Vortigern Studies Index
.Wansdyke Project 21
is part of
Visit to Wansdyke - Maes Knoll
Maes Knoll Iron Age
fort (ST601660) is a fort once occupied by the pre-Roman
people called Celts. The Celts came here about 500 BC and
were basically farmers skilled in warfare who brought
with them from Europe iron working skills.
The original tribe to occupy Maes Knoll and surrounding
areas was the Dobunni tribe, who, it is believed built
the camp around 250 B.C. before being succeeded by the
Belgae around this area in about 75 B.C. Maes Knoll is
one of many hillforts that can be seen all over Britain
and this one can be found on the south side of Bristol,
on the eastern end of Dundry Hills.
There's basically two
ways to this fort. Firstly, by walking across the fields
from East Dundry Lane, and secondly, from the south
through Norton Lane/Maes Knoll Lane.
Approaching the fort
from East Dundry Lane:
The 'fort' can be accessed by walking, or even driving up
East Dundry Lane, although driving there may be difficult
for parking. It's for that reason, and other reasons, it
may be better to walk up through the lane from the
bottom. Three quarters way up the winding lane there is
an opening into the field to the left. Walk along what
appears to be the trodden path along the escarpment until
you come to a gate where you can get over into the next
field. From here you can see that you need to walk along
the hedgerow until you come to the camp.
I mentioned above that you can drive up the hill, but I
feel its a risk parking there with the amount of car
crime in the area, although I have parked there a few
times without any problems, it is a favourite lane for
burning out stolen cars.
Approaching the fort
from the South:
To get to the fort from the South clearly depends on
where you are comimg from.
As I was coming from Bristol then I shall explain it as
if you are coming from that direction, although, anyone
coming from the south towards Bristol will be on the A37
that passes Norton Lane/Maes Knoll Lane. Leave through
Whitchurch on the A37, Wells Road, past the Maes Knoll
Inn in Whitchurch Village, formerly known as the Black
Lion public house. I mentioned the Black Lion public
house for two reasons, firstly because it may well be
better known to you if you have ever travelled on the A37
out of Bristol, and Secondly because the pub sign used to
show a rampant Black lion which was the emblem of the
Lyons family who held land nearby at Lyons Court, known
now as Lyons Court Farm, which is one of the oldest
buildings in Whitchurch dating back to the 13th century.
That's the good thing about streetnames, districts and
public houses etc, in that they generally give a pointer
to some local history or landmark long forgotten by local
people. After passing the Maes Knoll Inn, cross the Stone
railway bridge (disused Dorset line) and take the first
turning on the right into Norton lane next to the kiddies
Norton Lane will have a
subtle name change into Maes Knoll Lane after the turning
for Gibbet Lane, even though it's the same Lane. Cross
over the Stone railway bridge (built 1877), At this point
one should immediately look over to the fields to the
left to see Wansdyke, which is seen as a distinct mound
To the right of the lane
are a line of trees and bushes marking the route of
Wansdyke as it ascends the hill towards the southeast
side of the fort.
Wansdyke is a defensive barrier or border demarcation
line built about 1500 years ago that stretched from here
to the Savernake Forest in Wiltshire. Further along the
road just past the turning for Norton Malreward there
should be a sign for the public footpath that leads up to
the fort, although this sign may well be shrouded in the
foliage depending what time of year it is.
It's worth pointing out that anyone who comes to see Maes
knoll fort should really set aside some time to see the
Stanton Drew stone circle complex which aren't to far
The climb up the hill to
Maes Knoll on a hot day is quite arduous, but the views
from the camp should make it all worth the effort. As one
ascends the hill, Keeping close to the hedgerow on the
pathway, one can see a ditch that should not be mistaken
for Wansdyke. The rampart defences of the camp will be
the first indicator that you made it up to the fort.
Following the ramparts around to the left should bring
you a clear view of the 'tump' that is sited on the
western end of this 20 plus acre fort.
On a good day you can
also see Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge, new and old
Suspension Bridges and the Welsh coast. Another ancient
defence or border marker that runs Southeast from the
camp is Wansdyke.. Unfortunately there is no PRoW to the
southeast of the camp to reach it.
The Tump, the large
Iron Age bank which closes off Maes Knoll to the west.
Pictures shot during visits in the summer of 2003. Click here to enlarge.
The 'tump' (click on
both pictures for enlargements), as it's colloquially
named, is a later feature of the camp and is part the
great earthwork, Wansdyke, which some believe was its
Western termination after it's long journey from
Wiltshire. The massive scale of the 'tump' can be
appreciated more so when one gets close.
