Promontory forts of Cornwall

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Cornish promontory forts, commonly known in Cornwall as cliff castles, are coastal equivalents of the hill forts and Cornish "rounds" found on Cornish hilltops and slopes. Similar coastal forts are found on the north–west European seaboard, in Normandy, Brittany and around the coastlines of the British Isles, especially in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Many are known in southwest England, particularly in Cornwall and its neighbouring county, Devon. Two have been identified immediately west of Cornwall, in the Isles of Scilly.[1]

A promontory fort is a coastal headland, isolated from the mainland by a stone, turf or earthen rampart (univallate), or more than one (multivallate). Some promontory forts also have ditches. British promontory forts were constructed during the Iron Age, and remained in more-or-less continuous use into the early Roman period. Their function remains uncertain. They would have offered ready access to sea-routes but those built in particularly inhospitable settings may have had only occasional or seasonal use. Inland hillforts show signs of human habitation and other uses before and after the Roman era, but cliff castles were occupied sparsely, if at all. Some hill forts abandoned during or before the Roman era were reoccupied from the post-Roman to early medieval eras but in the same period cliff castles fell into disuse. Some were quarried for their building stone.[2]

Treen is one of the few Cornish promontory forts to have been systematically excavated. Archaeologists believe it might have been developed from a Bronze Age site of ceremonial, religious or social significance to the surrounding community.[3] Possible ancient contexts and uses of Cornish cliff castles have been a subject for study and speculation by antiquarians such as William Borlase. Modern sources agree that cliff castles may have served principally as prestigious sites for religious ceremonies, trade and administration, and that their defensive capacity may have been a secondary function.[1][2][3]

The following cliff castles in Cornwall are listed by geographical location from the border with Devon at the Marsland Valley, west to Land's End and east via The Lizard to Cremyll overlooking Plymouth Sound. Unproven or uncertain sites are in italics.

Map of Cornwall, showing named locations of promontory forts
Black Head
Black Head
Bosigran
Bosigran
Carn Les Boel
Carn Les Boel
Castle Point
Castle Point
Chynhalls
Chynhalls
Crane Castle
Crane Castle
Griffin's Point
Griffin's Point
Kelsey Head
Kelsey Head
Kenidjack Castle
Kenidjack Castle
Lankidden
Lankidden
Penhale Point
Penhale Point
Redcliff Castle
Redcliff Castle
Round Wood
Round Wood
Tregea Castle
Tregea Castle
Trevelgue
Trevelgue
Winecove Point
Winecove Point
Willapark
Willapark
Willapark
Willapark
Promontory forts (not proven or uncertain in italics)

Dizzard

The Dizzard (grid reference SX 167989) is an area of slumping cliff in the parish of St Gennys. The site is within the Boscastle to Widemouth SSSI and is known for its lichen communities which are of international importance. The promontory fort identified by the West Cornwall Field Club is probably a natural feature.[4]

Castle Point

Castle Point (grid reference SX144978) is a second possible site identified by the West Cornwall Field Club within the parish of St Gennys and the Boscastle to Widemouth SSSI. It is probably a natural feature.[5]

Willapark (Boscastle)

Willapark (Boscastle) (grid reference SX090913) is a headland to the west of Boscastle with a former coastguard lookout on the summit. The 110 m straight bank is indistinct to the south-west and up to 1.8 m high with a ditch on the landward side at its north-eastern end. The present path onto the headland may indicate the entrance. The fort overlooks Forrabury Common, a medieval field system.[6]

Dinas Head

Dinas Head (grid reference SW88762) is on the western side of Trevose Head within the parish of St Merryn. The headland is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and included in a list of cliff castles awaiting classification. There is no sign of earthworks on the neck of the headland on photographs taken from aircraft.[7]

Winecove Point

(grid reference SW854738) to the south of Treyarnon Bay, within the parish of St Merryn. The three headlands situated between White Cove and Wine Cove are registered as separate Ancient Monuments. The South West Coast Path passes on the east side of the entrance(s). [8] [9] [10]

Tregea Hill

Tregea Hill (grid reference SW648454) (also known as Western Hill) is the site of a possible promontory fort on the headland overlooking the village and former port of Portreath. Tregea was recorded in 1205 as Trege possibly meaning ″homestead of the bank or hedge″ There is currently an earthen bank of approximately 0.75 m in height and 1.5 m wide at the base which cuts off the headland. At the eastern end coastal erosion has created a zawn (small inlet) and the bank appears to continue on the other side. Alternatively the bank could be a boundary or hedge.[11]

Crane Castle

Crane Castle (grid reference SW631440) is situated on Carvannel Downs in the parish of Illogan, Castell Cliff was first recorded in 1530 and again in 1635. The antiquarian William Borlase visited the site in the mid–18th century and despite being situated on an eroding cliff the condition of the monument is similar today.[12] Much of the cliff has eroded and a double rampart and ditch survives being 85 m (278.9 ft) and 71 m (232.9 ft) in length. The ramparts average 2.3 m (7.5 ft) in height and the ditch is up to 2 m (6.6 ft) deep and 1.5 m (4.9 ft) wide.[13] Small scale excavations were made in 2012 revealing the depth of the ditches. The base of the inner ditch is 5.5 m (18.0 ft) below the (contemporary) top of the rampart, while the outside ditch was cut 1.5 m (4.9 ft) into the bedrock. Ditch fill of quartz indicates an attempt to impress from the landward side. The narrow area between the ditches and steepness of the bands suggest a ″killing zone″; an area where attackers, after over running the outer rampart, were °entrapped°. The only find was the rim of a finely made bottle from the Roman period, probably imported from Gaul.[14]

