The pandemic continues to restrict Aunties travels, and so walks have to be started from home. The other day we took a walk along the quiet and narrow lane behind our house. The age of the lane could be significant, with the banks and topping hedge towering above the road giving in places, giving it a secluded and secret feeling. Although the lane eventually links to the M4 to the east it is not used very often, probably because it is so narrow. The walk is easy, and the occasional peek through the gaps in the hedge allows you to to see down the slope towards the coast a couple of miles to the south. It is then that you realise you’ve been climbing upwards, and the view to the south gives an expansive panorama over Cardiff and the the Gwent Levels. At the high point of the lane, just before a sharp bend hidden behind the hedge is an Iron Age Fort. Climbing over a very rickety style you move from a modern narrow country lane into 2000 years of history.
There’s not much to see on the ground, and you have to look carefully in the field to see the embankments. There are usually horses in the field, and so you have to put up with equine nosiness as you walk along the footpath that skirts the old ramparts. Part of the southern ditch and embankment have been destroyed by the relatively modern Graig-llwyn lane, and the others have been ploughed almost flat elsewhere. But the roughly trapezoidal shape can be seen fairly well from the air.
Over the years I’ve discovered that Hill Forts come in many sizes, though usually associated with hill tops, perched on the edge of sea cliffs as promontory forts positioned along the coast. At first it doesn’t seem to be an obvious place to build one. Walking along the edge of this fort doesn’t give you much of an impression of safe elevation, but looking south towards the Severn Estuary it is then that you appreciate more why it was sited here, offering views of the approach all around, as fairly good farming land.
From what I’ve observed and read there seems to be two common types of hillfort, the contour fort, with a bank and ditch dug along the contour line surrounding a knoll of high ground; and the promontory fort positioned on a spur of land with natural defences. However, there are also forts situated on plateaux and in valleys with man-made defences, and some hill-slope forts that lack defensive positioning and were probably used for stock.
Why is is situated here, and what purpose it had in the community when it was planned and built I doubt we’ll ever know. It is unclear when it was even built as it’s not been excavated, and the history boffins give a wide date range which seems to incorporate the whole of the Iron Age period of 800BC through to 50AD. And why 50AD? Well that’s the period when the Romans came stomping through South East Wales in their hobnailed boots to teach the Silurians a lesson in warfare and civilisation as they saw it. I’m sure the locals were pretty happy with their own version of civilisation.
It is a challenge to pick out the banks and ditches today, and if I hadn’t known it was here I’d almost certainly have missed it. Almost rectangular, or perhaps trapezoidal in shape it measures 79m from east to west and between 52m and 47m north to south. There are 2 main banks, with the entrance on the east of the fort. But 2 thousand years of neglect and farming has robbed the banks and ditches of their height and visual impact.
Ancient sulphur pits in the vicinity have led some to speculate that this might be the location of the legendary Camelot (from Caer Melyn – Yellow Fort), and King Arthurs fort. Whatever you believe about King Arthur, in the early 7th century Athrwys, the King of Ergyng, is a documented figure, and may have been a successful war leader of his time, and may be been exaggerated over time in the legends surrounding King Arthur.
Looking at this rather small, and in todays eyes, rather uninspiring hill fort, could this really have been the main based of Arthur as described by some historians. But at then end of the day does it really matter, especially as the mythical Arthur never existed, and the historical Arthur, if there ever was one, was probably a petty chieftain. But it was a hill fort, and it must have been built here for a reason. Today the fort sits on farm land, over looking the Cardiff and Gwent levels. When the fort was built these levels, now drained farm land, would have been marshy and good hunting ground for wildfowl.