Symonds Yat promontory fort


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016760

Date first listed: 17-Jul-1963

Date of most recent amendment: 07-Jul-1999


Ordnance survey map of Symonds Yat promontory fort
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Gloucestershire

District: Forest of Dean (District Authority)

Parish: English Bicknor

National Grid Reference: SO 56411 15798


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Promontory forts are a type of hillfort in which conspicuous naturally defended sites are adapted as enclosures by the construction of one or more earth or stone ramparts placed across the neck of a spur in order to divide it from the surrounding land. Coastal situations, using headlands defined by steep natural cliffs, are common while inland similar topographic settings defined by natural cliffs are also used. The ramparts and accompanying ditches formed the main artificial defence, but timber palisades may have been erected along the cliff edges. Access to the interior was generally provided by an entrance through the ramparts. The interior of the fort was used intensively for settlement and related activities, and evidence for timber- and stone- walled round houses can be expected, together with the remains of buildings used for storage and enclosures for animals. Promontory forts are generally Iron Age in date, most having been constructed and used between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. They are broadly contemporary with other types of hillfort. They are regarded as settlements of high status, probably occupied on a permanent basis, and recent interpretations suggest that their construction and choice of location had as much to do with display as defence. Promontory forts are rare nationally with less than 100 recorded examples. In view of their rarity and their importance in the understanding of the nature of social organisation in the later prehistoric period, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are considered nationally important.

The promontory fort at Symonds Yat is a very good example of its type, and is one of only a few such sites in Gloucestershire. The vast majority of the area of the fort is intact, and is in good condition. Little archaeological work has been done on the fort, and this, combined with its high standard of preservation, ensures that there is much potential for further investigation of the site in terms of its local, regional and national context. The fort will contain archaeological information and environmental evidence relating to its use and the landscape in which it was constructed. The fort at Symonds Yat is associated with another border defensive monument, Offa's Dyke. As a monument open to the public which attracts large numbers of visitors each year, it forms an important educational and recreational resource.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes an Iron Age promontory fort lying within the Forest of Dean in a loop of the River Wye. The promontory is triangular in shape with its base to the south, and the apex of the triangle pointing north. The fort is 148m above sea level, and is defended on its north, west and east sides by steep sided cliffs up to 122m high, and on its south side by a series of five banks and four ditches. The promontory fort covers an area of about 6ha, almost half of which is taken up with the parallel banks and accompanying ditches. The fort was popularly attributed to Offa, who reigned between 784-796 AD, although in reality the nature of the defences and pottery found on site place its date firmly in the Iron Age. Indeed, two scrapers, also found on the site, suggest that there might have been a Bronze Age precursor to the Iron Age fort. The impressive defences comprise a series of banks and ditches which control access to the innermost, northern, part of the site. The most southerly and outermost line of defence, and the next two northwards, consist of banks fronted by ditches. The ditches are `V' shaped, ranging from 4m to 5m in width at the top, 2m to 3m at the bottom, and are 0.5m to 1m deep. Behind each ditch the bank rises to a height of between 1.2m to 2m. To the north of these, and forming the inner defensive structure, are a pair of banks with a ditch between them. The outer bank of this pair is 0.8m high, behind which is a large ditch 8m wide at the top, 5m wide at the bottom, and 1.5m deep. From the bottom of the ditch the innermost bank rises to 4m high with a width of about 8m. The western end of the two outer banks in the defensive system run into a lateral bank, 3m high and aligned north east-south west, which appears to form a limit to the defences on the west side of the fort. The western end of the third bank, however, disappears into the decline known as `Hollow Rock', and the two inner banks run into the promontory edge on their west side. On the eastern side of the fort, the two southern banks and ditches have been built over by a road, houses and a car park, but the second bank re-appears on the east side of the road standing to 1.5m high and curving northwards to meet the third bank. The two innermost banks run through to the promontory edge on their east side. Both the third and fourth banks are quite denuded on their east sides, standing to only about 0.5m high, but the innermost bank is still an impressive structure standing to about 2m high on its east side with its ditch 3m wide and 0.5m deep. There is no obvious entrance, but it is thought that the entrance was on the line of the road on the east side of the hillfort. To the north, beyond the last ditch, the interior of the hillfort rises for about 60m and then flattens out for a distance of about 80m before rising again to the edge of the promontory. Although the ramparts at Symonds Yat are recorded as early as 1297, they did not attract antiquarian interest until the latter part of the 19th century. Examinations of the earthworks were conducted by Nicholls in 1858 and Playne in 1877, but the most comprehensive description of the site was given by MacClean in 1880 with an illustration which shows detailed mapping of the earthworks. Since at least the 19th century the hillfort ramparts have been associated with the Anglo-Saxon frontier earthwork of Offa's Dyke, however, no recognised sections of Offa's Dyke are contiguous with Symonds Yat fort. In 1990/91 an archaeological assessment, commissioned by the Forestry Commission, was undertaken in the area proposed for the new log cabin and central car park. This produced abraded sherds of 1st century AD pottery. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the log cabin and the concrete plinth on which it stands, the buildings and outbuilding of Rose Cottage and the post office, all signs, ticket machines and notice boards, the stone walls and fitments at the viewing point, the wooden walkways, the footbridge and its supports, the surface and makeup of the B4432 road, all fences and fence posts, gates and gate posts, benches, barrier posts, the telephone box and its supporting connections, telegraph poles; the ground beneath all these features is, however, included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

Legacy System number: 28861

Legacy System: RSM


Hoyle, J Archaeology Service Glos C C, Symonds Yat Promontory Fort, Management Plan, (1997)
Hoyle, J Archaeology Service Glos C C, Symonds Yat Promontory Fort, Management Plan, (1997)

End of official listing