Butser Farm in Chalton
PUBLISHED: 17:51 14 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:09 20 February 2013
Tiff Francis visits Butser Farm in Chalton and is transported back to the Iron Age
Nestled among the rolling hills of the South Downs National Park, Butser Ancient Farm in Chalton has been an historical and archaeological treasure since 1972, when the site was first placed on Little Butser.
Throughout the last 38 years, changes in location, staff and local interest have seen the farm move to Bascomb Copse, just four miles from the market town of Petersfield, and its educational facilities bring Iron Age life to more than 14,000 school children a year. They have experienced ancient survival methods, hands-on activities and ancient crafts, such as weaving hazel for fencing, using wool from Soay, Manx-Loaghtan and Shetland sheep. Other livestock roam the site, with striking wild boar-cross-Tamworth pigs and pompous chickens investigating the grounds.
One of the farm directors, Simon Jay, says: The farm has inspired many young visitors to become archaeologists. Its not only the children that benefit from these outings, for many years, the farm has been a highly successful resource for young adults on work experience from the surrounding areas, with many of these students developing their interest onto further education in places such as Sparsholt Agricultural College.
With the current governmental and global crisis on climate change, the farm has also had to focus on adapting to a more environmentally friendly business, and their current project involves a new sustainable building, including a shop, toilets, office and a staffroom. To construct this project they have proposed several self-sufficient techniques: they will use local Western Red Cedar trees for the wood, and water-harvesting will be incorporated into the toilet system, using collected rain water and a reed-bed system for the sewage.
Remembering the past
The Celts were certainly ones for celebrating, and the farm embraces all of those ancient traditions that are in danger of being forgotten. Numerous festivals celebrate seasonal changes and deities, such as Lughnasadh, the Harvest festival in August, and Imbolc in February, welcoming the spring and the Gaelic goddess Brigid. Perhaps a slightly more global festival, Samhain is the Celtic root of Halloween, when the darker half of the year was welcomed in. It marked the first day of winter and the Celts believed that on that day the veil between the living and the dead was so thin that their ancestors could cross over to feast with them.
The most celebrated festival at the Farm, however, is that of Beltain: during May, a magnificent man made of wicker and wood is built and then burnt on one night, hailing the beginning of summer and a farewell to the murky days of winter. This event attracts hundreds of visitors from both local towns and distant countries, as the farm welcomes druids, folk bands, falconers and, most importantly, a sumptuous hog roast.
This year, the Beltain festival will take place on Saturday, May 1, details of which can be found on their website, together with information on educational facilities and archaeological activities for adults. The farm is open all year round with different themed open weekends.
Top things to see
â—‹The Roman Villa, built by the farm, follows accurate plans of a real building that was excavated near Winchester. It was partly-funded by the Discovery Channel, and at the northern end of the building there is a working under-floor heating system.
â—‹ Little Woodbury, or The Great Roundhouse, is the name given to the largest roundhouse on the farm. It is the centrepiece of the site, housing storytelling events and festivals. Completed in 2008, the building was given a Design Award by East Hampshire Council for work in research and education.
â—‹The Clunch Shed is a small building made of earth, chalk, straw and wood, and it was gradually constructed by visiting children. The word clunch is common to Hampshire and Sussex, and is the name given to an earth wall.
â—‹The various breeds of sheep are always willing to meet and greet new visitors. Their enclosures are spread throughout the farm, and they always welcome a gentle stroke they might even talk to you.
Did you know?
â—‹ The Iron Age roundhouses were built so that the sloping, thatched roofs acted as filters for the smoke from the fire, but still retaining essential heat. Inhabitants would often hang meat to dry from the ceiling, as the smoke helped to preserve it and the height would stop rodents and insects from eating it.
â—‹ During the Iron Age, the hare was kept as a pet, and because of its speed, it was thought that they were used by the gods as messengers. A hare was let free to run, and the way and direction it went was interpreted to foretell the future.
â—‹ The farm has been host to several documentary and film crews including a Doctor Who episode, The Mysterious Planet, and the 2005 BBC documentary What the Ancients Did for Us.
â—‹ Celtic knot work, the most famous type of Celtic patterns, symbolises the ideas of eternal life and the intricate relationship of humans and the divine and natural worlds.
The farm is situated in Chalton, near Clanfield, four miles south along the A3 from Petersfield to Portsmouth.
Butser Ancient Farm
Sat nav postcode: PO8 0BG
Tel. 023 9259 8838