As previously mentioned,
Wansdyke can be seen decending the hill over on the
Southeast side of the fort. Unfortunately there is no
PRoW to get across so depending on the time of year you
go to the fort, you will either be hampered from getting
over to that side of the fort because of crops or you may
find that at other times the land is just being used as
grazing for cattle, which I suppose wouldn't make too
much difference as to walking over. But any time of the
year one could probably walk around the perimeter of the
fort to get there anyway.
There isn't much to do
on the fort itself except climb the 'tump' to relax while
taking in the views.
The views from Maes Knoll are fantastic, with Stantonbury
Camp to the east-southeast in the far distance and
Winsbury hill; site of a Ancient Britons/Anglo Saxon
battle just to it's south. To the south you have views
over the chew valley and the chew valley lakes. There
would have been a Roman villa and Roman road in what is
now the man- made lake and to the right of that there
would have been a Romano-British Temple at Pagans hill.
By far the best views, I think, are those you get looking
north across Bristol. On a good day one can see Wales in
the far distance joining England across the Severn
estuary by both old and new suspension bridges, which are
both easy to see from here. Brunels suspension bridge is
also to be seen spanning the Avon Gorge. Close by to this
bridge is Stokeleigh Iron Age camp on the left of the
gorge and Clifton Iron Age camp on the righthand side of
It certainly makes one think about how life was for
people of 2000 plus years ago? Sure, they would see the
camp fires burning from other camps. Did they have much
contact with other camps? Did they trade with them?
On a street level, I've
often wondered about Fortfield road in the Whitchurch
suburbs of Bristol and how straight a road it was and
because of that wondered whether it was a Roman road,
particularly knowing that it joins a road called new
I was contemplating what it would have been like a few
millenium ago as to how people moved around to trade etc.
From this, I couldn't but help think that Fortfield road
in the Whitchurch suburbs of Bristol may have been a
former Celtic/Roman trackway as it is very straight road
for the three quarters of a mile of its lenght. I
remember on numerous occasions being at the bottom of
Fortfield road and thinking how it was that the road
aligned itself up perfectly with the 'Tump' on Maes
Knoll. Taking this further, If one extended the line of
Fortfield road one finds that it points straight to
Brislington Roman Villa, and extending the line even
further it will point onto St Annes, holy well in St
Anne's Park, St Anne's, along Wick road in Brislington.
Coincidence? I know the Celts thought of water and wells
with reverence, being the doorway to the underworld etc.
Perhaps there was originally a Celtic trackway from St
Annes holy well heading for Maes Knoll which may have
later developed as a Roman track linking the villa at
Brislington to the Lyons Court Farm area just below Maes
Knoll and where two Roman stone coffins along with
pottery where I believe were discovered. It has been
suggested in the past that a Roman villa is believed to
have been sited down off the slopes of Dundry near to
Lyons Court Farm, but has yet to be discovered.
Any 'route' from this villa to Brislington villa or the
Holy well would take it across the present day Hengrove
school playing fields and in particular the Imperial
ground, the latter now being developed for housing. I can
remember years ago several well trodden trackways in the
fields surrounding the Imperial Ground, one or two of
which are still there and some of which were built upon
by the Asda supermarket at Callington road, Brislington.
One of these trackways through the fields had an
alignment to the stone bridge at the bottom of Jubilee
Hill across the fields to the mini roundabout on
Callington way i.e, in the direction of Maes knoll to
One other alignment
towards Maes knoll area seems to be the straight road
that leads to what was one of the biggest villas in
Britain, at Keynsham. This road is near to the ancient
woodland of Illyngrove, Stockwood. I do know that a Roman
Coin was found along this road. The consequence of all
this would mean that if Fortfield road and the road in
Stockwood were built on the course of a Roman trackway,
then the 'tump' on Maes knoll would have been used to
align the road, giving the 'tump' an earlier date than
All conjecture of
course, but a nice few hours out nevertheless.
Copyright © 1996, 2003,
Mike Hansford. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: Mike Hansford.
Click on each
picture to enlarge it.
These pictures were
taken in 1996 during a visit to Maes Knoll
and East Wansdyke.
Tump looking north.
Looking across the Tump
Big sky at Maes
Less pleasant -
litter. Too close to the big city...
Tump looking SW to the
Chew Valley lakes.
Another shot of the
lakes in the distance.
Maes Knoll defeces, the
In the ditch,
Close to the
spot where Wansdyke actually starts.