Cotswold Life

Bre­don Hill doth clear ap­pear

A ram­ble where ghosts are said to haunt the an­cient hill forts

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You def­i­nitely know Bre­don Hill is a hill. It’s an out­lier of the main Cotswolds es­carp­ment, the only one in Worcesters­hire, and suc­ces­sive peo­ples have looked at it and named it ‘hill’. That’s right: ‘bre’ comes from the Bri­tish ‘briga’, mean­ing ‘hill’, but ‘don’ means ‘hill’, too – in An­glo-saxon – so ‘ Bre­don Hill’ is ‘Hill Hill Hill’! It’s a dis­tinc­tive land­mark for the Vale of Eve­sham be­low, giv­ing rise to this weather rhyme:

When Bre­don Hill puts on its hat Ye men of the vale be­ware of that. When Bre­don Hill doth clear ap­pear Ye men of the vale hath nought to fear.

Now a place for ram­bling, Bre­don Hill was once home to many peo­ples. Back in the Iron Age, many hill forts were built to pro­tect peo­ple in times of war. Bre­don Hill has no less than three hill forts: Ke­mer­ton Camp (the high­est point), Con­der­ton Camp, and Elm­sey Camp. There’s ev­i­dence that peo­ple lived on the hill un­til the tenth cen­tury, but it didn’t al­ways af­ford the shel­ter the peo­ple sought. In around ad 33, it seems, Ke­mer­ton Camp was over­run. The women and chil­dren were taken as slaves. The men were killed. Their bod­ies have been found in­side the for­ti­fi­ca­tions, along with many weapons, and six sev­ered skulls on the edge of the fort may have once been mounted on poles as – a warn­ing, per­haps, to other tribes. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it’s said that these men still haunt the hill­top.

Why was Ke­mer­ton Camp placed there? In part be­cause it al­lowed the peo­ple to keep a watch on the vale. They could com­mu­ni­cate by watch fires with Bri­tish Camp on the Malvern Hills. But was it more than that? When you go into the fort to­day, in a low dip in the ground there lies an enor­mous stone – var­i­ously known as the Ban­bury, Bam­bury, or Ele­phant Stone. It’s a nat­u­ral fea­ture, once a whole stone, now split, but surely it had sa­cred sig­nif­i­cance to the peo­ple who lived there­abouts. Was it ded­i­cated to the sun by the an­cient Bri­tons? The name ‘Bam­bury’ has been said to sug­gest this from ‘am­brosie petrie’ or ‘anointed stone’. Sadly, how­ever, the name comes from ‘Baen­in­tes­burg’, the name of the eighth-cen­tury fort nearby on the hill­top.

Note that it’s bad luck to kiss the Ban­bury Stone on Good Fri­day – some­thing we might not con­sider do­ing in these so­cial-dis­tanc­ing days, any­way! The stone does, how­ever, do that thing that so many stones do: it runs down the hill to the Avon ev­ery mid­night; so if you’re up there then, that’s your chance to grab the trea­sure said to be buried un­der­neath it.

The other stones on our walk per­haps of­fer a greater trea­sure – healing. The King and Queen Stones, another nat­u­ral rock for­ma­tion, hide in wood­land near Ald­wick Wood. Peo­ple would crawl through the pas­sage be­tween them for healing, and pass chil­dren through, es­pe­cially to cure rickets. That wasn’t all, though. If you felt your­self to be un­der ma­lign en­chant­ment, the stones could counter it; and preg­nant women would go and sit on the stone to help with safe preg­nancy and birth.

Un­til about 1870, the King and Queen Stones had another, cer­e­mo­nial, pur­pose. The stones were white­washed, and the Court Leet of the Manor of Bre­don was held be­fore them. These leets were

pri­vate courts orig­i­nally for the try­ing of small crimes, and where a tithing – a group of10 men over the age of 12 in the me­dieval feu­dal sys­tem – would swear an oath to be re­spon­si­ble for each other’s be­hav­iour. By the 19th cen­tury these Court Leets were mainly cer­e­mo­nial cel­e­bra­tions. Af­ter the leet, and af­ter bow­ing to the stones, ev­ery­one would march down to the more con­vivial at­mos­phere of the Royal Oak in Bre­don!

