Hidden Histories gives you the pointers to know what to look for, what else it might be, and why it's there in the first place. Get set to explore burial mounds, deserted plague villages, timber framed cottages, dolmens, church architecture, packhorse bridges, strip lynchets, field systems, ancient woodlands and pubs.
The gorgeous cover artwork was created by Ian O'Halloran.
about the oldest manmade object ever discovered in Britain, the Viking stone
used to weave magic into cloth, the corpse stones Highland parishioners used on
the way to church, the stash of buried treasure hidden from the Nazis and only
rediscovered in 2007. And the witch found just up the road.
Or, indeed, for mountaineers. The BMC also represents hillwalkers. Like me. Not only do they campaign for access, represent us in the halls of power, run subsidised skills sessions and a host of local clubs...they're also working really hard to encourage more people to have the confidence to get out and enjoy the hills and mountains. I'm super proud of the films we made together in the Lake District:
Central Australia is one of the harshest environments in the world, but for thousands of years Aboriginal people made it their home. How? With an encyclopaedic knowledge of the plants, animals and weather patterns of the desert. The boom-bust cycles of the Australian arid zone, where fire follows flood as surely as night follows day, are the key - head into the desert when times are good, retreat when it's hot, dry, dead.
To succeed in this land you need to rely on the knowledge of those who have gone before. It's true for a successful modern expedition with pack camels, 4 tonnes of kit and almost a tonne of water. It was also true for the Wangkangurru, the desert people of this region, who lived here permanently until 1899.
They needed to safely navigate
thousands of miles across dune and claypan, locating water sources, camps
and hunting grounds. They needed to know the location and techniques to harvest resources that could be traded with other groups. Men and women learned the songs of the land - epic stories which told the journeys of Dreamtime ancestors who walked Country, naming plants, animals, desert features.
of these songlines have now been lost, and with them, the knowledge of where
these important sites are.
In the biggest parallel ridge sand dune desert in the world, relocating them is no mean feat. Cue a meeting between Don Rowlands, Wangkangurru elder, the ancestral owners of these lands, and Australian explorer Andrew Harper. Poring over Google Earth, they’ve identified spots that look unusual - spots that might shed some light on how people lived out here, what routes they travelled.
of the arid conditions and sheer remoteness, many Aboriginal desert sites are
held frozen in time. Stone tools lie scattered on the ground, wells still hold
fresh water. The archaeological payoff promises to be huge. But it's not easy to get out here.
I headed out to join a research team led by
Andrew Harper, and 17 pack camels, to explore a 400 mile corridor of the brutal, beautiful Simpson
Desert. I filmed parts of the trip - soon to be edited!
Where are we headed?
I fly from London to Brisbane, then take a small plane to Bedourie, 1500km west. From there, we transfer by 4WD vehicles to Ethabuka ecological reserve, a further 130km, into the semi-arid northern fringes of the Simpson Desert, part of the Munga-Thirri National Park.
The name 'Munga-Thirri' means 'Big sand hill country' in the Wangkangurru language.
From Ethabuka we head south. The area is not accessible by vehicle, so we'll be walking, using camels to carry our water and equipment.
Each camel can carry a staggering quarter of a tonne, but nonetheless, water will have to be strictly rationed with no spare for washing. So that's two shirts and eight pairs of socks for forty days! The only thing more stinky than me will be the camels!
We'll be camping each night in the open with 'swags' - the Australian equivalent of a robust bivvy bag.
Temperatures will hover in the mid-20s C (70F) during the day (it's winter in the desert - summer temps can reach 50C (120F!)) and at night, the clear desert skies could drop us below freezing (32F).
The Simpson Desert is the largest parallel-ridge sand dune desert in
the world, with dunes up to 30m high, all lying in a north-north-west / south-south-east direction. Prevailing winds make the eastern faces very steep, the western sides more gently sloped, and there are flatter, stony channels between the dunes. These dunes are relatively stable, meaning that archaeological sites between the dunes have been preserved but not covered with sand.
Violent flood events happen every few decades (the last was
in 2010) but apart from these, there are no permanent water courses.
Nonetheless, the Wangkamadla and Wangkangurru people made the desert their
permanent home for thouands of years, by skillfully harvesting the desert resources, and maintaining a series of native wells, known as 'mikiri'. These are natural seeps where small amounts of rainwater are trapped above an impermeable clay layer, preventing it from draining away or evaporating off.
If you know how to read the country and know what to look for, these tiny cracks in the earth can provide enough water for survival. By digging narrow shafts down through the sand (sometimes up to an incredible 7m (23ft) deep), water could be obtained, a cup at a time.
The last families walked out of
the desert in 1899, and since then, the locations of some of these mikiri, as well as other important sites for hunting and gathering, ritual and burial grounds have been lost.