This month’s walk by Garth Lawson overlooks work to uncover the story of a significant Herefordshire hill-fort

The Cage Brook below Eaton Camp – shielding their secrets for much longer?

The Cage Brook below Eaton Camp – shielding their secrets for much longer?

First published in Walks

ABOVE new steps leading from the green lane to Eaton Camp, the cattle on the quiet hilltop are becoming quite used to inquisitive visitors. Fascinating progress is being made on the Eaton Project.

In January 2011, Eaton Camp Historical Society received £28,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since then surveys and walkovers have identified several possible sites of pits, middens and platforms for roundhouses. The core aim is to improve access to the hill-fort as well as to clear scrub and improve views to the surrounding countryside. The award will also fund the clearing of existing walks and footpaths, alongside the creation of new ones, making it easier for people to get to the camp and learn about its history.

October sees further digging being carried out at one Herefordshire’s most impressive hill-forts.

Whoever built the formidable earthworks to reinforce the natural defences must have had their reasons for choosing the place which nowadays has Ruckhall perched on its flanks. The fort covers more than 18 acres in a commanding position above the point where the Cage Brook sneaks unceremoniously into the Wye. For some, a confluence of waterways may have lent a religious significance to an area already selected for convenience of trade and habitation.

There are clear sightlines to Credenhill, one of the largest hill-forts in Britain, just under three miles away. Were there any connections between the two sites? And were they built by the same people? Who were the first builders, who came later and were there any connections to the Romans, as in so many places in the area?

We follow the Cage Brook for a pleasant mile and a half towards the camp and the Wye. Further on, beneath the natural northern defences, we become mindful of former river crossings. There used to be a ford across to Breinton at Bogwell Pool below Betty Phillips’s, as the (old) Ancient Camp Inn was once familiarly known.

Still discernible from our route along the bank below (at point five), it was formed by a weir of stones. And just above Sugwas Island (point six) a horse boat used to carry animals and vehicles, while a ferry conveyed foot passengers from Lower Eaton to the Boat Inn.

This area for crossing the river is almost certainly a strategic one going back into antiquity. Just west of the future ferry point, one mile upstream from Eaton Camp, an important Roman artery ran from Kenchester (Magnis) to Abergavenny (Gobannium) and Usk (Burrium). In the Antonine Itinerary, this thoroughfare was known as Route (Iter) XII.

The east window of St Michael and All Angels’ is not only the best in Herefordshire, according to Nicholas Pevsner, but of national and international pre-eminence. The 14th century glass points to a sophisticated draughtsmanship more familiar in illuminated manuscripts, and during the Second World War it was removed for safe keeping and stored in the nearby vicarage.

Our extremely varied route from Eaton Bishop church offers a glimpse of the inner hill-fort. The white cow who apparently doesn’t like dogs won’t know you’re circling the ramparts, but the Herefords above Sugwas Island will probably keep their eye on you.

THE ROUTE

1. St Michael and All Angels’ Church, Eaton Bishop. With your back to notice board, TL for 30m. Fork R, (newer cemetery L), along drive to road. TR, south, out of village down road to right bend at The Hydes. Go ahead through gate into huge crop field and head towards barns. 150m before hedge in front of you, kink L, cross stile L of buildings, through paddock and steel gate to road. Cross straight ahead into hedge-lined lane, follow round to L to a R bend just beyond a detached garage (R).

2. Cage Brook. TL down over f/bridge to follow fenced footpath. Wind through the delightful dingle below Cagebrook House in the company of the Cage Brook, via k-gate back to road. TL along verge, cross bridge, then road. TR down nine steps into trees, beyond marker post, 2nd one opposite tantalising old mill, 3rd post and across sloping f/bridge. Move down to R along brook, go ahead, beyond next marker post and sweep L over stile. Follow bottom R edge of crop field, keeping L of stream. Cross makeshift and proper stiles ahead, further stile below New Barns Farm, angle slightly R in fine pasture back towards brook, and cross stile on to road.

3. Eaton Bishop to Ruckhall road. TR and TL at the junction for “Ruckhall” (before B and W Ruckhall Mill) up past Bank House. Where the road levels, T very sharp R for Hill Fort House. Bend L below it along the green lane, with trees L and hedge R.

4. Eaton Camp. Climb the 11 new steps up to view highest part of the 18-acre hill-fort (towards Credenhill and the old Magnis settlement). Retrace steps down to green lane and TL on original line. Go through metal gate down below the eastern rampart across stile on to gravel drive. TL and stay L of Cage Brook, through wooden k-gate into field for 75m. (Cage Brook enters Wye ahead R). TL in front of enclosure, fork R down along riverbank and cross stile into trees. After 50m TL up 11 steps, TR 150m, up 33 more steps, TR back down 22 more. TL to junction below old Ancient Camp Inn. Savour the view.

5. Below Ancient Camp Inn. TR carefully down steep stepped path towards river and Bogwell Pool. TL over stile and follow riverbank 250m. Cross stile under tree, metal f/bridge, keep R across three-plank bridge, possibly awkward terrain, and reach Sugwas “Island” (R). Emerge into field just beyond island at site of old ferry.

6. Lower Eaton House area. TL in front of thatched house, past barrier, up byway. After 60m, TL through k-gate into crop field. T mostly R now and keep same line ahead. Cross two stiles, pass through k-gate over surfaced cross track at crest. Descend over stile, footbridge and ditch. Go up crop field through gateway on to road.

7. Eaton Bishop. TL for Eaton Bishop and TR at The Carpenters for church.

Footnote: For complete clarity on Garth’s popular Cusop Walk (number 16 in his book). Last part, before point three, is “when leaving Cusop Dingle just before a clearing (R), bear L all the way up surfaced drive to R of Tycoch. Find a gate back L of 2nd dwelling.”

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