Danebury is an Iron Age hillfort in the south of England between the cities of Salisbury and Winchester. For many it is seen as the definitive hill fort, as it was extensively excavated in the 1970s and is where much archaeological understanding of hillforts comes from. Today it is a great place for a walk, being a local nature reserve and filled with a wide variety of plant and insect life.
There is very little left to see of the history of this site, just ramparts, ditches, dips and elevations, and it can be hard to believe that it played a major role in the understanding of the Iron Age. 57% of it was excavated from the 1970s and it formed the basis of all subsequent knowledge about this little understood time period.
A brief history of Danebury Hillfort
Danebury Hill is significantly higher than the rest of the surrounding landscape and would have been the ideal place for a fort, surrounded by good fertile soil for the farming communities of the time. The hillfort was first built in the 6th century BC and was occupied for over 500 years, undergoing a great many changes and alterations in that time. It started as 12 acres surrounded by a single ditch, with ramparts and various buildings being added over the years.
There is much evidence of warfare in the area, with defences being constructed to keep invaders out. Excavations showed that the east gates were burnt down at least three times over the years, and a hoard of 11,000 sling stones was found near them for hurling at the enemy. A ditch on the hillfort was found to be filled with bodies covered in war wounds from swords and spears, dating from near the end of its occupation.
The archaeologist who excavated the site over a period of 20 years, Professor Barry Cunliffe, believes that the hill fort was probably occupied by a chieftain or king, and that it was a central point for the nearby farmers to go to trade and for protection, with a shrine and complex buildings within its walls. Sacrificial burials were found on the site as well as evidence of 73 roundhouses, 500 rectangular buildings and thousands of storage pits which were filled with grain and then sealed. 180,000 pieces of pottery, 240,000 bits of bone, stone objects, bone objects and many iron and bronze artefacts were amongst the finds, some of which are on display at the Museum of the Iron Age in Andover.
Where most hillforts such as nearby Figsbury Ring were abandoned in the 4th century BC, Danebury continued in use until about 100AD, a few years after the arrival of the Romans. By that time it was just a simple farm, its long and bloody history behind it.
The only visual reminder of its distant past is the outline of a roundhouse in amongst the wildflowers. If you want to see what one of these specific roundhouses actually looked like, you can visit Butser Ancient Farm, an hour's drive away, where they have recreated two roundhouses based on the excavations at Danebury. The Danebury CS1 is a plank built roundhouse with a packed chalk floor and the Danebury CS14 is the more common type found at Danebury with stakes driven into the chalk and a willow weaved and wattle wall.
Visiting Danebury Hillfort
Visiting Danebury today it seems inconceivable that it can have once been such a busy and important place. It is off the beaten track and away from main roads, surrounded by countryside. It is at its best in the summer, when the wildflowers are allowed to grow tall and rampant, with narrow paths through them for people to walk on. It is a place for picnics, walking, enjoying the views and the wildlife.
Visitors to Danebury can wander at will around the hillfort, and there are a few public footpaths in the surrounding fields too. The ditches and ramparts make it an interesting layout to explore, with lots of little paths to explore and a good mixture of open space and narrow, vegetation filled areas. There are just a few benches and a trig point, but otherwise the site has been given over to vegetation.
The noise is what is most striking if you visit in summer. Not just the birds, bees and butterflies but also the incessant din coming from the crickets is astounding. If you walk through one of the ditches where the wildflowers have been allowed to grow to waist height, you feel totally submerged in it, with butterflies flapping in front of you and a cacophony coming from the vegetation. There is something rather wonderful about it.
Visiting Danebury Hillfort
How to get to Danebury Hillfort
Postcode: SO20 6LQ
Public Transport: Not easy to get to by bus, car is best for this one
When is Danebury Hillfort open?
The fort is open dawn till dusk
How much does it cost to visit Danebury Hillfort?
The site is free to visit and there are no parking charges
Are there any facilities at Danebury Hillfort?
There are loos, but don't rely on them being open. There are no cafés