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Mysterious Bredon Hill

A happy Saint George's Day to you all ! Now, I have told several tales from the slopes and surrounding area of Bredon Hill in Worcestershire before, with more to come - but what of the hill itself?

An isolated outcrop of the Cotswold range, Bredon stands separate and alone. The name is unique in that here we have a place name made up of words from three different English languages – and all saying the same word...hill. Celtic, or Britonic Bre, Old English Dun, and modern English Hill. This etymology is representative of some of the different historical cultures that made the hill their home as there is evidence of settlements on the summit from the Bronze Age, Roman occupation, Anglo Saxon and later medieval eras.

The tower known as Parson's Folly dominates the summit, built during the late 1700s for Squire John Parsons and originally meant as a summer house for the toff to entertain his hunting guests. There are references to a hermit being paid to live there during the early Victorian era, not such an unusual idea as similar arrangements were known at Druids Temple in Yorkshire for example. The tower is surrounded by massive earthworks forming inner and outer moats and a kind of battlement along the east facing precipice. These were first constructed during the late Bronze Age and a “burial pit” containing fifty mutilated male bodies was found by archaeologists under it's entrance dating from sometime in the 1st century. This suggests a considerable battle fought to defend the fort between Britonic tribes before the settlement was abandoned.

Taken over and improved by the Romans just a decade or two later, they too left the earthen stronghold to fall to ruin some centuries later before the hill was settled by Angles and became part of the new kingdom of Mercia. A look at charters from the later Anglo Saxon period is fascinating, as it suggests the presence of long gone megaliths and mounds with evocative names such as Dudda's Stone and Swallow's Barrow. We have looked at some of the surviving stones and burial sites before, but within the summit fort stands perhaps the best known monument on Bredon Hill. The Bamburgh Stone, or Elephant Stone as it is often called, is a gigantic lump of oolite that, rather than taken from elsewhere and moved into position, seems to have been exposed by digging a huge bowl of land out from around it. The rock is very different to the Cotswold stone of the surrounding area, and would have stood alone as the stone around it eroded over millennia.

It is not difficult to see why it is called the Elephant Stone, and the Bamburgh name is from the Old English “Baenintisburgh” which was simply the name of the Anglo Saxon town (or city as described in the AS Chronicle!) that grew up within the hillfort ramparts. Antiquarian Jabez Allies decided that the stone was an altar for sacrifice - “Bambury Camp, on the top of Bredon Hill, was one of these Ambrosiae Petrae, or Amber Stones, dedicated to the Sun by the Celtic Druids, either in imitation or independently of the form of worship of the Amonians, Phoenecians, or Tyrians.”. He used some sketchy etymology to arrive at this conclusion but it's as good a theory as any, especially considering that the huge rock was excavated deliberately. Others have agreed with the Ambrosiae Petrie idea but from different angles. Harold Wilkins, who visited the hill to investigate the possible ritual murder of Harry Dean (covered in a previous post) thought that the name should be translated as “anointed stone” while the highly respected Doreen Valiente thought the name a corruption of the Latin ambire meaning to go round or circle something...very evocative of later witchcraft traditions.

The Normans chose not to resettle the summit fortress so the line of continued habitation there ended. Robert, brother of the despotic Sheriff of Worcestershire Urse D.Abitot, instead built his castle at the foot of the northern slope of Bredon Hill. From the summit the visitor can look down upon the mound left over next to the village of Elmley Castle. Indeed, the views are wonderful, looking directly across to the Malverns, then down to the south and the clearly visible Broadway Tower. On a very clear day one can see right into Wales, Waun Fach just visible. On the north west slope lie the ruts of ancient tracks indicating the position of the long abandoned early medieval hamlet of Wolverton (place of the wolves). Walking or driving through south Worcestershire Bredon Hill is always watching you, even today the tumbling cliffs of it's north west aspect with the tower as it's crown has the appearance of a fortress.

A walk to the summit of Bredon Hill is highly recommended whichever route you choose to take, roe deer and red kites are common sights as you ascend, but the magic, the feeling of having one foot in the past is the real reward for your efforts.

The impressive earthworks of Bredon Hill. Picture credit Aerial Cam

The Elephant, or Bamburgh Stone.

The Elephant Stone, it's not difficult to see how it gained the name

From the northwest slope of Bredon Hill

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