TODAY’S TREASURE: CROFT AMBREY HILLFORT
Croft Ambrey, comprises a hillfort, a Romano-Celtic temple and a medieval warren; it was excavated between 1960 and 1966 and found to have been in use from the 6th century BC up to AD 48 by a population of 500-900 people. Finds included weapons, bone and antler artifacts, hammer stones and Iron Age pottery.
As well as the rampart banks and ditches there is a series of mounds which are the remains of a medieval rabbit warren constructed for the breeding and management of rabbits or hares which provided fresh meat and skins.
The Romano-Celtic temple was built over two phases and excavation found the remains of fire pits and stake holes. Its purpose was to house treasures to revere the gods and serve the spiritual needs of the community. Communal gatherings took place outside.
From the top there are extensive views over the Herefordshire countryside and it’s easy to see why it was an excellent place for a settlement. There are many ancient trees – oak, beech and yew – that could tell amazing stories of the ancient communities that lived there.
Standing under these primeval branches it’s easy to imagine Druidic priests collecting magical mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it before it touched the tainted earth ready to use in spiritual rituals.
These hillfort trees could have watched prehistoric communities gathering around fires, wearing animal skins, heating food in cooking pots, gathering bracken for bedding and blackberries and hazelnuts for food – and defending the ramparts from invading Romans with bows and arrows.
Many generations of animals and birds have nested in their branches and hollows and their decaying boughs still provide a haven for invertebrates and reptiles – including common lizards and slow worms.
It is thought that Aymestrey (at the foot of the hill) was once a fortified town, along with Shrewsbury and Whitchurch – along the route through Mercia from Gloucester to Chester. In 889, Aethelfleda governed Mercia (which was then a massive area across the whole of central England) and St. Alkmund was a prince of the Christian Kingdom of Northumbria. Aethelfleda was a very powerful woman and was known as the ‘Lady of the Mercians’. She built churches in fortified towns so they would have some protection from marauding Danes and, as she believed that St. Aklmund was her ancester, she named the churches after him.
The Croft family still live at Croft Castle but the estate is managed by the National Trust.
This article is published in the January 2019 edition of the Whitchurch Gossip.