Earthwork defences of Countisbury Castle promontory fort

Overview

Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
1020807
Date first listed:
10-Aug-1923
Date of most recent amendment:
16-Oct-2002

Map

Ordnance survey map of Earthwork defences of Countisbury Castle promontory fort
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1020807 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 17-Oct-2019 at 08:40:34.

Location

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

County:
Devon
District:
North Devon (District Authority)
Parish:
Lynton and Lynmouth
National Park:
EXMOOR
National Grid Reference:
SS 73909 49477, SS 74039 49391

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 of Countisbury Castle is defined by a combination of artificial and natural defences. The artificial defence, which takes the form of an earth rampart fronted by a ditch, survives exceptionally well and is only seriously disturbed in one place where it has been cut through by the A39 road. The remains provide a visible reminder of the measures taken to defend areas of land and to signal their presence in the late Iron Age and the fort forms part of a group of diverse and broadly contemporary monuments which give an indication of the nature of settlement in the area. The earthworks will retain archaeological information relating to their construction, the lives of the inhabitants of the fort, and the landscape in which they lived.

Details

The monument, which lies in two separate areas of protection, includes the artificial defences of a promontory fort, considered to be of Iron Age date, known as Countisbury Castle but more commonly referred to as Wind Hill. The fort made use of the steep natural defences on three sides of the promontory formed by the precipitous sea cliffs overlooking Lynmouth Bay to the north and the deep valleys of the East Lyn River to the south. The defensive circuit was completed by a high rampart and ditch placed across the only gentle approach from the east. Together the combination of artificial and natural defences enclosed a large irregular area of approximately 35ha. The scheduling encompasses the defensive earthworks which extend for about 400m from the coastal sea slopes at the north west to a steep-sided cliff at the south east which overlooks the East Lyn River. The rampart stands to a height of 13m in places above the ditch bottom, notably at its southern section, and is no lower than 2.3m elsewhere; it varies in width but has maximum dimensions front to tail, of 17m. On its outer, eastern side the rampart is fronted by a flat-bottomed ditch which is about 5m wide over most of its length and is 1.5m deep, although the full depth may have become obscured by natural slippage over the course of two millennia. Fronting the ditch is a counterscarp bank which varies between 0.7m and 1.7m in height and which is on average 4.5m wide. It has a vertical rear face of drystone walling and this may be the result of post-medieval adaptation. The rampart is cut through in two places, in one instance to accommodate the main A39 coastal road, and in the other to provide a simple 3m wide gap which is believed to be the original entrance. This entrance exists just to the south of the centrepoint of the earthwork; it would have given access to Wind Hill, the highest point of the defended promontory, and in 2002 it carried a modern track. Forward of the entrance are the remains of a defensive outwork which has been reduced by agriculture although it still survives over part of its length as a scarp up to 2m high and 9m wide. It extends in a curve fronting the entrance at a maximum distance of 30m forward of the main defences and it is visible as an earthwork over a length of about 95m from a point against the counterscarp bank 30m north of the entrance. The outwork is considered likely to have rejoined the counterscarp bank at a point some 70m south of the entrance but this section appears to have suffered from agricultural damage and is no longer visible on the ground. The earlier popular name for the monument of Countisbury Castle or Camp derives from the Domesday `Contesberie' and it has been suggested to be the `Arx Cynuit' or fortified hill where the Viking Ubba, the brother of Ivar the Boneless, suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the Anglo-Saxons in AD878 according to the chronicler Asser. In modern literature, Countisbury Castle is often referred to as Wind Hill which is the highest hill within the enclosed area. All fixed signposts, fencing, gates, and gate posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

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

Legacy

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

Legacy System number:
33056
Legacy System:
RSM

Sources

Books and journals
Grant, N, The Occupation of Hillforts in Devon during The Post-Roman, (1995), 106
Riley, H, Wilson-North, R, The Field Archaeology of Exmoor, (2001), 58-59

Legal

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

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].