Old Oswestry Hillfort

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”

Western entrance to the hill fort

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.

The path walking up to the Western entrance

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.

From the very top overlooking the Town of Oswestry

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.

Overlooking the ramparts and main path from the Western entrance.

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.

On the top where the community would have lived. There are curious indentations in the earth – was this the site of a building or a small boundary of some sort?
Distinctive pits in the lower rampart at the Western end – there are no shortage of suggestions as to what these hollows were for, from water tanks to quarries and even extra fortifications  but we’ll probably never know

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.

Looking towards the top from one of the original early Iron Age ramparts

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.

How this place would’ve looked – the western end and entrance
Imagining the hundreds and thousands of feet which have passed over this hill top who used to call it home. This could have been the exact spot of a roundhouse with a blazing fire in the centre to keep its occupants warm or the site of a kitchen or cookhouse

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.

Panoramic view of the top

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. 

Underneath the moss – almost 3,000 years worth of history has passed over this very spot

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.

Looking North over Wat’s Dyke toward the Welsh border and the town of Chirk which can be seen in the distance (or at least the Cadbury factory chimney blowing out smoke)
The Eastern entrance to the hill fort

After the hillfort had been abandoned it was incorporated into an earthwork known as Wat’s Dyke.

Connection to 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.

Wat’s dyke

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.

Overlooking Oswestry

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.

Deep rampart on the Northern side. The tribe would have also occupied and farmed these fields

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s