“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Beacon Hill and the Mummy's Curse

The views below are from the top of Beacon Hill in Hampshire, which can be found alongside the A34 near to the village of Burghclere. The hill derives its name from the fact that it was once used as the site of one of Hampshire’s many signalling beacons. The hill is 261 metres high and is the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, with some of the old earthworks still visible today. The fort at Beacon Hill is estimated to have been built around 1000 BC and is believed to have been a significant fort, being home to around 2000 - 3000 people. Today the remains of the hill fort are only home to one permanent resident, George Herbert  the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, whose tomb can be found near the summit.

The view from Beacon Hill, looking towards the A34.

The view from Beacon Hill, looking towards Highclere Castle.

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon (1866 – 1923) is known to most people as the sponsor behind Howard Carter’s excavations of Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Carnarvon was a keen amateur Egyptologist who sponsored digs in Egypt as early as 1907. In 1914 Carnarvon received permission to dig in the Valley of the Kings and in November 1922 Carnarvon and Howard Carter uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, which had lain undisturbed and intact for nearly 3000 years and was found to be full of a wealth of ancient artefacts.  

Carnarvon’s renown did not stop at the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, his death in Cairo on the 5th April 1923 also helped to make his name widely known. On 19th March 1923 Carnarvon suffered a severe mosquito bite, which subsequently became infected following a razor cut. This infection lead to him passing away of suspected blood poisoning and kick started the popularisation of the legend of the “Mummy’s Curse” that surrounded the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb.  If indeed there was a curse, it took a while to enact it’s retribution. It is reported that of the 58 people who were present when the tomb and sarcophagus were opened, that only eight died within a dozen years of the event. Howard Carter for example, managed to live until 1939, when he died at the age of 64. 

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon's tomb on Beacon Hill.

Carnarvon is buried atop Beacon Hill because the hill overlooks Highclere Castle, which has been his family’s home since 1679. Highclere Castle sits in an impressive estate and the grounds are home to a number of interesting follies, two of which I managed to photograph during my visit. Firstly there is the Temple of Diana which dates from around 1743. The temple is a striking round building that is adorned with Corinthian columns from Devonshire House in Piccadilly. Secondly there is Heaven's Gate, which is an 18 metre tall brick gateway built across a footpath on Sidown Hill. Heaven’s Gate was built in 1749 by Hon. Robert Sawyer Herbert, and I was just able to spy the folly from the summit of Beacon Hill.

There are at least  two other 18th Century follies in the grounds of Highclere Castle, which are known as the Jackdaw's Castle and the Etruscan Temple, but I was not lucky enough to photograph these this time around.

Highclere Castle.
The Temple of Diana.
Heaven's Gate - in the centre of the photo just above the track - you'll need to zoom to see it. 
For any readers who are tempted to visit Beacon Hill, it is also worth noting that south of the hill (and just north of the Wayfarer's Walk footpath) there is a site called Seven Barrows. Not only is this field home to the barrows in question, but it is also where Captain Sir Geoffrey de Havilland made his first successful test flight in his homemade airplane on the 10th September 1910. This achievement is commemorated by a memorial stone that is situated in the field.

Pictures, Hampshire (May 2014).

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