A chance visit, not planned at all. Just the other side of Warminster today on the way to somewhere else, spotted this marvelous enigmatic looking hill. Never seen before by me. Abandoned original plan with "Let's walk up it." Remarkably easy to access, just past the entrance to Longleat there is a National Trust signpost and small car park. Easy walk up ... today was very windy indeed which made it a lot of fun. There is a clear information board telling us about the Bronze Age bowl barrows, Iron Age hill fort and the six different varieties of orchid. Too late for the orchids today but amazing views - in some ways this hill reminded me of Uffington and even Glastonbury Tor as it has a smaller hill next to it. Very much the same 'feel' as Uffington but without the white horse of course.
Lovely, relatively, unsung place. Added to list of great hill forts around Wiltshire.
[visited 28/12/05] I almost crashed first time I drove past this on the way to Dorset, not only are the ramparts immense but there was a gert huge nipple on top of a giant breast, just to the right of my vision. Cut to 1 1/2 years later, I finally had the Warminister map and went "Oh thats Cley Hill". This is a popular place and I was fortunate to get a parking space as I headed up here for sunset.
The defenses are steep, in fact the whole hill is steep, I imagine they had all sorts of fun trying to get the carts with provisions in up to the top here. Now perhaps my brain just sees breasts, but the barrow is large and very carefully placed... As a whole the hill is still in great condition and sees a lot of use, not surprising given how prominent it must be from Warminster.
Access is up a steep hill and through a gate from the car park.
Cley Hill is, as Julian points out in his book, quite clearly a recumbent mother hill, with Little Cley Hill forming the head. Most interesting is the vulva shaped area between Little Cley Hill and the main hill itself, which is very rich in flint (light area in plowed field) and flint knappings and discarded flint scrapers are all over the place. The round barrow is not on the highest point of the hill, as you would expect, but is instead perfectly placed to overlook this vulva area, with cup and ring markings beneath (damaged by medieval plowing). Does this indicate that the vulva area itself was considered sacred?
I grew up around this area and saw my first crop circle in the far corner of the field bordering the vulva area in 1986, which appeared within the time it took me to walk around the hill. Of course this is area of high military activity and farmers with a strange sense of humour!
In the 60's and 70's this area was apparently also associated with "earth lights" and UFO activity, as reported in the Warminster Journal and various Ufology texts, although these reports have subsequently been disputed as hoaxes.
The location of Cley Hill in the surrounding landscape is interesting, being visible from all side of the surrounding valley and escarpment of Salisbury Plain.
The photos are from a visit in 1999. I have blanked myself out from the picture showing the vulva area, cup and ring marks and round barrow.
Cley Hill is frankly like a huge breast on the landscape (complete with barrow nipple plonked right on top - don't tell me they didn't think of that at the time). It's owned by the National Trust and is an important nature reserve because of the early gentian and other rare chalk grassland plants that grow there. You will also find mountaineering cows and should check out the musk thistles bristling with bees. It's so bloody draughty you'll wish you were a bee stuck down in the flowers off your face on nectar too. It certainly clears your mind.
In all the books the site is mentioned as an Iron Age Hillfort, but frankly a place as obvious as this would hardly have been ignored by previous people - as proved by the older barrow on the top in any case.
JC mentions the site in passing in tma in a similar vein, commenting that perhaps Neolithic peoples had too much respect for the Mother to go altering sacred landscapes. It's certainly been altered since though - the side where the car park is has been extensively quarried.
If you're driving past , the best view is coming along the Frome road. And if you're stopping, there's an NT carpark conveniently located at the road, near the bottom of the hill.
As the ancient parochial boundary between Warminster and Corsley passes over the larger hill, it has been for time out of mind customary for a great concourse of people to assemble here on Palm Sunday to defend the boundary, and prevent encroachments.
Some time in the early 1970s, Mr R's mother and father to-be were driving past Cley Hill with two friends. It was night, and it had been snowing and the fields were covered. They saw lights silently firing out of the ground like a train with its lit-up windows running vertically into the sky. Obviously they thought it was totally strange but Mr R's rational father tried to think of sensible explanations.. I can't remember what those might have been, but they watched it for some time. The next day they went back but (And this is the clincher) there were no traces in the unbroken snow where they'd seen the lights. The silence is a weird thing too - and this was way before the lazer shows we might blame now.
Yes it's easy to misunderstand lights in the sky round modern Warminster what with all the military goings-on in the vicinity. But the snow makes for an extra weird tale. I'd love to hear more of local people's recent experiences here.
Mothy's post mentions Allegedly Discredited earthlights during the 60s and 70s, and perhaps that's what the following relates to - but that would still be an interesting merging of ancient and modern folklore themes?
Cley Hill was the home of the king of the Wiltshire fairies, who was responsible for the lights seen there.
Apparently from Mike Howard's article, 'Contacts with unreality', in 3rd Stone 19: 4-5 (summary taken from the Alternative Approaches to Folklore bibliography by Jeremy Harte, here: http://www.hoap.co.uk/aatf1.rtf
Today I was perusing Rupert Matthews' 'Haunted Places of Wiltshire' (2004) and noticed a story about a large stone on Cley Hill, which was supposed to have a carving of the Devil (yep the Devil himself)'s face on its underside. And anyone turning it over would have to deal with Unpleasant Consequences.
I see a stone is mentioned in one of the miscellaneous posts below.. is it still there?
