The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Taeppa’s Low, Taplow, Buckinghamshire

SU9061 8216. Taeppa’s Low, a man-made burial mound or tumulus stands in the grounds of Taplow Court to the west of the village of Taplow, 1 mile east of Maidenhead, and to the north of the A4 and just east of the A4094 road. The site is close to the east bank of the River Thames. The Anglo-Saxon burial mound stands inside an old churchyard where there stood, upto 100 years ago, a Saxon church dating from c700 AD. The whole site is surrounded by the earthworks of an Iron-Age fortification which are now barely noticeable to visitors.

The grass-covered mound is 15 feet (4.5 metres) high and 80 feet (24 metres) in diameter at its base with a flatish top to it. In 1883 an archaeological excavation was carried out by the parish clerk who just so happened to be an antiquarian. He dug down into the mound for a few feet but  nothing much was found; however, when a 6 foot hole was dug into the mound just below ground level, a burial was found. The funery finds consisted of a thigh bone and vertebrae inside a planked coffin in a pit with a gravel floor. The grave pit or chamber was 12 foot by 8 foot and was made out of timber. Along with the bones of Taeppa were his many grave goods, some quite rich and decorated, indicating that he was a person of noble lineage – probably a chieftain or prince. He may have been a relative of King Redwald of East Anglia who died in 617 or 625 AD and was buried at Sutton Hoo. The finds at Taeppa Low were dated to 620 AD.

Among the artefacts found during the excavation was a sword, spear, shields, gold buckle, bronze clasps, drinking horns with gilt ends, glass beakers, an Egyptian bronze bowl, drinking cups, fragments of a harp, some well-decayed cloth found on the bones and golden thread from his tunic – everything that he would need in the afterlife! These finds are now in the British Museum, London. We do not, however, know whether or not Taeppa was a Christian, certainly his relation King Redwald was an “on off Christian”, and this was before the area was Christianised by St Birinus twenty years later.

200 yards to the north-west of the mound is Bapsey Pond which is actually a holy well associated with St Birinus, bishop of Dorchester, who died in 650 AD. He baptised many converts at the well in 642 AD. The source of the pond comes from the old churchyard where the mound is located. So, maybe there were originally two holy wells here?

Taplow Mound, Buckinghamshire. Image copyright Bob Trubshaw / From At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw 1996.


Caerhun Roman Fort, Caernarvonshire.

SH7760 7040. The square-shaped earthworks of Caerhun (Canovium) Roman fort are located about a quarter of a mile east of the hamlet of Caerhun and along a lane that leads off the B5106 Conwy road east of Tyn-y-Groes, about 5 miles south of Conwy. The lane is signposted to St Mary’s church and actually goes through the south-west corner of the fort in order to reach the church.

The Romans built their temporary wooden fort with an earthen rampart and two ditches close to the west bank of the Afon Conwy (River Conwy) in 75 AD and, later in about 150 AD, they rebuilt  it with stone. The 13th century church and churchyard of St Mary now occupies the north-east corner of the fort’s earthwork rampart. In 200 AD the fort was destroyed but it seems some form of occupation occured in the 4th century, only to be completely destroyed in c400 AD. After that there may well have been Romano-British occupation when a 5th or 6th century prince or king of Gwynedd called Rhun set up a camp or settlement here. Did Rhun found the first church on this site? Caerhun (Caer Rhun) takes it name from him.

Canovium’s earthwork ramparts are visible, especially at the south-side and at the south-east side of the churchyard, but can be better seen on aerial photographs of the area. The fort measured 140 metres by 80 metres . Crop marks within the defenses mark where the buildings were situated, but the bath house stood outside the fort just to the west of the church – the earthworks from this are still visible. In 1926-9 archaeologists excavated the site and discovered a docking facility down by the river with signs of a jetty there. They also found Roman pottery, coins, a small stone with an inscription recalling the 10th legion (Leg.X), and possible remains of a villa. Obviously the fort occupied a strategic position with the Roman road heading north to Segontium (Caernarvon), a major military fort, and Deva (Chester) to the north-east; the river just to the east of Canovium would have been a bridgehead that was well defended by the local garrison.

English: St Mary's Church, Caerhun Located wit...

St Mary’s Church, Caerhun  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

St Mary’s church dates in part from the 13th century, especially the side-walls of the nave, but mostly it is a 16th century building.  Monks from Maenan abbey are thought to have built the church. The east window is thought to be from the original church. In 1972 fifteen bones, three skulls and a child’s pelvis were discovered by the north wall where an ancient water stoup is now built into the wall close by the west door. Outside, a small square-shaped medieval stone showing Christ crucified is built into  the wall. Some of the stones from the Roman fort are incorporated into the walls of the church. All in all a very nice little church, in fact, the whole site is well worth a visit, even though not much of the Roman fort survives today.


Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire

SO4449 3051. The little Herefordshire village of Kilpeck is 2 miles east of the A465 Hereford to Abergavenny road at Wormbridge and 7 miles south-west of Hereford. It is noted for its outstandingly beautiful 12th century Norman church with many carvings that are greatly influenced by the Celtic, Norse and also medieval (Romanesque) periods in history. It is now dedicated to St Mary and St David, its original dedication was to St Pedic or Pedoric, hence the name Kilpeck. This 6th century Celtic saint, a follower of St David or St Dubricius (Dyfrig), had a cell here and later a Saxon church sprang from that in the 7th or 8th century. At the back of the church there is a round-shaped churchyard indicating that this was a sacred site before the coming of the Celtic, Christian church.

In 1140-1150 the building that we see now was built over the Saxon building  – although as is always the case some restoration has taken place in more recent times. By 1143 the church of Kilpeck was placed under the care of the Benedictine abbey of Gloucester giving it a monastic status; the monks came and built a small cell here soon afterwards. All the carvings that we see here are from the late 12th century and were probably all done by the Hereford school of stonemasons. The church survived being abandoned in the 14th century, the Reformation of the 16th century and the puritans of the 17th century, in fact, the place looks as if it has only just been built, especially as it is always kept well whitewashed and in a most excellent state of repair.

English: Kilpeck church The church is dedicate...

Kilpeck church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kilpeck church is renowned for its very beautifully carved Norman south door, carved chancel-arch, nave and vaulted apse. Part of the nave (NE corner) may date from the 11th century. The font is Norman but the holy water stoup could be pre-Conquest; this is carved with animal heads and a pair of hands holding two heads. But it is the many carvings on the outside of the church that do it justice for there are so many to see. The exterior of the south door has double columns and a richly carved tympanum over the top. A vast array of carvings can be seen on the doorway including snakes, human heads, foliage, birds, dragons, warriors, medallions and a green man. The tympanum shows what is almost certainly the Tree of Life.

On the exterior walls running along the corbel table below the roof there are many strange, comical and often quite ugly carvings. These include two men fighting, a dog and rabbit, the lamb of God and cross of Jesus, a vulgar sheela-na-gig displaying genitalia, two dragons fighting, green men, a warrior entwined, human heads, a cat and dog and, a pig. But there are others too. A walk around the church is well worth it. Close to the church are the earthworks of a 11th-13th century Norman motte and bailey castle.

Kilpeck Church (South Door)

Kilpeck Church, sheela-na-gig

The Giant’s Grave, Penrith, Cumbria

OS grid reference: NY 5165 3016. A short walk in an easterly direction from market Square and king street (A6) in the centre of Penrith is the ancient church of St Andrew, a Saxon foundation. At the north-side of the church stands a slight mound on top of which are two pillar-crosses and four hogback gravestones – collectively known as the Giants Grave. These stones are said to have been placed over the burial site of Owain Caesarius, legendary and heroic king of Cumbria during the early 10th century, who was said to have been a giant of a man. Also in the churchyard is the Giant’s Thumb, a damaged Anglo-Norse wheel-headed cross dating from 920 AD.

The Giant’s Grave, Penrith.

The two tall and slender pillar-crosses standing 15 feet apart are now heavily worn and it is difficult to make out the carvings on them, but they have been dated to around 1000 AD and are Anglo-Norse in origin. Both crosses have sustained some damage – the taller cross with a badly damaged head is between 11 and 12 foot high, while the smaller cross, also without its head is between 10 and 11 foot high. Set between them, spaced 2 feet apart, and embedded into two long slabs are four hogback gravestones with curved upper edges and some rather nice carvings, including spiralling and circles with crosses or interlacing inside them. These graves represent Viking houses with carved sections depicting the life of the person(s) buried beneath them, often  with intricate symbols and patterns; the stones here may represent four wild boars killed by king Owain in Inglewood Forest.

Hogback Gravestone, Penrith.

Close by stands the Giant’s Thumb which also commemorates Owain Caesarius who was a legendary, perhaps mythical, king of Cumbria from 920-937 AD. This 6 foot high monument is another pre-Conquest cross with part of its wheel-head now missing. It stands upon a 19th century Victorian base with an inscription. According to local legend, the cross was set-up at the time of Owen’s accession to the throne of Cumbria. However, some historians have argued that Owain or Ewan was, actually, Owain ap Urien the son of king Urien of Rheged in the 6th century AD, who was probably of Welsh/Irish descent. Rheged was a part of the old north country, known to the bards as Hen Ogledd, which covered a large part of northern England and southern Scotland, in particular Rheged was centred on Cumberland and Westmorland, its people speaking the old Brythonic language. King Urien of Rheged ruled from 550-590 AD.


Y Gaer Roman Fort, Brecon, Powys

SO0033 2966. The “almost” perfectly square-shaped earthworks of the Roman fort of Y Gaer (Brecon Gaer) or Bannium Cicucium are located on a low ridge in a farmer’s field about a quarter of a mile north of the A40, just to the west of Llanspyddid. The town of Brecon lies 1 mile to the east. Y Gaer farm is partly built over the northern defenses and the site is on private land. It was built between 75-80 AD in the area held by the Silures tribe and manned by a garrison of 500 cavalrymen (Ala) from Vettones in Spain, along with some captured prisoners who were put to work on building the fort. The confluences of the rivers Usk and Ysgir straddle the valley close to the fort, something which the Romans were obviously aware of and would have considered to be an excellent place to build a fort.

