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Legendary and Historical Background
This cave is unique in the field of candidates for the cave legend in that it can actually be explored. Most of the others are normally hidden from sight and only open in very particular circumstances. Perhaps the legend is descended from an earlier one involving a false wall somewhere within. Helen Hill Miller, in her The Realms of Arthur, takes a different slant to the legend by hinting at a more military use, saying that the cave's "recesses penetrate very far into the hill, and could hide a substantial force (115). The cave also has a long history of use; the first people to live there were of the Old Stone Age. This is older than any other Arthurian site.
It has a parallel to Cadbury Castle in that it is a cave within a hillfort. The cave is near the Iron Age fort of Little Doward, which provides an alternative to the Vortigern death story told of Nant Gwrtheyrn. Besieged by Ambrosius, the fort catches fire and Vortigern is consumed by the flames. Of course, the Cadbury cave is said to only open on Christmas Eve, and Arthur's Cave is in plain view year round.
Location and Description
Arthur's Cave is just a few miles north of Monmouth on the A40, at the bottom of the southeast slope of the Little Doward Hill. Take the Ganarew / Doward / Crocker's Ash exit. It will curve around backwards and pass a church before crossing over the A40 on an overpass. You will come to an intersection, just over the bridge. Turn left. Go a short distance and turn right at the "T" intersection with a sign pointing to Doward. There is a red phone booth on the left. Drive on this narrow road until it forks, then take the one labeled "Great Doward." This takes you on a road with an open field on your right below the hill of Little Doward. Take the first major right turn; there is a AA "Doward Park" at the corner. Go past this park and in a very short distance there is a small dirt pull off / car park just before a steep descent. Park here and notice the tree marked with yellow paint that says "Cave" and has an arrow. There is a path that this arrow points to at the far side of the car park that takes you through the woods down a well-defined trail. Follow this trail down the hill and you will walk on top of the outcropping that houses the cave. The trail proceeds down and then curves around the front of the cave, which faces a fenced in field on the right and Little Doward Hill on the left. There are yellow arrows painted on trees every so often on the trail.
To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Arthur's Cave, click here.
After winding along woodland trails in Doward Park for about 5 minutes, we came to Arthur's Cave. The cave is not technically on Little Doward hill, as most of our sources suggested, but rather on a much smaller, adjacent hill to the east. We didn't know this at first; we had to get directions by interrupting a local who was busy building a stone wall along his drive. We followed the yellow arrows that were painted on trees along the trail and found the cave easily. It has three entrances--the rightmost two are more than big enough to walk through (10 feet high or so), but the third is more of a crawler. The cave is not one you can get lost in, as its several rooms are large, open ones. Two of these are simply alleys that lead into the hill, but there is one large, circular room perhaps 25 feet in diameter. Could this have been a meeting place for Arthur and his knights, a Round Table?
BRENT KNOLL and CAVE - January 12, 2000
Luckily our compass worked and we knew (generally) how to get back. We drove down to the Brick House outside of Newport. The house was very nice and the beds are the best weve had yet. The hosts use wonderful antiques to fill the house and they have a small bar with a fine wine selection (we had a bottle of Bordeaux). This is the nicest place we have stayed yet.
Anyway, we left this AM and went to take a few daylight pics of Pomparles Bridge before heading on to Brent Knoll. We found it without trouble and made the climb up all right, except that, like many places weve been, its muddy and through farmland. We didnt see anybody walking the dog up there though. Odd for us. But there was a great view, although a tad misty, of the Glastonbury area and across the Bristol Channel towards Dinas Powys and Cardiff. We didnt spend a whole lot of time up there, but we enjoyed it. A good hike.
Then we took a little side trip to Cheddar. A great place full of cheese. A little touristy but seemed pretty respectable. You could tell they had their fair share of tour busses come through though. But we got some cheese and had a toasted cheese sandwich at the little café there. Good stuff. That would end up being lunch. We didnt know at that point whether it would be or not. Get while the gettins good, you know.
