Hillfort, Grabbist Hill, Dunster

Record ID:  119730 / MNA141397
Record type:  Monument
Protected Status: Scheduled Monument
NT Property:  Dunster Castle; South West
Civil Parish:  Dunster; West Somerset; Somerset
Grid Reference:  SS 9839 4365
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An Iron Age hillfort consisting of a bank and ditch defending the north and west sides of Grabbist Hill, west entrance and possible gateway

Identification Images (0)

Monument Types

  • HILLFORT (Late Bronze Age to Late Iron Age - 1000 BC? to 42 AD (between))


This univallate hillfort makes clever use of both steep slopes and earthworks. It is considered to be of Iron Age date but has never been the subject of an archaeological excavation. The hillfort lies on the NE edge of Exmoor. The hillfort is ovate in plan and aligned from NW-SE following the controur of the steep narrow ridge which forms the eastern end of Grabbist Hill. It is strategically placed to take advantage of the natural defences offered by the precipitous contours of the ridge and is in a commanding position overlooking the Avill Valley to the S and W. Gallox Hill to the S and the Minehead coast to the N and E.

The hillfort is believed to be unfinished and is defined on the N side by a single earthwork bank which ranges from between 1.3 to 1.9m in height at the W end and gradually diminishing to 0.5m in height towards the E end. It has been suggested that this low bank represents a marker line laid out for the unfinished defences. The W end of the hillfort where the defences are strongest is formed by a ditch which has a counterscarp bank. The base of the ditch is between 2.2m and 3m deep below the top of the bank and the defensive earthworks have an overall width of 10m. The south side of the hillfort is defined by the steep scarp of the hill which provides a natural defence and which is particularly precipitous above the base of the hollowed area, formed by a a geological landslip known as the Giant's Chair'. No artificial earthworks are visible in this sector. A gap in the earthworks at the W end of the hillfort is believed to be an original entrance, ( a common form of hillfort entrance). Scrub and tree clearance across the hillfort in winter 2004-05 has revealed hollows in the rampart either side of the entrance. That on S is particularly clear and its form roughly rectilinear 4m by 3m suggests that there were guard houses here (like those excavated at South Cadbury for example). The gateway would originally have had a corresponding causeway. The profile of the earthworks at the W end has been partially obscured by the addition of a later field boundary which extends around much of the inner edge of the hillfort and which has also disturbed an inner rampart which may represent part of the original defensive circuit . This field boundary may be associated with an area of medieval or post-medieval cultivation represented by traces of narrow ridge and furrow located within the interior of the hillfort on the E and SE side. A 30m length of bank aligned from N-S and about 5m wide is visible in the centre of the hillfort and probably forms part of this later cultivation activity.

The clearance of the hillfort of most of its tree and scrub growth was carried out for nature conservation reasons and without archaeological advice the contractors used machinery and burnt timber within the hillfort however no significant damage was visible when the site was visited in May 2005. The clearance enabled the views our from the hillfort to be appreciated as well as the scale and earthwork detail of the monument. In addition to the possible guard house earthworks were a number of 2m square cuts into N rampart 50m-100m E of the entrance. These were clearly old excavations and possibly WWII fox holes although there is no known documentary evidence to support this.

Below Information from Exmoor NP MSO9408:
[SS 9835 4371] Earthwork [NR] (1) No further information. (2) Although situated at the end of a steep sided, narrow ridge, this feature is not a defensive earthwork and it does not appear to be prehistoric. In spite of a slight bank and shallow outer ditch at its western end it looks like a lynchet. Traces of narrow rig and furrow on the ridge above it suggest that it may be the lyncheted boundary to an area of cultivation, and may be of late Medieval origin. (3) The site appears to be an unfinished defensive enclosure. On the North and West sides are a double bank and ditch, the bank being 3.0m above the ditch base, at its highest. These peter out to the east, but a small bank, 0.5m high remains completing the circuit on the North side. The Southern side of the hill is almost precipitous and there are no defensive works there. The area enclosed is ovate, c.200m x 100m. Possible earthworks seen on APs to the North have been ploughed out. (4)The enclosure on Grabbist Hill is centred at SS 9830 4367. It lies on the southeastern edge of the hill at 170m OD, commanding views over Dunster to the enclosures on Gallox Hill. The site was surveyed at a scale of 1:1000 using GPS and EDM as part of the RCHME Exmoor Project. The enclosure is ovoid in plan and measures 500x60m. No defences are present on the southern edge, where the land falls away steeply to the base of the "Giant's Chair", a natural feature formed by land slippage. The earthworks are strongest at the northeastern corner, where a ditch and counterscarp bank run for some 70m. A possible inner rampart has been disturbed by a later field boundary which runs around the inner edge of most of the enclosure. The ditch here is 2.2m deep and the overall width of the defences is 10m. The break where the modern track enters the enclosure may be an original entrance. Most of the northern edge of the enclosure is defined by a single scarp 1.3-1.9m high. A quarry scarp is also discernible behind this scarp. The field bank mentioned above links the northern edge with a scarp which cuts off the eastern edge of the spur. Narrow ridging covers the southeastern part of the interior and a length of field bank runs north-south for 30m to the west of this. The site lies in fairly open deciduous woodland. The nature and scale of the earthworks, combined with their location both topographically and in their proximity to the enclosures on Gallox Hill, suggest that the site is an Iron Age defended enclosure. Cultivation has taken place on the site; this probably occurred in the medieval or post medieval period, although no map evidence for this was found (5).

Sources and Further Reading
[1] SMO5112 - Map: Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date) . OS 6" 1962
[2] SMO5307 - Ordnance Survey Map Reference: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Object Name Book reference . Rev ONB 1902 29
[3] SMO5103 - Unpublished document: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Field Investigators Comments. F1 GHP 16-JUN-65
[5] SMO4109 - Serial: Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. (Dennison E) Vol No. - 130, 1986 Page Nos. - 45-6
[6] SMO5111 - Unpublished document: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Field Investigators Comment. Riley H 1998 RCHME Field Investigation


None Recorded


Other Statuses and References

  • HER/SMR Reference (External): MSO9408
  • National Park
  • Pastscape Reference: 36851

Associated Events

  • ENA3172 - Non Archaeological Intervention, Scrub and tree clearance winter 2004

Associated Finds

None Recorded

Related Records

None Recorded