Cow Castle

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Cow Castle
Cow Castle Iron Age fort,Simonsbath,Somerset. - - 266665.jpg
Cow Castle
LocationExford, Somerset, England
Coordinates51°07′22″N 3°43′38″W / 51.12278°N 3.72722°W / 51.12278; -3.72722Coordinates: 51°07′22″N 3°43′38″W / 51.12278°N 3.72722°W / 51.12278; -3.72722
Area1.2 hectares (3.0 acres)
BuiltIron Age
Reference no.34989[1]
Cow Castle is located in Somerset
Cow Castle
Location of Cow Castle in Somerset

Cow Castle is an Iron Age hill fort 5.75 kilometres (4 mi) West South West of Exford, Somerset, England within the Exmoor National Park. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[1] It has been added to the heritage at Risk register because of the risk from bracken.[2]

It occupies an isolated hilltop and has a single rampart and ditch, enclosing 0.9 hectares. It is in the valley of the River Barle. It is 1.2 ha in area and surrounded by a rampart, up to 2m high.[3]

Legend says that the hillfort was built by fairies to protect themselves against the earth.


Hill forts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC.[4] The reason for their emergence in Britain, and their purpose, has been a subject of debate. It has been argued that they could have been military sites constructed in response to invasion from continental Europe, sites built by invaders, or a military reaction to social tensions caused by an increasing population and consequent pressure on agriculture. The dominant view since the 1960s has been that the increasing use of iron led to social changes in Britain. Deposits of iron ore were located in different places to the tin and copper ore necessary to make bronze, and as a result trading patterns shifted and the old elites lost their economic and social status. Power passed into the hands of a new group of people.[5] Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe believes that population increase still played a role and has stated "[the forts] provided defensive possibilities for the community at those times when the stress [of an increasing population] burst out into open warfare. But I wouldn't see them as having been built because there was a state of war. They would be functional as defensive strongholds when there were tensions and undoubtedly some of them were attacked and destroyed, but this was not the only, or even the most significant, factor in their construction".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cow Castlde". National Monuments Record. English Heritage. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  2. ^ "Cow Castle, Exmoor, West Somerset - Exmoor (NP)". Heritage at Risk. English Heritage. Archived from the original on 22 October 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  3. ^ "Cow Castle". Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record. English Heritage. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  4. ^ Payne, Andrew; Corney, Mark; Cunliffe, Barry (2007), The Wessex Hillforts Project: Extensive Survey of Hillfort Interiors in Central Southern England, English Heritage, p. 1, ISBN 978-1-873592-85-4
  5. ^ Sharples, Niall M (1991), English Heritage Book of Maiden Castle, London: B. T. Batsford, pp. 71–72, ISBN 0-7134-6083-0
  6. ^ Time Team: Swords, skulls and strongholds, Channel 4, 2008-05-19, retrieved 16 September 2009

Further reading[edit]

  • Adkins L and R, 1992. A Field Guide to Somerset Archaeology.
  • Burrow E J, 1924. Ancients Earthworks and Camps of Somerset.
  • Burrow I, 1981. Hillforts and Hilltop Settlements of Somerset.
  • Grinsell L V, 1970. The Archaeology of Exmoor.
  • Grinsell L V, 1976. Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain.