Coldrum Long Barrow – Kent’s Best Kept Secret

Despite being built around 6000 years ago, The Coldrum Long Barrow (commonly known as The Coldrum Stones) is unknown to many of Kent’s residents. Astonishingly, the Long Barrow was built around 1000 years before Stonehenge and 1400 years before the Pyramids of Egypt.

Shocked? I certainly was when I heard that they were only a short 20-minute trip away from our base in Dartford, Kent. After hearing about the Coldrum Stones for the first time, I decided I had to pay the site a visit.

If you’ve ever been to Stonehenge, you’ll be aware that the historic site isn’t easily accessible (you can’t just turn up and walk around them) and it’s also fairly expensive to get access to the site; but not so with the Coldrum Stones.

How much does it cost?

Answer – Nothing… Yep, that’s right, diddly squat, nought, nil, nada, nothing, zero, zilch and zip! There’s no entrance fee, the parking is free, there are no big fences around the site – You can just turn up with a picnic hamper and go and sit right on the stones themselves if you want. There are no men with walkie-talkies in high vis jackets to shoo you away and you can take your dog, cat or pet rabbit along as well if you want.

You can also visit at any time of the day and every single day of the year. In theory, you could even go and eat your Christmas Dinner on them if you wanted to.

How do I get there?

If you’re inspired to go and visit the Coldrum Stones, they’re not that easy to find, hence the ‘best-kept secret’ part of this blog’s title. But don’t despair, we’ve got detailed instructions on how to visit this stunning, hidden gem of Kent.

How to get to there

By car – Whilst you can’t drive right up to the Long Barrow, there is a small (free) car park with 10 parking spaces only a short walk away. The official address of the Coldrum Stones is:

Trottiscliffe, West Malling, Kent, ME19 5EG

If you’re coming from further afield, the Coldrum Stones are on the North Downs, Kent, near West Malling and Maidstone, just off A20 and M20.

If you’re a Sat Nav user, the historic site kind of has its own postcode so results may vary depending on the make of Sat Nav as to where you might end up if you just punch in the postcode and hope for the best. We suggest using the name of the road adjacent to the car park to ensure you get to your destination at the first attempt.

The actual car park is located only a stone’s throw up a narrow lane just off Pinesfield Lane, Trottiscliffe.

Click here to view the entrance to the car park

If you click on the link to the map directly above, you can see the small lane on the left, nestled between 2 bungalows, that leads to the car park. To get to it, you’ll need to look out for the signposts in the area and also the signpost at the side of the road in Pinesfield Lane which points directly at the little lane where the car park is located.

Once you’ve parked up, you’ll need to head off on foot up the narrow track that follows on past the car park. It’s uphill and if there has been a lot of rain, it can be quite muddy so we strongly suggest a robust pair of shoes with good grip. Follow the track to the top and carry on until the track opens up so you have fields on your left and right. Keep going straight until you reach the intersection with a track directly ahead called Wealdway.

Turn right onto the track and walk a short distance until you see the Coldrum Stones on your right. If you are planning on making the trip, please refer to the maps on this page and/or make your own enquiries to ensure that you don’t head in the wrong direction – In other words, don’t call us to tell us you’ve got lost! 🙂

Click here to view the bird’s eye map

By bicycle – If you’re planning on cycling to the Stones, we recommend using the Sustrans website to view local cycle routes.

By train – Borough Green is approx. 4.5 miles away, West Malling is approx. 5 miles away and Snodland is approx. 4.5 miles away so you’ll have quite a hike from the stations if you’re planning on making the trip from the station on foot.

On foot – Access on foot from the car park, off Pinesfield Lane, Trottiscliffe – see more details in the ‘By car’ section above.

An aerial view of Coldrum Long Barrow (Video)

If you want to get a really great feel for what to expect when you get to the Coldrum Long Barrow, here’s a brief but fabulous video giving a lovely insight into what you’ll see.

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OK, so now let’s take a more in-depth look at the history of these remarkable Stones.

The Medway Megaliths

Coldrum Medway megalithsPhoto by Tony Grist

 The Coldrum Long Barrow, (also called Coldrum Stones or Adscombe Stones) is a chambered long barrow located near the village of Trottiscliffe, not far from Maidstone in the southeastern English county of Kent. It was constructed around 4000 BC, during Britain’s Early Neolithic period but today only survives in a ruined state.

What is a Long Barrow?

A long barrow is a prehistoric monument usually dating back to the early Neolithic era. Essentially, it’s an elongated (often rectangular) stone monument to the dead. Many date back to around 5,500 years ago and are amongst the oldest architectural structures ever built. They were used as a collective tomb for local communities but are not graveyards as such, more of a place to lay the bones of the dead. It was often a custom to lay the bodies to rest elsewhere, and then move the bones to the Long Barrow at a later date.

Apparently, there were 2 phases of burial at the Coldrum Long Barrow – The first was between 3985 and 3855 BC, and the second was around 200 years later.

Why the name Coldrum?

It’s said that the Coldrum Stones acquired their name from a nearby farm, Coldrum Lodge, which has long since been demolished. Built in 1796, the farm is attributed to the long barrow’s name as no previous records of Coldrum are said to exist and it was literally a stone’s throw (excuse the pun) from the Long Barrow, located just to the south of the stones. Whilst it’s not known for certain, there is some speculation that the name ‘Coldrum’ comes from an old Cornish word ‘Galdrum’ which means ‘place of enchantments’ and if you’ve already paid a visit to the site, you’ll appreciate this first hand.

