Beacon Hill, Burghclere

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Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill from the A34
Range: Hampshire Downs
Summit: 856 feet SU458573
51°18’46"N, 1°20’39"W

Beacon Hill is near the village of Burghclere and Watership Down, in northern Hampshire.

This hill is one of two in Hampshire named "Beacon Hill", the other being at Beacon Hill, Warnford, and one of many of that name in Britain. The name is derived from its service as the place of a warning beacon. The Burghclere beacon was once most famous beacon site in Hampshire.

Beacon Hill stands 856 feet high and has one of the best known hill forts in the south on its slopes. From there, a visitor may enjoy outstanding views of the surrounding area and much of Hampshire.

The site is open to the public and managed by Hampshire County Council. It is a Site of special scientific interest and a National Nature Reserve.


The summit

The hill is located at SU458573, to the southwest of the village of Old Burghclere, in the county of Hants.

Nearby to the east lies Ladle Hill and further east is Watership Down. Also to the north east lies Old Burghclere Lime Quarry SSSI. The A34 road runs between Beacon Hill and Ladle Hill to the east. To the west lies Sidown Hill.


Hill fort

The hill fort on the top of the hill has never been systematically excavated, but the land and ditch are sharply defined and well preserved. The Beacon Hill camp, (scheduled ancient monument number 7)[1] built around 1000 BC, was probably inhabited by around 2–3000 people according to calculations from similar camps. It is one of a number of hillforts, which are strung out along the north-facing scarp]] of the Hampshire Downs, overlooking the Kennet valley to the north. When originally built, these structures must have looked spectacular even from a distance as their white chalk ramparts caught the sun.

Within the ramparts of the fort are some fifteen contemporary hut sites comprising horseshoe shape scoops and circular enclosures,[2][3] some of which can be seen by the casual visitor. The south-facing entrance is still well defined and a track would have led southwards towards an area of fields which are still apparent at the far end of the hill. Aerial photographs show considerable evidence of ancient field patterns throughout much of the surrounding countryside. On the west side of Sidown Hill (immediately to the west of Beacon Hill) there is an area of well defined field terracing.

Bronze Age and mediaeval remains

North of Beacon Hill there is a Bronze Age Bowl Barrow (scheduled ancient monument number 290)[1] sited in a fir plantation and covered with trees.

150 yards south of Beacon Hill Camp is a Bronze Age round Barrow (scheduled ancient monument number 318)[1]

On the hill there are two lynchets halfway down the north slope, with a number of later hollow-ways encroaching upon them.[1]

Modern remains

Gravestone of the Earl of Carnarvon

The beacon on the hill here passed the Hampshire warning on from the county to Cuckhamsiey Beacon in Berkshire. Nearby excavations revealed red brick and flint fireplace pottery, tobacco pipes amongst other items. This was presumably the site of a shelter hut for the men who watched the bonfire.[1]

The tomb of the famous Egyptologist, George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon lies within the fortifications. It is also where Sir Geoffrey de Havilland made his first successful test flight on 10 September 1910, commemorated by a memorial stone situated in the Seven Barrows field to the south of Beacon Hill.


View to the north to Highclere Castle

Beacon Hill is a calcareous grassland chalk downland habitat and as such is scarce and home to some unusual and rare species. Many chalk grassland slopes in England show the mark of centuries of grazing by sheep, the slopes bearing a stepped appearance formed by a mixture of soil creep and sheep paths. Such erosion is clearly visible on the slopes of Beacon Hill.

The site includes an extensive stand of juniper Juniperus communis, privet Ligustrum vulgare, buckthorn Rhamnus catharticus, rose Rosa spp., bramble Rubus spp., wayfaring tree Viburnum lantana and hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and whitebeam Sorbus aria, which covers around 50 acres on the west-facing slopes. There is little evidence of juniper regeneration (and some moribund bushes) and the site is probably witnessing a transition from juniper to a mixed scrub community, with the early indications of an eventual succession of woodland. The scrub is unusual on the chalk in lacking a yew]] Taxus baccata and ash]] Fraxinus excelsior component.[4]

The open grassland is rich in herbs, with fescues Festuca ovina and Festuca pratensis, crested dog's tail Cynosurus cristatus, spring sedge Carex caryophyllea, and locally quaking grass Briza media as dominants. Abundant herbs include ladys' bedstraw Galium vernum, hedge bedstraw Galium mollugo, creeping thistle Cirsium acaule, fairy flax Linum catharticum, bird's-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus, horseshoe vetch Hippocrepis comosa, kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, chalk milkwort Polygala calcarea and felwort Gentianella amarella and several species of orchid.[4] There are also Rock Rose, Wild Thyme, and Clustered Bellflower. These flowers in turn provide for rare invertebrates such as Osmia bicolor, a scarce solitary bee. There is a decidedly neutral element in the flora which suggests that the soils may in part be derived from superficial drift or loess.[4]

In a national survey carried out in the early 1970s, the chalk scrub element of the SSSI is recognised as being a nationally important example of a stage in the succession from juniper scrub to woodland. The chalk grassland within the SSSI includes a wide range of aspect and soils and in particular include chalk grassland developed on gradients which elsewhere have mostly been converted to arable or ley.[4]

Outside links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Hampshire Treasures website". Retrieved 6 February 2011. 
  2. Field Archaeology as Illustrated by Hants, 1915, (Williams-Freeman), pp.85, 356.
  3. Archaeology of Wessex, 1958, (Grinsell), p.175.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Natural England SSSI Citation". Retrieved 6 February 2011.