Countisbury Camp, Countisbury Castle or Wind Hill, Watersmeet

Record ID:  100256 / MNA108011
Record type:  Monument
Protected Status: Scheduled Monument
NT Property:  Watersmeet; South West
Civil Parish:  Lynton and Lynmouth; North Devon; Devon
Grid Reference:  SS 736 493
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Summary

Several Iron Age sites are found on the Lynmouth property (1st millenia B.C.) the most spectacular being the massive linear earthwork on Wind Hill, known as Countisbury Camp. It consists of a bank with ditch on the east which cuts off the end of a hill spur, thus forming a 'promontory fort'. The earthwork has a simple entrance at its centre, and it crosses the main Lynmouth road. The rampart width is nearly 11 metres with a height of 3.5 metres. The ditch is 1.00 to 1.5 metres deep and the rampart reaches 9 metres above the bottom of the ditch.

Identification Images (0)

Monument Types

  • EARTHWORK (Prehistoric - 500000 BC to 42 AD)

Description

Several Iron Age sites are found on the Lynmouth property (ist millenia B.C.) the most spectacular being the massive linear earthwork on Wind Hill, known as Countisbury Camp. It consists of a bank with ditch on the east which cuts off the end of a hill spur, thus forming a 'promontory fort'. The earthwork has a simple entrance at its centre, and it crosses the main Lynmouth road. The rampart width is nearly 11 metres with a height of 3.5 metres. The ditch is 1.00 to 1.5 metres deep and the rampart reaches 9 metres above the bottom of the ditch.
Countisbury Camp, Wind Hill is one of several places on the north Exmoor Coast which has a claim to be the site of the Battle of Cynwit fought between the Saxons and the invading Danish Vikings in 877-8.

The Anglo-Saxon chronicle records for 878 that a brother of Ivar and Halfdan was Wessex in Devon with twenty -three ships and there he was slain and eight hundred men with him and forty men of his retinue' Asser's Life of King Alfred also describes this campaign.

A later, twelfth century writerGeoffrey Gaimerclaims that this was Hubba who landed from South Wales somewhere along the coast of Exmoor where he was engaged by the Saxons at a fort called Cynwit.

If this attribution is correct the Vikings may have landed at LynMouth and used the massive defensive earthworks on Wind Hill to defend their beach head.

This 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 Contisbury 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 deeep 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 Contisbury Castle or Campderives from the Domesday 'Contesberie' and is 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.
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 oresence 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. - Scheduling document AA 70775/1 August 2002

References

  • SZR49001 - Monograph: W Page. 1906. Victoria History of the County of Devon. 1.

  • SZR49094 - National Trust Report: Caroline Thackray. 1986. NT Archaeological Survey, Lynmouth, Devon.

  • SZR49095 - Monograph: JF Chanter. 1907. Parishes of Lynton and Countisbury.

  • SZR49096 - Monograph: N Pevsner. 1952. Buildings of England, North Devon.

Designations

Other Statuses and References

  • HER/SMR Reference (External): SS74NW/007
  • National Park
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest

Associated Events

  • ENA504 - Field Survey, Nt Archaeological Survey, Lynmouth, Devon

Associated Finds

None Recorded

Related Records

None Recorded