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Oliver's Castle


<b>Oliver's Castle</b>Posted by ChanceImage © Chance - 18/04/08
Also known as:
  • Roundway Down
  • Olivers Castle
  • Oliver's Camp

Nearest Town:Devizes (3km SSE)
OS Ref (GB):   SU001646 / Sheet: 173
Latitude:51° 22' 47.66" N
Longitude:   1° 59' 54.83" W

Added by Earthstepper

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Visited Sunday 23 May 2010
It was already very hot when we made our way mid-morning from Devizes along Quaker's Way up by Roundway Hill to Oliver's Castle. In restrospect it was probably unwise to embark on an 11 mile walk along a section of the Mid Wilts Way during one of our rare heatwaves. The highlight for me was definitely reaching Oliver's Castle.

Once up there the heat was relieved by a breeze, the views, needless to say, were spectacular. I noticed a small glimpse of purple in the grass and went to investigate; was treated to the sight of a whole bank of early purple (or fragrant) orchids. I have never seen wild orchids in such abundance - on the grassy slopes of a hillfort.
tjj Posted by tjj
26th May 2010ce
Edited 19th October 2010ce

Oliver's Castle is truly fantastic. I'd go so far as to say it beats Adam's Grave hands down* (so long as you don't want a longbarrow)..

It need require no uphill walking, which will please some people. If driving here persevere and park at SU 004647 - the track is perfectly flat and navigable though you might initially feel you're heading off into the back of beyond.

Stroll down the path to the end of the fort.. and you will be gobsmacked by the view. Surely you can see the whole world from up here? Well of course you can't really, but it's a manageable size universe, and I think that's why it has such appeal. It looks like all the everything you could require. It might not be the grand vista from a more dramatic mountain, but it's more fertile and comfy.

The barrows couldn't be in a better spot, stuck out right at the end. But the manmade lumps and bumps are utterly overshadowed by their natural counterparts - to the north of the fort are the most amazing undulating intricately folded dry valleys. The light when I visited made them look even nicer. You want to roll down them or something.

The fort is sprinkled with beech trees, with their obligatory bubbled carved writing on the trunks, but they masquerade as scots pines from afar, because they are so wind blown. It is very windy up here. The site is a nature reserve, and is full of lovely plants at the moment - beautiful pink sainfoin, thyme and greater knapweed, and many others. [A few weeks later and it was a botanist's dream].

*Is this sheer exaggeration? You'll have to visit and find out.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
23rd June 2006ce
Edited 26th June 2007ce

A small hillfort near Devizes with two round barrows to the south-west. Earthstepper Posted by Earthstepper
21st September 2003ce


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At the weekend we were up on Westbury White Horse getting some fresh air. It rained of course, but before the drizzle set in, we got right round the ramparts. And on the far corner, you can look out and see Oliver's Castle quite clearly, so I pointed it out to my companions. My sister said, "Do you remember when we were up there and I heard that cannon?" (Insert my somewhat bewildered expression). "Yes, we were walking up there and I heard it and you didn't."

Clearly I had blanked this (lack of) experience at the injustice of it.

It's the very sort of place you'd expect ghostly cannonfire of course. But I can't remember if she already knew that or not, when we were actually there. Mr Rh immediately put her anecdote down to someone shooting pheasants. The rationalist spoilsport.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
4th June 2019ce

The camp was more anciently called Roundway or Rundaway Castle, and its present name of Oliver's Camp or Castle seems to have arisen out of a popular tradition that Oliver Cromwell occupied, if he did not actually build, the camp. The only foundation in fact for this tradition is that the battle of Roundway in 1643 was fought on the neighbouring Downs, when some of the combatants may have been posted close to, if not actually within, the boundary of the camp. Cromwell himself was not present on the occasion, but the fact that Cromwellian troops fought on the adjacent Downs was quite enought to give rise in the course of time to the popular association of the camp with the name of the great man himself. Cromwell has always loomed large in the imagination of the people, and it has been said that he has achieved an unenviable notoriety only second to the Devil himself.
Notes on Excavations at Oliver's Camp Near Devizes, Wilts.
M. E. Cunnington
Man, Vol. 8. (1908), pp. 7-13.

The Parliamentary Western Army were pretty much demolished by the Royalists at the Down. Their cavalry were forced over the steep escarpment just north of Oliver's Castle, and "in fact" (i.e. allegedly) more men died of their falls than did in the battle. It's said that 800 of them still lie where they fell*, so it wouldn't be surprising if this place has a strange reputation. It's immensely steep - unless you see some people at the base of the hill it's actually quite difficult to appreciate how far up you are and how steep it is.

*I think this little factoid might be in Katy Jordan's 'Haunted Landscape'.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
16th November 2006ce
Edited 5th February 2017ce

Apparently an unusual ball-game was played here on Palm Sunday: the details are given at Martinsell where a similar thing was also played: Cley Hill is another site. Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
5th October 2006ce
Edited 5th October 2006ce

Headless Ghost.--On Roundway Down a headless ghost is said to walk. Some years ago a shepherd declared that he met it, that it walked some distance by his side, and then vanished. The gentleman to whom he told the story asked why he did not speak to the ghost. "I was afraid," he replied, "for if I hadn't spoken proper to him he'd a tore 'un to pieces." A barrow is near the place, which was excavated some time ago, when a skeleton (not headless) was found. Since the barrow was opened the ghost has ceased to walk.
Death and Burial Customs in Wiltshire
L. A. Law; W. Crooke
Folklore, Vol. 11, No. 3. (Sep., 1900), pp. 344-347.

