The Iron Age Hill fort

The walk up to the Hill Fort begins, as do all the way marked walks in the parkland, just beyond the Visitor Reception. Ask for a walks leaflet in the reception and follow the blue route. There is a large map board near the tearoom that shows all the walks; its also near the toilets which might be a requirement before you set off.

You’re not likely to get lost on route by following the leaflet; however the leaflet is not going to provide all the answers to questions you might be inclined to ask on route.

Not long after crossing the cattle grid next to the visitor reception and you turn northwards, you might wonder about the large white building on your left. This is now a National Trust long term let that was once home to farm workers; it was converted into a single property some years ago. As you follow the now deeply rutted track you will be guided through a coppice where you will find a rustic bench. From this seat you overlook the back of the Castle. In the foreground is a field we call the New Orchard. You will see here some recently planted fruit trees; these are species chosen because they are local to Herefordshire. If you have children with you on your walk they might enjoy some time in the Natural Play Area, which you will find by following the path a little further, and going past the pedestrian gate; otherwise carry on through the pedestrian gate that takes you onward and northward through the pasture that we call ‘reservoir field’. Your route is now lined with some ancient Sweet Chestnuts; these trees are about 350 years old and in the tree guards close by are more sweet chestnut trees planted as a succession to the their parent trees.

By following the blue marker signs you will find yourself at the top of the pasture where there are more benches, the views from here are extensive and a spot worth spending a few minutes before you continue onwards and upwards. As you sit looking south you might notice the mound behind you, this is ‘the Reservoir’. Until 2013 the Castle was reliant upon a water supply that came from the reservoir and from two bore holes closer to the Castle. The reservoir was filled with water pumped up from the Fishpoool Valley. Inside the fenced area of the reservoir is a wildlife sanctuary, maintained and monitored for the benefit of our locally native reptiles.

Returning along the blue route, passing through the kissing gate and straight up the track, you will be aware of the large open spaces to the left and right. Until 2014 these were commercial plantations of pine. They have been clear felled and are now planted up with very young trees that are a mix of broad leaf species. In decades to come this will become woodland pasture once more.

Continuing along the forestry track, crossing the metalled road that runs East/West, the blue route takes you through a wooded area of mainly Birch trees. At the five bar gate you will be guided through a kissing gate. Here you are entering the land at the foot of the Hill Fort. The route will take you up to what was, 2000 years ago, the western gate of the Hill Fort.

The pathway is well trodden and maintained and once at the top you will have views that are far reaching. You can be excused for thinking that it would be a wonderful place to have a few seats or tables for picnics etc. However the Hill Fort is a Scheduled Ancient Monument; it is not permitted to place any structures up here, other than the posts for the waymark signs.

The Hill Fort sits on high ground overlooking the Vale of Wigmore and was built, it is thought, as early as 550 B.C. It appears to have been occupied continuously until it was abandoned at the time of the Roman occupation sometime around 43 A.D. The first enclosure was of about 5.4 acres. From the excavations carried out in 1960 by the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, the findings are that within this enclosure there were rows of quite small, square four post buildings, but there was no clear evidence found to indicate the nature of domestic life. Some artefacts from the excavation are on show in Croft Castle a more extensive collection is held by Herefordshire Museum.

Since the beginning of autumn 2015 we are working up here, surrounded by stunning views, to clear away much of the scrub and the very young trees on the ramparts, in an endeavour to reveal the outline of this magnificent structure. Whilst standing looking south towards Leominster, one can’t help but wonder what it must have been like to live up there at the time of iron age occupation.

It isn’t the first time I’ve pondered what life would have been like two and a half thousand years ago.

About four years ago a group of us were improving accessibility throughout the Parkland by replacing the many stiles with gates.

Primitive work!

Primitive work!

The process of digging in the posts to support these gates, just below the Ambrey was hard going, digging with shovels and iron bars to break down the compacted limestone; I found it somewhat ironic that the method we were employing in 2011, was not much improved upon the methods that must have been used by those original settlers over two millennia ago.

 

After you have enjoyed the views and rested, continue along the blue route and you will be guide through what was the eastern gate and down via a loop that takes you below the southern ramparts. Looking south you will be aware of another clear felled area that is also re-planted with a mix of broadleaf saplings. You will come to a junction that will point you back along the track that brought you to the foot of the Hill Fort.

Once over the metalled road you are heading back down to the reservoir. Once beyond the kissing gate look for the blue route sign that takes you off to the left through the chestnut trees and towards another five bar gate. The path here is a gentle downhill stroll that overlooks one of the Fishpool Valleys. In late spring this valley is full of bluebells a display often missed by visitors to the parkland. With woodland to your left and agricultural fields to your right you will eventually arrive at a gate to open pasture and very shortly you’ll be within sight of the Visitor Reception and car park.

 

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John Parsons