The National Trust

The site of the Coldrum Long Barrow is now currently owned and maintained by The National Trust and has been since 1926. This page of their website erroneously states the Coldrum Stones are around 3000 years old whilst this page on the same website claims that the site is just under 6000 years old (erected between 3985 – 3855 BC). Hopefully, this oversight will eventually be corrected. The National Trust has dedicated the site to Benjamin Harrison, a local historian from nearby Ightham and there is a plaque to commemorate this.

coldrum stones plaqueBy Ethan Doyle White, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The plaque attached to a nearby stone claims the site to be a ‘Stone Circle’ which again, is not correct. Whilst several previous historians had referred to the site as a stone circle, in 1953, the archaeologist Leslie Grinsell commented that “it is hoped that this error may be rectified in the near future”. It’s not clear why the plaque hasn’t been updated but perhaps one day it will be.

Original Construction

As mentioned, the Coldrum Long Barrow was constructed around 4000 BC during Britain’s Early Neolithic period.

According to archaeologists, the stone monument was built by a community of nomadic herders shortly after the introduction of agriculture to Britain from continental Europe. The Early Neolithic period saw great changes in the way people lived their lives and around the time the Coldrum Long Barrow was erected, people began to move away from their hunter-gatherer way of life and started growing crops instead. Because of this, they tended to settle in one place rather than moving around looking for food.

It’s thought that this change came about through contact with continental societies, although it’s not known whether it was due largely to Europeans migrating to Britain or whether it was the native, formerly Mesolithic communities simply being influenced by their ongoing trade relations with the Europeans.

Whether it was one or the other (or a combination of both) it’s clear that the Kent region would have been a pivotal area for the arrival of continental European settlers and visitors because of its position on the estuary of the River Thames and its proximity to continental Europe.

The inspiration for the Coldrum Stones

In Western Europe, the Early Neolithic period began to see the building of stone structures across the landscape. It seems the purpose of these was to house the remains of the dead and large stones (now dubbed megaliths) were often used for their construction. The tombs tended to contain the remains of several members of a community rather than just one individual. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that this custom eventually found its way across the Channel and onto mainland Britain.

When is the best time to visit?

Any day of the year is a good time to visit Coldrum; the varying weather throughout our 12-month calendar creates a myriad of different experiences for all types of conditions. Personally, a sunrise on a clear and calm summer’s day would have to be my favourite. The view of the crisp, damp air rolling over the North Downs as the sun climbs higher in the sky is simply stunning.

view north downs top coldrum stonesView from Coldrum across the North Downs by Tony Grist

The summer solstice which, depending on the calendar, occurs on either the 20th, 21st or 22nd of June would be an obvious choice. You’ve probably seen pictures of Stonehenge on the solstice and it’s always very busy so if you want to soak up the peace and solitude of the Coldrum Stones, it’s probably best to avoid this particular day of the year as there will be far more visitors to the site than usual.

How did the monument get so trashed?

Even though it’s extremely old, you’d expect the Coldrum Long Barrow to be in better condition than it is. After all, it’s essentially a mound of earth and large stones so you perhaps wouldn’t expect it to look too different from its original design. Well, there is some speculation as to how the Barrow ended up in such a ruinous state.

Whilst it may be just one, or a combination of all 3, here are some theories:

Looting

It’s quite feasible that robbers partially destroyed the tomb whilst seeking out valuable artifacts inside. There is also a suggestion that this was officially sanctioned. There are medieval records from 1237 that order the opening of barrows on the Isle of Wight to search for treasure ( I’m guessing that Henry III must have been a bit short of cash at the time). The same process could, therefore, have taken place at the Coldrum Stones.

Farming and building practices

It’s an unfortunate fact that many archaeological sites are in far worse condition than they otherwise would have been if left untouched by farming methods. The constant churning of the soil together with the planting and harvesting of crops takes its toll over time. It could also be the case that the site at Coldrum could have been raided for its large stones and loamy chalk, which would then have been used as building materials.

Christian intervention

The is some evidence of a common practice in the late 13th and early 14th century to destroy any monuments that were seen as un-Christian. This involved the systematic dismantling and flattening of long barrows by toppling the stones (and sometimes burying them) whilst levelling the earthen mounds so they were no longer visible on the landscape.

The Coldrum Rag Tree

coldrum rag treeColdrum Rag Tree where people tie ribbons, notes and trinkets

One of the first things you’ll notice once you reach the Coldrum Stones is the Coldrum Rag Tree. The tree is adjacent to the Barrow at the top and is covered in ribbons, notes and trinkets. These are left by visitors for a variety of reasons – Some are perhaps honouring Pagan traditions, whilst others are certainly mementos left in memory of loved ones who have passed away. Some are also left simply to pay respect to the site and keep up with the tradition of leaving items tied to the tree.

Summary

The Coldrum Long Barrow is set in the heart of the rolling Kent countryside with breathtaking views over the North Downs. The site is free to visit and the walk from the car park will take around 15 minutes. If you’ve never visited this ancient, captivating and evocative site, you really should!

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