A Walk to the Bronze Age Barrows on Therfield Heath

Minus numbers on the thermometer this morning meant that gardening was not a good option first thing, but with bright blue skies and sunshine it was ideal walking weather, especially with hardly any wind.


Therfield Heath. To the left is grazed common land (watch out for horses being ridden here). To the right is a popular golf course. Right up the middle is the public footpath. Hazards both sides!

Sometimes I long to get a bit of height with some views and one of the best places to do this is locally is Therfield Heath, near Royston, Hertfordshire. Therfield Hill, at 168m, is the highest point for 12 miles in all directions and looks down on the ancient Icknield Way. In the summer a fun kite flying festival is held here.

Therfield Heath has been grazed common land for many years and is a biological SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and nature reserve. It is located on a chalk escarpment, which was formed in warm seas 100 million years ago and tipped towards the south east when the Alps were formed (20 million years ago).


The heath is situated on a tilted chalk escarpment

The trail can be pretty sticky and slippery to walk on when wet, but with today’s cold, icy start it was absolutely fine.

Neolithic farmers started clearing the land here for agriculture ~six thousand years ago. There is a long barrow at the top dating from this period. Since then the area has been continuously open land, where grazing keeps the shrubby hawthorn etc. at bay. The heath has been used extensively for everything from medieval tournaments, military maneouvres, rifle ranges to currently golf courses and sports fields.

When we come for the Kite festival the heath is covered in typical chalk land wildflowers: harebells, scabious, toadflax, vetches and supports colourful burnet moths and blue butterflies, including the rare Chalkhill blue.

chalkhill blue

At the top of the hill, near the trig point, you can see some obvious round ~2m high mounds.


Five Hills, bronze age round barrows on Therfield Heath.

There are more of these round mounds scattered about the heath, but these five are tightly clustered and give the area its name, Five Hills. They are bronze age round barrows and, in my opinion, you get the best views from them.

Looking west:


Looking west from Five Hills towards Baldock. Bronze age barrows in the foreground, golf bunkers and teeing areas in the distance.

Looking north east:


Looking north east towards Cambridge. (Shame that Royston’s industrial area rather ruins the picture).

All very bracing. It was wonderful.

We walked on to the trig pillar which labels some pretty random destinations:


Therfield Heath trig point

But then it is always useful to know where Land’s End is, isn’t it?

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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13 Responses to A Walk to the Bronze Age Barrows on Therfield Heath

  1. susurrus says:

    It sounds like the perfect day for a walk. I enjoy the sense of everyday history on footpaths, commons and rights of way too. Loved the picture of the Chalkhill blue!

  2. Christina says:

    Great shot of the ‘blue’. It was walking weather here too today after rain all day yesterday, today was clear as a bell with blue sky and warm sunshine but with a chill wind in exposed places. Thanks for sharing your walk.

  3. Tina says:

    Sounds like it was ideal. Thank you for the information on the history of this area. The photos of the Chalkhill Blue is gorgeous–as is the the subject of the photo.

  4. Chloris says:

    Lovely photos, what a fabulous place for a walk on a crisp sunny day. I have never been, in fact I have never heard of it. but I will put it on my to- do list. It is hard to believe that this landscape is in Herts.

    • It is practically where Ermine Street and the Icknield Way meet, so absolutely littered with history. If you walk the other way there is apparently a field on Church Hill which is covered with (~60,000) pasque flowers, which I didn’t know until I was researching the barrows. So guess where I will be going next Easter!

  5. Gorgeous photos of interesting bronze age barrows. I love seeing archaeological history reminders in the landscape.

  6. Pingback: Amid a Sea of Wild Pasque Flowers | Frogend dweller's Blog

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