Buried in a forest at the farthest end of the land which belongs to the British Queen as part of her Windsor estates, there lies a secret fortress.
It is hidden from the roads which have sprung up since the advent of the motor car, and thus from the eyes of tourists. People know vaguely that it is there, but it is only hardened cyclists and walkers, and the local dog walking population, who see it in every season.
It is a hill fort of considerable proportions, built into a great heathy outcrop. On three sides great double ramparts surround it, the ground plummeting away from a tabletop of Tolkenian proportions, big enough to hold a small village.
It is here that they found, some time in the 19th century, a coin stamped with the credentials of Cymbeline. Shakespeare’s king of the Britons was known as Cunobeline in the world apart from the stage. The remains of a roman village lie not half a mile away.
From the air the fort looks like a vast oak leaf in the midst of the forest. To the north lie the remains of seven barrows, ancient mounds, which show that even before these earthworks – said to date from 700 BC – man was using this place for his own ends.
The remains of a roman village lie not half a mile away.
There are the last vestiges of a well, with an ancient lining, and the last bricks of a house which belonged, in the near past, to two old ladies who swore they could hear the ghostly feet of passing legions at night.
Most days, Macaulay the shaggy terrier and I beat the bounds of this most ancient of places. We take the muddy route which skirts the base, a fairy path lined with emerald moss and great tall trees which belong in story books. And after about three minutes of walking, we come to a momentous place.
It is the East Entrance.
This is where those who sought shelter and peaceful trade would have brought their carts laden with supplies. The gradient is much gentler than elsewhere. The land forms a sort of funnel, collecting visitors and channelling them to a small heavily fortified entrance up there on the hill. Along the earthworks great logs would have been upended to block any other approach.
And so they would come, in times of peace and unrest, swarming up the entrance and into this place, checked by those who guarded the flat-topped settlement.
I always stop there.
Because something hangs in the air. An intangible something, maybe an echo of past momentum sending waves across time; maybe those same waves lap gently there at the foot of the hill.
This was the East Entrance, you see. When iron age man made his home his door invariably faced the east for one overriding reason: this was where the sun first showed its face after a night of unsettling absence. This was the place from which light returned. Eight long hours before, sometimes more, it would have departed over the West entrance, mourned until its return.
For me, it’s a fulcrum. A place which stays the same, while my world swings wildly about. It’s been this way since 700BC. It’s not about to change now.
The dog busies himself .
And I have no way of knowing whether he feels this is Somewhere, too.
Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: A Grand Entrance, which you can find here