MDE1236 - Countisbury Castle or Wind Hill Promontory Fort (Monument)


An Iron Age univallate promontory fort on a west facing spur between the sea cliff to the north and the East Lyn Valley to the south.

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Type and Period (3)

Protected Status

Full Description

Countisbury Castle, Wind Hill. The site was visited on 4th September 1841. The rampart on the east is c.50 feet high, and the ditch is c.12 feet wide, and 100 feet long. There is a possible bank on the west. There is a beacon site inside the camp. An old road cuts the east corner, and the new road cuts the north side. [1] Countisbury or Shoulsbury Camp is southwest of the village. It is a univallate, Iron Age promontory fort. [2] There is a ditch and rampart on the east. The ditch is 4-5 feet deep,and the rampart is 29 feet above the bottom of the ditch. Class C earthwork - Simple defensive enclosure. [3,4] An earthwork is marked on the 1962 Ordnance Survey map at SS 7386 4953 to SS 7410 4922). [5] Alexander considers this the most likely site for the location of 'Cynuit', the scene of the battle with the Danes in 878. Other possible candidates are considered. [6,7] This is a fine example of an Iron Age promontory fort. The upland between the East Lyn River and the sea is constricted by a lateral valley at Countisbury. The single rampart and ditch is aligned across the forward slope west of the head of the valley with its ends resting on the steep scarps to south & north. There is a simple entrance in the centre. NB: The earthwork does not cross the main Lynmouth Road, though this is marked on the 1962 Ordnance Survey map. [10] Shown on Donn's map of 1765. [11] Grinsell discusses the possibility that the site may be a Danish fortification, but prefers a prehistoric date. [13] The earthwork crosses a neck of land extending from the sea cliff on the north to the precipitous slopes of the East Lyn Valley on the south, and isolating a hilltop of 800 metres by 300 metres. It is defensive and comprises an east facing bank and ditch with a broad low counterscarp bank. The southern half crosses relatively level ground where a natural bluff must have been utilized to produce an outer slope to the rampart 8 metres in height, while the inner slope and outer ditch are comparatively weak. There are two breaks in the feature, an original simple entrance at SS 74054935 and a modern break where the main road has been terraced through the earthwork. A promontory settlement. Its local name seems to be Countisbury Camp and this is preferable to the suggested alternative of Shoulsbury to avoid confusion with the 'Shoulsbury Camp' eight miles distant at SS 7039. Ordnance Survey 1:2500 survey revised. [14,15] The earthwork was surveyed in 1994 as an addition to the existing Ordnance Survey documents. [17-19,44] SS 73894948 to SS 74064935. The artificial defences of this Iron Age promontory fort are known as Countisbury Castle, but more commonly referred to as Wind Hill. The rampart has a ditch to the east and counterscarp bank beyond. The remains of a defensive outwork survive forward of the entrance. This is visible as a scarp which extends in a curve in front of the main defences. It is thought that this site may be the fortified hill where the Viking Ubba was defeated by the Anglo-Saxons in 878. [21] Earthwork defences of Countisbury Castle Promontory Fort (aka Wind Hill). Together the combination of artificial and natural defences of Countisbury Castle enclosed a large irregular area of approximately 35 hectares. The earthworks extend for about 400 metres from the coastal sea slopes at the northwest to a steep-sided cliff at the southeast, which overlooks the East Lyn River. The rampart stands to a height of 13 metres in places above the ditch bottom, notably at its south section, and is no lower than 2.3 metres elsewhere; it varies in width, but has a maximum dimension, front to tail, of 17 metres. On its outer, east side the rampart is fronted by a flat-bottomed ditch which is about 5 metres wide over most of its length and is 1.5 metres 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 0.7 metres and 1.7 metres in height and which is on average 4.5 metres wide. It has a vertical rear face which has been faced with 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 A39 road, and in the other instance to provide a simple 3 metre 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 as a scarp up to 2 metres high and 9 metres wide. It extends in a curve fronting the entrance at a maximum distance of 30 metres forward of the main defences, and it survives as a visible earthwork over a length of about 95 metres from a point against the counterscarp bank 30 metres north of the entrance. The outwork is considered likely to have rejoined the counterscarp bank at a point south somewhere around 70 metres south, but this section appears to have suffered from the depredations of agriculture 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 and was himself killed according to the chronicler Asser [23]. If so, the defences are described as being "in our fashion" which suggests that they were already a feature rather than newly built. In modern literature, Countisbury Castle is often referred to as Wind Hill which is the highest hill within the enclosed area. [22] A 3.5 metre high rampart cuts off the end of a spur enclosing an area of 50 hectares. No evidence of settlement has been found. [29] Iron Age promontory fort of Wind Hill owned by the National Trust. A large bank and ditch cover the narrow eastern approach, enclosing 35 hectares of the promontory between Countisbury and Lynton. The steep hillsides and precipitous cliffs provide the defence to the north, south and west. [30] The substantial earthworks of an Iron Age promontory fort known as Countisbury Castle have been transcribed from aerial photographs as part of the Exmoor National Park National Mapping Programme Survey. The earthworks, which are probably at least partly defensive in function, comprise an east-facing bank and ditch which crosses a saddle of land between sea cliffs to the north and the slopes of the East Lyn Valley to the south. The southern end of the western rampart is abutted by a lynchet of probable medieval date, at circa SS 74084926, that extends south-westwards for almost 100 metres. The eastern rampart is largely obscured from the survey by extant hedgerows and vegetation, and has only partially been transcribed. The earthworks are broken by the modern route of the A39 at circa SS 73974944 and an original entrance at circa SS 74054936, to the east of which extends an outworks, visible on aerial photographs largely as an irregularly shaped shallow ditch. The northwestern end of the outworks may have been modified by later, possibly medieval, prospection pits. [37-40] The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment of 2009 gave the site a survival score of 9. [41] The site was surveyed in May 2015 as part of the 2015 Exmoor Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment. It was given a survival score of 9. [42] Resistivity survey in 2012 on the eastern side of the earthwork noted an anomaly that was thought to represent part of the counterscarp bank fronting the ditch of the main earthwork. [43] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [44]

