Updated: May 11, 2020
The mysterious Robin Hood's Bower can be found deep in the heart of Southleigh Wood near Warminster. I cannot seem to find out how it arrived at its name, but it is an ancient earthwork enclosure, with clearly defined banks around the perimeter. It probably dates back to the Iron Age but we cannot be sure what purpose it served.
It does have some more recent history ascribed to it. In May 878, King Alfred and his men are believed to have rested at this place prior to the Battle of Edington where he defeated the Viking army of Guthrum. It was then known as Iley Oak. In later years it became a meeting place for the non conformists of Crockerton.
Today, the Bower is marked out from the rest of the fir trees in Southleigh Wood by the fact that it is covered in mature *Monkey Puzzle trees. These spiky leaved trees cast ominous shapes as the light shines through, creating an eerie atmosphere to this place. The creepiness is added to by the fact that the centre of the Bower has evidence of human rituals being carried out today. Stones arranged in circles. Circles made out of twisted wicker. This is not a place I would like to come back in the hours of darkness.
*(see footnote at the bottom on the story of the monkey puzzle trees)
Southleigh Wood itself is unremarkable. It is mostly forested by fir trees which are densely packed together so that no vegetation grows on the floor of the forest. Recent foresting activity has left large open spaces of nothingness, as the ground awaits replanting. There are plenty of paths to make a decent walk out of a visit but in October it was very muddy and wet in places and wellingtons are essential.
A slight curiosity can be found in one part of the wood as a large mobile phone mast towers into the air.
Aerial images of the wood allow you to clearly make out the bower, as the Monkey Puzzle copse delineates itself from the rest of the wood. See if you can spot it in the aerial photo.
This place may be ancient and its origins unknown but it still makes its presence felt.
Edit: This footnote was added in May 2020. I was genuinely puzzled by how the monkey puzzles ended up in this location so I asked local researcher Danny Howell about it. He told me:
They were planted by the Longleat Estate, circa 1965-1967, at the suggestion of the then Lord Weymouth, Alexander Thynn, later 7th Marquis of Bath. He was very passionate about the forestry side of the estate. He told me the Monkey Puzzle trees were purely a whim on his part.
You can find some more pictures that Danny took back in 2005 here: