Trackway through time
Somerset Life|November 2020
Trackway through time
In the Somerset Levels SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE discovers a place where our Neolithic heritage rubs shoulders with the present day
SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE

Cast your mind back, if you will, 6,000 years. It isn’t easy, is it? But in the Brue Valley, an extraordinary chance discovery, made by Ray Sweet when he was digging peat in the 1970s, provides us with an astonishing window on the remote world and culture of our Neolithic ancestors.

One morning, just after lockdown, I walked through the Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve in the Avalon Marshes. It had rained overnight. Lush vegetation stroked the margins of the path, brushing my arms; birdsong dripped from the trees overhead. All was deliciously atmospheric, made more so as I was approaching the reconstructed section of the almost unimaginably ancient Sweet Track.

Almost 4,000 years BC this area was populated by Neolithic farmers who had cleared parts of the surrounding forest in order to farm on relatively dry areas of land within the marshes. Oak, ash and lime had been felled to make way for crops and livestock, the resulting timber being used to build longhouses and wooden trackways – routes that linked the various settlements that lay within the vast reedbeds of the Somerset Levels. And back in the spring of the year 3,806BC the trackway that was, millennia later, to become known as the Sweet Track, was constructed.

Remarkably, the Sweet Track was only used for around 12 years, but those 12 years have left us with an extraordinary legacy.

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November 2020