The earth itself is around 4,600ma (million years old). The oldest rocks in Britain are in the north west of Scotland and are at least 2,700ma
520 million years ago Great Britain was split between 2 continents, divided by 4000 kilometres of ocean. These continents lay 20o and 60o south of the equator. During the Devonian period, 416-360ma – North West Scotland and the rest of Britain collided and joined. This collision led to huge amounts of sediment being transported by streams to low lying areas, which now underlie much of Herefordshire, including the old red sandstone rocks found on the lower slopes of the Dowards
During the carboniferous Period (359-299ma) Britain had become submerged under a warm, shallow sub-tropical sea and was studded with volcanos which underlie much of central England today, an excellent example being the Malvern Hills. The sea levels rose and fell and layers of sediment rock were laid down and it was during this time that the first hard shelled animals evolved. These resulted in the compacted fossils, which eventually formed the limestone rock found at the top of the Dowards. Of particular interest, a limestone pavement can be found to the east of the hill fort on the Little Doward. Below the hill fort the rocks are a mixture of different sized pebbles and sand, called quartz conglomerate. Lines within these rocks mark clearly the different sea levels over millions of years.
It was during the last phase of the Ice Age (18,000-10,000 ma) that the Usk and Wye valleys were eroded, resulting in today’s landscape. Large rivers would have formed the numerous caves found on the hills, including King Arthurs, where you can see that the bottom half of the cave is warn smooth, showing the exact level the river reached. In the quarry to the left of the cave, you can see various lines in the rock showing different sea levels prior to the river erosion. The Dowards are studded with an abundance of stunning rocky outcrops with massive trees gnarling their roots through the rock faces.
The caves have yielded some of the earliest evidence of human settlement in England, dating back 25,000 years and were thought to have been used as shelters during the Ice Age. They were excavated in 1871 by Rev. William S Symonds who discovered numerous flint tools and animal remains, including woolly rhinoceros, cave bear, hyena, elk, red deer and horse in King Arthurs cave and the forearm of an elephant, a roman ox head and beavers in nearby Merlyn’s cave.
In 1833 Richard Blakemore MP, turned the Little Doward in to a deer park and created beautiful rides above and below the cliff lines passing the geological places of interest. The Dowards, including the caves, hill fort and river viewpoints can now be explored through a maze of footpaths throughout the area.
Author Vicki Black.