Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 14:24 UK
The Malvern Hills - British Camp
Roman soldier
Roman legions may have laid siege to British Camp

Most visitors to the Malvern Hills will make a trip to British Camp - the Iron Age hill fort that dominates the Herefordshire Beacon.

The 2000 year old ramparts are still clearly visible today, looking a little like a giant layered wedding cake.

Originally it was thought to have been a purely defensive feature, which people retreated to in time of trouble.

Now excavations at the nearby fort on Midsummer Hill suggest that they were occupied permanently.

What did the Romans ever do for us?

The coming of the Romans meant the end of hill forts, but the start of one of the great Malvern legends.

Popular folklore has it that the Ancient British chieftain Caractacus made his last stand at British Camp.

Roman soldiers
Legend has it the Romans captured Caractacus at British Camp

The legend says that he was captured, after a heroic fight, and transported to Rome, where he so impressed the Emperor Claudius that he was given a villa and a pension.

Unfortunately, like many legends, it's unlikely to be true.

Caractacus was captured by the Romans, but if the account of his final battle by the Roman historian Tacitus is accurate, then it's unlikely to have taken place at British camp.

"Caracticus played his final card and chose a site for a battle so that the approaches, the escape routes, everything, was awkward for us and to his sides advantage. On one side there were steep hills. Where ever approaches were gentle he piled boulders into a sort of rampart. In front of him flowed a river of doubtful fordability and squadrons of armed men were in position on the defences." Tacitus: Histories

Even given the River Severn's habit of flooding, it takes a huge stretch of the imagination to describe it as being in front of British camp.

Experts now generally agree that Caractucus' last stand took place near Church Stretton.

As any good journalist knows, the facts never get in the way of a good story, and the legend still continues to this day.

Elgar was sufficiently taken with it to compose his cantata Caractacus, in 1898.

You can also find the story on a large plaque alongside the pathway leading from the car park at British Camp to the top of the hill.

More history

Even if they didn't make a last stand there, the Ancient Britains are probably responsible for the name Malvern, or moel-bryn meaning "the bare hill".

British Camp
The ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort at British Camp

The top most layer of British Camp is, however, not Iron Age, but a Norman motte fortification.

On the ridge of the hills running north to south is the Shire Ditch, which dates to the 13th century.

If you make the walk along the ridge, you will also come to Clutter's Cave, also known as Giant's Cave or Waum's Cave, after the spring that once lay beneath it.

This was probably a medieval hermit's dwelling.




SEE ALSO
Tunnels under the Malvern Hills
20 Oct 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
Malvern Hills - warning beacons
21 Oct 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
Aiming high in Malvern
15 Jan 09 |  England

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