|Visited today (5 November 2011), after a bus trip to Harold's Stones. The decision to get off the bus at Chepstow Racecourse is a spontaneous and unplanned one, but I added this site a few years ago and have failed to ever visit it. As the experience turned out rather strangely, fieldnotes are uncharateristically prompt.
A pleasant footpath runs through autumnal woods off the busy B4293 near the Racecourse roundabout, which gets me in the mood for a gentle stroll to the fort. My legs still ache somewhat from Thursday's epic, Postman-sponsored walk up Cadair Idris.
The path emerges from woods to run alongside the racecourse, and the masts on nearby Gaer Hill are visible from here. This is a nice path to take, as there are views down to the Severn Bridge. Also providing interest are the ruins of the grand palladian mansion of Piercefield Park. This is worth noting, as the two little forts are within the grounds of the house and there are traces of landscaping features in and around the fort and riverside walk.
The path enters the trees and heads towards the cliffs hanging above the Wye. The first trace of the fort comes in the shape of an odd little standing stone, next to an apparently man-made pit. Not shown on the map, I don't know if this is something associated with the fort or a piece of landscaping artifice associated with the big house. The southwestern fort is small and circular in plan and I intend to visit it more fully after seeing the larger northeastern promontory fort. From the standing stone, the path curves round the northeastern corner of the fort, where it emerges next to the remains of "The Grotto", a now-ruined artificial cave that used to be studded with minerals and inhabited by gay ladies and gentlemen, according to the information board. The ground drops away quite steeply to the southeast and across the path from the Grotto the rampart, constructed of fist-sized rocks, can be seen in the undergrowth.
I head back northeastwards, off the footpath, to where the ground slopes down into the trees towards the main fort. At which point it starts to get a bit surreal. It's probably worth mentioning that the other day Postie asked me if I'd had any weird (non-paranormal) experiences at sites, to which I had said no. Perhaps this is playing at the back of my mind as I head further into the trees. A helicopter flies low overhead as I press on further into the wood. It circles directly overhead and then starts to pass and re-pass where I'm walking. I'm hidden under dense canopy, but I'm transported back to childhood games of soldiers, crack units operating covertly behind enemy lines, that kind of thing. The helicopter carries on its passing and my imagination is in overdrive. Before long an impressive defensive bank comes into view ahead of me and I climb this into the fort interior as the aerial hunt continues. Along the northwestern edge of the fort the grounds drops near-vertically to the cliffs over the Wye. Without the dense tree cover it would be possible to see both Gaer Hill and Spital Meend hillforts, forming an impressive set of control points along the river.
I follow the northwestern edge and finally the helicopter flies off, presumably satisfied. As I approach the northeastern end of the promontory, a white animal shape appears through the trees. At first I think it's a pony, and my now-fevered mind is thinking of unicorns by this point. As I get nearer it becomes apparent that it's a sheep. Which is nearly as unlikely as a unicorn, in this heavily wooded, cliff top hillfort. It notices me and stares. I get nearer and realise the sheep is standing on the rampart, a green bank of moss-covered boulders. Without the tree cover, I imagine it would be very similar to the ramparts of forts like Titterstone Clee. The sheep continues to stare at me. It appears to be healthy, but what on earth it's doing here escapes me. As I follow the rampart along, it turns to face me at each step. Every picture I take has this weird, staring sheep in it. By now I am started to get a bit unnerved by the solitary sheep of the woods and I follow the rampart round to the south and then the SSW, while it continues to stare at me. I head off, feeling quietly spooked. It doesn't follow, but carries on staring.
All this oddness shouldn't detract from a lovely woodland fort. My camera doesn't like woods, finding it difficult to focus through the trees and green-on-green. I follow the rampart along its southeastern length, until it gets higher at the southern end and I stumble across a small circular feature apparently built into the inside of the rampart, possibly a hut circle? By now I wouldn't be particularly surprised if a lost tribe of cannibal pygmies appeared to fire poison darts at me. Just after the "hut circle" is the main entrance into the fort, then I'm back to the most impressive section of rampart, where there are two rows of banks rather than the one that encircles the rest of the fort.
Still glancing behind, expecting to the see the weird sheep floating along behind me, Woman In Black style, I climb back up to the smaller southwestern fort. I follow the rampart round its southwestern side to the Wye Valley Walk path, but by now every falling leaf is making me jumpy. Good grief.
Folllowing the path south, the slope is steep and the approach from this direction would make for tired attackers. Evertually the path emeges at a viewpoint, where Chepstow Castle can be seen and an elderly couple are discussing a lost knife or something. By now it's all feeling a bit too Wicker Man and I am glad to flee back to town, where the sight of a nice pavement and some shops (as well as my sandwiches) finally brings a sense of normality. What was that all about? Who knows.
Posted by thesweetcheat
5th November 2011ce
Edited 5th November 2011ce