The Round Barrow – an ancient way becomes a new choice


In the quiet hills of West Dorset, a modern round barrow has been constructed with the most ancient of purposes – Rachael Rowe reports
The entrance to the Round Barrow

The panoramic view across the Dorset countryside catches me unaware, stretching to the horizon. There is only the sound of the wind rushing through the trees and birds singing. High Ground Meadow, just outside Corscombe, is a special place for many people, with its natural burial ground and, more recently, a round barrow. Nowadays there are more cremations and more options available to commemorate loved ones, in addition to the traditional grave.
One of the newest is the round barrow – yet it is also one of the oldest.

What is a barrow?
You are correct if you thought barrows were earth mounds where ancient peoples buried their dead. LNeolithic communities built long barrows from 4,000 to 2,000 BC, while round barrows date from the Bronze Age, around 2,000 BC. They were also used by Anglo Saxons and Romans, many aligned to sunrise at the solstice. Today, barrows are once again being built, with niches to house urns following cremation.
There was a huge demand for the first modern round barrow, created in Wiltshire in 2014. TThe round barrow at High Ground Meadow was developed in 2018, two years before the first set of ashes found its Corscombe resting place.

The passage within the Round Barrow
All images: Rachael Rowe

Like a clock
The entrance to the West Dorset barrow is carpeted with wildflowers and blends naturally into the landscape. Undertaker Tom Vassie takes me into the open doorway, pausing at the time circle just inside the entrance. It’s a circular structure with a floral wreath.
“This area is always open, so people can be close to the ashes,” says Tom. “it can also be used for small services as the ashes are interred, or for people to sit and reflect.”
We continue through to the domed central area, and Tom explains the structure.
“The barrow is shaped like a clock. At each ‘hour’, a passageway leads off from the central chamber. Other chambers are at three, six and nine o’clock. So we have a theme of time here, and the standing stones outside represent the seven days of the week. Although the barrow is not aligned for a solstice, it is directly aligned with Glastonbury Tor.”

An extraordinary place
As I walk around the circular structure, there is a profound feeling of peace and calm. Tiny candles flicker among the urns and stone niches. It feels mystical – spiritual, in a way – and somewhere contemplative but quite extraordinary to be. On a ledge is Tim’s Stone: when Tom went to the first barrow in Wiltshire, the owner (Tim) donated one of his stones to this new barrow in Dorset.
The barrow is a tranquil and serene setting for someone’s final resting place. The urns are made locally. The blue pots come from Mosterton and the earth-coloured ones from Owermoigne. They are designed to blend into the setting without being garish or out of place. It is an alternative to ashes being scattered in a garden of remembrance – or perhaps somewhere they should not be placed. People still scatter ashes in inappropriate areas, apparently.

Niches – with display urns – in the round barrow

Undertakers not directors
Niches can hold a surprising number of urns. For example, most niches can take a pair of urns, but some of the larger ones hold up to nine, so a family can be together. You can also choose your niche within the barrow. There’s a cost, of course, but compared with a graveyard plot, they are less expensive, especially if there are several urns in one niche.
I ask about the choices funeral directors give to people when a loved one dies and am instantly corrected by Tom’s mother, Jo. “We’re undertakers, not funeral directors. The family directs the funeral. We are there to help and support them.”
Tom continues: “Some families carry the coffin and lower it in the burial ground. They often say they didn’t know they could do that. We enjoy helping the families shape the service with favourite music and other personal touches.”
For example, people can choose to have a ceremonial walk to the barrow to place the urn, or they can simply take the urn into the chamber.

The time circle inside the Round Barrow

A place to remember
Today, 70 per cent of people who die in England are cremated. However, since the pandemic, more people have been thinking about how they want to be remembered when they die. A round barrow is an option for people who wish to be cremated but would also prefer a final resting place. With views of rural Dorset in such a tranquil setting, the round barrow feels spiritually connected to the past, and yet is very much in the present as a final resting place.

Higher Ground Meadow, Corscombe


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