I don't know how well this equates to the source of the following:
We have been reading the story of the man who carried his head under his arm and disappeared by a barrow on Roundway Hill, near Devizes, but has not been seen since the opening of the barrow and the finding therein of a skeleton lying on its left side in a doubled-up position.*

*Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, May 16, 1895.
Wiltshire Notes and Queries , June 1895, p482.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
1st October 2006ce
Edited 18th January 2008ce

You can see that the area around Oliver's Castle has attracted a lot of folklore over the years. It seemingly continues to collect Strange Stories.

Oliver's Castle is (according to Miller and Broadhurst's book 'The Sun and the Serpent') one of those spots where the country-traversing Michael and Mary Leys cross each other. "There was a node just yards from the prehistoric dew pond, in the middle of the central enclosure."

It's also a focus for people into UFOs - a quick google will transport you into the convoluted discussions about a video that was allegedly shot there in 1996, showing supposed balls of light flying about a crop circle. (If you want your croppie illlusions shattered, then see the video here: )

Not that you have to believe any of it, of course. But maybe some places just keep attracting such rumours.Here's a recent and aesthetically pleasing* crop circle just behind the fort:
*the farmer may not have agreed.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
11th July 2006ce
Edited 19th December 2008ce

Katy Jordan includes the following story in her 'Haunted Landscape' book. It's rather like the story of St Dunstan, who pinches the devil's nose with his red-hot blacksmith's pincers. Remember, the line of the blacksmith goes back to the awesome way skilled people could create metal objects out of rocks. And don't forget, if you've got a bit of iron in your pocket you'll be safe from the fairies at the very least.
Many years ago there lived at St Edith's Marsh, Bromham, a blacksmith whom the Devil was very anxious to convert for his purposes. The unfortunate thing was that all his envoys, the devilkins, could not win the blacksmith over. As a last resort the Devil called on the blacksmith at his forge in the shape of a very well-dressed gentleman. The blacksmith recognised him, however, and clapped the red-hot horseshoe he was making onto the heel of the Devil, causing him to jump into the air. Legend says that he landed on Roundway Hill, at the spot still known as the Devil's Jump. As a result of this experience the Devil does not like the shape of the horseshoe and will always avoid it. Thus many people nail a horseshoe over the door of their house to keep this evil one away.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
23rd August 2004ce
Edited 23rd August 2004ce

Kathleen Wiltshire, in her 'More Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside' spoke to a young couple who had experienced something there in September 1973. They were walking there one evening when suddenly a mist came down. As it got thicker they saw several trotting white horses. 'A strange atmosphere prevailed' and both the young people felt very scared. The horses disappeared into the mist, and slowly this too disappeared.

White horses are rather a Celtic motif, if you would like to read that into the story.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
28th October 2003ce
Edited 16th November 2006ce

For some reason, I just find this stretch of hills fantastic and inspiring to look at, with its mad chalk undulations. Legend has it that a man carrying his head under his arm haunts Roundway Down above the fort. This area is famous for its Civil War battle - but perhaps the ghost isn't associated with this era as you might expect. A Mr R Coward, who farmed at Roundway, stated that on three occasions prior to 1848 the apparition appeared to people he knew, and they had been drawn by the ghost towards an almost imperceptible barrow. The barrow was opened in 1855, and (perhaps) the figure hasn't been seen since. But the vicinity is also haunted by a black dog - his arrival is announced by the sound of chains rattling.

This information was told to Kathleen Wiltshire in 1960, and is in her book 'Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside'.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
15th October 2003ce
Edited 1st October 2006ce


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Details of one of the barrows on Pastscape

A Bronze Age bowl barrow, listed by Grinsell as Bromham 1. Located immediately outside the earthworks of Oliver's Castle (SU 06 SW 11), it was examined in 1907 by BH Cunnington, with little being found. In 1928, rabbits exposed an inverted pottery vessel covering a cremation, among the bones of which was a bronze dagger. These finds clearly represent a secondary burial, located on the extreme edge of the mound. The 1907 trench had found no signs of a primary burial.
Chance Posted by Chance
24th March 2014ce

Details of the Hillfort on Pastscape

Earthwork remains of a hillfort or promontory fort defined by single line of bank and ditch enclosing a spur of the downs, but excluding the southwestern tip of the spur, on which are located two round barrows (SU 06 SW 44). Examination of the barrows in 1977 suggests that they may well have been included within the enclosure at some stage in its history. Excavations were undertaken in 1907, and comprised sections through the rampart, an examination of the entrance and trenching of the interior. Finds show evidence for pre-hillfort activity of Bronze Age date, including features described as "hearths". Pottery finds suggest an early Iron Age date for the earthworks, while evidence, primarily in the form of potsherds, suggests some kind of Roman activity. Little evidence was found for any intensive occupation of the interior.
Chance Posted by Chance
23rd March 2014ce

At the foot of the hill the map shows 'Mother Anthony's Well' (ST 999642). Apparently it is probable that a major Roman shrine was associated with this spring*... and could this have been a continuation of earlier beliefs?

*According to the Avebury Archaeological Research Agenda
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
23rd June 2006ce
Edited 4th November 2010ce


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Room 101

Room 101 from the movie 1984 showing Oliver's Castle and the Roundway landscape
Chance Posted by Chance
15th January 2012ce
Edited 4th June 2019ce