MSO6797 - Cow Castle, south of Winstitchen (Monument)


Cow Castle Iron Age univallate hillfort is visible as significant earthworks both during field survey and on aerial photographs.

Please read the Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record .

Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

Cow Castle is labelled on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map at SS 7944 3734. [1] Cow Castle is a univallate hillfort of under 3 acres in size, sited about 200 feet (approximately 60.96 metres) above a bend of the River Barle. The bank is up to 10 feet (roughly 3.05 metres) high with an outer ditch, except where the slope makes this unnecessary. The entrance was on the southeast, and on the northeast there is a modern opening through the rampart. [2-4] Cow Castle occupies a defensive position encircling a knoll which lies in a broad, steep sided valley. The hillfort consists of a single rampart (some fragments of the retaining wall still survive) beyond which, on the north and west, is a berm. The gap in the northeast is probably modern, that in the southeast is original. Published survey (1/2500) revised. [5,22] Cow Castle, at SS 795 374 is scheduled (Listed under heading Camps and Settlements). [6] Cow Castle covers 0.9 hectares and is at a height of 235 metres Ordnance Datum. The defences consist of a mostly flat topped bank, which is apparently stone revetted both inside and out. There is a silted ditch around the circuit. Burrow recorded: "The entrance gap on the southwest is about 3 metres wide and the passage formed by the inturned ramparts is 9 metres deep, with vertical revetment stones visible on the south side". (There is no entrance gap or inturned ramparts shown on the southwest on the plan by Palmer. Perhaps Burrow refers to the entrance on the southeast). The interior has very steep slopes on the west and north, but slopes more gently on the other two sides, and there are possible hut platforms on the east side. [5, 7] Grinsell considers the original entrance to be in the northeast, but he says Rainbird Clarke thought it to be in the southeast where there is a small standing stone which could have formed part of its stonework. Allcroft mentions that the site is called Cow or Cae Castle. [8-9] (SS 79443734) Cow Castle (NAT) Settlement (NR) [10] Additional Bibliography. [11] Cow Castle, at SS 794 373, is listed in the gazetteer as a univallate hillfort covering 1.1 hectares. [12] Cow Castle, a univallate hilltop enclosure presumably of Iron Age date, is centred at SS 7945 3735. It occupies a steep sided isolated knoll within the valley of the River Barle at its confluence with White Water, and therefore dominates the Barle valley. The enclosure has an internal area of 1.2 hectares, most of which is on sloping ground. It is defined by a rampart up to 2 metres in height with an external berm 4.5 metres wide. On the southern side of the enclosure a stone revetment is visible on the external face of the rampart, and where it is best preserved, it survives as a coursed stone wall 0.8 metres high. A quarry ditch 5 to 7 metres wide follows the inner side of the rampart for most of its circuit. The enclosure has a single entrance, 8 metres wide, on the eastern side. The ramparts are noticeably higher on either side of the entrance, and the terminals have been heightened further. The northern one appears to be T-shaped or to turn both outwards and inwards. The same effect is noticeable though less pronounced on the southern terminal. An upright stone is visible on the external corner of the southern terminal, it is 0.65 metres high, 0.6 metres long and 0.2 metres thick. It has been previously reported that there are at least four house platforms within the enclosure on the northern side. These were not visible due to dense bracken. However, a slight platform was noticed at the northwestern end of the enclosure, and there are several natural terraces on this side which would have been convenient locations for settlement. The quarry ditch may also have been used for buildings. [13] A large scale survey was undertaken by the Exeter Office of the RCHME for the Exmoor National Park Authority and as part of the RCHME Exmoor Project in May 1997. The site was surveyed using GPS at a scale of 1:1000. The sites of probable prehistoric habitation were recorded, and an earthwork survey, contour plan and digital terrain model were produced. The defences form an oval enclosure 0.6 hectares in area. They comprise a single rampart and external ditch which is best defined as it approaches the two entrances. The rampart is 1.6 to 1.8 metres high externally and 1.5 to 2 metres thick. The outer face is revetted in stone. Of the four gaps in the rampart, the northeast and southeast are considered to be original. Both comprise a simple passage through the rampart which is enlarged at either side. The interior is steep, but there are several locations behind the rampart and on terraces where habitation might be expected. To the north of the hillfort a well defined scarp may represent access to a quarry to the northeast. This may be associated with mineral prospection. [14-20] Three possible entrances and a building inside can be seen on aerial photographs. [23] The univallate hillfort of Cow Castle is clearly visible on aerial photographs examined as part of the Exmoor National Park National Mapping Project in 2008. The platforms described by Wilson-North and Chapman, however, are not discernible. [13, 28-29] The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment of 2009 gave the site a survival score of 9. [30] The original entrance to the monument is to the southeast, the current entrance in the northeast is post-medieval, possibly connected to the nearby quarry pits. The location of the site did not require the creation of a continuous ditch, as the area benefits from natural defences. The site location may have been strategic, with iron and copper ore nearby, and access to the river. The monument may have been used after the Iron Age for meetings or sporadic defence as required. [31] The site was surveyed in March 2015 as part of the 2015 Exmoor Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment. It was given a survival score of 8. [32] Cow Castle. SS 79 37. Iron Age hill fort from Celtic caer, fort. [33] The site was known as Cae or Cow Castle in 1883. It was noted to be similarly constructed to Mounsey Castle and thought to have been of "Belgic-British occupation". [34] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [35] The site is depicted and labelled "Cow Castle Settlement" on the 2021 MasterMap data. [36] Geophysical survey within the hillfort was undertaken in April and July 2021. The results of magnetometer and resistance surveys indicate a high chance of potential past settlement activity from all part of the monument, however the activity generally seems to focus in the cental and southeastern parts of the site. Several areas were interpreted as potential building platforms and ditches, and an area of disturbed ground that may suggest heating events and human activity. The eastern and northeastern entrances were located, and potential hut circles were also visible. [37] An impact appraisal of the site of a proposal communications mast at SS7835739545 concluded that no evidence of significant archaeological remains was encountered on the site, and the erection of the proposed telecommunications mast would have minimal or no impact on non-designated and designated heritage assets in the local area. [38] The site is included in a 2023 Condition Survey [39]

