For a year in 1988/89 I lived in a farm cottage on its lower slopes, right underneath Kemerton Camp. I remember lying in bed at night listening to a strange unidentified hooting creature flying very slowly over the roof. Freaked the living daylights out of me. But it was a wonderful place to live. Great place for sun worship.
The hill is covered with relics of ancient activity, including two separate forts. Kemerton Camp is the largest, occupying the highest point of the hill on the north side, and making the most of a steep natural escarpment. The short stone tower on the top, known as Parsons Folly, dates from the late 18th century and was allegedly built to bring the height of the hill up to a round 1000ft, its natural height being 960ft. The slopes below the escarpment are covered in lumps and bumps, some of which are the foundations of an ancient village and some the remains of quarrying, and it's hard to tell them apart. According to my former next-door neighbour, a local farm worker, the village of Nafford was originally located up here but was abandoned and later rebuilt further down the valley next to the River Avon. Among the bumps is the outline of a small rectangular building ... a medieval pilgrim's chapel very close to the unassuming but still rather special St Catherine's Well.
Conderton Camp, on the SE side of the hill, is much smaller and quite secluded ... possibly a peace-time settlement because it's less obviously defended and has a very different feel to the larger fort.
There's also an earthwork on the lower NE slopes of the hill just outside the village of Elmley Castle.
Slightly less ancient, but really well worth a visit, are some of the 11th and 12th century carvings in the village churches around the hill. Most spectacular is Beckford parish church, which has carvings on its chancel arch of a creature with antennae that looks like an alien. In a more mundane style the porch at Elmley Castle has a really groovy rabbit.
"Behind the monastery at the foot of Bredon Hill, enclosed by two copices, lies Benedict's Pool. Few villagers fish from the dark pond, nor will they visit it on moonlit nights, for it is said to be haunted by a mysterious lady in white.
You can see the fortifications of an Iron Age camp on the summit; Roman coins and pottery have been turned up by the plough; and remains of mutilated skeletons found - evidence of a bloody battle before the Roman invasion. The spirits of the ancient soldiers - Briton, Roman and Saxon - are thought to live on in the beech trees, and the sound of men marching has been heard from under the soil."
Described as a large black cat, this animal has been sighted by many local people, mostly at the eastern end of the hill. The story about this beast first broke on the 21st April 1995 when a Mr. Watkins of Ashton-under-Hill found some large paw prints in the mud near his home. This claim was accompanied by both photographs of the prints and supporting testimony of one Mr. Figgett from Tewkesbury. He said that he saw the animal going through a hedge near the Westmancote turning between Bredon and Kemerton. Sightings elsewhere included that of the 24th April when the Gloucestershire Echo reported another sighting in Cirencester. By May 1995 reports of big cats in Gloucestershire and surrounding areas had reached the point where the Ministry of Agriculture had drafted in a tracker hound to try to locate one of the animals. Sightings of the black beast have far from diminished in the last four years. Many serious attempts have been made across Britain to catch one of these animals, mostly in the south-west of England, but none have proved successful as yet. The Beast of Bredon has had a serious effect on some locals. A Worcester lady I spoke to recently says that ever since she saw the 'beast' on Bredon Hill she has been concerned when out walking. This big cat is one of Bredon's more modern and tangible mysteries.
Here's a strange story from Bredon Hill. I like the way it finishes with "it is said that a strong sulphurous odour was perceived" - kind of geological, but hinting at the unusual and possibly devilish origins of the phenomenon, perhaps?!
About half past five in the afternoon of Thursday, the 3d of May 1849, during a storm of thunder, lightning and hail, an enormous body of water was seen to rush down a gully in the Bredon Hill, and direct its course to the village of Kemerton. The stream was broad and impetuous, carrying everything before it. Its extraordinary force and body of water may be judged from the fact, that, on reaching the residence of the Rev. W. H. Bellairs, of kemerton, it broke down a stone wall which surrounded the garden, burst through the foundation of another, made a way for itself through the dwelling-house, and then carried off a third wall of brick, six feet high. The garden soil was washed away, and "enormous blocks of stone," and debris from the hill left in its place. By this time the current was considerably broken; nevertheless, it flowed through the house, to the depth of nearly three feet, for the space of an hour and forty minutes. The neighbouring railway was so deeply flooded as to delay the express train, by extinguishing the fire of the engine.
The Rev. went up for a look on Saturday, and seemed to find that a waterspout had dumped its water on the north-west shoulder of the hill, not even the top, as he couldn't find much damage there? A five acre barley field had been totally flattened. The water hadn't spread out as it had rushed down the hill, it had stayed in the gully, and he claimed that "the general depth of the torrent was from six to seven feet." Bizarre and scary.
From p182 of The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal (1850).
Conderton Camp was formerly known as Danes Camp, only changing its name in the last few decades. It certainly wasn't built by the Danes though; it dates from the middle Iron Age.
I haven't been able to find any suggestion as to why it was called Danes Camp, but it occurs to me that the site is quite close to Deerhurst, where a treaty was signed in 1016 between the Saxon King Edmund Ironside and the Danish King Cnut (which handed over most of England to the Danes). It says in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that Cnut had his army with him, so perhaps they made use of Conderton Camp and this association got entrenched in local tradition. Well, they had to sleep somewhere and this ready-made hillside camp a few miles up the road was probably as good a place as any.
The Camp was excavated in 1958-59 by Nicholas Thomas, although the report of his findings wasn't published until 2005. It's well worth a read but here is a very concise summary:
The hillfort sits on a spur on the southern side of Bredon Hill, on a sloping site. The original fort was an oval enclosure with a gateway at each end (north and south). At some point the southern rampart was drawn up the hill a short way, forming the two-part camp we see today, though it appears that the lower section was not inhabited. The hillside on the east side of the camp (outside the ramparts) shows some distinctive ridges from ancient cultivation which are thought to pre-date the fort itself. Below the southern gate is a very rich area of springs which provided a plentiful supply of water.
The northern gateway was originally built as a simple gap in the rampart, probably with timber gates set into it. At some stage it was extended with an inturned entrance (still visible today). Later still, a drystone wall was built across it, blocking it off completely. During the building of the inturned entrance, a beautifully decorated weaver's comb (carved from a cattle rib) was placed under its foundations, presumably as some kind of ritual act.
The main inhabited enclosure was found to have contained about ten circular houses, though possibly not all existing at the same time as their foundations overlapped. One of the houses was excavated and its drystone wall foundations had survived remarkably well. Enough information was gleaned from this to allow a full-size speculative reconstruction of the house (now destroyed, but there are still photos of it). The camp was quite tidily organised into two parts, with housing on the east side and lots of storage pits (about 80 or 90) on the west side.
Among the curiosities found during excavation were three sheep burials, under the foundations of houses. The skeletons were almost complete, but very jumbled, and with some small bones missing. They are thought to have been buried like this for some ritual purpose. Other than that, the main find was an iron fire-poker.
The evidence suggests that the fort was eventually abandoned and allowed to decay naturally, rather than being subject to any violent attack - which is known to have happened at the slightly later Kemerton Camp hillfort on the other side of the hill.
For full information, see "Conderton Camp: a small middle Iron Age hillfort on Bredon Hill" by Nicholas Thomas (published by the Council for British Archaeology).