Malverns
British Camp
Herefordshire Beacon
Worcestershire WR13 6DW

 

With its man-made ramparts and ditches, British Camp is undoubtedly the most distinctive of the Malvern Hills. It is not the highest of the hills but does buttress one end of the 9 mile (15 km) range.

British Camp occupies the summit of Herefordshire Beacon and is believed to be an Iron Age hill fort, first constructed 3,500 years ago in the Bronze Age. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is owned and maintained by the Malvern Hills Conservators.

The summit of British Camp is 1,109 feet (338 metres) above sea level and affords superb views over the Severn Valley to the east and the Welsh Marches to the west. Most importantly, it overlooks the ancient major pass through the hills, Wynds Point. On a clear day it is possible to see 12 counties.

This hill, more than any other in the Malvern Hills range, beckons the visitor to walk its ramparts. Any healthy person can attempt this very pleasant and easy walk to the top. There is an excellent path, the turf is short and springy and you are likely to see lots of wildflowers and wildlife on the way.

For those not able to climb the hill, the Conservators have provided several viewing points along the range with disabled parking spaces.

Legends
British Camp was probably never used as a defensive hill fort but a legend persists that it was the site of Caractacus’s last stand against the Romans in AD 51. This great British tribal chieftain was allegedly captured and taken back to Rome where he was given a villa and a pension by Emperor Claudius.
 
The Roman historian Tacitus describes the site of the battle and it definitely did not occur at British Camp. Never mind, it’s a good romantic story and it inspired local composer Sir Edward Elgar to write a Cantata entitled Caractacus.
 
The facts are, Caractacus was an ancient British tribal king who led the fight against the Roman invaders for nine years. He was eventually captured and taken back to Rome for trial where he so impressed Emperor Claudius that he was pardoned.
 
History of British Camp
The ditch and counterscarp bank around the entire site covers three hills, although those to north and south are little more than spurs. With a perimeter of 6,800 feet (2,100 metres), the defences enclose an area of around 44 acres (18 ha). It is remarkable to think that these gigantic earthworks were achieved by simple people equipped only with deer antler pickaxes.
 
The first hill fort was built on the British Camp summit. Then, at around 400 BC, there was a rapid expansion of population in Britain and the hill fort was extended to include the northern spur of British Camp and also Millennium Hill.
 
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The site has undergone a number of surveys and investigations, the latest of which was conducted by English Heritage in 2000. This ground survey found evidence of the original hill fort and the subsequent enlargement.
 
The earlier hill fort had two entrances, to the north and south, but when it was enlarged, four gateways were created. One of these faces west, but the other three have the boundary skewed next to the gates so as to ensure the entrances face east, which is thought to be the preferred orientation for access.
 
The English Heritage survey also found evidence of numerous hut circles. These huts would probably have been wooden structures with thatched roofs. About 29 hut circles were seen within the first hill fort and as many as 118 in the later, larger hill fort. This would suggest quite a large settlement.
 
British Camp has only been excavated once, in a minor way, by F G Hilton Price in 1879. He concentrated on the summit where he dug a number of pits and found a selection of items. These were re-examined by archaeologists in 2010 but they found the items dated back only to the medieval times, with the exception of part of a Roman jar dating back to the 2nd or 3rd century. Disappointingly, he did not uncover any remains of the pre-historic hill fort.
 
Particularly, as there is no permanent water supply on British Camp, we can only guess what the purpose of the forts and camps was. The area could have been occupied as a village all year round, or for part of the year or even just for certain ceremonies or gatherings.
 
The likelihood of British Camp being a defensive hill fort is remote because of its close proximity to another one. The Iron Age Midsummer Hill Fort is a mile to the south and it would be unusual to have two major hill forts within such a short distance.
 
Nobody knows why British Camp was abandoned by pre-historic man around 48 AD but it was about this time that violent battles with the Romans occurred at nearby settlements.
 
The Shire Ditch
British Camp incorporates the hotly disputed boundary between Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The ‘Shire Ditch’ is a boundary earthwork which runs north and south of the British Camp along the crest of the hills. Recent research has completely reassessed the origins of the 'Shire Ditch'.
 
It may have started life as a prehistoric trackway running from Midsummer Hill fort to the Worcestershire Beacon, the highest hill in the range over three miles (4.8 km) to the north of the Camp.
 
North of the hill fort, the Shire Ditch seems to have been built in two separate phases. Originally thought to have been built by Gilbert de Clare, the 'Red Earl' of Gloucester c.1287, during a boundary dispute with the Bishop of Hereford, it is now known that the ‘Red Earl’ used an already existing trackway.
 
The later phase passes over the ramparts but the earlier phase lies beneath the earthen banks making it prehistoric - possibly dating to the late Bronze Age (about 1000 BC).
 
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Norman Castle
Medieval castles were sometimes built within earlier sites, for example, reusing the earthworks of Iron Age hill forts. On the summit of British Camp there is archeological evidence of an oval-shaped ‘ringwork’ and bailey. The ringwork is relatively small, encompassing an area only 148 feet (45 metres) by 98.5 feet (30 metres), and its attached platform bailey is tiny.
 
Recent research by English Heritage and other stakeholders indicates that this was probably built by the invading Normans between the late 11th and the end of the 12th centuries.
 
The earth from this construction was used to landscape the top of the hill and gives it today's distinctive flat-topped shape. Wooden castles were quite common sites at this time and may not have been documented.
 
The location of the castle is odd because there were not any medieval settlements nearby. Several theories about the ‘castle’ have been advanced: it may not have been a castle at all but a hunting lodge built in connection with the establishment of the hunting forest of Malvern Chase. Or, it may have been a lookout over the highly disputed 'Shire Ditch' boundary. The wooden castle could also have been a military outpost or just a very prominent symbol of Norman power.
 
This writer is indebted to Simons Amanda (2011) British Camp Herefordshire Beacon, for much of the information in this article.
 
Facilities
Car Park
Toilets
Meals are available at the Malvern Hills Hotel near British Camp
Cafe opposite car park sells ice cream, soft drinks & snacks
 
Walks
 
Disabled Access
- Viewpoints
For those with difficulties walking, the Conservators have constructed "easier access paths" and disabled parking spaces at Blackhill Car Park on Jubilee Drive (B4232 road, from Wyche Cutting to British Camp on the Western side of the Hills) and at Earnslaw Quarry on Wyche Road (B4218).
 
- Malvern Hills Parking
For excellent information on available parking and facilities.
 
Getting There
- By Car: 
British Camp car park is about half way along the Malvern Hills, on the A449 Malvern to Ledbury road
 
Google Map - British Camp, Herefordshire Beacon