11/09/2015 - Started from the car park in Abington. A fine walk up the old roman road to visit Castle Hill then onto Tewsgill Hill before making our way across to visit the fort on Arbory Hill. A great place for a walk. As others have mentioned the straight up the hill approach is a steep one, it was tough enough on the knees on the way down. It does give you a good idea of how good a location the fort has. I wouldn't have wanted to have been part of any attacking group from this side. The fort is a good one, great walls, but for me the location is what makes this one special. Well worth a visit.
As incredible - or just plain stupid - as it seems to me in retrospect, I actually considered passing over a visit to Arbory Hill in favour of completing my (fruitfully) interrupted journey to Loch Tay. Luckily, however, reason prevailed - for once - and I got to see what must surely be one of Scotland's finest hillforts?
The site is one of enormous natural defensive potential, the ground more or less precipitous to north, south and west, with the col between Arbory Hill and Tewsgill Hill (to the east) the only remotely practical approach. Suffice to say that, in my opinion, the successive planners and builders of the Arbory enclosure took the opportunity presented to them by the short n' curlies... and flung it screaming down the stairs. The resulting structure must have been as near to impregnable as any hillfort - anywhere - ever was ... water supply notwithstanding? As implied, attaining the ramparts of Arbory is no easy skate, even via the aforementioned saddle to the east. But, hell, to say it is well worth it for lovers of pre-R*man fortified enclosures is, I think, a major understatement.
The hillfort is protected by three lines of powerful, concentric rampart, the outer two - now mostly grassed over - in all honesty all that was really required. In support of this observation Canmore reckons the inner, massive drystone rampart was actually a later addition. Assuming this to be so, such over the top fortification, allied to the provision of no less than five entrances through the outer ramparts (the inner citadel has 'just' the two), strongly suggests a warlord with a serious need to impress/overawe his supporters and would-be opponents.... 'don't even bother opposing me when I can pimp my hillfort like this'.
I stand upon this windswept, rain-lashed hilltop, gazing across the Clyde to the Abington Services on the A74(M) and - more scenically, perhaps - to the surrounding hills and the deep valley separating Raggengill Hill to the south, and try to imagine what Arbory must have been like in its prime. It is silent now.... a vacant, empty shell, where once people actually lived and died, perhaps occassionally violently in respect of the latter. Yeah, it's difficult to envisage the noise, the smells that once held sway at this ethereal place. Needless to say the manner in which the location oversees and dominates modern communication routes says all that needs to be said about the strategic value of the hillfort in its heyday. This would have been the abode of 'The Boss'. Yeah. And not that American with the, er, idiosyncratic voice.
The linear grouping of cairns is puzzling. Initially, so is a series of what I take to be walkers' shelters within the rubble of the inner drystone rampart. Why here? I mean, where are the bloody walkers? Perhaps these were actually later dwellings inserted within the partially collapsed wall, thus implying continued occupation beyond Arbory's use as a fortress? The previous post's reference to nearby Cold Chapel Farm is intruiging. Hermit cells, perhaps? Pure supposition, of course, but why not?
[Note - back at home a fortnight later... I notice numerous other forts/settlements to the north and south of Arbory, particularly on the southern slopes of Castle Hill. I need to do more research, clearly, but Arbory's position as a focal point of the area seems ever more likely, does it not?]
This Is Very Steep... site visit - after tea - Monday 30 August 2010
The best approach to Arbory Hillfort is to take the minor road (Station Road) from Abington village and drive over the railway bridge and cross the River Clyde. Take a left turn at the junction after the caravan site, drive on for another third of a mile and pull in at the parking area on the left. Cross the road and head along the very straight track across the field below and to the right of Arbory Hill. This isn't the mighty Roman Road from Crawford Fort (it descends further up ahead). This field track ends in a large levelled area across a small burn from the foot of Arbory Hill. Descend to the burn, step across and start the climb.
It is steep.
Very, very steep.
I found myself having to stop for breath regularly and look South. I couldn't help it as the massive road terrace scar of Roman engineering had started to become a magnet for my gaze every time I stopped (which was a lot). It was seven o'clock or so when I started up from the burn and it took half an hour of hard climbing (with breathers) to get to the first line of the defences at the hilltop. The summit is at 1400 feet. The climb feels like twice that.
Arbory Hillfort is a mighty construction. The first scarped rampart bank is around a two metre climb up from the outer ditch. At one point it was easily three metres up. The ditch here is littered with tumbled stonework from the first rampart wall and some of these stones are large (5' x 3' x 2' was the largest I saw tumbled into the outer ditch). There are about five yards between the first rampart and the next ditch. The rise to the top of the next rampart is around another three metres up from the second ditch. You are now in the interior of the original fort. But five or six yards ahead lies yet another rampart which was inserted into the older fort at a later date.
This next rampart is not another steep grassy stony bank but an incredible eight or nine metre wide spread of tumbled stone which still stands around two metres high in places around its original wall line. This near circular stone rampart was originally three metres wide and must have been at least that height. There are two entrances both less than two metres wide.
I sat on the wall of one of the circular cell-like buildings built into this central stony rampart and looked across Upper Clydesdale as the setting sun turned everything a delicate orangey- brown. There was a distant hum from the M74 and the sounds of dogs barking in Raggengill Kennels far below. A buzzard soared above me, wheeling and staring down at me. There are a number of rather enigmatic features in this hillfort.
1. A series of circular, stone built chambers (about the size of a small room). Their walls stand to a height of two metres in some of them. One of them is around twenty feet long and rectangular with a rounded end. There are a series of much smaller scale ones just two or three feet across. The farm below the hill is called Cold Chapel and I wondered about those little stone chambers…
2. A row of cairns, facing West, built along the edge of the second rampart. They initially look like they have to be fairly modern but are well lichened and fast in the peat which has grown here. They stand up like a row of teeth. They are perhaps three to four feet across at the bottom and rise to four feet high or so.
The sun dropped behind Drake Law and Craighead Hill to the West and very quickly a deepening dusk sent me clambering down the steep slopes back to the present day. Arbory is an incredible construction. Atmospheric and enigmatic. I reached my car and drove home to cocoa, biscuits and a well deserved early night full of dreams about the strangeness of Arbory.
A summit of South Lanarkshire, Arbory Hill rises to 429m (1407 feet) a mile (1.5 km) east northeast of Abington. The remains of a well-preserved Iron Age hill-fort crowns the hill, comprising a walled enclosure and huts circles surrounded by a double rampart. The village of Abington, River Clyde, the A74(M) motorway and main-line railway are all squeezed into the narrow valley to the west