Ruborough Camp

A short walk from Broomfield and faintly labelled on the local map is the location of Ruborough Camp. Lying on private land today, even if you walk up the adjoining bridle path and gaze across at its place in a field near a farm, it is a rather unassuming mound. It is an earthwork of archaeological interest, a Roman hill fort, but it is not dramatic in appearance. Yet of all the Quantock earthworks it has perhaps the most interesting story attached to it, because this unassuming mound in an ordinary field is the entrance to a magical realm.

The legend has it that below Ruborough Camp lies a magical, possibly fairy, castle made of iron, or a realm, that has an iron door (iron is an interesting choice if a fairy castle as it is the metal that protects against fairy magic according to folk tradition) and is full of treasure. This is a particularly interesting tale, as whilst the existence of the castle is folklore, it became the site of a real story in the late 18th century, albeit with folkloric elements. According to local reports in 1780 a man named Dr Farrer decided to try and find the treasure. The legend had it that the door to the castle could only be found on nights when the moon was full, so after finding where he thought the entrance should be using a hazel divining rod, Dr Farrer climbed the mound one night with his servant and began to dig by moon and lamplight. Eventually the shovel hit something and they uncovered a door. However no sooner did they hit the door than hideous groans and shrieks emanated from within. The servant even reported feeling forcibly pulled towards the hole they had dug as if by demons from hell! Luckily though they had brought a bible with them and waving it furiously, the doctor grabbed his servant’s hand and pulled him out.

This account is interesting as it attributes the event to the Devil, whereas in general the legend has it that this was fairy treasure. It also doesn’t mention iron or the existence of an underground castle as such, just that the mound was full of treasure. The latter is not a large stretch of the imagination as many hoards were buried in mounds, but somehow the treasure legend seemed active, whereas the fairy lore is lost at this point. Perhaps it was a case of religious men accepting a belief in the Devil whilst shunning folk superstitions, or is an example of how in the past folk and Christian traditions were often intertwined, with the Devil often making an appearance in the company of giants and other mythical creatures, and the parson, who was one of the sources of this tale, feeling that he could not talk of fairies. We will never know for sure, but certainly there is something about the lands surrounding Ruborough Camp – it is also near various ghost sightings, including a horseman that is said to ride along the nearby ridge…