This place is one of the best preserved and most impressive Iron Age hill forts in the country and is the predecessor to the ancient town of Oswestry on the English and Welsh border.
It is known as the “Stonehenge of the Iron Age”
Over 2,800 years ago this now deserted hill was home to a community where people lived throughout the Iron Age from 800 BC to when the Roman’s landed on these shore in 43 AD.
The hill is raised up from the rural English countryside and is unmistakable from the nearby ancient route of the A5 and was the principal settlement of an Iron Age tribe. The hill itself is natural rising above the low-level plains of North Shropshire but the defensive behemoth surrounding the summit all the way to ground level is largely the work of many human hands.
The fort is characterised by its impressive ramparts which run all around the circumference of the hillside and in parts are up to 30 feet high. These banks and ditches would have been formidable obstacles to any attacker, but they may also have been built for the purposes of display, with their dramatic appearance symbolising the dominance and power of the hillfort and its inhabitants.
The oldest are the two enclosing the very top of the hill which date from the early Iron Age. These consisted of a clay core, supported by timber and boulders and covered with earth, known as a box rampart. Further, later additions were made to extend the hill fort and pits added to the western end.
From the top the town centre of Oswestry can clearly be seen with a clear view of the site which the Normans chose for their castle backdropped by the surrounding hills of the Welsh borderlands.
Life continued up on this hill for over 1,000 years and it is fascinating to imagine the scenes that it has borne witness to woven in among the daily hustle of everyday life from this now tranquil spot.
On top of the hill the community would have lived in Roundhouses. Each roundhouse was built using wooden posts with wattle-and-daub walls. A central post probably supported a thatched roof and inside was a hearth.
A pottery crucible was discovered in one of the hearths, showing that light industrial activities such as bronze melting were taking place within the hill fort.
I can imagine the noise and bustle of craftsmen and farmers as they go about their daily lives and the sound of children running between the houses and the sound of the livestock and thick black smoke of the burning fires. It would be fascinating to be able to stand on this spot exactly as it was two millennia ago and take in the sight.
The Welsh name for the hill fort, Caer Ogyrfan, means City of Gogyrfan. According to legend, Gogyrfan was father to Queen Guinevere and therefore father in law to King Arthur. It is said to have been the birthplace of Queen Ganhumara – Guinevere of Arthurian legend.
It is also believed to have been the site for the final battle of the Powys king Cynddylan, the last descendant of King Arthur to rule in Shropshire.
The Battle of Maserfield (which probably meant marshy field) took place on 5th August 642 between the Anglo-Saxon kings Oswald of Northumbria and Penda of Mercia. Penda defeated Oswald who was killed and dismembered with his body parts being places on stakes near to a tree – thus, the place was called Oswaldstre, or Oswald’s Town, and subsequently Oswestry.
After the hillfort had been abandoned it was incorporated into an earthwork known as Wat’s Dyke.
Wat’s Dyke is one of a number of linear earthworks in the Welsh borders, and is similar to the longer Offa’s Dyke. This was probably built by King Offa in the 8th century to separate his Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia from the British kingdoms in Wales.
Unlike Offa, ‘Wat’ is not a known historical figure and recent dating evidence suggests that Wat’s Dyke was probably built some time before Offa’s Dyke. It may have been an earlier border between the Anglo-Saxon and British population, or perhaps it defined the western boundary of a now forgotten kingdom which ruled the Shropshire/Cheshire area in the post-Roman period.
The famous war poet Wilfred Owen, who was born in Oswestry, would have spent many hours on and around the hill fort completing his army training using the ramparts for trench warfare simulation before his posting to the Western front.