A few too many Saturday afternoons 'doing not an awful lot' prompted this visit, to be honest.... funny how I'm prepared to travel the length of Britain to see the Tursachan, for example, yet can't be arsed to drive half an hour or so to a site in Essex. 'Better late than never' would be a major understatement, since I would cite this enclosure as being a quality site in every respect.
Always the innovative trend setter, my 1:50 OS map is so old it doesn't even show the M25 - due for completion Summer 1983, apparently; nevertheless I manage to locate the B1393, which bisects north-eastern Epping Forest, with relative ease. Why, there's even a roadside layby for parking... although watch your car nether regions, since it's pretty rough. For Essex, anyway. The road is also very busy....
The hillfort, or more accurately 'plateau fort', is just a little way from roadside and therefore not the quietest of prehistoric sites you will ever visit. Having said that, note that Ambresbury Banks is believed to have been used as a protective livestock enclosure, so will presumably have been much louder in it's heyday. Livestock enclosure.... bit of a swizz? Yeah, that's what I thought... but if you stop and consider that animals (i.e. the ability to feed others, henceforth your dependants) are generally equated to power in Iron Age Britain, then it becomes clear that here we have a prehistoric structure of major significance. Not to mention defensive capability.
It is also beautiful, particularly on a day like today with sunlight slanting diagonally through the woodland canopy, trees throwing incredible shadows across the forest floor to furnish abstract definition to the very real bank and ditch. The exquisite interplay of highlight and shade, perhaps prompting a fleeting resurrection of long buried, instinctive memories recalling a time when such environments were our world and woodland spirits were a very real proposition. The univallate rampart is relatively impressive, too, at up to 2m in height in places, although what I take to be a droveway at the south-west corner apparently dates to the Middle Ages. Huh! Only yesterday, then. To the south-east the defences are a little less defined as the landscape slopes down to a very busy bridleway through the forest. Runners, walkers, mountain bikers, horse riders... you name it... even large parties of ramblers dressed head to toe in the latest extreme summit gear. However none, no-one, not one person ventures onto the ramparts in the three hours I'm on site. In fact my only visitors are a stag and his harem, the former clearly 'up for it' in true Essex style. No, you're alright, pal. I've just got myself out of a Saturday rut. Don't fancy another.
The information board reckons it's unlikely Boudicca met her end here, despite the legends. To be honest I'm glad. Ambresbury is the epitome of life today. Not death.
Today I visited Epping Forest with a friend who has recently published a book of seasonal photographs taken in the forest. One of the photos featured is Ambresbury Banks - my friend thought it was probably a boundary enclosure where livestock were taken at times when attack or threat might be imminent.
"Iron age hill fort. Subrectangular enclosure of 11.7 acres. The defences are of single bank of dump construction originally separated from the ditch by a berm. The bank still stands 1.3m-2.2m high. There is also a 0.4-1.0m high intermittent counterscarp bank on the outer lip of the wide, silted ditch. The main bank now has 6 major breaks in its circumference, although only one appears to be original. This is approached from the north west by a trapezoidal-shaped causeway. The ends of the bank at this point were revetted with coursed puddingstone blocks. The width of the passageway so formed was sufficient to suggest double gateds, but no central post holes were found. At the south the head of a small valley is enclosed, from which a stream flows south east through a gap in the bank. Augering across the present stream bed suggested the bank was originally complete at this point, so assuming the stream existed at that time an overflow through the bank would have been necessary. The present stream bed is a breach, not a deliberately left gap. No trace of internal occupation has been found. Pottery from the ditch suggests a construction date of the second half of the 1st millenium BC, and reuse in the Belgic period. In medieval and later times several tracks passed through the earthwork and it was used for quarrying sand and gravel, and possibly as an enclosure for cattle on their way to the London market. Wild Service trees (sorbus torminalis) are to be found in the immediate vicinity of Ambresbury itself. Such trees are taken as an indication of relict woodland. Thus it would seem to indicate Loughton Camp was constructed in a still wooden landscape, whilst the country around Ambresbury was probably cleared.
Dated: 700BC to 42AD"
Note: the name Ambresbury is thought to come from Ambrosius Aurelianus aka King Arthur.
Very impressive especially as late summer turns to early autumn. This plateau fort is situated on high ground overlooking the Lea Valley. It encloses 4.5 hectares and is watered by a stream which rises inside the fort. The main bank is still more than 2 metres high and the ditch was originally 3 metres deep and nearly 7 metres wide. There are several entrances, but only the one in the west side is original.
This is the remains of Iron age Earthworks. As is common with similar sites in the forest, there is evidence of mountain Bike damage .
These are easily accessed, being just off the 'Wakes Arms' roundabout on the road to Theydon Bois, about a mile from the M25.
Boudica is firmy linked to this site and local people will still tell you that "Boadicea's Camp was where she poisoned herself after the Romans beat her".
The image of Boudica and her daughters owes much to the statue on the Embankment at Westminster. People are familiar with the statue and will assure you that "Boadicea's chariot had knives on the wheels which she used to chop off the Romans' legs" When pressed further, the informant invariably maintains that the battle took place somewhere to the west and that after her army was defeated, Boadicea retreated to Ambresbury Banks where she poisoned her daughters and then herself.
The plateau fort is now in trees, but was built on high ground overlooking the Lea Valley and the batttle is supposed to have taken place in the general area of St Alban's. The legend is very strongly held and quite unshakeable. Difficult to know if it is a long held tradition or an echo of 18th/19th century antiquarian interest.