Sources/Archives (39)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. County Series; 2nd Edition (1st Revision) 25 Inch Map. 1:2500. 1904.
  • <2> Monograph: Page, J.L.W.. 1890. An Exploration of Exmoor and the Hill Country of West Somerset: With Notes on its Archaeology. 95-96.
  • <3> Monograph: Page, W. (editor). 1911. The Victoria History of the County of Somerset. Archibald Constable and Company, Limited (London). 2. 495, plan.
  • <4> Monograph: Ordnance Survey. 1962. Ordnance Survey Map of Southern Britain in the Iron Age. Ordnance Survey. 45.
  • <5> Unpublished document: PALMER, JP. Mid 1960s. Field Investigators Comments. Ordnance Survey visit, 1 September 1965.
  • <6> Index: English Heritage. 1913-. Schedule of Monuments. Department of the Environment. Ancient Monuments of England 2. 1978, 120.
  • <7> Article in serial: Burrow, I.. 1981. Hillfort and Hilltop Settlement in the First to Eighth Centuries AD. British Archaeological Reports. 91. 243, Site visit 30 March 1973.
  • <8> Monograph: Allcroft, A.H.. 1908. Earthwork of England: Prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, Danish, Norman, and Mediaeval. Macmillan (London). 174.
  • <9> Monograph: Grinsell, L.V.. 1970. The Archaeology of Exmoor: Bideford Bay to Bridgwater. David and Charles Limited. 76, 85, 86, 89.
  • <10> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1980. 1:10000 Map, 1980. 1:10000.
  • <11> Monograph: Tugwell, G.. 1863. The North Devon Scenery Book. 51-2.
  • <12> Article in monograph: Hogg, A.H.A.. 1979. British Hillforts: An Index. Occasional Papers of the Hill-Fort Study Group; No.1. British Archaeological Reports. 194.
  • <13> Unpublished document: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Field Investigators Comment. Wilson-North, R., and Chapman, H., 11 October 1994.
  • <14> Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. Quinnell, N.V..
  • <15> Technical drawing: Wilson-North, R. & Riley, H.. 1997. Cow Castle/ink survey . 1:1000. Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
  • <16> Technical drawing: Riley, H. and Wilson-North, R.. 1997. Cow Castle/pencil survey . 1:1000. Permatrace. Pencil.
  • <17> Technical drawing: Wilson-North, R. and Riley, H.. 1997. Cow Castle/contour survey . 1:1000. General: Paper - Tracing. Pen and Ink.
  • <18> Overlay: Riley, H. and Wilson-North, R.. 1997. Cow Castle/overlay . 1:1000. General: Paper - Tracing. Pen and Ink.
  • <19> Report: Riley, H.. 1997. Cow Castle, Exmoor, Somerset.
  • <20> Collection: RCHME Exeter. 1993-1999. Exmoor Project.
  • <21> Photograph: 1963. Cow Castle, Hillfort at Exmoor. OS63/F375/1. B/W.
  • <22> Photograph: 1965. Cow Castle - Univallate Hillfort at Exmoor from the Northeast. OS65/F183/7. B/W. MICROFILM.
  • <23> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. LHL CPE/UK/1980 4453 (April 1947).
  • <24> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Oblique Aerial Photograph. HSL/UK 71-178 run 79 9278 (September 1971).
  • <25> Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1958. The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset. Penguin Books.
  • <26> Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP LF1, 2, 4 (10 January 1989) DAP TY4, 5, DAP UA1,2 (1991).
  • <27> Aerial photograph: Cambridge University Collection. ARJ 39 (18 May 1967).
  • <28> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/96507 004-005 (30 March 1996).
  • <29> Archive: 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 73 NE. MD002190.
  • <30> Report: Bray, L.S.. 2010. Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment 2009, Exmoor National Park. Exmoor National Park Authority.
  • <31> Leaflet: 2013. Simonsbath, Exmoor: Exmoor moorland archaeology walks series. Exmoor National Park Authority.
  • <32> Report: Gent, T. and Manning, P.. 2015. Exmoor National Park Scheduled Monument Condition Survey 2015. Archaedia.
  • <33> Monograph: Allen, N.V.. 1987. Exmoor Place-Names. Alcombe Books. Second Edition. 13.
  • <34> Article in serial: Unknown. 1883. Thursday's Excursion. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Nat. 29. Part 1, 58-80. pp 60-1.
  • <35> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 34989, Extant 16 November 2021.
  • <36>XY Map: Ordnance Survey. 2021. MasterMap data. 1:2,500. [Mapped feature: #40752 ]
  • <37> Report: Edwards, M.. 2021. An archaeologial magnetometer and resistance survey: Cow Castle, Exmoor National Park. Substrata.
  • <38> Report: Balmond, F. and Morris, B.. 2023. Land east of Whiterock Cottage: Simonsbath: Exmoor National Park: results of a heritage impact appraisal. South West Archaeology Ltd..

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO44
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO10867
  • Local Heritage List Status (Rejected)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 73 NE3
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 34989
  • Scheduled Monument (County Number): 341
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 33005



Grid reference Centred SS 2794 1374 (178m by 131m) Estimated from sources
Map sheet SS21SE

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Record last edited

Feb 15 2024 2:08PM


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