Sharpenhoe Clappers is a classic chalk escarpment and part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is crowned with traces of an Iron Age hill-fort and an impressive beech wood.
The word ‘clappers’ derivers from the Latin ‘claperius’ for a rabbit hole. Rabbit warrens provided meat, fur and leather and used to be an important part of the economy here.
This Promontory hill-fort, located at the edge of an ice sheet formed during the last ice age, has a comanding view over a flattened plain. Now the hillfort is within trees, but can be seen very clearly from Harlington.
A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. They are typically European and of the Bronze and Iron Ages. Some were used in the post-Roman period. The fortification usually follows the contours of a hill, consisting of one or more lines of earthworks, with stockades or defensive walls, and external ditches. Hill forts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC, and were in use in many Celtic areas of central and western Europe until the Roman conquest.
The hill fort was constructed in the Iron Age. The Iron Age is the period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of these materials coincided with other changes in society, including differing agricultural practices, religious beliefs and artistic styles. The Iron Age as an archaeological term indicates the condition as to civilization and culture of a people using iron as the material for their cutting tools and weapons.
In historical archaeology, the ancient literature of the Iron Age includes the earliest texts preserved in manuscript tradition. Sanskrit and Chinese literature flourished in the Iron Age. Other texts include the Avestan Gathas, the Indian Vedas and the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible. The principal feature that distinguishes the Iron Age from the preceding ages is the introduction of alphabetic characters, and the consequent development of written language which enabled literature and historic record.
The beginning of the Iron Age in Europe and adjacent areas is characterized by certain forms of implements, weapons, personal ornaments, and pottery, and also by systems of decorative design, which are altogether different from those of the preceding age of bronze. The work of blacksmiths—developing implements and weapons—are hammered into shape, and, as a consequence, gradually departed from the stereotyped forms of their predecessors in the Bronze Age, of which objects were cast, and the system of decoration, which in the Bronze Age consisted chiefly of a repetition of rectilinear patterns, gave way to a system of curvilinear and flowing designs. The term “Iron Age” has low chronological value, because it did not begin simultaneously across the entire world. The dates and context vary depending on the region, and the sequence of ages is not necessarily true for every part of the earth’s surface. There are areas, such as the islands of the South Pacific, the interior of Africa, and parts of North and South America, where peoples have passed directly from the use of stone to the use of iron without an intervening age of bronze.
This hill fort was built on a northern promontory of the Chiltern Hills, strategically overlooking the flat plains beneath.
The hill rises to 525 feet, providing excellent views, and is fringed by Clappers Wood. Trails lead through the wood, and wildflowers abound in summer.
Location: North of Luton, just off the A6. Parking in a layby at TL065305 on the road to Barton-le-Cley
The Dunstable Downs are home to at least six Neolithic burial mounds. Near Hexton is Wayting Hill, a round barrow that is said to be home to a sleeping warrior.
The hill top beech wood on the Clappers comes alive in the summer with the sound of skylarks and the chalk grasslands on the slopes below are important for many species of butterfly.
Hillforts are an iconic feature of the Chilterns landscape but many are poorly conserved and little is known about them. New potential hillfort sites are still being identified in the Chilterns.
Sharpenhoe is a small village west of Barton le Clay and north of Streatley in an Area of outstanding Natural Beauty. It lies in the Streatley civil parish which had a population of 1,707 in the 2001 Census. The village is dominated by Sharpenhoe Clappers, a beech tree clad chalk escarpment to the southeast.
In the late nineteenth century the gault clay to the north and northeast of Sharpenhoe was dug to extract coprolites. These are pellets which which are high in phosphorous, and are basically fossilised fæces, known locally as ‘dinosaur dung’.
Sharpenhoe Clappers sits on a promontory of chalk downland that stands 60 metres above the surrounding flat plain and is said to be haunted by the ghost of Cassivellaunus.
Cassivellaunus was a British chieftain who led this island’s defences against the Romans during Julius Cæsar’s second expedition to Britain in 54 BCE. His territory was north of the Thames and corresponds with that of the Catuvellauni tribe.
Now he appears as a cloud on Sharpenhoe Clappers and not as a human figure as he is said to be wearing his cloak of invisibility which he used to hide his army from that of Cæsar.