Fun, unusual and
Big Facts and lists on HILLFORTS
So most of the dozens of in this website writer's view, "fun facts" on this page, are a few lines long and much shorter than this lead block of paragraphs, but to start this, here is the answer to the biggest "fun fact" on hillforts. That question is, which is the biggest hillfort in Britain and Ireland. So this answer is complicated, but read this and you see my answer to that query.
I mean probably the most populous Iron Age British hillfort was Maiden Castle, Dorset. The interior reaches to 19 hectares, and the expert judgement is it's population could be estimated at just over a thousand people or so. Sometimes it is claimed to be the largest in size, though there are big competitors for that title.
It depends how you measure the hillforts, do you measure just inside the ramparts, or the whole area of the ramparts as well, or slopes or other variables. For some reason, the usually stated size for Maiden Castle just includes it's interior, which I feel is strange as that wide band of ramparts is what makes it so appealing as a archetype of classically defined hillforts, more on that later. Then, what do you define as a hillfort. The biggest enclosure of the Iron age in England and also Britain as a whole, is Bindon Hill Hillfort, Dorset, at 110 hectares, but it has just 1 ring, and little evidence of occupation, so may have been a planned oppidum that was never occupied, or even have been just a holding site for cattle exports, who knows?, many say it was just a site for grazing animals. So it is not really classed as a classically defined hillfort, unlike Maiden Castle and the like, that were likely grandiose fortified hilltop villages. I mean seeing all this, it is certainly fair to say judging by modern depictions of what it likely looked like, and by how it is looks now, that Maiden Castle is the grandest hillfort in Britain, the jewel in the Crown of the British Iron Age.
As I say elsewhere, the largest hillfort kind of depends on how you measure and such. I am not going to measure them myself, and just rely on stats I find elsewhere, but deciders could be. (a) Which seems to have had the most inhabitants (b) What is the largest within the ramparts (C) What is the largest including the ramparts, Then do you discount forts of only 1 ring, or not on a hill, but on a coast, or sites that have little evidence of occupation, and did whoever measured one site, measure including the same parameters as a other site's equivalent investigators. Or do you count forts just from the Iron Age, or do you count post 410 AD kind of Post Roman hillforts as well.
Anyway I have seen basic stats, Maiden Castle, is often put at 19, or 21, within the ramparts, but Penycloddiau in North Wales for instance is often stated to be 21 or 26 hectares in size, but to me comparing via Google Earth, Maiden Castle looks bigger as Penycloddiau's ramparts do not extend far. Then do you count the whole slope, I mean maybe Penycloddiau did not need so much ramparts, on it's steeper, longer great slopes, while Maiden Castle did, and the slopes were mostly within the defences. I feel you should in the main just count the ramparts, ditches and natural contour lines like cliffs, of the forts.
I also see stats of 32 hectares for Walbury Camp, Berkshire, 22 hectares for Hod Hill, Dorset and 23 hectares for Salmsonsbury Camp, Gloucestershire. Then 24 hectares for Cissbury Ring, Sussex, and 35 hectares for Countisbury Castle / Wind Hill Promontory Fort, Devon. Also Titterstone Clee Camp Hillfort, Shropshire, has just 1 wall that encloses 28 hectares. Then on further investigation you see a stat of 50 hectares for Oldbury Camp in Kent. The thing is, that Maiden Castle also gets put as 50 hectares or so in size if you include the ramparts and ditches, but again that could depend on how much of the ramparts and slopes you count in it's stats. As I say on my Maiden Castle page, I also saw a more categorical stat of near 40 hectares, so I shall go with that. So with that, you could even wonder if all these forts have argument to be regarded as the biggest hillfort.
Added to which, as I say elsewhere, the Pictish site of Tap o' Noth in North East Scotland, which as a whole, approaches Maiden Castle's bare interior area, in hectare size, has had estimates that put it as having more inhabitants at it's prime than Maiden Castle did in it's, so maybe it could be classed as largest, but that was in the late 1st Millennium AD, and I was more referring to Iron Age forts, and hectare area anyway.
Then though you see that Borough Hill in Northamptonshire may hit 52 hectares.