This month’s walk will take us up just a small part of Bre­don Hill, start­ing in the ham­let of Bre­dons Nor­ton. Walk­ing out of the vil­lage past Nor­ton’s Park, fol­low the foot­path up the hill through sheep pas­tures. Make sure you look back to see the won­der­ful views of the Malverns to the west. You then fol­low the path through a wood un­til you come to a T-junc­tion on the wood’s far edge. Turn left, then go right, up the hill, skirt­ing along a wood un­til you meet the Wy­chavon Way. If you wish, you can go left down the path to find St Kather­ine’s Well, where the re­mains of a wall are set into the hill. It’s not on the path, but some way to the right, di­rectly un­der Par­son’s Tower by the edge of a wood. Good luck!

Af­ter this de­tour, go back up the Wy­chavon Way to where you joined it. Then take the right fork, con­tin­u­ing along the Wy­chavon Way to­wards the top of the hill. Con­tinue along the ridge to the top of the hill. You will find your­self in Ke­mer­ton Camp with the Bam­bury Stone in the mid­dle of it. The small tower now smoth­ered in elec­tri­cal equip­ment is Par­son’s Folly, built by Par­sons, the lo­cal MP, as a sum­mer house in the mid-18th cen­tury – and to raise the height of the hill, from 981 to over 1000 feet.

Fol­low the Wy­chavon Way around the hill fort un­til you come to a foot­path on your right. Fol­low this through four fields and then take the farm track on your left, pro­ceed­ing past Sun­dial Farm, down­hill across the fields, and through a small wood un­til you come to a lane. Turn right on to the lane and fol­low the bri­dle­way to another wood. Near the bot­tom of the wood, not far from the path at grid ref­er­ence SO946386, are the King and Queen Stones. Fol­low the bri­dle­way along the edge of the wood up to where the path forks. Tak­ing the left-hand path, re­trace your steps to Bre­dons Nor­ton.

There are no eater­ies in Bre­dons Nor­ton, so we drove round to the ham­let of Beck­ford on the south­ern slopes of Bre­don Hill, to visit both the Con­der­ton Pot­tery, run by renowned pot­ter Toff Mil­way, and the Eatery at the Silk Mill.

A strange tale is re­counted by lo­cal farmer turned writer Fred Archer about a spot near here: Bene­dict’s Pool by Grafton Farm. Fred says, ‘ Few vil­lagers fish from the dark pond, nor will they visit it on moon­lit nights, for it is said to be haunted by a mys­te­ri­ous lady in white.’ Does any­one else haunt the hill? Archer says that the pond was part of a monastery, hence the name ‘Bene­dict’s’. But could the pool have in­stead been named af­ter a black­guard by that name? Tales were told up to the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury of a das­tardly rob­ber monk from Beck­ford, his fit of con­science that led him to throw him­self and his ill-got­ten gains into the pond, and how his rest­less spirit then walked. The pool grew clogged and dank with weeds, but no mat­ter how many times the lo­cals tried to clean it, they failed. In the end the church was brought in: 12 priests came to lay the ghost – and then re­trieve the trea­sure and re­store it to its own­ers! Maybe the White Lady was one of Bene­dict’s vic­tims?

Route: gb.mapome­ter.com/walk­ing/ route_5096787.html

Links: bre­donhillvie­w.co.uk/lo­cal-his­tory/ a-short-his­tory-of-bre­don-hill

Kirsty Hart­si­o­tis is a Stroud-based sto­ry­teller and writer. Her books in­clude Wilt­shire Folk Tales, Glouces­ter­shire Ghost Tales, and (forth­com­ing) Glouces­ter­shire Folk Tales for Chil­dren. She is also the cu­ra­tor of dec­o­ra­tive and fine art at The Wilson Art Gallery and Mu­seum, Chel­tenham.

Ord­nance Sur­vey maps are avail­able from all good book­sell­ers and out­door stores or visit our on­line shop www.ord­nancesur­vey.co.uk/al

 ??  ?? Look­ing out across the Vale of Eve­sham to­wards the Malverns
Look­ing out across the Vale of Eve­sham to­wards the Malverns
 ??  ?? Bre­dons Nor­ton Manor House, with arch­way dated 1585
Bre­dons Nor­ton Manor House, with arch­way dated 1585
 ??  ?? An­thony with the Bam­bury or Ban­bury Stone in Ke­mer­ton Camp
An­thony with the Bam­bury or Ban­bury Stone in Ke­mer­ton Camp
 ??  ?? Path through The Warren
Path through The Warren
 ??  ?? The Bam­bury, Ban­bury or Ele­phant Stone - this pic­ture shows clearly how it got the lat­ter name
The Bam­bury, Ban­bury or Ele­phant Stone - this pic­ture shows clearly how it got the lat­ter name
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