Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds by Sean Campbell
Hill-Forts are defensive structures, many of which are built on advantageous higher ground giving a strong position to defend from. During c.700-100BC hill-forts were built in different parts of Britain. The Cotswolds which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was one of them, many of these monuments were constructed here.
I have had an interest in hill-forts since studying Field Archaeology, as trying to spot Ancient earthworks at these sites is something I really enjoy doing. I began exploring these forts within the Cotswolds in 2009 and since then have been able to see that many of these sites have been looked after for us to enjoy today. At Leckhampton Hill (Leckhampton) for example the defensive remains can be seen on approach to the site and is built upon an area which has great views over distance areas. Other fort sites have been built near to in recent times, such as Windrush Camp (Windrush) which has farmland buildings built around it, its standing earthworks can be seen amongst them.
I enjoy visiting these sites because being over 2000 years old, a lot of historic events would have taken place at these sites, which I find fascinating. Many sites have no clear labelling or signs, but when reached via a map or with directions, you can enjoy the challenge of finding the fort remains and get a perspective of what it would have been like for those inhabiting these sites. Sometimes the challenge of finding forts earthworks can be a challenge, as I found out when I initially went to visit Brackenbury Ditches (North Nibley). The first area I visited I mistook for the fort itself, but it was actually a nearby area that had some rampart looking earthworks. When I checked my routes on the map at a later date I realised that the site was actually further along the hill plateau. From this I learnt the key importance of checking positioning, as well as assessing the authenticity of archaeological remains while on search for a hill-fort.
It is not just the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age that some of these sites were inhabited. For example there are some sites that were inhabited before they were forts, for example Crickley Hill (Coberley) was a Neolithic Causewayed enclosure. Birdlip Camp (Peak Camp) (Cowley) nearby, has also been interpreted to have been a Neolithic Causewayed enclosure. Other sites were also inhabited after the Iron Age, at Sodbury Camp (Little Sodbury) for example, it is known that it was used as a Camp by the Romans.
So why not go out and visit one of these standing monuments for yourself? Visible remains of forts defences are a sight to see, the combination of a bank and ditch defence may sound simple, but its design is effective and would have taken a lot of time, resources and effort to achieve. However not every hill-fort will have visible remains today, as a result of the ground being disturbed, ploughing being an example of something that can damage archaeological sites. Each fort whether it is built upon a high dominate ground or a low-lying position has its own individuality and reasons for being built there. Exploring accessible areas’ for yourself will give you an opportunity to make your own interpretation on a site.
Sean Campbell's new book Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds is available for purchase now.