[..] I was brought up to believe that the famous Cley Hill on the confines of Wiltshire was made by the inhabitants of that county who were induced to wipe their shoes before venturing upon our more favoured soil [i.e. Somerset.]
From a letter from Katharine Asquith at the Manor House in Mells, in The Times, Tuesday, Feb 09, 1960; pg. 11.
If you want the genuine* Wiltshire feel then you may like this version of Cley Hill's origins from 'Wiltshire Folk' by Mrs Ethel Richardson (1934):
Well, zur, it wer like this ye zee; the 'Vizes volk had offended the devil mainly, an' a swore 'ad zar 'em out. So a went down the country, an' a vound a gert hump, an'a putt it on's back an' a carried along to vling at 'em. An' a come along be Warminster, an' a met a m an, an' a zays to un: "Can 'ee tell I the rhoad to the Vizes?" 'an t'other zaid "Lor ther now, that's just what I do want to know myself, for I started for un when my beard wer black, an' now as gray, an' I hant got there yet".
"Lor," says the Devil (t'wer the Devil ye knaw) "if that's how 'tis, I beant gwine to car thick no vurder, so here goes"; an' a vling thuck gurt hump off's shoulder, an' thur a be, look zee, an that's how Cley Hill got there.
'Big Cley Hill do wear a hat. Little Cley Hill do laugh at that.'
Little Cley sits at the foot of Cley Hill. The hat refers to the impression the earthworks give.
There are several customs associated with Palm Sunday here. The grass was burnt 'to burn the devil out' (the last time this was done was apparently 1924). People also used to play 'Bandy' - a kind of hillside hockey, where a line of people with curved sticks tried to hit a ball from the bottom to the top of the hill.
From what my boyfriend's grandfather has said, I think it was a popular place for a knees-up in his youth, and he even said something about driving a truck up there (which would seem a bit difficult, but maybe if you followed the earthworks round it would no doubt have been possible?).
Inside the barrow on top of Cley Hill lives the guardian spirit of the people of Bugley. Bugley is now part of Warminster, the other side of the bypass below the Hill. There was (is?) a spring called Hog's well there.
The spirit told the local people to use the water of Hog's Well only for curing weak eyes. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the flowers of Ground Ivy were brewed in the water to make an eye-bath. It was particularly good for piglets as well. Farmers with a weak pig in a litter would stand the piglet in the spring for fifteen minutes and it would be as sprightly as anything.
However, bad things happened to people (and animals) that misused the spring. A woman who was gathering sticks nearby once drank the water. She was found dead in her bed the next day. Another time a cow stood in the water (and probably messed it up with a cow pat). The spirit was very angry and made the cow sink into the mud. The cowherd saw this and tried to dig a ditch to drain the water away - but it was no good, the cow sank deeper in until she drowned.
From Katy Jordan's 'Haunted Landscape' and
Manley, V.S. (1924). Folk-lore of the Warminster district: a supplement to the History of Warminster and the Official Guide. Collected by V.S. Manley. Warminster: Coates & Parker
The folk of Devizes had offended the devil, who sore he would serve them out. So he went "down the country" (ie into Somerset), and found a big "hump" and put it on his back, to carry it and fling it at them. On his journey back he met a man and asked the way to Devizes. The man replied,
That's just what I want to know myself. I started for Devizes when my beard was black, and now it's grey, and I haven't got there yet.
The devil replied, "If that's how it is, I won't carry this thing no further, so here goes, " and he flung the "girt (great) hump" off his shoulder, and there it is.
Collected in Warminster, 1893. On p78 of
Folklore Notes from South-West Wilts
John U. Powell
Folklore, Vol. 12, No. 1. (Mar., 1901), pp. 71-83.
The oldest inhabitant told me that about 65 years ago, on a Palm Sunday, some fellows got the large stone on top of Cley Hill, which had a socket (meant, my friend thought, for a flag-staff--? a cross), and rolled it down either to the lime-kiln or another side.
The excellent Sir Richard Colt Hoare wrote these observations as part of his description of Ancient Wiltshire (1812):
[Near] Warminster are two very singular knolls, which form a very conspicuous and beautiful object from every part of the adjacent country. They bear the name of CLEE or CLAY HILLS. They differ considerably in size, and rise very boldly from the surrounding plain. The larger hill is surrounded by a ditch and rampart, bearing the marks of high antiquity*. Its form is like that of a cone with an obtuse head; that of the lesser hill is drawn more to a point.
On the summit of the larger hill are two barrows, both of which I have caused to be opened. The largest produced no evidence of its having been destined to sepulchral purposes*. Near the bottom of it we found some ears of wheat undecayed, and the soil of which the barrow was composed had fragments of pottery, charred wood, and ashes intermixed with it, which may be accounted for, by supposing that this eminence was inhabited by the Britons previous to the formation of their mound, which, perhaps in later times, was made use of as a beacon. The adjoining barrow was certainly sepulchral, and originally contained an interment of burned human bones, which, on opening it, we found had been disturbed.
*Bishop Gibson, in his edition of Camden, says that 'Clay hill shews no marks of any trenches,' a proof that he, like many other writers on topography, never visited the place he described..
*I thought this was interesting. Because let's face it he opened enough barrows and surely he knew something different when he saw it? (I mean maybe modern archaeologists would see it differently. but this did leap out at me, especially considering its position on a very prominent landmark.)