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EARTH MYSTERIES

The Toots

The Toots is one of the largest long barrows in Gloucestershire measuring 210 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 11 feet high. It has been dug into three places; that across the middle is so large that it causes the barrow to appear to be two mounds. The photograph above is taken from on top of the mound at the south end. It shows the south end of the Toots Long Barrow with a view beyond of the Cotswold Escarpment and the Vale of Gloucester.

About 2 miles from Stroud, the Toots is located high up on Selsley Hill on the edge of the escarpment overlooking the Vale of Gloucester and the Severn Estuary. It should be observed, though, that despite expectations, the Toots, and other barrows similarly located, is not set upon the highest part of Selsley Hill. In fact, when approaching from the east, the barrow cannot be seen until one crests the top of the hill. On this point, William Stukeley noticed with regard to the barrows upon Hakpen Hill near Avebury that it "and others are set with great art not upon the very highest part of the hills but upon so much of the declivity or edge as they make app[earance] as above to those in the valley" (from Stukeley's miscellaneous Avebury notes). This siting of barrows upon 'false crests' is common in many parts of Britain, but has only been noticed again in recent years. The archaeologist Cyril Fox writing in the 1940s argued that "barrows sited on false crest lines were intended to be seen from some point below them" and adds that "the position of a barrow thus gives an indication of the direction in which the homes of its builders should be sought."

The Toots is clearly visible from the valley as a "bump" on the skyline. Other barrows, such as the Nympsfield Barrow and Hetty Pegler's Tump, are placed similarly within the landscape. Although the view from both the latter barrows, and the view of them from the valley, is today obscured by trees, the original effect must have been the same as The Toots. Besides indicating, as Fox suggests, where the homes of their builders might be located, I would like to add the observation that these barrows were most likely also in line-of-sight with other sites in and across the valley, and with each other. Very probably (trees now prevent a demonstration of this), the Nympsfield Barrow and Hetty Pegler's Tump were visible from the Toots. The Toots is in line-of-sight with Whitefield's Tump on Minchinhampton Common Their visibility would have been enhanced by the fact of their also being white. A point I would like to make is that these barrows, though today are grown over with grass, were originally covered with exposed chalk. Their brilliant whiteness would have been very eye-catching from a distance. A typical barrow would be that described by Stukeley in his book on Stonehenge:

The manner of composition of the barrow was good good earth, quite thro', except a coat of chalk of about two foot thickness, covering it quite over, under the turf. Hence is appears, that the method of making these barrows was to dig up the turf for a great space round, till the barrow was brought to intended bulk. Then with the chalk, dug of the environing ditch, they powder'd it all over."

The name "Toots" would appear to be derived from the name "Teutates", a name used by the Druids for a deity identified with the Roman god Mercury (see Ley Lines), and may ultimately be related to the Egyptian god Thoth. The name Toot subsequently also became the name of a hill that was used as a look-out point.



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