I went exploring the environs of Binchester last week. Primarily I was interested in getting a feeling for the extent that there might be surviving Romano-British field archaeology in the area that surrounded the fort. Whilst I did find some interesting features, it was also a fascinating exercise in the exploring a post-medieval and modern landscape. Most of the fields appear to be a product of 18th or 19th century parliamentary enclosure, although there are areas of ridge and furrow in many of the fields. I’m intrigued by possible areas of what appear to be ridge and furrow in the low-lying area around the Bell Burn, but these can’t be medieval ploughing can they? More likely they are linked to the management of water meadows. The woods along the Bell Burn are probably ancient woodland and are rich in birch and sycamore, although there are clearly many features within them. There are a series of leats and small stone bridges linked along the course of the stream. These are probably post-medieval and perhaps connected with a lot of investment put into the lands owned by the Bishops of Durham in this area in the late 18th century.
Walking through the woods I also stumbled across a recent ‘shrine’ clearly to someone who had died and been remembered by his family at a place he’d loved. It was rather an eerie experience to discover it tucked away in a thick wood. Strangely enough, I came across another similar example a little further on by a bench on the old railway track (now a footpath). Is this a Bishop Auckland tradition?
The railway track was a reminder that this part of Durham was a heavily industrialised area, with many collieries; Lodge Farm just to the south of the wood was once where all the pit ponies in Durham were bred- according to a visitor to site whose grandfather had worked there, there were sometimes thousands of ponies there; I wonder if some of the features along the burn were connected to the need to water them?