My first visit to this site was on a wet, cold, November day. I had read about this place previously, and arranged a small side excursion while I was out visiting churches in Wales. It really is a special place, very quiet, very atmospheric. But one of the things I love is the mixture of features above and below ground, and the ever growing story about what occurred at this site.
Built roughly 6000 years ago, Tinkinswood stands tucked away in a field (like most interesting sites to visit). The structure is considered to be of the Severn-Cotswold type. The site itself has a large capstone and uprights, a forecourt, and a barrow. The capstone is particularly special as it’s the largest in Britain, weighing in at roughly 40 tonnes (estimations say it would take 200 people to lift it!).
The chamber and external walls, which are now exposed, would have originally been under a mound of earth, but its exposure gives us good idea of how it would have looked while at the same time demonstrating how the internal structure worked and was used. Standing back from the site, or looking at drawings depicting an aerial view, you can see that there are two rounded horns on either side of the chamber entrance. The chamber itself rests in the northeast corner and is in the shape of a trapezoid.
Excavations have revealed that the site may have been visited or in use longer than previously thought! The neolithic chamber was used in the bronze age as a barrow, and the remains of 21 women, 16 men, and 8 children were found inside, along with pottery and worked flint. However, the most exciting thing found (in my opinion anyway) at Tinkinswood is the discovery of a Roman coin and other relics in 2010-2011. Up until recently the story of Tinkinswood as an active site for burial and ritual ended in the bronze age, but these new discoveries show that the site was in use during the Roman era as well – long after the barrow had been closed.
When visiting it’s hard not to notice the small brick pillar in the chamber which was installed during the 1914 excavation carried out by John Ward. It’s there to support the massive capstone and does it’s job despite looking horrifically out of place. The external walls also pop out as they were re-done in a very distinct herringbone pattern – which again, would not have been how they originally looked at all. But overall it’s certainly a site that I’d recommend visiting if you can get there! Just be certain you never spend the night on the eve of May Day, St. John’s Day, or Midwinter Day – allegedly whoever does so either dies, goes mad, or becomes a poet….not sure what that says about poets….
For much more detailed information about Tinkinswood check out these sites:
Places of Special Virtue: Megaliths in the Neolithic Landscapes of Wales by Vicki Cummings and Alasdair Whittle
Neolithic Britain: New Stone Age sites of England, Scotland, and Wales by Rodney Castleden