Weird Norfolk: The legends of Castle Hill, Thetford
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
It's the highest Norman motte in England although no trace remains of the castle built in turbulent times which it housed: but today's tale regards the hill, not what topped it.
Legend surrounds the imposing hill, which is partly sunken into a deep surrounding ditch and which is second only to Silbury in terms of man-made mounds in the UK.
Townspeople in Thetford know it as High Castle Hill and the ascent to the top is either reached by the 'running path' or the steps, while the ramparts are known as the little hills or the wooded hill.
The ruins of Thetford Castle, a Norman hillfort destroyed in 1173 under the orders of Henry II, have remained a popular tourist attraction on the outskirts of the market town for centuries.
Believed to have been constructed shortly after the Norman Conquest, either by Ralph Guader, Earl of East Anglia until his rebellion in 1076, or by Roger Bigod, his successor as Earl, the castle controlled important crossings of the rivers Thet and Ouse and dominated the town of Thetford which, at the time of the Domesday survey in the late 11th century, was among the six largest towns in the country.
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A local story claims that Castle Hill wasn't man-made, but rather Lucifer-made: when the Devil finished his dyke-building work at Newmarket, Narborough and Garboldisham (or possibly after digging the Devil's Pits at Weeting), he leapt across to Thetford, shook his foot and the earth that fell from it created the mound.
Some say that if you walk round the hill seven times at midnight you can summon the devil, while others believe Satan haunts a depression in the moat north-east of the wooded hill which sometimes fills with mud. The Devil's Hole is also a hotline to the Devil if you walk round it the regulation seven times.
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Another tale is spun which says that a king once owned a magnificent mansion on the hill but when his enemies landed close by in force, he buried not only his treasure, but also his entire home beneath the mound, forming a hill.
There, under the earth, are riches beyond our wildest dreams.
But the most persisting story about the hill has rung out across the centuries.
It is said that when the early 12th century Cluniac priory, which was founded close to the site by Roger Bigod, was ransacked after the Reformation, six (or seven) silver (or solid gold) bells were missing from the church as they had been taken from the priory and hidden beneath the mound for safekeeping.
Whether the gold, silver, riches or house is under the hill is unknown – testing the Devil's
link to the castle mound is, however, far easier. See you at midnight.
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