‘Scowle’ is a local word meaning ‘rubbish pit’ and for centuries this is often what they were used for. Only more recently has the importance of these unique historical landscape features been recognised.
Geological research has shown that they were originally cave systems formed millions of years ago in the carboniferous limestone surrounding the coal measures of the central Forest of Dean and have been exposed at the surface due to natural erosion.
Over many millennia, iron percolated through the porous limestone forming a crusty deposit on the surface – up to a metre thick in places. Access through fissures in the limestone into the deeper cave system below opened up new deposits of iron ore and ochre.
The scowles provided a ready resource of iron ore which could be prised from the limestone surface without the need for deep mining. It was exploited by Iron Age settlers and continued by the Romans who exported it across their empire.
Scowles are unique and play an important role in the story of early iron mining in Britain. They have a spiritual quality and a rare beauty and are thought to have provided the inspiration for J R R Tolkien in writing “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”. Tolkien visited Puzzle Wood (close to Cinderbury) and helped Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s excavations of the Roman Temple site in the 1930’s.
Cinderbury has possibly some of the best examples of limestone scowles in the UK. From the convenience of timber decking, boardwalks and bridges through the woodlands, visitors can enjoy the spectacle of these deep sun-dappled gorges along with 300-year old yew trees growing from bare limestone.