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  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > The Cities of Vortigern > Little Doward

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The 'Cities' of Vortigern
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Caer Guorthegirn
Robert Vermaat

old maps
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maps of
Little Doward

Little Doward
Hillfort
Hereford & Worcester
No access for the disabledfree access to the monument
Nearest town: Monmouth
Nearest village:
Ganarew
Map reference: SO 540160
Location of Little Doward by UK Streetmap

See also: A Tour across Little Doward

One of the foremost candidates for the elusive 'Caer Guorthegirn' (City or Fortress of Vortigern) is the hillfort above Ganarew. Vortigern, on the run from St Germanus, fled into Wales to one of his strongholds. We know several of them, ranging from Gwynedd in the north, Dyfed in the west to this one, high above a loop of the river Wye. 'Nennius' describes it as being located in the region of Gueneri or Guenessi is probably Gwent, but the actual location is far from clear. 'Gueneri' can very well be equated with Ganarew (below).

Vortigern's Hillfort - Caer Guorthegirn at Little Doward

'Nennius' described it in his Historia Brittonum (ca. AD 820-30) like this:

Historia Brittonum, chapter 42

Then the king assigned him that city, with all the western provinces of Britain; and departing with his wise men to the sinistral district, he arrived in the region named Gueneri, where he built a city which, according to his name, was called Cair Guorthegirn.

 

et arcem dedit illi cum omnibus regnis occidentalis plagae brittanniae et ipse cum magis suis ad sinistralem plagam peruenit et usque ad regionem, qua uocatur guunnessi, adfuit et urbem ibi, quae uocatur suo nomine cair guorthigirn, aedificauit.

Ganarew, signpost on the bridgeThis is made a little more clear by a clue from the Welsh Triads:

TRIAD 51
Three Dishonoured Men who were in the Island of Britain:
....And the second is Gwrtheyrn Gwrteneu....
And in the end Uthur and Emrys burned Gwrtheyrn in Castell Gwrthrynyawn beside the Wye, in a single conflagration to avenge their brother.

This 'Castle of Gwrtheyrnion' as it is called, points us to the vicinity of the river Wye. This is however not in Gwrtheyrnion, which lies further west, but in Ercing. Principal candidate is the hillfort of Little Doward, which is in turn elaborated upon by Geoffrey of Monmouth:

Historia Regum Britanniae, book VIII, chapter 2
In pursuance therefore of this design, he marched with his army into Cambria, to the town of Genoreu, whither Vortigern had fled for refuge. That town was in the country of Hergin, upon the river Gania, in the mountain called Cloartius.

Geoffrey took Vortigern’s final refuge to have been Ganarew (Genoreu, Goronw) on the river Wye (Gwy, Gania) in Ercing (now Herefordshire). His Mons Cloartius is apparently a scribal variant for ‘Doartius’, Little Doward hill. William of Worcester confirmed this:

Itineraries, St. Benet Hulme, 1479:
Aurelius King of the Britons burnt the town of Genor in Ercing (oppidum Genorem in Ergyn) on the river Wye by Mount Cloart, and Vortigern in the castle [there].

‘Doartius' does not occur in most MSS, but some Bruts have Mynyd Denarth or Deu Arth. This last version is probably responsible for the connection with King Arthur (below).

Little Doward seen from Ganarew churchThe commanding position high above the river should have made it once into a desired location for a citadel though, which would befit a sleeping monarch...

Little Doward today

The hillfort, which lies just to the east of the A 40 (T) a few miles north of Monmouth, is not yet accessible today. The summit of the hill, which had become heavily wooded by a conifer plantation over the past century, has recently been opened up again. As part of the Overlooking the Wye project of Herefordshire Archaeology, English Heritage, the Woodland Trust and the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Beauty, the conifers have been removed and English heritage will be undertaking a topographical survey of the hill early in 2009. The OS Landranger map does show a fort, which will now hopefully be visible again. One has a very nice view of the hill from the little hamlet of Ganarew, especially from the church (which is unfortunately closed most of the time). But one should take care, for leaving or rejoining the A40 can be quite hazardous due to heavy traffic.

More information: http://www.herefordshire.gov.uk/htt/docs/Historic_Env_Today_Autumn_2008_sec.pdf

Arthur

Arthur's Cave, Little DowardThere is an Arthurian connection as well, because on the south-eastern slopes of the hill lies King Arthur's Cave (SO 545155). The exact Arthurian connection is somewhat vague (apart from Arthur sleeping in caves all over Britain), but seems largely due to the name of the hill; 'Doward'. An older form was probably mixed up by some scribe, who took the version of 'Doward' that occurs in some Bruts, Mynyd Denarth or Deu Arth, to mean 'Arth' (bear), indicating Arthur. This last version is probably responcible for the sleeping-Arthur tradition which became attached to a prehistoric cave between Great Doward and Little Doward.

The cave is of course not Arthurian, but was once a neolithic refuge for animals and early Man. It was first dug up in 1871 by the Rev. W.S. Symonds, who found the remains of numerous extinct animals, including mammoths, wooly rhinoceros, cave lion and cave bear, all beneath a layer of stalagmite. Flint tools show that the later human inhabitants belonged to the upper paleolithic and mesolithic periods.

See also: The Quest for Arthur's Cave

Bibliography

  • Dyer, James: The Penguin Guide to Prehistoric England and Wales, (Penguin 1981).*
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth: The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe, (Penguin, St Ives 1966).*
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth: Life of Merlin, Vita Merlini, ed. and trans. B. Clarke, (Cardiff 1973).
  • Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, Latin and trans. John Morris, History from the Sources VIII, (Chichester 1980).*
  • William Worcestre: Itineraries, edited from the unique MS. Corpus Christi College Cambridge, 210, Latin and trans. John Harvey, (Oxford 1969).

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