Set a little to the north-west of the fine 'Five Knolls' barrow cemetery, near Dunstable, first impressions upon arriving at this large, univallate enclosure are not good. To put it mildly. Yeah, sadly sections of the local yoof would appear to enjoy nothing better than to drive (presumably stolen) cars within the ramparts and torch them. Or else consume plastic bags full of 'super strength' and duly dump the empty cans in piles around the perimeter. I've heard the former referred to as 'joy riding'.... but, honestly, can any occupation better betray such an intrinsic sense of self loathing than this? Or such a sense of benign resignation from the locals walking their dogs amongst THIS, as if saying 'hey, but what can you do?' Sure, it makes the traveller think... but unless you share a (in my opinion) warped Damien Hirst worldview, I'd be surprised if the instinctive visitor reaction isn't to 'get the hell outta here!' To be honest that was mine. Too far out of my comfort zone, I readily admit. Soft, middle class Essex boy that I am. However I'd recommend perseverance. For Maiden Bower is a fine hillfort. No, really. It is.
For the most part the single rampart is cloaked with a (very painful) mantle of hawthorn. Now ordinarily this would be a veritable pain in the arse - not to mention numerous other parts of the anatomy - but not here. For I am in no doubt that, without this natural 'armour', the ancient defences would be in a far worse state of preservation than they currently are. OK, rabbits are clearly a major menace, the majority of the northern-western arc having also crumbled away into a quarry... but nonetheless Maiden Bower is upstanding. And duly begins to cast its spell, sunlight breaking through the early morning cloud mantle beginning to work its magic, the unfathomably complex relationship between highlight and shade now interacting upon the rampart. Perhaps it is the knowledge that this enclosure really is the 'real deal'... people died here, horribly, too (by all accounts)... that the current destruction seems so utterly ridiculous. So meaningless, so damn pointless. Yeah, how I wish I had been endowed with some metaphysical 'ability' to somehow convince those super strength swilling youths that nihilism is a one way trip. Jesus, now I'm wishing I was... well... Jesus. Time to stop.
Yeah, there is a lot more to Maiden Bower than initially greets the eye. Such as the fact that the Iron Age enclosure apparently overlays an earlier causewayed camp. So yes. I'd recommend you do come to the Bower. And if you happen to be a local reading this... ask yourself... are you happy to put up with what is happening to your youth and local hillfort? Guess it's up to you.
TMA-ers wishing to make the trip are advised to drive to Chalk Farm on the A5 and take the 'dead end' minor Sewell road (near the White Lion pub) to park before an old railway bridge. Go through the arch, turn left and.... well.
This mound of earth is generally called the Castle by the peasantry, among whom some singular tales are current respecting the cause of its formation.
One of these is a vague story of a certain Queen, who having made a wager with the King, that she could encamp a large army of men within a bull's hide, ordered the bull's hide to be cut into strings, and the greatest possible circle to be encompassed therewith: this was done accordingly, and the encampment made upon this spot.
From p29 of 'The Beauties of England and Wales' by John Britton, and others (1801).
"At a little distance upon the very descent of Chiltern Hills, there is a round military fortification.. called Madning-bowre and Madin-boure... The swineherds now and then in the neighbouring fields find coins of the emperors, which they call to this day Madning money."
(Quoted in the Victoria County History for Bedfordshire, v1 (1904)).
A Neolithic causewayed camp underlies the single bank and ditch Iron Age hillfort here. There's been quarrying and ploughing here - it sounds like it's getting pretty trashed. The original inhabitants didn't have much luck either - excavations found a lot of skeletons and sling shots, remains of a nasty skirmish.
Dyer's 'Southern England' remarks that Neolithic pottery and an antler comb have been obtained from the site.