I visted little Doward Camp today.
I walked along the rampart which is on the left (with the big hacked up tree on the end of it) when you enter the fort (from Crockers Ash direction) which led to a path that follows the outside of the rampart, and found another rampart and ditch in the woods.
I then walked down the path which goes down the slope where there are no defences. I saw something that I at first thought might be a rampart but was actually rock (which looks like limestone). I walked on the path that goes around the hill; the rock is very high(like a small cliff), and the hill is extremely steep so they act like a natural set of defences.
I revisited the fort on the 15th of February 2009. Most of the clearance of the site seems to be finished, so you can get a really good idea of the scale of the place. It's huge! I'd estimate it's nearly a quarter of a mile wide. Around some of the edges of the fort are some really steep drops, so be careful.
On one the ramparts there is some kind of mound. I'm really not sure what this is or how old it is. It could be modern.
On the South Eastern edge of the fort there seem to be no defences, so maybe they're somewhere further down the slope of the hill?
It's also interesting to note there's a Roman Settlement at the bottom of the hill in Lord's Wood..
There's work going on to clear the trees at this site, so you're probably better off visiting out of working hours, otherwise you won't be allowed in there. This site is a mess at the moment. Lots of the site (and the hill) is taped off at the moment. They haven't cleared away branches, etc, so it's likely that it will end up in the same state (i.e. overgrown and covered in trees) again. Because of this, it's difficult to really get an impression of the scale of the site. The site left me disappointed, and frustrated by the over zealous conifer planting policies of the 1950s.
Though this is still England, you can forgive anyone for thinking it's Wales. In fact, this is border country. Little Doward rises high above the river Wye, just south of Goodrich Castle and Simonds Yat, which are better known places. Little Doward, however, is the one connected to Vortigern and the Dark Ages.
This hillfort above Ganarew is the foremost candidate for the elusive 'Caer Guorthegirn' (City or Fortress of Vortigern) is . Vortigern, on the run from St Germanus, fled into Wales to one of his strongholds. We know several of them, ranging from Gwynedd in the north, Dyfed in the west to this one, high above a loop of the river Wye. 'Nennius' describes it as being located in the region of Gueneri or Guenessi is probably Gwent, but the actual location is far from clear. 'Gueneri' can very well be equated with Ganarew (below).
The hillfort, which lies just to the east of the A 40 (T) a few miles north of Monmouth, is hardly accessible today. No paths lead to the summit of the hill, which is heavily wooded anyway. The OS Landranger map does show a fort, but it is very overgrown and spooky. One has a very nice view from the fort of the Wye and the surrounding countryside though.
A good view of the hill for those too daunted to attempt a visit is from the little hamlet of Ganarew, especially from the church (which is unfortunately closed most of the time). But one should take care, for leaving or rejoining the A40 can be quite hazardous due to heavy traffic.
The Trioedd Ynys Prydain ("The Triads of the Island of Britain") were compiled in the 13th century*. Triad 5126 describes Vortigern, who was not a very nice man. But he came to a sticky end:
"[He] first gave land to the Saxons in this Island, and was the first to enter into an alliance with them. He caused the death of Custennin the Younger, son of Custennin the Blessed, by his treachery, and exiled the two brothers Emrys Wledig and Uthur Penndragon from this Island to Armorica, and deceitfully took the crown and the kingdom into his own possession. And in the end Uthur and Emrys burned Gwrtheyrn in Castell Gwerthynyawn beside the Wye, in a single conflagration to avenge their brother."
The triads had been influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth's work, the 'History of the Kings of Britain' (c1138). (a translation of which is online at http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/geoffrey_thompson.pdf )
and this similarly describes Arthur going to
".. the town of Genoreu, whither Vortigern had fled for refuge. That town was in the country of Hergin, upon the river Gania, in the mountain called Cloarius."
(bear with me here)
People (eg John Edward Lloyd in
The English Historical Review, Vol. 57, 1942) have suggested that Genoreu is 'Ganarew', which is today the name of the settlement below Little Doward hillfort. So this could be the intended scene of this story. For another Arthurian link, there is a cave on the hillside called "King Arthur's Cave".
*but you have to bear in mind that Iolo Williams had an overactive imagination too.