Lymington's Iron Age fort and nearby port
Buckland Rings is the best preserved multivallate hill fort in Hampshire and Dorset
As you drive into Lymington along Southampton Road, it is easy to miss the grassy hill on your right. Many do not realise that this was once an Iron Age fortress and settlement, the 'original' Lymington.
Buckland Rings is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (List Entry Number: 1008706) owned and managed by Hampshire County Council that is open for the public to explore. It is a great place to stretch your legs and get away from the hussle and bussle of modern life.
Buckland Rings is a magnificent embanked and ditched earthen fortress enclosed six acres within its triple ramparts. A multivallate hill fort, it has not been possible to date the fort precisely, but is thought to date from the Iron Age period, 4th century BC to 1st century AD.
It has well preserved triple banks and double ditches although may have started out with a single bank and ditch system. This type of site is rare in lowland areas and as such is the best preserved and most important in the Hampshire/Dorset basin.
Interestingly it has no apparent landward entrance, suggesting its function was a defended dock. The entrance gate faced the river and an important role would have been that of watchman and ensuring the gate was closed at dusk.
Unearthing the history of the Rings
The importance of Buckland Rings as a historical site has grown over the years.
The earliest report of Buckland Rings was by Thomas Wright who visited the site in the summer of 1743 (see image on the left labelled "Buckland Castle"). He described Buckland Rings as "very strong, with double ditches, and triple Vallums, upon the Top of an Hill, three Ways guarded by a natural Ascent." Wright drew a plan of the fort, which is especially valuable as some of the eastern ramparts were flattened by a farmer around 1750.
Wright also noticed the presence of a lower camp nearby (Ampress Camp) together with a farm called Ampress Farm, which he understood to be "Ambrose Farm", and he thought that it was "not improbable" that the site was "a principal station" belonging to the 5th-century Romano-British war-leader Ambrosius Aurelianus.
Early historians thought the site dated from Roman times, on account of its rectangular shape - it was logged as 'Roman fort' on ordnance survey maps dating from the 1880s. In 1885 the newly formed Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society examined the site and resolved that the word "Roman" should be omitted from future Ordnance Survey maps.
In 1914, Haywood Sumner recorded his impressions of the site (see image right, signed H.S.).
Aerial images taken by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War show the houses built inside the west end near where the outer bank has been lost along Sway Road, leading historians to believe them to have been built in the early 20th century when planning regulations were clearly not so vigilent!
In 1935 excavations were carried out at Buckland Rings over a three week period under the supervision of Christopher Hawkes, following some preparatory work in 1934. The excavations were limited to the inner and middle ramparts and ditches on the east side where the ramparts had been almost totally removed around 1750. The excavation confirmed evidence of the east entrance, postholes for upright beams were found at the front of the inner rampart, with other postholes behind which could have held timbers for the front wall.
There were few finds from the excavation. A small iron chain was found, consisting of a circular ring and remains of five oval links. There were also a few scraps of Iron-Age pottery, and a fragment of a bronze tube believed to be a "horn-cap," a type of object which it is believed was mounted on the ends of chariot yokes.
In 1993 a magnetometry geophysical survey was carried out, however geological conditions were discovered to be poor, although the survey was able to trace the course of the missing defences, locate the position of Hawkes's excavations, and partially define the entrance features.
In recent years National Park archaeologists, along with volunteers and university students, have studied the site with modern geophysical surveys and drone footage hoping to reveal more of the site's hidden history.
Up to seven pre-historic dwellings were identified, which would have once housed a community of hunters and farmers that would grow into the modern Lymington. Trading throughout Britain and across the sea, these ancient ancestors would have lived in round wooden buildings caked in a soil-based mixture. Archaeologists also discovered medieval field systems, helping them chart the evolution of the Buckland Rings community from prehistoric hamlet to modern day Lymington.
The port at Ampress was built at the tidal limit of the river at the junction with Passford Brook, in the shadow of the large port at nearby Hengistbury Head, a major trading and industrial centre.
It is thought that during the Iron Age, a gradually increasing population and climatic changes caused greater pressures on the land and a more aggressive society developed, needing weapons and defended enclosures.
Ampress Camp was noted by Thomas Wright in 1744, who described it as "upon a lower Ground, close by a River (which defends it on one Side), with a Ditch and Vallum half round, and a kind of Morass on the other." The outer rampart depicted by Wright has long since been flattened, and the ditches have been filled in. Part of the interior (the southeastern part) is still viewable as a field and a sunken lane runs a short distance along the line of the southern inner ditch. There have been only limited excavations, but a few scraps of pottery found at the site may date from the Iron Age. Investigations continue whenever possible.
Life at Buckland Rings
The taste of its occupants is demonstrated by the large quantities of oyster shells found in the banks. The density of the population in Iron Age Britain is not known, however it is thought that the Durotriges tribe settled in large numbers.
Now much eroded and overgrown with trees, some of the banks survive, 20' high, bearing testimony to the highly organised society which laboured to build them. It was probably built to repel the refugees, members of the Belgae tribe fleeing from the Romans in Gaul, but the few excavations done have found little evidence of its occupation. This has led to the suggestion that it was perhaps only used intermittently, as a refuge.
Visiting Buckland Rings
The site has recently benefited from the installation of interpretation thanks to a Spudyouth project. The new trails, panels and art installations help make this fascinating site even more special for visitors. Find out about the SPUD Youth project to bring Buckland Rings to life...
Parking and Access
The main entrance is now marked by the magnificent "Guardians of the Gate", part of the SPUD Youth project, there are also gates on the first corner of Sway Road and an entrance near the post box opposite the water tower along Sway Road.
There is a small carpark (approx 3 cars), just off Sway Road, opposite the water tower. However the best way to visit Buckland Rings is on foot, through gates along Southampton Road or Sway Road.
Entrance is free. Visitors with dogs are politely reminded to clean up after their dogs.
The Monkey House - the perfect pitstop!
The Monkey House pub along Southampton Road is the perfect pitstop after a stroll around Bucklands Rings, offering great food and a warm welcome, with cosy fires in the winter and lovely garden in the summer. Find contact details for The Monkey House.
- Hawkes, CFC, "The Excavations at Buckland Rings, Lymington." (1936)
- 'Lymington - An Illustrated History' by Jude James
- 'The Story of Lymington' by Robert Coles
- Close-Brooks, Joanna (2000), Buckland Rings and Ampress Camp, St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery