Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Solsbury Hill

The tabletop appearance of the Iron Age fort viewed from Bathford

Bathampton Celtic field system as seen from Solsbury Hill, with the River Avon in between

On top of Solsbury looking down the Swainswick Valley with Freezing Hill (I/A) in the distance.

Solsbury Hill, Iron Age fort overlooking Bath, dance to the music of Peter Gabriel who wrote a song about it years ago. Gabriel lives in the little village of Box a couple of miles away, but to get to Solsbury you must drive out of Bath on the London Road, Turning left at Northend, park the car in the village and then begin the steep climb. Northend stands at the head of one of the prettiest valleys around Bath, Catherine Valley. Drive your car along the narrow lane if you must, but walking is a great deal better. Jane Seymour the actress owns the beautiful Elizabethan House along here - Catherine Court, at one time let out to summer visitors but apparently there has been controversy with her neighbours over an alcohol licence she had applied for and succesfully got - too many noisy parties!.....

But to return to the hill itself, it overlooks the River Avon, and on the other side the Iron age settlement at Bathampton would have been a twin sentinel in guarding the route into Bath. And it is strange that on the other side of Bath (the Bristol side) we have Littledown Fort and Stantonbury fort doing a similar thing. That there was a period in the dark ages when defended strongholds were seemingly a must, and just perusing the Iron Age map round the south west one realises that there are literally hundreds of such places.
Solsbury has of course another more modern history, the A46 widened beneath it in the late 1990s, was also a scene of road protest, with the young protesters taking to the trees and there is on top of the hill a maze done at about this time.

The maze, the bonfire was probably down to a pagan festival

The steep sides of the banks
The landscape is characteristic of the small valleys and downs round Bath, in a sense this beautiful countryside has always been difficult to develop, and in its own way protects the small, intimate nature of the City of Bath, development almost being non-existent. This is the last fall of the Cotswold landscape, a place of small fields often stone walled, for around here and on Lansdown the monks of Bath raised their sheep, a few fields will be ploughed where the land is level enough, but the small winding sunken lanes harbour many wildflowers and may often go back to prehistoric trackways. The Fosse Way makes its way near here, as does of course the old London to Bath Roman road. History's imprint still defined on the land though it takes a long time to understand the area.

Peter Gabriel - Solsbury Hill


  1. What a lovely place. My dad and grandfather thought of moving to Bath when they lived in Frome, after my gran had died, which they had, rather than Southampton!

    Was the bonfire built right on top of the maze or did it dip in just there?

  2. What makes me think there is somewhat a 'religious' feel is because the fire is at the beginning of the maze. I walked up there one Good Friday afternoon, thinking it would be peaceful, but then met lots of people walking up with a wooden cross, celebrating the Easter period! Curious I asked someone what was a christian procession doing on a 'pagan' hill, she had no answer, but there is something similar happening at Avebury, religions morphing into each other ;)