It was early 1981. I was going to be 21 in July, and was in my 3rd year of an Archaeology Degree at Newcastle University. Unexpectedly, I was hospitalised for six weeks. With the help of the hospital, and the Isle of Man Government who were funding me, and the Archaeology Department, it was agreed that I could start my final year again the following year. By March I was fine, and spoke to one of the Department's research fellows Harold Mytum about digging opportunities. He accepted me onto his small team for the first excavations at the Iron Age and Romano-British hillfort and settlement at Castell Henllys, Pembrokeshire, Wales, and I dug there over Easter, and returned there for the Summer season of digging - and for the first experimental reconstruction of an Iron Age roundhouse on this site.
I wasn't expecting luxury accommodation, which was just as well because we didn't get it. There was the small farmhouse, owned by the irrepressible Hugh Foster, who had bought the entire site in order to recreate a whole Iron Age 'experience'; and there were two caravans sinking into a bog which were possibly the most dilapidated pieces of junk that I have been seriously expected to sleep in.
But we were happy enough. Especially as Harold was very encouraging of our brewing beer in the farmhouse, which we drank while it was still 'young' enough to cause your cheeks to cave in. Pre-internet, we also didn't mind walking the two miles to the nearest pub of an evening, and we played a lot of card games. And I mean a lot of card games. There was also a bewilderingly crap scrap-paper game of Dungeons and Dragons going on, and home-made music, and a cryptic crossword from the Telegraph from early March that had been found in the farmhouse kitchen that we were determined to finish. It sounds like the Waltons, but there was beer.
In 1981, fellow Newcastle undergraduate Hazel Riley set up, with considerable ingenuity, what was possibly the world's most rudimentary flotation machine (the 'pollen washer'), and we discovered the infamous 'chevaux-de-frise', a kind of upright stone defensive stretch of earthwork. Physically it was hard work - we moved huge quantities of earth manually - and we only had Sundays off.
We were tremendously committed and many of us returned that same summer and took part in further excavations.
I spent my 21st birthday there.
And in the Summer of 1981, Hazel Riley and I met the reconstruction team - Steve, Howell, Alan, John, Gary and Sulaiman - and Hugh Foster kept us on and we helped to build the first Iron Age roundhouse, construct the first outbuildings, and plant the first experimental wheat crop. We got our hands covered in daub made of pig shit, did experimental cookery with barley, fish, rabbit, goat and wild garlic, and drank a hell of a lot of beer...
Hugh, bless him, had by this time purchased a 'life-size' model of a dinosaur and had it transported on the back of a lorry across England to Wales where it was unloaded at the entrance to the Castell Henllys estate. I think we all just tried to ignore it.
Hugh was a legend. The other characters at Castell Henllys in 1981, kicking the whole thing off, establishing the place as a home for experimental archaeology and training excavations, are still remarkably fresh in my mind - from when I was 21.