The Doward

About the Doward

The Doward is a limestone hill around which the River Wye has carved a steep-sided gorge. The limestone was formed some 345 million years ago, when much of England and Wales were covered by shallow subtropical seas; limestone is composed of the compacted remains of marine plants and animals.

The Doward, from the Welsh: Deuarth Fach, which literally means "little two riverbanks", is an area in the parish of Whitchurch in south Herefordshire, consisting of the hamlets of Little Doward and Great Doward and extensive woodland. It is within the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, on the border with Monmouthshire. The area, about 3 miles (4.8 km) north-east of Monmouth, is shrouded in legend and King Arthur's Cave is in the vicinity. The River Wye flows through the area, forming the eastern and southern boundary with the A40 road forming its western boundary. It is heavily forested with several cave formations, the landscape being ‘mountainous common’, sprinkled with rocky outcrops.

The Great Doward area is marked by "extensive stratified limestone mountains" and is said to contain "large deposits of rich iron-ore of a peculiar quality". A lane in the area is called Black Stone Kiln's Lane, indicating historical economic activity here and there are several old quarries, such as Lord's Wood Quarry. To the west, the area is woody with wild elevations, interspersed with tame swells and hollows. Herefordshire has many Iron Age hill forts that used natural hilltops and outcroppings to their best advantage. These forts differed widely in size and shape and were constructed with ditches and earth banks, originally topped with wooden stockades. There is a significant one at the Little Doward near what is said to be Arthur’s Cave.

This hillfort is presumed to be the famous but elusive final stronghold of King Vortigern, "Caer Guorthegirn". According to several medieval sources, Vortigern was pursued by St. Germanus and ran to one of his several Welsh fortresses. Was it Gwynedd in the north? Dyfed in the west? Or did he flee to this one, high above a curve of the River Wye?

King Arthur's Cave

At the side of a small and obscure looking hill just to the east of the Doward hillfort is a cave which has a connection with King Arthur. Through a jumbled Dark Ages translation, an older form of Doward can be loosely linked with the name "Arthur" (Deu Arth), which probably explains why this cave is reputed to be one of hundreds of British localities where King Arthur lies sleeping.

More interesting perhaps, or at least more factual, is solid evidence that the cave served as a shelter all the way back to neolithic times. Remnants of such occupants as giant elk, mammoths, woolly rhino, horse, cave bear and lions have been discovered there, along with flints used by hunters of the paleolithic and mesolithic eras. (Image shows a fragment of Mammoth tusk/ courtesey of Herefordshire Museum Service). These people were the first of many to enjoy the security of this cave, whose ‘cosy’ recesses extend into the depths of the ancient hill.

The massive limestone cliffs around the Doward area were carved by down-cutting of the River Wye several thousand years ago with caves formed by the action of water percolating down within these cliffs. At first these caves were occupied by nomadic hunters. After the Ice Age, Paleolithic people were drawn to this area by the plentiful fish and game. Life was so good that they settled down in the valleys and caves of the curving River Wye to stay for the next 15,000 years.

The Doward today is a wonderful patchwork of habitats, including ancient and secondary woodland, forestry plantations, fragments of flower-rich grasslands, old hedgerows and limestone outcrops, and is home to some of the counties rarest plants and animals.

The Doward Reseves

The Herefordshire Wildlife Trust manages a cluster of reserves  on the Doward: King Arthur's Cave, Leeping Stocks, Lord's Wood, Lower Wood, Miner's Rest, White Rocks and Woodside.