|I saw this wooded hill fort from the road; although it doesn't seem there is access over it, paths do lead around its base.
According to Berta Lawrence in 'Somerset Legends' (1973) it was "not many years ago" that people referred to this fort as "the place where they came from Athelney to fight."
Athelney (not so far away, the opposite side of Bridgwater) is where King Alfred was recuperating after coming off worst with the Danes. And now they were back. Odda spotted their ships from Longstone Hill on the Quantocks and set a beacon fire. He led his men (and one assumes, those from Athelney) to Cynwit Castle, meeting the Danish soldiers at the bottom of the hill, before nipping up into the safety of the camp to think.
When the pagans saw the stronghold unprepared and unguarded except for defenses built after our manner, they did not venture to storm it because from the nature of the ground the place was very secure on every side except on the east, as I myself have seen; instead they began to besiege it, thinking that those men would quickly be forced to surrender because of hunger and thirst, for there was no water near. But it did not turn out as they expected. For the Christians, before they suffered any such straits, prompted by God to believe it much better to win either death or victory, at dawn made an unexpected sortie upon the pagans, and shortly slew most of them, together with their king, only a few escaping to the boats.(from Bishop Asser's 'Life of King Alfred', quoted at the Medieval Sourcebook.
Lawrence says that 1200 Danes were slaughtered, and were buried together where the modern quarry is now. She adds the ghastly detail that the quarrying left skeletons protruding from the soil and that they were 'quite a familiar sight to blackberry pickers'! (ugh)
Perhaps this idea of bones comes from a shrine/cemetery on the hill dating possibly from Roman times - see the story about the 'child of Cannington' on the Cannington Web Pages here:
It seems that areas of the hill have been quarried into regardless of the fact that they are a scheduled monument, and the Somerset Historic Env. Record says that the EH boundary markers appear to have been moved. Tsk. What has been lost? The hill has obviously been of great importance over a very long period of time, and finds have been made of pre Iron-Age objects. It's possible (according to the Cannington web pages) that the quarry may be reopened.
Lawrence adds in her book that the few Danes remaining buried their chief, Hubba, in a mound of his own. Near Chippenham there is Hubbaslow - Chippenham being the site of an earlier battle - but she suggests that everyone knows his burial mound is the one at Wick, next to Hinkley Point power station. (Of course we can say that both mounds are prehistoric and nothing to do with the Danes, though they might have been reused).
Posted by Rhiannon
30th August 2005ce
Edited 30th August 2005ce