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Norton Camp (Shrops) Visit

Visited on 11th May 2004

When I visited Norton Camp hillfort, I could not have been prepared for the shock and surprise instore for me. I had heard of very large ramparts, maybe some hut circles in the enclosure, as well as evidence for what was an Iron Age water spring.

From Craven Arms station I headed south to the town centre, turning left on the B4368 towards. I left my bike at locked discreetly to a gate at SO444825 and entered the wood from the north at SO445823.

As soon as I did, I could feel a treat was instore in terms of a place teeming with life. Bluebells carpeted the woodland floor in places, and the soft green light of evening sun through the leaves gave an other-wordly ambience to the location. Following the twists and turns of the path, the going was quite steep, and in places the path was extremely and unavoidably muddy.

When I eventually arrived at what I believed to be the circumference of the ramparts, the shocking realisation hit me. The ramparts were totally inaccessible, and overwhelmingly lost in undergrowth. Though the 1890-1891 map shows plantation around the fort, and the aerial picture shows some green grass on the ramparts, I did not expect this. Feeling initially very disappointed, I decided I would make the most of my remaining time by following the footpaths in a clockwise direction around the fort's perimeter.

The fort has two ramparts, each with external ditches. The outer ditch now serves as the track and footpath along which walkers and farm machinery now go about their business.

Not long thereafter, I came to the first entrance on the east side. Knowing that a clear look inside the ramparts would not be possible, I walked next to the tyre tracks up to the open gateway. The enclosure was vast. I could also understand why it would be good farm land. Well drained, good light, and the trees and towering rhododendra (these on the east and south sides) forming a very effective windbreak. In all a microclimate very much like the walled gardens of the Victorians must be generated, benefitting any crop grown therein.

From the gateway of the south east entrance, a depression with trees and undergrowth can be seen. This must be that mentioned on the National Monuments Record as the possible source of an Iron Age spring - an invaluable asset to the community who once lived here.

The aerial picture also shows a large circular crop mark between the dark green depression and the south east rampart. One assumes this is likely to be one of the possible seven hut circles, which likely only survive now as crop marks.

Access is obviously given around the perimeter, though it is not obvious how much access one ought to have.

Given the huge enclosure is now a cultivated field, and what access there is has been negotiated with the landowner, common sense dictates that a visit within the interior is not agreed. It is possible to view from gates on the east, and south east sides, which are also the orginal entrances to the fort.

There are new signposts for circular walking routes which take in much of the outer perimeter of the fort. Where the new posts point away from the fort there are other older posts that appear to make the perimeter circumnavigable.

The straight, west side is the most hazardous. The drop down the hillside is steep, the fence is insubstantial, non-existent in places, and tripping / slipping hazards abound. In worse weather conditions it would be prudent to avoid walking the west perimeter.

As for the most of the ramparts, the undergrowth makes them near impregnable. I was startled by deer on the southern side, and noticed there, and in other places, there were light tracks going into the ramparts where the growth was not too dense.

As for sheer luck, I happened to be visiting in May, to find that much of the northern ramparts are verily covered in bluebells and wild garlic in flower (the odour of the latter being detectable upon entering the wood below). A visit on a bright winter day may yield some more clues about the ramparts where evergreens do not cover.

In all, it was a bitter-sweet discovery for me. This Shropshire hillfort, easily worthy of something like either of the Caer Caradocs, Bury Ditches, or Old Oswestry hillfort, is lost almost completely.

The ambience on the evening of my visit, with warm air, filtered green sunlight, and heavy smells was almost intoxicating. In places it was somewhat sinister, in others, ecstatic. I had not experienced anything quite like this at any other hillfort.

ShropshireTraveller Posted by ShropshireTraveller
13th November 2004ce
Edited 13th November 2004ce

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