The weather was again beautiful; the chance of an early finish from work, four days rain forecast and booked in for DIY duties on the weekend. Time for a quick bit of ‘old stoning’ - while I can! I needed somewhere local to go and as I work in Newport it is only a short drive to the Roman stronghold of Caerleon. But it wasn’t the Roman remains I planned on visiting, rather the impressive Iron Age Hillfort of Lodge Wood.
Caerleon is a bit of a maze and operates a one-way system. Head past the Roman Museum and the Amphitheatre / car park. Continue past the post office then go left. Keep an eye out for Lodge Road and then Lodge Hill. At the top of the hill you will see a sign for Lodge Farm Church – you can park here. From the church there is a signposted footpath which leads to the hillfort, via a metal kissing gate.
As soon as you pass through the kissing gate and walk along the (in parts) muddy path you immediately become aware of the high bank on your right. This forms part of the outer defences.
The path continues and eventually leads you to the western entrance of the hillfort – and very impressive it is too!
Three sets of ditches/ramparts, getting progressively larger. When standing in the ditches they are way over head height. The inner rampart is at least 5m high, probably more in places. From here you can either follow a path which continues around the outer defences or you can enter the centre of the hillfort.
The whole site is overgrown with trees, bushes, nettles etc. I am sure that if the site was cleared it would afford extensive views over Caerleon and the surrounding countryside. As it is, due to the trees, views are extremely limited. When I last came here I was part of a small group who were tasked with helping to clear the site and using the cut branches to make shelters for small animals. The hillfort is now more overgrown than I remember it back then, which is a shame. The shelters are now long gone - judging by the number of fires I saw evidence of someone probably set fire to them! Speaking of which, several trees had been set alight in the centre of their trunks. Fortunately most had survived although at least one had come crashing down as a result. What is wrong with these people? Why do they do it? Haven’t they got anything better to do? I like trees and there are many large (and presumably old) specimens here. There are a couple of superb oaks to see.
Despite this, I sat and contemplated. The sun was filtering through the trees; the gentle breeze was swaying the last of the bluebells. Birdsong was all around. Several squirrels and blackbirds were scurrying through the leaves; a rabbit scampered along the path. All was well with the world. I sat and wondered what the inhabitants of the hillfort thought when they look down and saw the Roman army approach? What they feared when the mighty Legionary fortress was being built? How their lives would be forever changed by these unwelcome invaders?
It was now time to head home to pick the children up from school. I certainly felt a lot more relaxed following my visit to this pretty place. If you happen to be in Caerleon to visit the Roman remains and museum please make the effort to visit the hillfort. It is only a short drive and well worth the effort. This is one of the easiest to access hillforts you are ever likely to visit.
‘This is a great Iron Age hillfort crowning a hill overlooking the Roman legionary settlement of Caerleon. It encloses an area of some 2.2ha, roughly 280m by 50-100m, and is defined by three lines of massive ramparts and ditches with entrances to the west and east. There is a smaller enclosure at the western end.
Excavation in 2000 indicated that the hillfort was established in the fifth century BC and that it continued in-use, with periods of abandonment and modification, into the later Roman period in the fourth century AD’.
I spent a day at this site last year helping a volunteer group clear the banks of bushes, new trees etc as part of a CADW initiative. It was fantastic to be able to spend a day at a site ans know that you are helping preserve it for future generations. To avoid a long walk I would suggest you park by the church hall? (white building) and follow the path to the left of the house. It is only a 10 minute walk from here.
But frankly, I think the following story rather hints that King Arthur's men are under a hillside. And near a wood. And that sounds more like the vicinity of Lodge Wood Camp to me than the flat land down by the river. Of course there's only one way to find out - you'll have to go and look for the secret entrance yourself.
[This story] relates how a Monmouthshire farmer, whose house was grievously troubled by [a] bogie, set out one morning to call on a wizard who lived near Caerleon, and how he on his way came up with a very strange and odd man who wore a three-cornered hat. They fell into conversation, and the strange man asked the farmer if he should like to see something of a wonder. He answered he would. 'Come with me then,' said the wearer of the cocked hat, 'and you shall see what nobody else alive to-day has seen.'
When they had reached the middle of a wood this spiritual guide sprang from horseback and kicked a big stone near the road. It instantly moved aside to disclose the mouth of a large cave; and now said he to the farmer, 'Dismount and bring your horse in here: tie him up alongside of mine, and follow me so that you may see something which the eyes of man have not beheld for centuries!'
The farmer, having done as he was ordered, followed his guide for a long distance: they came at length to the top of a flight of stairs, where two huge bells were hanging. 'Now mind,' said the warning voice of the strange guide, 'not to touch either of those bells!'
At the bottom of the stairs there was a vast chamber with hundreds of men lying at full length on the floor, each with his head reposing on the stock of his gun.
'Have you any notion who these men are?'
'No,' replied the farmer, 'I have not, nor have I any idea what they want in such a place as this!
' Well,' said the guide, 'these are Arthur's thousand soldiers reposing and sleeping till the Kymry have need of them. Now let us get out as fast as our feet can carry us!'
When they reached the top of the stairs, the farmer somehow struck his elbow against one of the bells so that it rang, and in the twinkling of an eye all the sleeping host rose to their feet shouting together, 'Are the Kymry in straits?'
'Not yet: sleep you on,' replied the wearer of the cocked hat, whereupon they all dropped down on their guns to resume their slumbers at once.
'These are the valiant men,' he went on to say, 'who are to turn the scale in favour of the Kymry when the time comes for them to cast the Saxon yoke off their necks and to recover possession of their country!'
When the two had returned to their horses at the mouth of the cave, his guide said to the farmer, 'Now go in peace, and let me warn you on the pain of death not to utter a syllable about what you have seen for the space of a year and a day: if you do, woe awaits you.' After he had moved the stone back to its place the farmer lost sight of him.
When the year had lapsed the farmer happened to pass again that way, but, though he made a long and careful search, he failed completely to find the stone at the mouth of the cave.
From John Rhys's informant, retold in 'Celtic Folklore - Welsh And Manx' , online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/cfwm/cf202.htm
It's a story that is told about various locations in Britain. I like the way they've got guns in this version and kept up with Progress.
Lodge Wood Camp is above Caerllion / Caerleon, and arguably the setting for the start of the Mabinogion story 'The Lady of the Fountain' - effectively King Arthur's Camelot:
King Arthur was at Caerlleon upon Usk; and one day he sat in his chamber; and with him were Owain the son of Urien, and Kynon the son of Clydno, and Kai the son of Kyner; and Gwenhwyvar and her handmaidens at needlework by the window.
In the centre of the chamber King Arthur sat upon a seat of green rushes, over which was spread a covering of flame-coloured satin, and a cushion of red satin was under his elbow.
Coflein says that this is a strongly built fort that was occupied in the Iron Age, but was also used in the late Roman period. It encloses about 7 acres and has a small earlier univallate structure inside.
This webpage gives details of the excavations in 2000.