Carv­ing up the land­scape


The text­book im­age of ter­raced farm­land is ei­ther the olive groves of south­ern Europe or the rice pad­dies of south­east Asia. How­ever, there are ar­eas of Dorset where the slopes were ex­ten­sively ter­raced many cen­turies ago; these are known as strip lynchets. There is a con­cen­tra­tion of them just east of Bridport (par­tic­u­larly around Loders); these are some of the finest ex­am­ples in the coun­try. They look like ram­parts or gi­ant am­phithe­atre seat­ing, but they are agri­cul­tural in ori­gin: it is just one ex­am­ple of how farm­ing has shaped this land­scape.

As with the Cerne Gi­ant, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence to date their con­struc­tion. The most con­vinc­ing the­o­ries con­sider lo­cal eco­nomic pres­sures which would ex­plain why these dif­fi­cult slopes needed to be brought into cul­ti­va­tion. There must also have been good or­gan­i­sa­tion of labour: can you imag­ine the ef­fort re­quired to make ter­races with a pick and shovel?

The lynchets around St Cather­ine’s Hill at Ab­bots­bury were prob­a­bly planned by the monks of the abbey. The Loders lynchets may be linked to a com­mu­nity of French monks who set­tled here shortly be­fore the Nor­man con­quest. These monks are cred­ited with bring­ing cider-mak­ing and spe­cific cider ap­ple va­ri­eties to this coun­try: per­haps their lynchets were used for or­chard­ing?

Oth­ers may have been made from des­per­a­tion as the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion reached a high den­sity, re­quir­ing more farm­land for sus­te­nance. It is likely that many were not in use for long as land pres­sure was se­verely re­duced by the Black Death, which is thought to have made land­fall in Bri­tain at Mel­combe Regis in Dorset in the sum­mer of 1347.

The lynchets around St Cather­ine’s Hill at Ab­bots­bury, prob­a­bly cre­ated by monks from the nearby abbey

‘Celtic fields’ on the val­ley sides above Lit­tle­bredy

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