There is also a hillfort, very rarely mentioned, Llanymynech Hillfort, that sat on a hill overlooking this Mid Wales, North East Powys, village, that even crossed over into Shropshire over the border. It was 57 hectares in size, but it has been partially destroyed by quarrying, and then later landscaped by a beautiful looking golf course.
Then almost finally I read that Ham Hill otherwise known as Hamden Hill Camp in Somerset hits 82 hectares. I have seen a official National Museum of Wales page state that hillforts in Britain range from just under 1 to around 80 hectares, so Ham Hill Hillfort must be the site they are referring to in that remark, and is the winner after all. So the winner is Ham Hill in terms of hillforts in Britain. So Ham Hill is the largest hillfort in Britain and Ireland on that basis, and as the term is more a British and Irish term, the largest hillfort in the world. Though I have to admit there are larger oppida in Europe, that are pretty much just mega sized hillforts. Anyhow though, Ham Hill is the largest hillfort in Britain.
Though Ireland does have a couple of sites that can claim that title too. I will mention more of this below, the Batinglass Hillfort cluster. On here the Wicklow Mountains, sit a number of forts, including 2 claimants for the title, Tinoran Hillfort, and the Spinans Hill-Brusseltown Ring Complex. The quite badly affected by forestry site of Tinoran, has remnants of up to 5 rings, which enclose 82 hectares.
Then there is the the Spinans Hill-Brusseltown Ring complex which encloses 2 major hillforts, and as1 ring, grandly encloses 131 hectares.
Biggest multi ringed, or even single ringed (Multi ringed, means more than 1 ditch and rampart (A rampart is the mound by the ditch)) hillfort in Wales or rather wholly in Wales, Penycloddiau, 21 hectares (some sources state twenty six). Penycloddiau sits on the Clwydian Range in North Wales.
The hillfort above Llanymynech, which reached to 57 hectares, likely enclosing a ancient mining site, partially crosses into England, and has been so affected by quarrying and housing and a lovely looking golf course that it is not a identifiable hillfort, more it is a hillfort site, with some remnants. Which is why Penycloddiau is said to be the largest in Wales.
Biggest populated hillfort in post Roman Era - Tap o' Noth, Aberdeenshire, 16.75 hectares, (21 according to some sources) it was never as big in the Iron Age, but some population estimates put it's Dark Age times era population above Iron Age Maiden Castle, so another fort with a claim to be largest hillfort. It must be said population numbers are uncertain, as these are just estimates, but the size in hectares, is more able to be calculated accurately. Maiden Castle certainly wins the prize for most populous Iron Age era hillfort.
My favourite Hillforts, of fort examples that I have been to
2 Maiden Castle
7 Dinas Dinlle
9 Dyserth's Moel Hiraddug
12 Moel Arthur
13 Gaer Fawr
15 Ingleborough Camp
Interesting fact: Maiden Castle has numerous sites with the same title, (as stated on my Maiden Castle page) indeed Edinburgh Castle used to have a similar name applied to it not that many centuries ago.
Top 10 Highest hillforts in British Isles I know of, See below for more info
1 Ingleborough Camp
2 Caherconree Promontory Fort,
3 Ben Griam Beg
4 Tap O' Noth
5 Abdon Burf
6 Titterstone Clee Camp
7 Craig Rhiwarth
8 Mither Tap
9 Mam Tor
10 Foel Fenlli
11 Clee Burf
12 Moel Y Gaer, Llantysilio.
13 Ysgryd Fawr
14 Tre' Ceiri
15 South Barrule,
16 Shoulsbury Castle
17 Caer Caradoc (Church Stretton)
18 Moel Arthur
19 Castell Dinas
20 Hownam Law
21 Castle Naze Coombs Moss,
The largest hillforts in the British Isles that I know of, very rough estimates. More info below and aside on this page. I am always finding new facts on sizes of hillforts so I would not see this list as certain, just my estimates for now.
1 Ham Hill Hillfort
2 Llanymynech Hillfort
3 Borough Hill
4 Oldbury Castle
5 Maiden Castle
6 Countisbury Castle
7 Walbury Camp
8 Brusseltown Ring
9 Titterstone Clee Camp
11 Hod Hill
12 Tap O'Noth
13 Ballylin Hillfort,
14 Cissbury Ring
Actually Bindon Hill, may be first, depending on how you define a hillfort, and Mull of Galloway Enclosure may be just below Llanymynech Hillfort.
