DCS: Local Heritage Event:
Visit to Flag Fen

Saturday 10th September 2011 Return to Alumni Events

A visit to Flag Fen was one of the more distant 'local' events as it is located just outside Peterborough but this did not reduce the enthusiasm of DCS members as we had the limiting number of 25 attending as well as a reserve list. Flag Fen is Bronze Age settlement (probably unique on the world stage) discovered by Francis Pryor who led the archeological dig and has greatly contributed to it's popularity through his books and his enthusiasm. We were very lucky in having Francis, author and television personality, to lead our tour and it was very apt for our party as he has family ties to the Darwin family and to Darwin College building where, as a young boy, he used to visit his aunt Gwen Raverat.

Our group assembled in the reception area and there Francis explained all the background to our visit and slowly drew a crowd of visitors hanging on to his every word, an experience which was to be repeated every time we stopped for Francis to educate us. Our first stop was outside, not too far from the reception area where we had a view over the fens. We were taken back to those days of the bronze age and told of a large population distributed over the area with their laws and traditions, each farming a strip of ground organised in a way which would have least effect on their neighbours. We were also close to a sheep pen with some recognisable, but strange, apparently rather skinny sheep. These we were told were almost certainly a breed very close to the Bronze Age sheep which were kept in the area. Francis, being a farmer as well as an archeologist, added many interesting facts about finding these sheep and added a few choice examples of why working farmers had done better than academics in explaining some of the Bronze Age farming practices!

Francis Pryor

The enthusiastic Francis Pryor


Preservation Hall

The Preservation Hall

However the important archeological find of Flag Fen is a long wooden walkway with amazingly well-preserved oak posts and debris, the oak having been imported to the area. It was to learn about this that our next stop was the Preservation Hall where a section of a the walkway is kept in situ, being sprayed with preserving solution periodically. The walkway originally went across an adjacent body of water to an island in the Bronze Age and the island contained a barrow, a burial site. There were no saws in the Bronze Age so wood had to be split with wedges and as we left the hall, Francis showed us several of the techniques used.


Our final stop was the museum. Many valuable artifacts were dropped into the water on one side of the walkway giving rise to the idea that it was associated with ritual, possibly burials in the island barrow, and several of the artifacts found are in the museum. Francis had to leave after a talking to us about the museum objects and we retired to a room in the museum to have our lunch. There had been difficulties connected with the council taking over between our booking and visit so the lunch was in the form of a picnic lunch prepared by Gwen Bunting, which was superb, and hot drinks prepared by the Flag Fen staff. Finally the time was ours to go back and revisit the places we had already seen, or the reconstructed Bronze Age dwellings or even the garden of plants used in the Bronze Age. The rain held off despite the dark weather forecast and it was a very well enjoyed occasion for all.

Wood splitting

Francis demonstrating wood splitting


Many thanks go principally to Francis Pryor whose ability to infect everyone with his enthusiasm contributed hugely to the day as much as his intimate knowledge, but also to the volunteer staff who made our day pass smoothly and of course for the superb lunch prepared by Gwen Bunting under difficult circumstances.

(Click on the pictures for larger versions) Return to Alumni Events


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