Bethecar Moor - A Volunteer's Perspective

Category

Category: 
Landscapes
Community
Post-medieval
Rural
Events & Outreach

Author

Lesley Steele (volunteer)

Day two of the survey, and my first day on the Rusland Horizons’ Bethecar Moor Survey, dawned bright, sunny and cold. I was deeply relieved to see the sunshine, as when I took part in the woodland survey in the spring, I had drawn the short straw weather-wise and turned up on the most bitterly cold and windy day where, having survived till noon, the survey was called off for fear of decapitation by falling timber. I wondered what fate would await me on this survey. It was nice to see Rebecca leading the survey for NAA again and to meet Lydia, who was new to NAA and probably wondering what she had got herself into. As well as me, there were four other eager volunteers. One of the nice things about volunteering is that, once you have attended a few events, you find that you recognise other volunteers and no longer feel like the new kid on the block.

Fortunately, I had also located the car park previously, as it was used during the previous woodland survey, so I knew where I had to be at 9.30am. We were given fluorescent jackets to wear (this is serious!) and various equipment to carry and use (oh, the responsibility!). There was a good twenty-minute walk onto the moor from the car park, which was a great way to start as it ensured that we were warm before we got to work. The walk also gave everyone a chance to chat and either re-acquaint ourselves or get to know each other. Another positive aspect of volunteering is that it provides the opportunity to work alongside like-minded people who share similar interests, and it is often fascinating and inspiring to hear what other people have done in the past.

I had walked across Bethecar Moor once before, but the survey gave us the chance to really get to know the landscape, bit by bit, in much more intimate detail than can be achieved by simply walking through it. We began surveying from a point on a track where the survey had finished the previous afternoon. I wondered how Rebecca and Lydia could tell; it all looked the same to me, i.e. rocks and lots of bracken! Once in place, Rebecca explained which part of the moor we were surveying and where we were heading with the aid of a map. We fanned out, with Rebecca and Lydia at each end of the line keeping us going in the right direction. I felt like a bright yellow Herdwick sheep scrambling over rocky knolls and plunging through waste deep bracken. How was I ever going to find anything in this?

 

"I found that I could now recognise archaeological features and soon I was confident enough to make my own discoveries"

To my surprise, it wasn’t long before a shout went up and one of the volunteers had found what looked to be a platform in the grass near a trackway. We all set to with our equipment, laying down the north arrow and the ranging poles on the feature, which was then photographed. I had the GPS and Rebecca showed me how to take a GPS reading, which was recorded along with measurements and a brief description. It was satisfying that everyone had a task to do, as it made us feel that we were taking an active role in the survey rather than being merely observers. As time went on, I Iearnt to use all the equipment and I enjoyed feeling that I could contribute something useful to the survey.

Lydia and I soon agreed that it was time for a coffee break and we all sat in the sunshine out of the wind enjoying the views across the open expanse of moorland and out to sea. What a place to work! I really enjoyed being in such a beautiful area, the chance to explore somewhere new and to discover archaeology that I would not normally have noticed. We recorded boundary stones, culverts and debated trackways, ancient or otherwise. Lunch was taken in the sun on a heathery mound with superb views; just our small group and no one else around other than the odd curious sheep and a few birds.

I found that I could now recognise archaeological features and soon I was confident enough to make my own discoveries, in the shape of a small quarry and a pit, which were duly recorded and added to the archaeological record. In fact, we all became so enthusiastic that poor Rebecca and Lydia were often called upon to cross from their spot on the moor or scale a bank and verify a possible find. Usually their extra effort was worth-while but not always, with Lydia declaring “No, it’s natural!” when asked to look, yet again, at what seemed (at least to us) to be carvings on a rock.

All too soon, the day was over and we were walking back across the moor towards the car park. “Are any of you coming back to join us another time?” asked Rebecca. You bet I am!

All images and text supplied by Lesley Steele. If you have volunteered with us in the past and would like to share your experiences, or if you are interested in volunteering with NAA on future projects, get in touch at community@naaheritage.com

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