Also you could put Tinoran Hillfort as number 1, but it has been damaged by forestry plantations, and you could put the Spinans Brusseltown Ring complex as 1st, but it is just 1 ring.
For Maiden Castle I did used to list it in 2021 as 4th equal, but in 2022 found new stats. It does have the honour though of being the largest relatively undamaged hillfort, with over 1 notable continuous ring of defence.
Barhapple Crannog, south west Scotland, may have been 157 metres in Circumference, or may have been 2 crannogs, still big. Making it among the largest crannogs in the era
7 crannogs have been found at Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland
I say Maiden Castle is the grandest hillfort in Britain as it is among the largest and is multi ringed. This is a fact even without reconstructions of the many houses within it, so leaving it as just a bare hill today. but even today the ditches and ramparts tower many times a person's height above them, and this without palisades. No doubt the entrances would be the only entry point for any visitor or attacker and even these were complex, and protected by the towering ramparts.
It began in 600 BC, and from 450 BC developed into the larger site, that left such a form on the hill today.
Slingstones have been found at plenty of hillforts, including at Maiden Castle, where 40,000 have been located in storage pits. It must be said any Iron Age warriors would find it hard to get past this defence, but Roman forces did get into some sites as of their advanced tactics. Such as using Testudo, to cross ditches with planks, and using artillery to stroke forts, and force surrender, or crush entrances, and such. It must be said though, that the hillforts were of use even against the Romans, but other tactcs, such as using gepgraphy and guerilla warfare were used more so in Scotland it ois felt by the Celts up there. Though a good hillfort was good even in their wars.
Tap o' Noth hillfort is thus the largest hillfort in Scotland, with one rival, that is the little known barely properly named site on the Mull of Galloway South West Scotland, labelled the Mull of Galloway Enclosure. A not particularly glamorous looking muddy sheep covered embankment and ditch, separate 54 hectares of between 200 and 400 metre wide peninsula 1.7KM long of this the thin tip of the Rhins. The hammer head shaped appendage of western Galloway. The rampart is thus as long as the width of the this finger of land, stretching into the sea, and itself the most southerly portion of Scotland. Really it may be better to call this site a enclosure, but perhaps it was used as a kind of fort, itself.
I do see there are sources putting Tap o' Noth at 21, and some 16.75 hectares, well Eildon Hill is put at 18.6 and 16 variously, with Traprain Law, also at 16, so these 3, plus the site in the Rhins, are likely the largest hillforts in Scotland.
Highest hillfort in Scotland, Ben Griam Beg, Northern Highlands - 590 metres, so 1935 feet. The 2nd highest is Tap o' Noth at 563 metres, so 1847 feet.
Biggest hillforts in Ireland,
The late Bronze Age site of Mooghaun, County Clare. is listed as being 11 hectares.
But the biggest hillfort in western Ireland is Ballylin Hillfort, at 20.5 hectares,, it is in County Limerick. Munster.
Another large one is Dun Ailnne at 15 hectares.
The biggest hillforts though are in the Batinglass Hillfort Cluster in the Wicklow Mountains of Leinster, Eastern Ireland.
These include the great amount of hillforts locale to this zone. Indeed it includes, Tinoran Hillfort, or Tinoranhill which hits 84 hectares with it's enclosures. It from the Bronze or Iron Age, has a strong claim to be the largest hillfort in Ireland, but it has no properly continual rings as of the effects of forestry work.
Then the largest hillforts in Ireland is Brusseltown Ring at 32 hectares which sits next to Spinans Hill, a 11 hectares hillfort, These 2 sites are then further enclosed by a ring called the Spinans Hill - Brusseltown Ring complex or Spinans Hill 2, which surrounds 131 hectares. Tinoran is barely a few miles from the complex, which is why some call this area the Hillfort capital of Ireland. The sites are not as clear and stand out to look at as many other sites in Ireland from this era, which is why many list some of the smaller forts listed above in this block of paragraphs as the largest hillfort in Ireland.
Most southerly hillfort in the British Isles, Giant's Castle in the Scilly Isles. Really a promontory fort, it looks across the sea as a kind of cliff castle or refuge. Like a forehead shape looking over the seascape.
