Bronkham Barrows


Beginning to get the scale of this magnificent Neolithic and Bronze Age necropolis, stretching in a huge arc along the South Dorset Ridgeway parallel to vaunting Chesil Bank with the Isle of Portland, that strange, haunted, pitted place, guts torn out to build London monuments, at its apex. What could it have been like when a new barrow had been erected, gleaming white against the skyline, poised between earth and sky … and Underworld, the dolines, sinkholes around which the Bronkham series cluster, water-worn entrances to the Kingdom of Dis, the haunts of the slimy dead, from where the Ooser, half man, half bull would seasonally clamber to drag the naughty, the awkward Down Under, there to feast, or worse, on their blubbered flesh.

Out of here clambers the Ooser
of the bullock’s horns
Of the grim jaws
Hidden in the hide of a cow
Beware the Ooser!
He skimmity rides you through doline doors
to the Kingdom of Dis
the Kingdom Below
Beware the Ooser!

Half man, half cow … the Cretan Minotaur? You wonder – we think we are modern, we travel from one end of the earth to another without a thought, yet 3000, 5000 years ago they did the same: travel from one end of their known world to the other, to Stonehenge, to Priddy Nine Barrows, to the Dorset Ridgeway, to magnificent Avebury, to the Ring of Brodgar (what an evocative name!), to Carnac to meet, talk, commemorate, honour the famous dead, the gods, to drink, feast. Crete-Bridport package holidays? Des res all mod cons infinity pool breathtaking shingle beaches friendly natives? Cultural tourism, 3500 years ago.

The latest SATSYMPH workshop was this time with Beaminster School. On the first day we built the app using pre-created modules (edited sounds recorded with the kids with DIVAcontemporary and Ralph Hoyte’s script) with 10 Year 9 students and a very enthusiastic art teacher – thanks, Katie! The kids were as kids are: some engaged and intrigued, some dreamy, preoccupied, some playing up for the benefit of the others, various intertwined souls …

First up, we let the rampant teenage hordes loose on SATSYMPH-HERMES, with no explanation, just so they could experience and make their own judgements on how ‘a GPS-triggered soundscape’ works and why …


Some staked out a corner of the playing field and discussed current affairs (?)


We then retired to the inspiringly cluttered artroom…

classroom all 3

… to build the actual scape, roughly based on this pre-made plan:

Bronkham Barrows - sketch map

A couple of hours of work resulted in:


Which sounds something like this:

Then, on the 2nd day we went to the actual Bronkham Barrows to test out what we had built. A fine, high day with scattered, warm sunshine, in good company and with enthusiastic kids and teacher – perfect! Much pleasant wanderings over the barrow-scape ensued:






Chesil Bank literally floating on the horizon:


A restful (?) break for lunch between heaven above and hell beneath:


After which the kids occupied themselves throwing stones into Phill’s hat (it’s never been quite the same since…)

stone throwing

Followed by the (scratch head) compulsory evaluation:


And home in time for tea!

hell bottom1

So what did the participants make of it:

  • They liked SATSYMPH’s teamwork and humour
  • They wanted more engagement in the creation of the app
  • They wanted more individual help

They said they felt differently about the sites and their heritage:

  • Yes, I do feel different about the site, I feel more attached to it.
  • I do, it makes learning much easier and funner!
  • Yes, experiencing the app, created atmosphere and educated me about the site far more and made it feel like you were hearing the voices of the long dead!

They agreed it had been interesting:

  • All of it has been interesting, from recording the sounds, editing, to hearing it in the designated areas at Bronkham Barrows – the whole experience has been extremely educating, enjoyable and rewarding!
  • Visiting Bronkham Barrows and using the App
  • Learning to chase sheep with Jonty (well-a-day!)

They learnt new skills:

  • How to code and plot stuff on maps
  • How to record, record tracks and how the App works

They enjoyed working together:

  • From my point of view [teacher] the students worked well together in pairs and within group work
  • Yes, it was fun working in pairs because we shared jobs and learned together

 Did it feel different being a designer and a user?

  • It’s hard to say how it would feel to listen to it as I feel intrinsically involved in it [and hearing my own voice!!!]
  • I feel cool that we used an App that we designed

Did they think the soundscape installation will encourage people to visit the site more than once to experience it?

  • It is easy to download and use and a lot funner than a tour guide!!
  • Yes I do because it tells the stories and people will be more interested in the site

On to Culliford Tree Barrow!


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