Monday, 25 February 2019

Meon Hill Iron Age Fort

The wide-ranging view from Meon Hill.

Meon Hill, a prominent hill in south Warwickshire, is the location of an Iron Age hill fort, likely built on an earlier Bronze Age site. The hill is formidably steep with a wide, flat top, and the surrounding ditches and banks, positioned to make full use of the topology, are still several metres deep in places. Little modern excavation work has been done but quantities of Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British finds including pottery and worked stones have been found.

Meon Hill dominates the surrounding landscape and offers commanding views for several miles in almost every direction. Similar to other hill sites, it was designed to be seen. The nearby Ilmington Hill, which is much larger and much more sprawling, has no such eye-catching dominance and although it harbours several ancient features, there is nothing of such dramatic presence.

             The still prominent ramparts

Meon has a powerful atmosphere. A deep sense of magic infuses the hill, and it’s unsurprising that Meon Hill is prominent in local folklore.

Tradition states that the Devil lives beneath it, and rides out on dark nights with his pack of infernal hounds. This is almost certainly a Christianised version of the much older Gwyn ap Nudd, the Celtic ruler of the underworld who was associated with prominent hills and was master of the Cwn Annwfn, a pack of spectral hounds. Gwyn was later synonymised with the Devil.

This story may have arisen due to the spectacular remains of the now long-forgotten site, or perhaps it originated when the site was in occupation and Gwyn was still commonly revered. Perhaps powerful Druids commanded this site.

A more sinister story comes from the 1940s. A farm worker called Charles Walton was found dead on the hill with a pitchfork through his neck. The story was quickly linked to witchcraft. Charles was said to have been murdered because of his link to the Devil. Spectral black dogs were also associated with the crime.

Despite a lengthy police investigation, the murder was never solved, but the story adds to the powerful sense of magic many people feel here.

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