Sources/Archives (45)

  • <1> Unpublished document: Woollcombe. 1840-1849. Unknown : Manuscript. Includes a plan..
  • <2> Unpublished document: 02/08/1962. Letter from Lady Aileen Fox.
  • <3> Monograph: Page, W. (editor). 1906. The Victoria History of the County of Devon. Archibald Constable and Company, Limited (London). 1. P.605 (Ancient Earthworks, JC Wall).
  • <4> Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1952. The Buildings of England: North Devon. Penguin Books. P.79.
  • <5> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1962. 6 Inch Map: 1962. 1:10560.
  • <6> Article in serial: Alexander, J.J.. 1933. The Beginnings of Ilfracombe. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 65. P.211.
  • <7> Article in serial: Alexander, J.J.. 1930-1931. Arx Cynuit. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 16. P.310-313, 351-352.
  • <8> Article in serial: Chanter, J.F.. 1906. The Parishes of Lynton and Countisbury. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 38. 114-224. P.118-9, Plate.
  • <9> Monograph: Allcroft, A.H.. 1908. Earthwork of England: Prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, Danish, Norman, and Mediaeval. Macmillan (London). P.57-8.
  • <10> Index: English Heritage. 1913-. Schedule of Monuments. 1963.
  • <11> Monograph: Donn, B.. 1965. A Map of the County of Devon 1765 (Reprint). Devon and Cornwall Record Society.
  • <12> Photograph: Fox, A.. Photograph of Countisbury Hillfort.
  • <13> Monograph: Grinsell, L.V.. 1970. The Archaeology of Exmoor: Bideford Bay to Bridgewater. David and Charles Limited. P.79,80,83,113,114,146,203.
  • <14> Index: Ordnance Survey. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Record Card. SS74NW 3. 1973.
  • <15> Unpublished document: Quinnell, N.V.. Field Investigators Comments. Ordnance Survey visit, F1, 9 November 1973.
  • <16> Collection: RCHME Exeter. 1993-1999. Exmoor Project.
  • <17> Technical drawing: Sainsbury, I.. 1994. Countisbury Castle/ink survey. 1:2500. Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
  • <18> Report: Sainsbury, I.. 1994. Countisbury Castle . RCHME. General: Paper. Typescript.
  • <19> Unpublished document: Sainsbury, I.S.S. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 19 April 1994.
  • <20> Report: McDonnell, R.. 1980. Exmoor Aerial Photograph Survey : Committee for Rescue Archaeology in Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset Aerial Photograph Survey. Gaz No SS7332A, SS7432A.. Gazetteer Numbers SS7449A,SS7349A.
  • <21> Unpublished document: Various. Scheduled Monument Notification . EH Scheduling Amendment, 16 October 2002.
  • <22> Report: Salvatore, J.P.. 2002. English Heritage Monument Protection Programme. 144553.
  • <23> Article in serial: Grant, N.. 1995. The Occupation of Hillforts in Devon during the Late Roman and Post Roman Periods. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 53. P.106.
  • <24> Monograph: Cherry, B. + Pevsner, N.. 1999. The Buildings of England: Devon. Penguin Books. 2nd Edition. P.31, 556.
  • <25> Report: Thackray, D. + Thackray, C.. 1986. Lynmouth: Foreland Point, Countisbury Hill & Watersmeet, Devon. P.8.
