish ponds there during that period. After that, the castle went into decline, and now only earthworks remain.

The satnav postcode for the site is OX15 0TP. Many people combine it with a visit to the Rollright Stones, 10 miles away. But that's a subject for another blog post.