The fort held a strategic position close to a major Roman road linking other camps and forts at Gobannium and Isca to the east, while  to  the  west  two  temporary marching camps at Y Pigwn and other nearby forts at Alabum, Coelbren and Moridunum. But the first fort here was made of timber with earthen ramparts and two ditches, then in c140 AD this was replaced by a stronger, stone fortification that was built by the 2nd Spanish Augusta legion. However, the occupation here may have come to an end in 200 AD although, evidently, there were two more occupations during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

The walls stood to a height of 10 feet and there were guard towers at each rounded corner of the fort and three gatehouses – although four entrances were built in the centre of the N, W, S and E walls, that at the N side now built over by a farm building; altogether the fort measured 615 feet by 460 feet. The headquarters buildings, barrack block and granary were, as always, inside the walled defenses as was the bath-house which was attached to the barracks for ease of use – normally this would have been outside the walls, and outside the N gate was the cival settlement (vicus) for the labourers, many of whom were captured prisoners.

In 1924-5 the site of Y Gaer was excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler and most of the buildings uncovered for the period of the dig. A number of antiquities were discovered but, the most impressive artefact was the tombstone of a young cavalryman called Candidus, which is now housed in the Brecon museum. Today some of the walls are still visible, but with more recent stonework being built onto them, and the S and W gates remain as they were found. The earthen defenses are visible along the sides of the fort at the W. S and E sides, that at the N side less so due to the “unfortunate” building of Y Gaer farm.

English: Cicvcivm - Brecon Gaer, near to Abery...

Y Gaer (Brecon Gaer). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Keswick, Cumbria

NY2913 2362. Castlerigg stone circle or the Druid’s Circle stands on a flat hilltop close to Castle lane just south of Goosewell farm, 1 mile north of the A591 at Castlerigg village and 2 miles east of Keswick. Although referred to as a circle, it is actually oval in shape and probably dates from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze-Age periods 3,370-2,670 years BC. There are some excellent panoramic views to be had from the circle of the distant mountains of the lake district.

All of the stones and boulders ranging from small and large ones that make up the circle are glacial erratics made of metamorphic slate; these would have been moved into a suitable circular position. There are between 38-40 standing stones (also called carles) the correct number being difficult to count, 33 of the stones are standing while the rest are recumbant. Inside the circle 10 stones form a rectangular cove or sanctuary, the eastern section of which connects with the outer circle (perimeter), and is regarded as quite an unusual feature. At its most widest point the circle measures 32 metres (107 feet) in diameter and at its narrowest point it is 29 metres or roughly 100 feet.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria

The height of the stones varies from around 1 metre to 2.3 metres, with 8 of the tallest stones being at the northern and southern sides and weighing between 15-20 tonnes. At the north-east side of the circle there is an entrance or portal between the stones which is 3.3 metres wide. Some 90 metres to the south-west near to a wall there is another boulder, or outlier, that may or may not be connected to the circle itself.

We can never really be certain what the circle was used for. It may have been a place where ritualistic ceremonies took place, or it was used it as a sort of astrological observatory for watching the skyline and calculating the movement or alignments of the sun, moon and stars, especially at the soltices. Shamanism – the spirit world was something the ancient peoples were interested in, coming to the circle to say prayers to their dead ancestors. One of the stones at the eastern side is said to be magnetic in nature, the whole site acting, perhaps, as a kind of powerpoint. A number of leylines are said to pass through the circle.

The Priapus Stone, Great Urswick, Cumbria

SD2704 7377. The ancient Priapus Stone is embedded into a wall beside a country lane half a mile south of Great Urswick village, near Holme Bank farm, and 4 miles south of Ulverston. There is much uncertainty about it’s age but it is probably prehistoric in origins and almost certainly pre-dates Christianity. This block of un-hewn limestone which measures 7 foot long by 2 foot 7 inches wide and 1 foot thick used to stand upright in the field on the other side of the wall till 1920. It is said to weigh upto one and quarter tons and was brought from a nearby quarry. There are six small holes at the head of the stone, five of which are in a cluster. These little holes apparently allowed women to place their fingers in as a kind of ancient fertility rite, but the stone itself is very crudely phallic in shape, supposedly fashioned to look like male genitalia, representing the ancient Greek and Roman god Priapus.

The Priapus Stone, Cumbria.

Back in the mists of time the women of Great Urswick would perform a fertility rites ceremony and decorate the stone to look like the god Priapus, son of Aphrodite. On midsummer’s day, in particular, coloured pieces of rag were smeared with sheep’s saliva or butter and placed over the stone; the head part was decorated with flowers – all this in the hope of a fruitful procreation being helped on. The ancient Greeks and, later the Romans, honoured Priapus with painted pictures on temple and villa walls, and often tiny statuettes were kept by ladies with the god himself usually depicted as a young, well-endowed man with “over-sized genitalia”. Today the stone in the wall at Great Urswick is slowly becoming forgotten, no such rituals and rites take place now, or do they?