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