Edward Hunt's Forest of Dean Miscellany

Fact, Fiction and Fantasy

Celtic Iron Mines

Another feature of Celtic occupation in the Forest is the existence of the "Hollow Ways", tracks in the escarpment worn by the passage of traffic up and down an unmetalled path which in conjunction with the weather erodes it until it wears down to the rocky subsoil. Some of these hollow ways indeed may be much older than Celtic days, and among the best examples is the one at Stroat which continues a track from an ancient river crossing, up the escarpment, across Tidenham Chase and down to the Wye through Madgetts. Here, a boundary of upright stones lines the sunken banks, while a similar reinforcement lines part of a hollow way from St. Briavels to Bigsweir.

Iron ore was mined by digging among the rocks near the surface in certain places where the veins rose high. There is a succession of these workings along the western ridge of the Dean among which we may notice the Bream Scowles (The Devil's Chapel), Perrygrove, and the Scowles above Coleford. The word "Scowle" seems to be derived from the Welsh "ysgil" signifying a recess, and together with other terms in the mining industry such as "crease", "gale", "vern" and others seem to point to a pre-Roman mining era.

A discovery which seems to confirm the Celtic origin of these scowles was made just after the 1939/45 war, when an ancient coin was picked up in the Bream Scowles and was later identified as being a coin of a Gaulish tribe, the Veniti of Brittany. Since this tribe was defeated and dispersed in Julius Caesar's Gallic wars, it seems fairly certain that the iron mines of the Forest were known to continental people as early as the First Century B.C. at least, and this was a good hundred years before the Romans came to the Forest.

  The text above is from:
                "Forest Story"
                by R.J. Mansfield
                publisher: the author 1964

* Hollow Way

A road or track running in a natural or man-made hollow deepened through wear caused by prolonged usage or the raising of the ground on each side.

Edward Hunt