A small number of hillforts, after Rome conquered their territories found uses. Penmaenmawr's Braich-Y--Dinas, was thriving during the Roman era. While Old Sarum hillfort became part of a Roman fort, then much later a Anglo-Saxon town, then a cathedral site.
Largest hillfort in New Zealand, Maungakiekie Pa, or the hill of one tree hill, 100 acres, or 40 hectares, room for thousands of Maori,
As I say in terms of hillforts, I will just obey convention on that for now and record what is stated by others. I wonder if the experts are measuring just the interior for some, and also the ramparts for others. I think that is important as it shows up how there is not a set convention of stating the size of forts. Maybe my casual comparison, of taking a step back and look at those stats does bring a result there, of showing up that the stats need a bit of analysis for comparison. It also likely depends where you measure, so but it was a fine thing to notice. I think there is massive room for all sorts of forms of interest in all subjects and believe my research has therefore brought results, and it is a saving grace for any mistakes, or any statements that are controversial or fanciful to be considered. Partly as I try to be accurate, while admitting my philosophy when it comes to hillforts, trying to dramatise them, while seeing there most everyday and great aspects. There are other saving graces of this site too. Strangely I am also a rare source to note that Ingleborough Camp is the highest hillfort in Britain and Ireland. Most for some unknown reason just say so for England, which to me, though that is a great stat, seems a mild undersell. Also I am a rare one to count Black Rocks hillfort, and Deganwy Castle, as hillforts, I think it is crazy not to, and many lists do not have them on it. So as I say, I believe this site has a use, and the philosophy behind it. Plus I state that there is space for other websites and pages to have their concepts, in what they wish to convey and do. So as I say, read the site if you like.
Hillforts from above are often irregular ovals, or various long irregular shapes, even the odd circle like Emain Macha. I can tell you this though, that Beacon Hil in Hampshire is shaped like a hourglass, while Old Bewick in Northumberland, is like a pair of spectacles.
Hod Hill in Dorset, the second largest hillfort in the county is a irregular trapezoid with a more straight lined Roman fort outlined in the corner.
Most northerly British Isles hillfort. A site on Unst, Shetland Islands, really a promontory fort.
Tallest broch in Britain, The Broch of Mousa, also the tallest Prehistoric structure (Not including the Gop or Silbury Hill which were both manmade mounds) in the British Isles. The Pictish Shetland Island's site of the Broch of Mousa at 13.3 metres or 44 foot.
Hillforts as a term covers a variety of sites, which may may have been fortified hilltop sites, ritual sites, cattle compounds, refuges, and a whole range of things, or even all of those roles.
Largest oppidum in Europe, Heidengraben , 1700 hecatres Southern Germany, though not on a hill, A example of a largest one on a hill, was Bibracte, in Eastern France, at 200 hectares. These mega hillforts, are termed oppidum, and the plural is oppida.
Highest hillfort in Wales, Craig Rhiwarth, Powys, 532 metres,
Tre'r Ceiri is 485 metres, so almost as high.
While the highest I know of in Southern Wales is Ysgryd Fawr in the Brecon Beacons at at 486 metres.
King of the Castles
Another fort in that area is Castell Dinas Hillfort in southern Powys, at 450 metres high, it also has the highest castle in England and Wales on it. It is in fact the highest castle in Britain, so in a sense wins the game many of us used to play, of King of the castle.
Highest Hillfort in England, and Britain and Ireland as a whole, Ingleborough Camp, 720 metres. ( 2415 feet ). From the top of this hill in North Yorkshire you can see from it's small plateau, Morecambe Bay, Whernside, and Pen Y Ghent, then further afield on a very clear day, Scafell Pike, Snaefell, (Highest hill on the Isle of Man), and even some Welsh hills pop over some horizons, but that would be hard to see or make out, unlike the Irish Sea coast.
Titterstone Clee Camp Hillfort is the second highest hillfort in England at 533 metres.
As you can see from my paragraph on Brown Clee Hill, this is a debateable point. You could say one of it's hillforts is highest, but if it is, and I have never been there so am unsure, then it is a ruined one. Certainly the second highest hillfort in England is in Shropshire.
