Pitchbury Ramparts, Great Horkesley, Essex

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – TL 9657 2906

Also Known as:

  1. Pitchbury Rings

Getting Here

Pitchbury site on 1924 map

Along the A134 in Horkesley Heath, turn west along Coach Road and after a half-mile where it veers right, keep going for another half-mile where you’ll reach the woodland on your left.  A path goes into the trees just before Pitchbury Lodge.  Go along here and near the very far (southern) end of the trees, just before the open fields, you’ll see the large undulating ramparts of earth.  Keep your eyes peeled.  You’ll see them!

Archaeology & History

Stukeley’s 1759 map

This once large hillfort was described in the Colchester township perambulations of 1671 and cited in Philip Morant’s classic work. (1748) He told how the boundary line ran “under Chesterwell along the Rampiers by Horkesley Heath,” and which P.H. Reaney (1935) tells was our wooded hillfort.  In Morant’s day, the place was all but complete and so would have been well recognised by local people.   Certainly it came the attention of the great antiquarian William Stukeley who, in 1759, came to Colchester and met with Morant.  Stukeley mainly surveyed the area south of here, at Lexden Heath, but one of his sketch maps clearly highlighted a place he called “a circular work on Horkesley Heath”, i.e., Pitchbury Rings.  The site seems to have remained relatively intact until the middle of the 19th century when a local land-owner took it upon himself to plough over and vandalise much of the site, leaving only a small proportion of the earthworks that we can still see to this day.

The ruins were described in I.C. Gould’s (1903) piece for the Victoria County History, where he told, at Great Horkesley,

Gould’s 1903 sketch of the remains
Royal Commission’s 1923 ground-plan

“are some remains of an earthwork known as ‘Pitchbury’ or ‘Pitsbury Ramparts.’  When the late Rev. Henry Jenkins described the camp in 1841, he stated that it was of oval shape, and contained about 6 acres.  Most of it was levelled for agricultural operations about fifty years ago, but there are still some remains, consisting of two banks with their accompanying ditches.  The lines moreover of that part which was destroyed, can be partially traced in the adjoining fields.”

When the Royal Commission (1922) doods wrote about the site nearly twenty years later, things hadn’t changed too much and they simply reported how the “ramparts have nearly disappeared, except for the north section.”  In this “imperfect” condition, as they called it, they gave the following brief description:

“Pitchbury Ramparts, in Pitchbury Wood, about 2 mile south of the church, are the north end of a large camp, roughly oval in shape, and defended by a double rampart and ditch.  The defences are well preserved in the wood, the inner rampart being 10 ft. above the ditch, which is 60ft wide from crest to crest, but the greater part of the work has been almost obliterated by the plough, and is now only faintly discernible in a large field S. of the wood.  The camp appears to have been 800 ft. long and 600 ft. wide.”

Thankfully there seems to have been no real increase in damage to the site since then.  It was excavated in some detail in 1933 and again in 1973 and the finds were published by the highly reputable Colchester Archaeological Trust, whose subsequent report by Hawkes & Crummy (1995) is required reading for anyone wanting to know the detailed archaeology of this and other sites in the area.

Folklore

An intriguing piece of folklore was described in John Round’s (1882) history of the early battles around Colchester Castle.  During the time when the Roman Empire was starting to crumble, the great Pictish tribes of Scotland ventured here and, we are told, took control of the Pitchbury Rings where they stayed before attacking Colchester Castle.

“Traces have been discovered of some violent catastrophe, possibly the first capture of the Colony by the marauding Picts from the North.  Allured, in one of their Southern raids, by the wealth of the goodly Colony, they swooped down like eagles on their quarry from the wooded heights of ‘Pictsbury’.”

References:

  1. Gould, I. Chalkley, “Ancient Earthworks“, in Victoria History of the County of Essex – volume 1, Archibald Constable: Westminster 1903.
  2. Hawkes, C.F.C. & Crummy, Philip, Colchester Archaeological Report 11 – Camulodunum 2, Colchester Archaeological Trust 1995.
  3. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-forts – An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  4. Kemble, James, Prehistoric and Roman Essex, History Press: Stroud 2009.
  5. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of the Most Ancient Town and Borough of Colchester, W. Bowyer: London 1748.
  6. Round, John H., The History and Antiquities of Colchester Castle, Benham 1882.
  7. Royal Commission Ancient Historical Monuments, England, An Inventory of Historical Monuments in Essex – volume 3, HMSO: London 1922.
  8. Reaney, P.H., The Place-Names of Essex, Cambridge University Press 1935.
  9. Watson, J.Y., Sketches of Ancient Colchester, Benham & Harrison: Colchester 1879.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  51.925343, 0.857380 Pitchbury Ramparts

Abbey Craig, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – NS 8094 9566

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 47113
  2. Wallace Monument Fort

Getting Here

Abbey Craig on 1866 map

Most folk visiting here are coming from Stirling city.  There are various buses to get here, which head out over Stirling Bridge along Causewayhead Road (the A9) for half-a-mile where, at the roundabout and the William Wallace pub, go straight across up the minor road, zigzagging back on itself, until you reach the signs for the Wallace Monument.  Follow the well-defined footpath and, once on top of the hill, walk round the back of the mightily impressive tower.

Archaeology & History

Located right where the impressive Wallace Monument proudly stands, this prehistoric precursor to Sir William Wallace’s memory was where Scotland’s legendary hero and his men cast a clear and easy view over Bannockburn, where the halfwit english came for a fight—and deservedly lost!   The structures that used to be inside the now denuded hillfort would, no doubt, have been used by Wallace’s men; but much of those prehistoric remains have now been destroyed.  The visible remains of the fort can be seen round the back of the Wallace Monument: elongated rises of overgrown walling that run almost all the way round, getting slightly higher as you approach the more northern edges, like a semi-circular enclosure.

Royal Commission plan
Abbey Craig – and the great Wallace Monument

The site was described very briefly in William Nimmo’s (1880) early survey of the area, where he told that in 1784, “eleven brazen spears were found on the Abbey Craig, by a Mr Harley”, which he thought came from the time when the earlier ‘castle’ stood here.  He was probably right.  Many years later, the prehistoric remains were included in the county survey of archaeological sites by the Royal Commission lads (1963), who told that, near the north end of the summit of Abbey Craig,

“there is a fort which has been damaged by the construction within it of the Wallace Monument.  All that remains is a substantial turf-covered bank, cresentic on plan and 260ft in length, the ends of which lie close to the brink of the precipice that forms the west face of the hill.  The bank stands to a maximum height of 5ft above the level of the interior and presumably represents a ruined timber-laced wall, since numerous pieces of vitrified stone have been found on the slopes immediately below it.

The entrance to the fort presumably lay between one end of the bank and the lip of the precipice, but both the areas concerned have been disturbed by the construction of the modern approaches.  The interior of the fort measures about 175ft from north to south, by about 125ft transversely and the interior is featureless.”

The fort was probably built sometime in the early Iron Age; so the next time you visit this fine spot, check the remains out round the back of the tower—and remember that our ancestors were living up here 2500 years ago!

References:

  1. Aitchison, N.B., “Abbey Craig Rampart’, in Discovery & Excavation, Scotland, 1981.
  2. Feacham, Richard W., Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  3. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  4. Nimmo, William, The History of Stirlingshire – volume 1 (3rd edition), T.D. Morison: London 1880.
  5. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling –  volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.138744, -3.917531 Abbey Craig hillfort