  • <26> Monograph: Fox, A.. 1996. Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon. Devon Books. P.55.
  • <27> Monograph: Riley, H. and Wilson-North, R.. 2001. The Field Archaeology of Exmoor. English Heritage. P.58-9.
  • <28> Monograph: Walls, T.. 2000. Earthwork Enclosures in North East Devon and their Late Prehistoric Landscape.
  • <29> Article in serial: Dix, B.. 2000. North Devon and Exmoor: Report and Proceedings of the Royal Archaeological Institute. Archaeological Journal. 157. P.407-466.
  • <30> Report: Berry, N.. 2004. Archaeological and Historic Landscape Survey of Kipscombe Farm, Countisbury, Devon. P.3. National Trust SMR 100256.
  • <31> Photograph: Griffith, F.M.. 1983. Slides.
  • <32> Aerial photograph: Cambridge University Collection. CUC/BHH 71-75 (1971) (BHH 75 in Devon HER).
  • <33> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. CPE/UK 1980.4048 (1947).
  • <34> Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP/LD 6-8 (1989); DAP/LF 8-9 (1989); DAP/QM 1-2, (1990); DAP/UB 5-6 (1991).
  • <35> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR, 1979, SS7349: SF 1459/427-430. Unknown date SS7449.
  • <36> Aerial photograph: Meridian Air Maps. 1977-1978. Infrared False Colour Aerial Photography. 2579.
  • <37> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. RAF 540/902 (F20) 4026-7 (10 October 1952).
  • <38> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/72065 029 (15 April 1972).
  • <39> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/95026 054 (12 March 1995).
  • <40> Archive: 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 74 NW. MD002173.
  • <41> Report: Bray, L.S.. 2010. Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment 2009, Exmoor National Park.
  • <42> Report: Gent, T. and Manning, P.. 2015. Exmoor National Park Scheduled Monument Condition Survey 2015. Archaedia.
  • <43> Report: Dean, R.. 2012. An archaeological gradiometer and earth resistance survey: Land at Countisbury Castle, Wind Hill, Lynmouth, Devon. 15.
  • <44> Map: Sainsbury, I.. 1994. Ordnance Survey plan SS 7449: showing archaeological site SS 74 NW 3 (Countisbury Castle).
  • <44> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 35152, Extant 10 December 2021.

External Links (2)

Other Statuses/References

  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 684
  • Devon SMR: SS74NW/7
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE20049
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO72
  • Local List Status (No)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 74 NW3
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • National Trust HER Record: MNA108011
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 35152
  • Shoreline Management Plan 2 (0-20)
  • Shoreline Management Plan 2 (20-50)
  • Shoreline Management Plan 2 (50-100)



Grid reference Centred SS 7398 4938 (259m by 316m) Estimated from sources
Map sheet SS74NW

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (4)

Related Events/Activities (6)

Related Articles (2)

Record last edited

Dec 10 2021 11:34AM


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