A window into the past

Godwins Track prehistoric path


The Avalon Marshes was once a place of swamp, fen and raised bog – not an easy place for ancient man to cross. Neolithic and Bronze age people built a variety of wooden trackways across the marshes. These mainly linked the dry land of the Polden Hills to the south and the dry islands of Burtle, Meare and Westhay to the north. As the environment changed and sea levels varied the trackways became buried in peat to remain largely undiscovered until the large scale peat digging of the 20th century. During this period many trackways were lost; however, a few were protected as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Heritage at risk

The reason that these archaeological features survived for so long in the peat is that wet peat is very good at preserving wood. However, if the peat dries out all is lost, a problem which exists in the Avalon Marshes. The seriousness of this problem is highlighted by the fact that most of the Avalon Marshes’ wetland ancient monuments feature in English Heritage’s ‘Heritage at Risk Register’.

Recognising the need for informed action the South West Heritage Trust has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership to tackle this problem. Already an exploratory dig has been carried out at Glastonbury Lake Village.  Working with the Internal Drainage Board a new water penning structure has been created on one side of the settlement.  This will allow additional water to be retained in the ditch on that side during the summer, when the water table is at its lowest.

Tinney’s and Godwin’s Track 

These two nationally important prehistoric trackways exist in the Sharpham area of the Avalon Marshes. The South West Heritage Trust have been working with the landowner to locate the late Bronze Age Godwin’s Track and establish its condition.

The photograph shows what was found; a trackway consisting of bundles of willow, alder, and birch, which were kept in place by alder pegs. Part of this trackway was last seen in the 1980s. Exposed by peat cutting it was recorded there by the Somerset Levels Project before its destruction. The recent excavation has been able to show that part of the trackway still survives in the fields to the south of the 1980s find. Here it is running towards the high ground of the Sharpham peninsula. Sadly the trackway is not deeply buried and has suffered some desiccation.

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