Ancient find discovered at Croft Castle

Spectacular hill fort at Croft Ambrey, Herefordshire

In 2020, an object was found on the hillfort which made experts question the its Iron Age origins. Read on to find out more about Croft Ambrey and what was found.

Set on a three-hundred-metre-high ridge to the north of the castle, Croft Ambrey is one of the most elaborate hillforts in the Welsh Marches. Excavations have uncovered decorative bronzework and a piece of gold chain, which hint at the wealth of the Celtic grain-farmers, who built this fortress around 500 BC and farmed the landscape below. Interestingly, the settlement is only one of around one hundred multivallate hillforts recorded in the UK. The hillfort would’ve had a population of around five to nine hundred and the granaries here were found to have been built on stilts to protect the valuable grain from pests. Other archaeological finds include; iron tools, sickles, blades, bone, saddle querns, glass and pottery.

Cattle grazing in the sunshine on Croft Ambrey
A group of cattle grazing on Croft Ambrey in Herefordshire
Cattle grazing in the sunshine on Croft Ambrey

 By the time of the Roman invasion in the 1st-century AD, the fort had probably been abandoned, although legend has it that the site was used by supporters of the rebel Celtic leader 'Caractacus'. Digs have found evidence the hillfort was utilised as a Romano-Celtic temple which would have met the spiritual needs of the local community. Here, people could come to worship to deities and heal as well as attend communal gatherings.

By the medieval times, the Ambery was utilised as a warren, used to breed and manage rabbits and hares. Although hares are an indigenous species, rabbits were introduced to England around the twelfth century, from the continent. Pillow mounds were intended to centralise the rabbit colony, making catching the animals easier.

Interestingly, in 2020 an object was discovered on the Ambrey when a tree fell over, leaving a large crater revealing a broad-backed blade lying within. It was clear the granite object had been shaped by hand, with crudely carved serrated edges. Similar antiquities discovered in the Welsh Marches strongly suggest this artefact is a prehistoric find, most likely a Neolithic stone axe hammer. Dating from around 3500 BC, this potentially means the Iron Age Hillfort actually overlays an earlier Neolithic site.

The object identified as a Neolithic axe head.
The Neolithic axe looks quite stone-like to the untrained eye!
The object identified as a Neolithic axe head.

This discovery did not come as a total surprise to the experts, as several hillforts in England have Neolithic roots, where the land was used more so to protect agricultural animals as an important source of food, rather than being centres of trade and dwelling.  During the Bronze Age, hillforts adapted to include round houses, long houses and granary huts as well as some underground cave-structures used for food storage.

In the meantime, we will continue to investigate the history behind the hillfort with National Trust rangers and archaeologists and invite you to come and enjoy a walk here. Not only does the hillfort give amazing views overlooking Leominster, Kington and the Welsh Marches but the walk up passes many stunning veteran trees.

Bluebells beneath the Candelabra Oak
Ancient trees in Croft Castle's parkland in Herefordshire, surrounded by bluebells
Bluebells beneath the Candelabra Oak