The National Trust looks after 29 hillforts in Wessex (that’s Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire in NT terms)
I suppose that’s not quite true NT looks after 27 and a bit, the north half of Eggardon Hill in west Dorset and the east half of Whitesheet, Stourhead Estate belong to other people. We care for only a bit of Wick Ball Camp, Dinton Park and just a rampart and ditch survives of poor old Burgh Walls near Bristol. The Edwardians built on the rest. Thank goodness Mr Wills gave NT Leigh Woods so that its neighbour Stokeleigh Camp didn’t suffer the same fate.
However, just a little west from Stokeleigh, along the Failand Ridge towards the coast at Clevedon, lies Cadbury Camp and the Trust looks after the whole of that.
This is not South Cadbury on the A303 near Yeovil nor is it Cadbury Congresbury also in Somerset. It is a lesser known but no less interesting place.
It is great to visit, quiet though close to Bristol and with panoramic views across the Bristol Channel into South Wales or inland towards the Mendips.
I visited recently and saw the work that the Bill the ranger has organised there. The double ramparts and defensive ditches have been cleared of scrub and it looks great. There is only one gateway, on the north side overlooking Wales and that’s the place where the only excavation took place. Harold St George Grey came here in 1922 and put two trenches in and found that the ramparts are made of limestone rubble, pottery finds were Iron Age but also Roman. In fact casual finds have included other Roman evidence including sandstone roof tiles and a Roman alter fragment with the figure of the god Mars carved into it. Perhaps there was a temple or shrine up here.
It’s a place that has been visited for a long time. Flints dating to the Neolithic period have been found here and in 1856 someone found a bronze spearhead about 3000 years old. A dog walker found another one a few years ago.
Back in 2001, Bristol University carried out an earthwork survey on the south side of the hillfort because they spotted a blocked entrance there. Nick and I thought we would work with them and carried out a geophysical survey of the interior. It took some time but it is good to commune with a place and get to know it. I tend to get to know a hillfort quite intimately when walking up and down taking readings with a resistivity probe.
Somebody stopped to talk and mentioned that he had lived in the nearby village of Tickenham on the south side of the ridge since he was a boy. During WWII, the soldiers from the searchlight battery used to come down the hill and drink in the pub. They were part of the defence line around Bristol to stop the bombers trashing the aircraft factory at Filton. He showed us where their huts had been. The two Marks from the university carried on surveying the blocked entrance while I did the mag and Nick did the res.
When we downloaded it. The magnetometry didn’t show much just regular parallel lines, evidence of a period when the fort interior was ploughed and in addition lots of ferrous speckley bits along with two ferrous blobs. We concluded that this was where the concrete searchlight buildings had been. A subsequent meeting in Tickenham village hall gave us a clue to the speckles. Unexploded bombs which landed on Bristol were brought into the ramparts and detonated someone said.
The resistivity was interesting though. Three parallel ditches formed a playing card-like corner and used the north and west ramparts of the hillfort to complete the enclosure. The Roman finds might relate to this. It’s smaller but encloses the highest part of the fort. Seems a bit like NT’s Hod Hill in Dorset. Could there have been a Roman look-out unit here?
Meet us at Tickenham village hall on October 17th and we’ll show you round.