Six prehistoric hilltop enclosures or "hillforts" dominate the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge. All of the sites on which they are located have long and complex histories that began in the Neolithic or early Bronze Age with the ritual burial of the dead, perhaps associated with seasonal festivals, fires and feasts.
The hilltops were probably then first enclosed in the late Bronze Age to mark them out as special places. By the early Iron Age these enclosures had become increasingly defensive, possibly to protect and regulate important goods such as grain and livestock. The "hillforts" were abandoned as society changed in the late Iron Age. Yet, even today, they remain an atmospheric and essential part of the Ridge landscape.
Between 2008-12, a major project to improve our understanding of these nationally significant archaeological sites was carried out, led by Cheshire West and Chester Council. The Habitats and Hillforts Landscape Partnership Scheme was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by Historic England, the National Trust, Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission, as well as private landowners. The project also aimed to raise awareness of these special assets in the landscape and the management issues they face.
The project core team was assisted by university specialists and archaeological contractors in surveying, excavating and researching the hillforts. A range of techniques including archival research, geophysical survey, earthwork survey, lidar, fieldwalking, excavation and palaeoenvironmental analysis, was employed to develop our understanding of these significant sites. A large and dedicated group of volunteers and students joined in this work, which encouraged more people to enjoy these assets and take an active role in their management.
Habitats and Hillforts shed new light on the Sandstone Ridge hillforts. Their chronology can now be seen to have developed from middle/late Bronze Age origins, much earlier than traditionally accepted. The possible development of distinct architectural styles in their construction can be suggested and an enhanced understanding of their surrounding landscape has been achieved.
The details and findings of the four year project have now been published. "Hillforts of the Cheshire Ridge", written by Dan Garner who led the archaeological investigations, is available from Archaeopress. A less academic booklet is also available from our publications section.