28/03/2015 - Now this is my sort of hillfort. Same way up as postman. Great way to spend an afternoon. Nice fort near the start, lovely but steep walk over Pontesford Hill then onto the open ground of Earl's Hill. Great fort, like a mini Caer Caradoc which it has a lovely view towards. Bit overcast whilst we were there but the sun did pop out now and again.
Six and a half hours going spare, it's pay day and ive not been to a good hill fort for ages, destination, Shropshire, in between Shrewsbury and Welshpool. I like the place names around here, they really made an effort to be interesting, Halfway house, Mondaytown and Picklescott are some of the best.
From Pontesbury it's not far but a bit hit and miss trying to get to the small car park that is just north of the first fort on Pontesford hill, (Surely it should be pontesbury), parking is free, room for a dozen.
Hill forts are the easiest of ancient sites to find, you just go up,always go up, you cant go wrong with going up. The first fort is reached in a short time, ten minutes from the car park, no more. The path is easy to follow, watch out for a smaller path going left and up, you'll need that to get to the higher fort. Twenty yards on and were at the entrance to Pontesford hill fort. It is perhaps predictably facing the entrance to Earls hill fort south of here. The best preserved part of the fort is the entrance, the part facing it's immediate neighbor. I partake in a woodland stroll around it's circumference, it's a nice walk, but there isn't much left to the fort except the entrance.
Crossing the hill top is a linear earthwork and at it's northern extreme is a small doughnut shape earthwork, a small barrow perhaps, doubt it but it was quite mysterious. Due to the undergrowth I couldn't really tell if either of them were in the fort or outside.
From the fortlets entrance I walk back down the track to the now right and up path, it is smaller and in places less well defined than lower down the hill, but still easily followed, even up the steep bits, of which there is much.
The ground levels out and the trees are mostly replaced with conifers, through the tunnel of trees I can see light, I'm nearly there. But underfoot I notice a raised long straight platform, I decide that it is perhaps an ancient causeway leading from one fort to the other.
Out of the trees and over the stile is the first earthwork, a long linear bank that cuts the hill in two, I cross over the line and give it some more up.Thirty yards or so up from the bank line are two big ditches either side of the walk to the forts entrance, one ditch is full of brush but the other is quite open, i'ts like a reverse long barrow.
I carry on up to the entrance high above, after much huffing and puffing I pass into the fort.
There is two parts to the fort, the high inner fort and the lower outer fort, like a digital number eight. I start the walk of the fort starting on the west and go south, the banks and ditches are slight at best here, but get better as you reach the south end of the inner fort, passing into the outer fort I follow its western ramparts south, from here the lower fort looks very impressive, above and in the distance is the Stiperstones and I think Castle Ring must be there somewhere.
I turn past some wary sheep and the now highly eroded southern entrance and start the walk back up the hill on it's eastern side, far in the distance I can see the distinctive shapes of the Wrekin and Caer Caradoc.
Like the Wrekin, Earls hill fort incorperates some volcanic rock outcrop into it's defenses, and is almost exactly the same layout as both distant forts inner/outer and higher/lower, interesting.
I now scramble up to the top of the hill for the now obligatory stand on the trig point, you all do that too right, at least when alone. Speaking of which, despite the ten cars in the car park Ive only seen two people, a jogger, and a yappy dog owner.
Right next to the trig point is a strange circular earthwork, a low ditch that encircle the hill top, twenty yards across maybe. If i'm not mistaken there is an identical wotsit on the Wrekin, dare I surmise it to be a drip gully from a round house, please see photo and say yay or nay.
This is a very good hill fort, very photogenic, with superb views containing four or five other forts. It's on a parr with the Wrekin and Caer Caradoc with whom it shares many similarities.
I start the walk back down the hill, say charaa, and i'm gone.
Every year on Palm Sunday crowds of people were wont to ascend Pontesford Hill 'to look for the Golden Arrow,' and within the memory of the older people of the district a regular 'wake' or merry-making was carried on there, with games and dancing and drinking. Even as late as the year 1855, or thereabouts, whole families, old and young together, were in the habit of ascending the hill on Palm Sunday as a matter of course, and even now a good many young people make this yearly pilgrimage: but of late years the practice has been confined to the wilder spirits of the neighbourhood, and has been little countenanced by the more repectable sort. Mrs. R-- of Castle Pulverbatch tells me (September 12th, 1884) that she never allowed her daughters to join in it, but that two of her sons did so on Palm Sunday last past.
When she first came to live in the neighbourhood in 1846, it was a great annual picnic. Every household was occupied beforehand in baking cakes and packing up kettles and crockery in preparation for 'going palming,' as it was called. It was said that there was a sort of emulation to be the first to gather a 'palm' or spray from the ancient 'haunted yew-tree,' the only one of its kind which grows on the hill, for the lucky gatherer of the first palm would 'come in no misfortune like other folk' throughout the coming year, whatever he might do or wherever he might go, provided he kept his palm safely.
The next proceeding was to race down the hill to the Lyde Hole, where a little brooklet which winds down a lovely narrow glen on the eastern side of the hill, suddenly turns and falls into a basin-like hollow at the foot of steep walls of rock, forming a deep circular pool, of which 'folk suen to say as there was no bottom to it, but now they washen the ship [=sheep] there.' Whoever could run at full speed from the top of the hill down the steep sides of the Hole (a physical impossibility, or nearly so), and dip the fourth finger of his right [left?] hand into the water, would be certain to marry the first person of the opposite sex whom he or she happened to meet. 'You could not choose but that one must be your fate.'
What the Golden Arrow is, the search for which is the professed object of the Wake, or how it came there, none of the folk can tell. Though many very old people have been questioned on the subject for the purposes of the present work, little has been elicited beyond a hazy idea that it was dropped by some great one in days gone by, and never found. 'But,' said Mrs. R--, 'whenever it is found, some great estate will change hands, for it will never be found till the right heir comes, who is to find it.' She thought the estate was that of Condover, of which so many similar traditions are rife, but on this point she would not speak positively, though she reminded me that the Squires of Condover were formerly Lords of the Manor of Pontesbury.
The only other person who knew any tradition on the subject was an elderly man, post-master at the neighbouring village of Minsterley (now dead), who declared in 1873-4, that a good fairy in those days gone by ordained the search for the Golden Arrow as the condition on which she would undo some unknown injury, curse, or spell, inflicted by a fiend or demon. But to be successful, the quest must be undertaken at midnight on Palm Sunday by a young maiden under twenty [twenty-one?], the seventh daughter of a seventh son.