Trundling On

23rd July 2019

Better known as the Trundle, St Roche’s Hill is a favourite with racing enthusiasts and detectorists alike, thanks to its fascinating history and commanding views

Words by Peter Fiennes

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The sharp green swell of the Downs that rises to the west of Goodwood Racecourse is called St Roche’s Hill, named after a medieval French saint, but everyone knows it as the Trundle. That’s because at the very top you will find the nine-sided earthwork remains of a near-circular Iron Age fort, and “trundle” is an Old English word for circle. St Roche’s Hill has been inhabited for thousands of years. There’s the faint outline of a Neolithic causeway and enclosure inside the Iron Age fort, dating from around 4,000 BCE; the Romans were here of course; and in about 1475 a chapel was built in honour of St Roch, the patron saint of plagues, in an attempt to contain yet another outbreak in the local villages. The chapel was pulled down in the Reformation, but the mossy remains of its walls make a pleasant place from which to enjoy the extraordinary views. St Roch is also the patron saint of dogs, which may explain many hounds’ hectic love of this wild place. The panorama (blanking out the two radio masts, if you can), takes in hedgerows, large fields and ancient woodlands north to the Weald, or sweeps across the coastal plain and over to the Isle of Wight. Towards Cocking, you can look down on the restless green tops of Charlton Forest, one of Europe’s largest beech plantations.

There’s history here. During the Civil War a group called the Clubmen gathered on the hill to defy the armies of both sides, fed up with incessant pillaging and press gangs. In the succeeding centuries there has been a windmill, a masonic lodge, a gibbet (gallows) and, during World War II, a fort and trenches, but now the Trundle has been absorbed by the South Downs National Park and set aside for nature to reclaim. And that’s the best reason of all to visit. You can see buzzards, red kites and kestrels in the skies, wild thyme, marjoram, orchids, bellflower and rampion underfoot (well, mind how you go), and local wildlife groups make regular butterfly field trips, looking for brown hairstreaks and grizzled skippers.

If you choose to linger late as the light fades in the summer months (trying not to think about that gibbet), keep an eye open for a glint of gold. It is said that Aaron’s golden calf was buried here, long ago, although as soon as it is seen, it disappears in a thunderclap and moves to the other side of the hill. The other treasure here, sought by generations of detectorists, was apparently buried by a Viking army, on its way to fight in nearby Kingley Vale. The Vikings never came back, but they left their loot under the protection of yet another magical golden calf. You will hear it moo or whimper if you’re getting close. It’s something to tell the children, while you sink back in the sweet meadow grass and enjoy free grandstand views of Goodwood Racecourse from the north-east slopes.

This article was taken from the Summer 2019 edition of the Goodwood Magazine.

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