Gurnard's Head

Gurnard's Head cliff castle

Gurnard's Head (Cornish: Ynyal, meaning desolate one) (grid reference SW431388) is a multivallate hillfort in the parish of Zennor and is one of only three to be excavated in Cornwall – the others being Maen Castle and Trevelgue Head. The inner rampart is the largest being over 5 m wide at the base and up to 2 m high although it was probably much higher as there is fallen masonry nearby. On the landward side there is an earthen bank with ditches on each side. Sixteen huts on the eastern side, sheltered from the prevailing wind show up as shallow scoops. Three were excavated (one partially) with few finds. Exact dating was not possible but the finds of an iron knife and iron buckle, spindle whorls, rubbing stone and pottery sherds indicate the middle second century BC for the initial occupation. The site is owned by the National Trust and is within the Aire Point to Carrick Du Site of Special Scientific Interest. [15]

Bosigran

Bosigran Castle (grid reference SW415371) is an Ancient Monument within the parish of Zennor and owned by the National Trust. The cliff castle at Gurnard's Head is within sight to the east. The headland is cut off by a, presumed Iron Age, 120 m stone wall which is up to 1.6 m high with a blocked central entrance. There is no external ditch and no evidence of hut circles or occupation.[16]

Kenidjack

Kenidjack Castle (grid reference SW355327) is a multivallate hillfort in the parish of St Just. Two sets of triple ramparts with outer ditches have been built on the north east and south west sides. The northern ramparts are the best preserved and show the remains of stone revetting, with the inner one almost wholly built of stone. The outermost rampart of the southern set is lost by erosion and landslip. Shallow hollows and scoops within the headland may be hut circles or mining activity.[17]

Cape Cornwall

William Borlase, in the 1870s, recorded the traces of the bank and ditch of a cliff castle on Cape Cornwall (grid reference SW349319), which had become indistinct by agricultural improvements. A survey in 1960 could not find any definite signs of a promontory fort but could see a possible ridge within the field, at the narrowest point on the neck adjoining the headland. Air photos do not show any evidence of a bank or ditch covering the ridge and it is concluded that a univallate castle did not exist here.[18]

Maen Castle

Entrance to Maen Castle

Maen Castle (Cornish: Maen, Men or Mayon, stone castle) (grid reference SWV348257) is an Ancient Monument owned by the National Trust, and situated between Sennen Cove and Land's End, within the parish of Sennen. The South West Coast Path passes the entrance. The ditch and external bank cuts off a small headland and it is thought to be one of the earliest cliff castles.[19]

The West Cornwall Field Club excavated the site in 1939 and again in 1948–9. Three hundred pottery sherds from storage or eating vessels, found mainly from the one habitation site indicate a date between 800 and 400 BC. A 1986 National Trust survey found a ″kink″ in the line of the wall indicating an earlier field system was intregrated into the wall. It is conceivable that the field system could have been Early Iron Age or even Bronze Age.[20]

Carn Les Boel

Carn Les Boel (grid reference SW357232) is an Ancient Monument situated between Nanjizal and Gwennap Head in the parish of St Levan. The South West Coast Path passes nearby. There is some doubt as to whether the banks and ditch have been correctly interpreted as a cliff castle. One of the banks may date to the enclosure of Higher Bosistow Cliff in the 19th century, because apart from a gap of 5 m at Zawn Peggy, where the cliff has eroded, the bank and ditch follow the line of the cliff northwards for a further 300 m.[21][22]

St Michael's Mount

A complex of earthworks on St Michael's Mount (grid reference SW514298) are considered to be the ramparts of a cliff castle. They were discovered in 1992 on the eastern side of the Mount and separate the granite outcrop from the harbour area.[23]

Lankidden

Lankidden (grid reference SW755168) is a univallate cliff castle between Coverack and Kennack Sands on the Lizard peninsula. The rampart is 100 m long and up to 4 m high and the ditch is 0.5 m deep. In the west part of the rampart and ditch have been lost to erosion.[24]

See also

References

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  2. 2.0 2.1 "Lankidden". Cornwall's Archaeological Heritage. Retrieved 28 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dudley, Peter (2011). , Hal, Cliff and Croft: The Archaeology and Landscape History of West Cornwall's Rough Ground. Truro: Historic Environment Service. p. 185. ISBN 1903798728.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  11. "Tregea Hill". Pastscapes. English Heritage. Retrieved 1 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Borlase, William (1758). The Antiquities of Cornwall (1973 Reprint of Second ed.). London: E & W Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Crane Castle". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 31 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Gossip, James (October 2012). "Crane Castle, an Iron Age Promontory Fort" (PDF). Cornwall Archaeological Society Newsletter (130): 2–3. Retrieved 13 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Gurnard's Head". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 7 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Bosigran Castle". Pastscapes. English Heritage. Retrieved 7 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Kenidjack Castle". Pastscapes. English Heritage. Retrieved 7 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Cape Cornwall". Pastscapes. English Heritage. Retrieved 7 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Johnson, Nicholas; Rose, Peter (1990). Cornwall's Archaeological Heritage. Truro: Cornwall Archaeological Unit. ISBN 0906294215.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Maen Castle". National Monuments Record. English Heritage. Retrieved 25 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Carn Les Boel". National Monuments Record. English Heritage. Retrieved 25 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Carn Lês Boel – Promontory Fort". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 1 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Herring (2000). St Michael's Mount. Archaeological Works, 1995-98. Truro: Cornwall Archaeological Unit. ISBN 1898166498.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Lankidden. "Lankidden". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 11 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • Pastscape England's archaeological and architectural heritage.