Saturday, 9 December 2017

King Arthur's Cave

This post will seem similar to one posted recently by my friend Angie (see my blog list) - which shouldn't be surprising as we were there together - but I hope to give it a different slant.

On the hillside overlooking the River Wye, just a few miles north-east of Monmouth (which is in Wales), but actually in England, is a hard-to-find cave complex called King Arthur's Cave. It's worth the effort, however. Angie and I went there on 28th October. Here's the scene.

It's actually a series of shallow caves, sufficiently large inside to provide shelter for quite a large company of soldiers, plus their horses, though nothing like a royal army. Half a mile to the west is a big neolithic hill fort, and although there are caves there too, the inhabitants may once have used King Arthur's Cave for the sort of storage you don't want too close by. Or else, then or later, as an outlying guard post in times of trouble. This is all English-Welsh border land, after all, the Wye forming a natural boundary line between warring tribes, as well as a means of water-based communication. There's a spot on the south bank of the river, about a mile off, called The Slaughter, which hints at a bloody battle. And across the river, on the 'Welsh' side, are the Far and Near Hearkening Rocks, which sound like places where the local defenders might assemble when attack loomed.

I dare say this is all completely fanciful conjecture though! Angie will probably tell me that The Slaughter was where the wild black boar of the Forest were rounded up and killed for food. The boar in modern times are a serious pest, and many would doubtless like to see them decisively culled. They make a mess of roadside verges, foraging with their snouts, and are bold enough to invade villages and even towns at night, ruining any unprotected area of grass, such as recreational parks for children, and private gardens. They are shy by day but formidable by night, and will attack dogs. There are no reports of their attacking humans, but personally I'd be scared if I were suddenly confronted by a big savage boar, with tusks, while out on a forest walk, especially if it felt cornered. They always rear up on their hind legs, and go for the throat.

Back to King Arthur's Cave.

The place was in fairly recent history used as a dwelling by a local woodsman of dubious repute. That would certainly be feasible, if you spread some kind of cover over the entrances, and were able to overcome the discomforts of bare rock and the dim light within. Given a fire, it might be cosy enough - though smoky of course, there being no chimney. And no doubt the ceiling dripped whenever it rained. 

Angie had visited King Arthur's Cave before, but it was new to me, and I explored the interior a bit, using the torch app on my phone. It went back quite a way into the hill, sufficiently far for complete darkness to prevail deep inside. It was easy to imagine it being the prehistoric lair of many a malodorous post-glacial wild beast. Or a safe retreat for the malodorous humans of that time.

The 'King Arthur' name means nothing much. The name of that Man of Myth gets attached to many kinds of landscape feature, although more usually it's his magic-weaving sidekick Merlin who has his name put on caves. Perhaps these caves were considered too grand for a mere wizard. Ah, King Arthur! 'Tis said that one day he will return and save the country. Just getting us a jolly good Brexit deal next year would do fine.

The solemn little girl standing outside the entrance in one of the pictures seemed reluctant to venture inside, even with two clucking old ladies clearly coming to no harm whatever. No doubt she considered the place haunted, and that we were foolishly tempting the wrath of King Arthur's ghost. Children know.

Not far away was the Wye gorge, and a set of cliffs called the Seven Sisters Rocks. We went there next. The Rocks, on which you can trip up very easily if you're not careful, overlook an especially steep part of the gorge, and offer fabulous views each way. Here's me, venturing close to the edge, courtesy of Angie's photos.

And here are my own shots.

It was very windy here, fit to blow you into the river!

I may look happy, but in fact I was pretty nervous, being fearful of heights, and liable to trip up while wearing my big Alt-Berg walking boots. I could envisage The Last Flight of Lucy Melford all too easily.

This was a new part of the Wye Valley for me. Usually Angie takes me to places that are actually within the Forest of Dean, but this was a detached bit of countryside across the river in Herefordshire. I wouldn't mind exploring the area again. I'd especially like to inspect the Near and Far Hearkening Rocks, and the curiously-named Suck Stone close by. (Something for the spring, Angie!)


  1. A graphic account of a day that I'll long remember - thank you, Lucy. I'll happily take you to see the Suck Stone and Hearkening Rocks, though you need to brace yourself for a longish walk. The best route is from the Kymin, which is an interesting place and has lovely views over Monmouth.

    I think The Slaughter has its origins in the Viking invasions.

    Angie x

  2. Wild boar are a real pest in France too. One poked it's head into the garden about ten years ago, saw me and quickly left, we stay in the last house on the way out of the village... Last year I heard the obvious sounds of boar in the undergrowth on the other side of a stone wall so high tailed it back home, I was more than a little apprehensive making that country walk again this year. A good boar is a cooked boar, very tasty.


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