Midsummer Hill, Herefordshire
Home to a unique Iron Age hillfort, Midsummer Hill is situated within the main ridge of the Malvern Hills, an area designated as a SSSI and part of the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Iron Age hillfort
Midsummer Hill is home to one of the most complex and unique Iron Age hillforts in Herefordshire, in that it spans over two hilltops; Midsummer Hill and Hollybush Hill.
Exact dates for the earliest occupation of the hillfort are uncertain, however artefacts revealed during the various excavations of the site suggest that the main fort occupation likely took place around 500 BC, with occupation lasting for about 500 years.
Within the hillfort, numerous structures have been identified in addition to the banks, terraces, and ditches. Throughout the site, over 400 hut platforms have been identified and excavation of one of these stone hut circles revealed stone flooring, storage pits and evidence of metal working, suggesting they were likely to have been places of residence. Four-post structures have also been identified and are thought to be the remains of storerooms and granaries.
Excavations have also revealed a variety of tools and ornaments such as loom-weights, spindle-whorls, whetstones, pottery, and salt-containers making it clear that this was indeed a settlement site and a well-defended one throughout the Iron Age.
Hillfort occupation aside, there's evidence that Midsummer Hill has been through multiple phases of activity, from potentially neolithic to post-medieval times. Traces of early Bronze Age activity such as worked flints, fragments of polished stone axes, and 'beaker' pottery have been found throughout the site, the latter dating to the period 2100 to 1800 BC.
The Shire Ditch
The Shire Ditch is a medieval boundary bank that runs along the ridge of the Malvern Hills, extending along Midsummer Hill. The ditch was created in the late 13th century to define the boundary between land owned by Gilbert de Claire and the Bishop of Hereford.
Recent research has revealed that at least part of the Shire Ditch is much older than previously considered. As it approaches the hillfort, the ditch splits into two, with a shallower ditch terminating at a junction with the hillfort itself. This shallow ditch is certainly much older than its wider counterpart and is now believed to be the earliest dividing line between territories, and therefore a much more complex monument than previously anticipated.
Midsummer Hill is a part of the Malvern Hills Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is one of the largest areas of semi-natural vegetation in the West Midlands, supporting various habitat types and several rare
animal and plant species.
Acid grassland can be found atop many of the Malvern Hills, Midsummer Hill included. The acid grassland upon midsummer is limited to the southwestern ramparts of the hillfort, and this area is particularly rich in lichens and spring ephemerals.
Studies have also found several nationally rare and scarce plant species atop Midsummer Hill, including Upright chickweed (moencia erecta), Blinks (Montia fontana), Lesser chickweed (Stellaria pallida) and Changing Forget-me-not (Myosotis discolour).
Wildlife on Midsummer Hill is not limited to plant species, as the site has also been recognised for its wide variety of birds. Green woodpeckers, goldcrests, pied flycatchers and tawny owls have all been spotted at Midsummer Hill, in addition to rare sightings of woodcocks, who have been suffering a decline in population in recent years.
In addition to avian wildlife, bats, badgers, dormice, and adders are all known to have made their homes on Midsummer Hill, whether that be in the woodland or below the ramparts. There are also a reported 34 breeding species of butterflies across the Malvern Hills, making it one of the best butterfly sites in the Midlands.