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Uley and its Magnificent Fort on the Hill

The vast bulk of the ancient fort of Uley Bury forms the centrepiece for this walk along the Cotswold escarpment.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 345ft (105m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tracks and fields

Landscape Valley, meadows, woodland and open hilltop

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 168 Stroud, Tetbury and Malmesbury

Start/finish ST 789984

Dog friendliness Good - little or no livestock, few stiles

Parking Main street of Uley

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the main street locate the post office (on your left as you walk up the street). Walk along the narrow lane (to the right, as you look at it). Pass between houses as the lane dwindles to a track. Immediately before a stile turn right along an enclosed path towards the church.

2 When the churchyard can be seen on the right, turn left up a narrow path beside a cottage. This rises fairly sharply and brings you to a kissing gate. Pass through into a meadow. Climb steeply up the grassland towards woodland.

3 At the tree-line keep left of the woods. In a corner go through a gate and follow a winding woodland path, climbing among the trees. When you come to a fence stay on the path as it bears left. Go over a stile and then continue ascending, to emerge from the woods. Stay on the path as it rises across grassland to a junction.

4 Turn right to follow the contour of the hill - the edge of the ancient fort. You are following the perimeter of the fort in an anti-clockwise direction, with steep drops to your right. When you meet another junction of paths go left along the edge of the hill, with views to the west.

5 At the next corner continue to follow the edge of the fort, disregarding a stile that invites you to descend. At the next corner, at the fort's south eastern point, bear right on a path that descends through hillocks and then quite steeply through bushes, keeping left. This will bring you to a stile into a meadow and a tarmac path.

6 Walk along the path, all the way to a cottage and then a kissing gate. Go through this and pass beside the cottage to arrive at a lane. Turn left here and follow the lane, soon passing the Uley Brewery, to reach the main road. Turn left, passing South Street (Point A on Walk 44), to return to the start.

Uley is a pretty village, strung along a wide street at the foot of a high, steep hill. It is distinctive for several reasons. It has its own brewery, which produces some fine beers including Uley Bitter and Uley Old Spot. In the past the village specialised in the production of 'Uley Blue' cloth, which was used in military uniforms. And then there is Uley Bury, dating back to the Iron Age and one of the finest hill forts in the Cotswolds.

There are many hundreds of Iron-Age forts throughout England and Wales. They are concentrated in Cornwall, south west Wales and the Welsh Marches, with secondary concentrations throughout the Cotswolds, North Wales and Wessex. Although the term 'hill fort' is generally used in connection with these settlements, the term can be misleading. There are many that were built on level ground and there are many that were not used purely for military purposes - often they were simply settlements located on easily-defended sites. Broadly speaking, there are five types, classified according to the nature of the site on which they were built, rather than, say, the date of their construction.

Contour forts were built more or less along the perimeter edge of a hilltop; promontory forts were built on a spur, surrounded by natural defences on two or more sides; valley and plateau forts (two types) depended heavily on artificial defences and were located, as their names suggest, in valleys or on flat land respectively; and multiple-enclosure forts were usually built in a poor strategic position on the slope of a hill and were perhaps used as stockades.

Uley Bury, covering about 38 acres (15.4ha), is classified as an inland promontory fort and was built in the 6th century bc. It falls away on three sides, the fourth side, which faces away from the escarpment, is protected by specially constructed ramparts which would have been surmounted by a wooden palisade. The natural defences - that is, the Cotswold escarpment, facing west - were also strengthened by the construction of a wide and deep ditch, as well as two additional ramparts, an inner one and an outer one, between which the footpath largely threads its course. The three main entrances were at the northern, eastern and southern corners. These, being the most vulnerable parts of the fort, would have been fortified with massive log barriers.

Although some tribespeople would have lived permanently in huts within the fort, most would have lived outside, either on other parts of the hill or in the valleys below. In an emergency, therefore, there was space for those who lived outside the fort to take shelter within. Eventually the fort was taken over by the Dobunni tribe - Celtic interlopers from mainland Europe who arrived about 100 bc - and appears to have been occupied by them throughout the Roman era.

Where to eat and drink

The Old Crown on the main street opposite the church in Uley is a very picturesque village local, with lots of memorabilia on the wallls, exposed beams and a small, sunny garden. Beers come from the local brewery and include Uley Bitter and Uley Old Spot, named after the Gloucestershire pigs.

While you're there

Two sites are worth a closer look while you're in the area. Near by is the little village of North Nibley, over which towers the 111ft (34m) Tyndale Monument. Built in 1866 this is a tribute to William Tyndale (c1494-1536). He was born at Dursley near Gloucester, and was the first to translate the New Testament of the Bible from Latin into English. It is possible to climb to near the top of the tower for maginificent views. Just to the north of Uley Bury, and still on the escarpment, is Uley Long Barrow, better known as Hetty Pegler's Tump. This is a neolithic chambered tomb some 180ft (55m) in length. A narrow stone doorway leads into a passage, off which four semicircular chambers would have contained cremated remains.

What to look for

There are magnificent views westward from the summit of Uley Bury. You should easily be able to see the estuary of the River Severn, as well as the Tyndale Monument. Look out too for the brewery in Uley and the statue of a pig outside it. This is a Gloucester Old Spot, a breed of pig peculiar to the county, now making something of a comeback.

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