The Hindwell Enclosure – Stonehenge on steroids?

Covering an area of 55 football pitches and demarcated by 1,400 mature oak trees, the Hindwell Enclosure would have been an imposing monument and represented a powerful statement. Is this Welsh wonder one of Britain’s forgotten historic achievements? Is the Hindwell Enclosure Stonehenge on steroids?

Despite a childhood filled with family holidays on Wales’s north coast and recent cycling trips to Pembrokeshire, I don’t know a huge amount about the country or its history. The Principality seems to get lost in the broader picture of English and then British history. I’m hoping this ignorance is somewhat dispelled after watching BBC2’s landmark series The Story of Wales.

I’ve only seen episode one, but already this is revealing some fascinating aspects of Welsh history that deserve a wider audience. The Hindwell Enclosure was particularly well documented in the programme – what is now unassuming acres of fields and winding country roads was transformed by CGI into the megalithic wonder it once was.

And what a wonder it would have been. Over 34 hectares were enclosed by a series of 1,400 mature oak tree trunks rising six metres into the air and stretching along a circumference 2.35km long. The shape of today’s fields and roads is based on the dimensions of the enclosure, but nothing is left of the wooden palisade except a series of holes in the ground.

To put that in perspective, it would fit the entire Welsh Millennium Stadium eight times, enclose the space of three Stonehenges and covers an area equal to 55 football pitches. It is a vast area and, when surrounded by the dense, towering and human engineered palisade, would have presented an awesome spectacle and demonstration of power.

Each of the wooden posts has been estimated to have weighed at least 4 tonnes – even at this conservative estimate some 6,000 tonnes of oak was needed for the entire project. They were placed into holes dug two metres into the ground spaced three for every five metres. It represents a tremendous investment in time and resources – but what for?

There is nothing to suggest the Hindwell Enclosure was a defensive structure – it is too large, too porous and too flammable to offer any real protective benefit. The site is, in any case, low lying and unsuited to defence. The most common explanation is that it was a ceremonial or feast site for the wider tribe. This is the line taken in the Story of Wales, as Huw Edwards describes Hindwell dominating:

 “the Stone Age landscape … Here are people who have organised themselves on an epic scale. The enclosure isn’t a defensive wall, and a space this big isn’t for penning animals. Experts believe it’s used for feasts and celebrations”.

Today, Hindwell lies in a basin of rich agricultural land around the village of Walton, near New Radnor in the county of Powys in eastern Wales. There is little to suggest a much more interesting past lying beneath rolling fields. Fortunately, dedicated archaeologists have uncovered some of the secrets of this remarkable site.