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Little Doward - Legendary and Literary Background
Nennius lists "Cair Guorthigirn" as one of his twenty-eight cities of Britain, but there is some debate about where exactly Vortigern's stronghold was. Though there are stories that link Vortigern with Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia, the more southern Little Doward has its own associations as well. This hill is just north of the town of Monmouth and overlooks the Wye River. Geoffrey, for example, sets Vortigern's fortress here. He calls it Cloartius, which some say is a scribal mistranslation of [backwards D]oartius, the Latin for Doward. This backwards D was very common in dark-age Latin.
In order to carry out his design, [Aurelius Ambrosius] marched his army into Kambria and made for the castle of Genoreu, for it was there that Vortigern had fled in his search for a safe refuge. This castle, which belonged to Erging country, was beside the River Wye, on a hill called Cloartius. --History of the Kings of Britain, page 187
Ambrosius returns from exile in Brittany to reclaim his rightful throne.Once they reach the stronghold, Ambrosius launches a tirade against the tyranny of Vortigern before proceeding to burn the place to the ground...with Vortigern inside. The Welsh versions of the story place it in this area as well:
And in the end Uthur and Emrys burned Gwrtheyrn in Castell Gwerthrynyawn beside the Wye, in a single conflagration to avenge their brother. --from Triad 51 in Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein
Location and Description
Little Doward is just a few miles north of Monmouth on the A40. Take the Ganarew, Doward, and Crocker's Ash exit. It will curve around backwards and pass a church before crossing over the A40 on an overpass. You will come to an intersection, just over the bridge. Turn left. Go a short distance and turn right at the "T" intersection with a sign pointing to Doward. There is a red phone booth on the left. Drive on this narrow road until it forks, then take the right fork towards "Little Doward." Almost immediately, you come to another fork; this time take the right fork. There is no sign here. Follow this road around and it turns into a steeper dirt road. It will level off and there will be a house on your left. We parked here. The hill will be on your left, go up it, into the forest. Keep heading up the hill and you will eventually come to some overgrown banks and ditches. Follow these banks around, down mossy paths, and you will reach the southeastern tip of the fort protected by sheer rock walls.
To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around the fort at Little Doward, click here.
You won't find many pictures of the top of Little Doward because, as Fairbairn says in his travel guide, "an expedition to its brambly, uneven summit is best left to archaeologists and lumberjacks" (84). We, being equal parts Indiana Jones and Paul Bunyan, accepted the challenge.
We drove up the hill, following signs to Little Doward, and ended up on lumber roads on the slopes wooded with evergreens. It wasn't hard to decide which way to go; we just went up. This took us through a tree farm with several packs of deer roaming free. We managed to capture several of them in pictures even though they obviously weren't used to having humans around. The planted forest was thick on the hillside, but once we got through it we encountered the ramparts of the fort. They were thoroughy overgrown with thorns and deep grasses, but discernable when looking down at them from the top. The fort had a relatively large area, but it too seems to have been planted by foresters.
We figured we wouldn't see anything notable just by walking through the middle of the summit, so we decided to follow the ramparts that were sure to circle the entire fort. We walked around the north side of the hill and ended up in an open area on the southeast side. This was dotted with several rocks and outcroppings and punctuated only by a few gnarled old trees. There were incredible views of the Wye from up here; we could even see clear to Monmouth. A steep cliff protected this edge of the fort, making it very defendable indeed.
Not much remains up here from Vortigern's time; the years of forestry have hidden it. The view from the southeastern cliffs, though, is worth the climb.
We got to the Ganarew exit above Monmouth and worked our way up to the hill, but tried going around to the east side of the hill instead of the west like last time. We dead ended at a farmhouse where two blokes were mortaring a wall out of cinder blocks. We asked if we could park in his driveway and go up the hill from there and he said that this part was private property and that we should go to an "official" car park. That was ok, we thought, we'll just go up the way we went last year. So we went after Arthur's Cave first.
We could see Little Doward the hill from Arthur's Cave, and it was a looong way from this "official" car park. We decided it'd be easiest to drive up to where we were last year and just go up. How hard could it be to find a fort on the top of a hill? We drove back over there and parked only feet away from where we had last time. We uploaded the pics to our perfectly functioning computer then began hiking up. We got to a forest of fir or something (I'm no botanist) that looked regular and planned like it was harvested every so often. Then Joe saw something dart through the trees. Probably just a wolf or a bear or something. We kept moving. There it was again; this time there were more. Closer inspection revealed a group of three or four deer--all does and fawns, no big bucks.
Soon we were seeing several groups like this and probably saw fifteen deer ( click here to enlarge) the whole time we were up there. We tried to get some good pictures of them, but they were pretty alert.
We kept hiking up the hill and came to some real steep parts that, once we looked down at them from the top, looked like the old familiar banks and ditches, though overgrown with scrubby things and brambles. We walked along these because, if we know hillforts, the banks usually form the circumference and would thus lead to the rest of the fort. The interior at this section was overgrown with trees and grasses and didn't look much like a fort top. Nothing like Cadbury, certainly. So we walked around the rest of the top and eventually got to the southeast extremity of the fort top, an area cut off from the rest of the hill by sheer rock cliffs 30-40 feet high, affording absolutely incredibly breathtaking views of the Wye Valley. There was this one pillar of rock off by itself that we managed to get out to that made me feel like I was in a soap commercial or something. This was near an open, cleared area of the fort top that looked more like a fort top.
After this first small victory, the day went smashingly. We drove up around Ganarew in South Wales. Once again we stopped by Tintern Abbey for a bit. We could see most of it so we decided not to pay the admission.
We returned to Ganarew on a quest to locate Arthur's Cave. We had come here last year, but had failed to find the true cave. Instead, we found a cave and just took pictures of it, knowing it was the wrong one. After talking with one of the locals, we found that we had been searching in the entirely wrong place. Instead of on the hill, the cave was, in fact, at the base of an adjacent hill.
After the cave, we proceeded to Little Doward Hill (where we originally searched for the cave). At the top is the little Doward Fort, claimed by some to be Voritgern's ill-fated castle (burned by Ambrosius). We parked behind the same house as last time, but we hiked up. The mud was thick and slippery, but we were rewarded for our perseverance by the many deer we saw as we neared the top of the hill. The actual remains of the fortress consist of two partial ramparts. Not much to look at really. The embankments are overgrown with prickly thorn bushes and ferns. On the Southwest side, though, the natural defenses are quite impressive. The hilltop ends in a 60-foot drop before rolling somewhat less steeply to the valley. The view was incredible with the River Wye cutting through the valley and the city of Monmouth in the distance.
Copyright © 2001, Joe Boyles and Jake Livingston. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: Jake Livingston and Joe Boyles.
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