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Clutters Cave: Giants, Druids & Hermits

The Malvern Hills is an iconic range of peaks that spans three counties with dozens of towns and villages dotted around the hills. One could write reams about the folklore and odd history of the area but one curious feature of the hills has a relationship with a village at their base.

Clutters Cave is a man-made cavern on the main path from the British Camp. Nobody really knows when or by whom it was carved out but it has gone by several different names. Hermit's Cave, St Waum's Cave, Giant's Cave, but Clutters Cave is what has always been marked on maps. If Clutter was a person I can't find any reference to them and it could just as easily be a quirk of local dialect. The Malvern Hills Trust think it might be an 18th century folly but the venerable Alfred Watkins thought it much, much older in his 1925 classic The Old Straight Track.

Watkins' ley line theories have been much criticised over the last century and unfortunately his summing-up of Clutters Cave does little to dispel this stigma. He claimed the the sun rising above the back of the cave shone directly at Arthur's Stone in Herefordshire which simply isn't the case, but he did bring attention to a rock outcrop lying not far from the cave. He called it the “door to the cave” and the “sacrificial stone” and thought that humans were killed on it in honour of the sun at Midsummer, even getting an assistant to lie in position in a picture as if waiting for the moment. The bracken and ferns were so high and thick on my last visit that I could not take a decent picture of this stone but come Autumn and I will return.

Other folklore claims that Owain Glyndwr, the legendary Welsh rebel hero, sheltered in Clutters Cave while hiding out from the army of Henry IV after his abortive invasion of England. It was sometimes known as “Glyndower's Cave”. The “Hermit” title might come from the old practise of wealthy landowners installing a “druid” or other type of faux hermit in a cave or tower on their land. Perhaps the Somers dynasty from the nearby Eastnor estate were behind it?

As to the connection with a nearby village, Colwall lies down in the valley not far from British Camp. At its centre is a huge block of stone known simply as The Colwall Stone, with a very uncertain history. There is a record of someone installing it during the early 1800s to replace a much older megalith which lay there before, but what happened to this first stone? Folklore tells us that a giant lived on British Camp and he decided to scoop out a big block of stone which he hurled at another giant across the valley. It landed in Colwall and the hole it left became Clutters Cave!

Down in the woods just below Clutters Cave is Waums Well – or what passes for it today. It was once a big natural spring that probably supplied the tribe up on British Camp fortress with water, and even the castle that was built there during the early Medieval era. It was once known as St Waum's Well- very odd as there was never a St Waum but the Old English word wiem does give us “bubbling or boiling water or spring”. It used to be a big pool where people would bathe for relief from rheumatism and other ailments but has been taken for the sole use of the Eastnor estate with a big ugly tank sealing it up.

So keep your eyes open for Clutters Cave and it's “door” if you're walking the Malverns, a real mystery of Mercia as to this day nobody knows who dug it out and for what reason. It could be two hundred years old or date back to the Middle Ages – perhaps even back to Watkins' beloved Bronze Age? Who knows...

Clutters Cave

The view from inside the cave

The Colwall Stone - not really big enough to have formed the interior of Clutters Cave!

Waums Well today - no water for us

Clutters Cave

Picture taken by old Alfred Watkins of his assistant posing as a sacrificial victim on the stone

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