Hillfort Glow - was a success!
On Saturday 19th March 2011, over 350 people gathered on ten different hillforts in Wales and England to take part in the ‘Hillfort Glow’ experiment.
The Heather and Hillforts and the Habitats and Hillforts Projects jointly organised the Hillfort Glow experiment to test whether the hillforts were able to communicate between them with the help of local volunteers using light.
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Erin Robinson, archaeologist and co-organiser of the experiment, said “Each hillfort sent off a flare at their allotted time and then had to shine their torches to other hillforts as they flashed their lights back at them to make the connection.
By asking the public to be involved, all of the torches together created each hillfort to ‘glow’ in the moonlight and we were able to make more connections that we imagined- some that we were unsure were even possible in the daylight” .
High powered torches were used to signal to other hillforts rather than fire beacons which have been used in the past for special events due to the internationally rare habitat that these hillforts now sit within. Around one third of the world’s population of heather moorland is located in the United Kingdom and is home to a variety of wildlife, including one of Wales’ rarest birds the black grouse.
Connections were made reaching to hillforts sitting over 40km away from each other and this was all thanks to the public giving up their time to help shine their lights on the hilltops.
Habitats and Hillforts Project Manager and co-organiser of the event, Ellie Soper said, “The response from the public to volunteer in the experiment was unbelievable and we were quickly fully booked. Some people also joined us en route, dog walkers stopped to join in as they were passing and even a local inn put on a guided walk to watch the experiment so more people could be involved. We are still counting up all of our numbers but we are confident that over 350 people participated.
“The feedback we have had so far is that people really connected with the ancient enclosures. Just by seeing a light on a fellow hilltop, people felt a sense of community and connection with the other hillforts and people who were signalling back to them. This connection is hard to explain as it was emotional as well as physical, but it certainly felt as if these hillforts belonged together.”
The ambience of the event was added to by the Super Moon which rose over the hillforts during the experiment. This meant that the moon’s distance was in its nearest position to earth, the phenomenon only happing once every 18 years. The weekend was also the date of the Spring Equinox which would have been an important date in the Iron Age calendar.
Erin concluded, “Although we are unsure if these hillforts all date to the same time; even if they all dated to the Iron Age, that is still a period of 800 years so they may not all have been built or used at the same time, the experiment highlighted the area for its wealth of hillforts and their proximity. We don’t know if they would have sent signals to each other, we don’t even know if they were friend or foe, but we can certainly conclude that these places still have a special meaning to us 2,500 years after they were built and to think that it could have been our own ancestors looking out to other hillforts all of those years ago certainly makes the hills and hillforts glow in our imaginations.”
The experiment took place at dusk on Saturday 19th March. It was organised by north east Wales’ Heather and Hillforts Project and Cheshire West and Chester’s Habitats and Hillforts Project using ten hillforts on the Sandstone Ridge, the Clwydian Range, Mynydd-y-Gaer Corwen, Halkyn Mountain and the Wirral at the hillforts of: Maiden Castle (Bickerton Hill), Beeston Castle, Kelsborrow, Helsby Hill, Burton Point, Moel y Gaer Rhosesmor, Penycloddiau, Moel Arthur, Moel Fenlli and Caer Drewyn.
Hillforts are giant man-made defensive enclosures which generally date back to the Iron Age, around 2500 years ago. Even after excavation, their function remains a mystery as we have no written sources dating to that period. There are many hillforts in north east Wales and Cheshire which makes it a very important historical landscape. Two Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership Schemes currently run in both north east Wales and in Cheshire to look after six of these hillforts each.
Special thanks are sent to Denbighshire and Flintshire Countryside Services, RSPB, National Trust, English Heritage as well as to the local volunteers who participated to make this experiment possible.
More information on intervisibility is available for download : Hillfort Intervisibility (89 kb).