So we left Cheddar to head into Wales. We crossed the Bristol Channel on a toll bridge that cost dad gum four and a half pounds. Never seen a toll that big in the states. But we drove up to Monmouth and a little outside to this hill called Little Doward. We were going to find Arthurs Cave somewhere in a hillside. You never know what to expect at these placeshow well marked they will be or the general obscurity of the stuff were looking for. There were a few signs up to Little Doward, but no real markings and we had to hunt a while for the cave. The site is near a quarry so there were a few muddy dirt roads circling the hill. But we just walked around in the general area where it should be (using Ashes guidebook) and got lucky. We found a cave at long last that met all the criteria. It was in the right area, not very deep, and near the quarry. But, like I said, markings were nonexistent for the cave so we cant be 100% sure. It was a nice little hike though. We walked by a nature preserve somehow on the way out and saw some big ol deer. Took some pics. So we found our car (we had to park in somebodys driveway a little ways up the hill) and headed down to a little town outside of Newport called Redwick. Were staying at the Brick House tonight. A big old house in the middle of the woods. Very nice though. A lot of antique furniture and a real nice atmosphere. We tried to go into a less small town nearby called Magor to eat, but the pubs didnt start serving till 7. Too late for us. We went to the grocery and got some bread and came back to the house. We ate the bread with our cheese and had a bottle of wine to go along with it. A good, simple dinner. Good, because, like I said, were exhausted. Were only staying here a night but I really wouldnt mind staying here to relax for a few days. Maybe in a few years. Well, the beds feel very comfortable so I think Ill hit the sack pretty early tonight. We might try to call the women in Italy tonight.
ARTHUR'S CAVE and LITTLE DOWARD - January 4, 2001
We got to the Ganarew exit above Monmouth and worked our way up to the hill, but tried going around to the east side of the hill instead of the west like last time. We dead ended at a farmhouse where two blokes were mortaring a wall out of cinder blocks. We asked if we could park in his driveway and go up the hill from there and he said that this part was private property and that we should go to an "official" car park. That was ok, we thought, we'll just go up the way we went last year. The real shocker came when I asked where Arthur's Cave was. He knew and pointed way across the valley to the very bottom of the hill. We were way, way off last year. We had to drive back down the hill and around this field and into a thing called "Doward Park," which I found similar to a US State Park--kind of primitive with lots of hiking trails around. It was popular with dog walkers, too. We walked down a muddy trail for about five minutes and there it was, just like the picture. A lot more like the picture than the other one. But it was a lot bigger and a lot more complex than the picture revealed also. Its one of those places that every book has the same picture of (if you can even find a picture of it) and its refreshing (and even a little ego-boosting) to know that we'll be publishing different pictures of it for the world to see--complete with decent directions. There were lots of nooks and crannies to climb up in--I'm a sucker for that kind of thing. It wasn't huge, not a cavern or anything, but très enjoyable. One of the neatest things was a roughly circular "room" as a tributary from the main cave. I bet that's where the Neolithic people that used to live there slept. That's where I would have slept.
After this first small victory, the day went smashingly. We drove up around Ganarew in South Wales. Once again we stopped by Tintern Abbey for a bit. We could see most of it so we decided not to pay the admission.
We returned to Ganarew on a quest to locate Arthur's Cave. We had come here last year, but had failed to find the true cave. Instead, we found a cave and just took pictures of it, knowing it was the wrong one.
After talking with one of the locals, we found that we had been searching in the entirely wrong place. Instead of on the hill, the cave was, in fact, at the base of an adjacent hill. We found the cave in no time. I felt stupid considering how we spent two hours searching last year. The cave was much bigger than the one we found last year and much more interesting. There were three entrances of various sizes in the wall of the rock outcropping. Inside there were 3 or 4 largish chambers and a few smaller passages to the sides. This is not to say that the cave is a large one, but much larger than the standing-room-only number we found last year.
After the cave, we proceeded to Little Doward Hill (where we originally searched for the cave). At the top is the little Doward Fort, claimed by some to be Voritgern's ill-fated castle (burned by Ambrosius). We parked behind the same house as last time, but we hiked up. The mud was thick and slippery, but we were rewarded for our perseverance by the many deer we saw as we neared the top of the hill. The actual remains of the fortress consist of two partial ramparts. Not much to look at really. The embankments are overgrown with prickly thorn bushes and ferns. On the Southwest side, though, the natural defenses are quite impressive. The hilltop ends in a 60-foot drop before rolling somewhat less steeply to the valley. The view was incredible with the River Wye cutting through the valley and the city of Monmouth in the distance.
Copyright © 2001, Joe Boyles and Jake Livingston. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: Jake Livingston and Joe Boyles.
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