Yesterday I visited the site that has long been associated with the Battle of Ringmere (as named by John of Worcester and called Hringmaraheiðr in various Norse saga accounts which include some fascinating contemporary skaldic verse relating to the battle). The connection of the battle to a remarkable geological feature – Ringmere – on Wretham Heath is a long-standing one, which has only recently been seriously challenged in a well reasoned article by Keith Briggs that appeared in ‘Notes and Queries’ [read it here]. Nevertheless, the site at Wretham remains a compelling one, not least due to the preservation of an open and atmospheric landscape thanks to the designation of Wretham Heath as a nature reserve (run by the Norfolk Naturalists Trust).
A feature of this landscape that – to the best of my knowledge – has not previously been remarked upon in discussions of the battle is the presence of a small circular ditched enclosure of indeterminate date that lies very close to the pool now labelled on maps as Ringmere. Briggs’ comments on the possible origins of the ring/hring element notwithstanding, the possibility must exist that the mere was named in relation to the earthwork enclosure nearby. Given the location of this place at the juncture of seven parishes, it is conceivable that this structure may have served as a moot-site of some kind.
There is a demonstrable pattern of association between early medieval battlefields and circular prehistoric structures (most strikingly at the Kennet battlefield and at one of the contenders for the Hengestes dune battlefield: both situated at henge monuments) which may derive from the use of established meeting points and landmarks as muster-points and battlefields (Halsall 1989). If East Wretham Heath was the site of the battle, it is possible that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s reference to ‘the place Ulfcytel was with his army’ refers to a mustering point for the East Anglian and Cambridgeshire levies focussed on this ring-shaped man-made structure and the extraordinary lake nearby.
As I wandered about the site, a great cloud of Rooks billowed up into an ominous sky to swirl madly in the gathering dusk. Their hoarse cries were a timeless echo in that bleak landscape – it was hard not to imagine the wild expanse of heathland strewn with the corpses of Saxons and Danes as the birds of battle wheeled in anticipation of their coming feast.
[Originally posted 21st September 2012]