Old Rothbury multivallate hillfort and cairnfield


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NU 04642 02260, NU 04644 02005

Reasons for Designation

Small multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are defined by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m. These entirely surround the interior except on sites located on promontories, where cliffs may form one or more sides of the monument. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and occupied between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. Small multivallate hillforts are generally regarded as settlements of high status, occupied on a permanent basis. Recent interpretations suggest that the construction of multiple earthworks may have had as much to do with display as with defence. Earthworks may consist of a rampart alone or of a rampart and ditch which, on many sites, are associated with counterscarp banks and internal quarry scoops. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or two entrances, which either appear as simple gaps in the earthwork or inturned passages, sometimes with guardrooms. The interior generally consists of settlement evidence including round houses, four and six post structures interpreted as raised granaries, roads, pits, gullies, hearths and a variety of scattered post and stake holes. Evidence from outside numerous examples of small multivallate hillforts suggests that extra-mural settlement was of a similar nature. Small multivallate hillforts are rare with around 100 examples recorded nationally. Most are located in the Welsh Marches and the south-west with a concentration of small monuments in the north-east. In view of the rarity of small multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the nature of settlement and social organisation within the Iron Age period, all examples with surviving archaeological potential are believed to be of national importance.

The hillfort of Old Rothbury survives in a good state of preservation with little sign of major disturbance. It is one of several hillforts overlooking the River Coquet and it will contribute to any study of later prehistoric settlement and activity along this river valley. The survival of associated outworks and a cairnfield enhance its importance.


The monument includes a hillfort, associated house platforms and a cairnfield, all of later prehistoric date. It is divided into two areas situated above precipitous rocky crags commanding extensive views over the Coquet valley to the south. The hillfort is roughly oval in plan measuring a maximum of 165m east-west by 125m north-south within a complex defensive circuit of ramparts, ditches and outworks. There is an inner rampart on all sides except on the south-west where the precipitous slopes have been utilized to provide natural defence. There is also an external ditch on the north and east where the rampart is very well preserved and survives to a height of over 1m above the bottom of the ditch. Additional defence has been given at particularly vulnerable parts of the circuit: a second rampart and ditch survive well at the north-east and south-west corners of the hillfort where the natural slope of the ground becomes less steep. Traces of an outer rampart and ditch are also visible on the northern side of the enclosure. There is an entrance through the double ramparts and a causeway over the ditches at the eastern end of the hillfort. On the north, west and south sides at a distance of between 60m to 90m outside the hillfort there are the remains of an additional defensive outwork; it is laid in a series of straight lines and very well preserved on the northern side where it also has a large outer ditch 1m deep. On the western side it has been reduced by ploughing to a scarp and on the southern side it is barely visible. From its north-west corner the rampart apparently climbs a steep craggy slope and is continued for 100m in the form of a less massive bank and ditch. Within the hillfort enclosure there is a prominent bank running from the southern end towards the centre of the enclosure where it is truncated by the modern field wall. There are three hut circles along the eastern edge of this bank measuring 5m-8m in diameter, and a small D-shaped enclosure, all of which are apparently bounded by a second internal bank. Two further hut circles are visible in the south-east corner and at the southern end of the enclosure. Above the hillfort, 30m to the north there is a level area of land, measuring 70m square, on which a group of six cairns survive. The cairns measure 3m to 6m in diameter and survive to a height of 0.3m. Two of the cairns have been partially excavated. This cairnfield represents a period of minor clearance for agriculture associated with the hillfort. The small field is bounded on its western side by the extension of the hillfort outwork up the very steep slope. Immediately to the east of the hillfort there are several platforms scooped into the hillside, some may be the result of local quarrying but others are identified as house platforms located immediately outside the eastern entrance to the hillfort. Several features are excluded from the scheduling including all modern walls, fences, the water tank at the south-east of the enclosure, and the small cottage at the eastern end of the monument but the ground beneath all of these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Hedley, R C, 'Archaeology Aeliana 2 ser 15 1892' in Archaeology Aeliana 2 ser 15 1892, (1892)
Honeyman, H L, 'Proc. Soc. Antiq. Newcastle 4 ser 5 1931-32' in An Unrecorded Feature Of Old Rothbury, (1932)
Dept. Arch. Uni of Newcastle, Gates, T,
No. 2249,
No. 2270,


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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