There is even a report that this hillfort, Titterstone is 28 or even 30 hectares in area even after quarrying destroyed part of it, which kind of blows some of my old size stats out of the water. It seems yes, a Bronze or Iron Age drystone wall encircled 28 hectares of this location, itself 6 miles from Ludlow. Which makes it a huge fort in British terms. Bigger in terms of enclosed area than Maiden Castle, but not of the whole ramparts area of that Dorset site. I do not see statements regarding it's population or hut circles though, so maybe it was just a ritual site.
Most westerly hillfort in Ireland and Britain, found at Coumeenoole North/Com Dhêneol Thuaidh, Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, really a promontory fort.
Brown Clee hill in Shropshire hits 540 metres high, and has 3 hillforts on it. One survives at 343 metres Nordy Bank, 2 have been almost destroyed by quarrying,
One is Abdon Burf, which is the name of the highest summit of the hill at 540 metres, very little remains of this fort, I have never been there, so am unsure if this means the fort used to be higher or if it is just off the summit. The other is Clee Burf at 510 metres it has also been ruined apparently, so i am unsure if this is the height of a summit a bit from the fort, or if this is what remains of the old fort, and if that used to be dash higher. Anyway, it is the highest hill in the county.
To be fair, the Titterstone has also had a bit of a mauling by quarrying, and the building of interesting structures upon it, though some see that as a fascinating addition. Another high fortin Shropshire is Caer Caradoc ( Church Stretton ) at 459 metres.
Mam Tor in Derbyshire, is England's 3rd, or 4th highest hillfort at 520 metres. The fort is about 6 hectares in area, and the geographic form is also known as the Shivering Mountain. I really want to tell you something else though, and that is, if you discount Shropshire it jumps up 1 or 2 places on the height list. Then again, much more importantly, nobody would discount Shropshire though.
Another high fort in the Peak District is Castle Naze Coombs Moss, at 445 metres.
Highest hillfort in Ireland, Caherconree Promontory Fort, (Dingle Peninsula) 683 metres, (I may be wrong there, but that is all I can find on Ireland), it certainly is regarded as among the 3 highest in the British Isles from information I saw on a website, I read, so 2240 feet in altitude. Though I can only find 1 such site higher than it in Britain or Ireland, the one in England), so I see it as the 2nd highest in British Isles, It is 2 thirds of the way up a mountain and is dedicated to a sorcerer, from the Dark Ages myths, who maybe lived there. in the legendary tales. The hill itself is 835 metres high. The fact it is also said to be the highest fort in Ireland, makes me wonder, if I am missing some site, but for now I shall say it is the second highest in the British Isles that I know of in the said regions. Interesting that it, is connected to a sorcerer, and Ingleborough has been said by some to have ritual significance, and some say so for Mither Tap and Mam Tor, 3 of the other very high hillforts.
But my hill thought was that he hill fought at that Hillfort ! Debates are had over King Arthur's great victory at Mount Badon. Some debate if such a event occurred, despite how certain sources claim it did. Also some other serious historians locate such a real battle to have taken place at a hillfort either at one near near Bath, or namely Liddington Castle, (Baddan byrig), Badbury Rings, Ringsbury Camp or a range of other contenders. Pointing out the importance of each location strategically for the competing groups of the times.
Hillforts and Oppida such as Bibracte, Borough HIll, Tullyhogue, Titterstone Clee Camp ( The Titterstone Wake ) and more, had , celebratory, religious, ritual or festival related events practiced on them in Medieval and even modern times. Titterstone had wrestling and games upon it to the 19th Century. Whether these were just old, or very ancient traditions I am unsure. The Wrekin, and the Wrekin wake, with it's fierce fighting, and Church Stretton Caer Caradoc and the Caradoc Wake, also had habits upon the summits as well that even those in the 19th Century speculated were ancient.
Plus Craig Rhiwarth was seeing it's hilltop used as a Hafod summer residence for locals in that century also.
Excavations have found brutal evidence of battles at a number of sites such as Bredon Hill, Burnswark, Ham Hill, Worlebury Camp, Battlesbury, and many more, including at times likely, Pre Roman, and Roman attacks. Indeed Roman sources mention British hillfortesque sites that were under attack, by them, and very much so in terms of their continental oppidum equivalents Indeed at Alesia some of the tales are fascinating to read of, but must have been horrible to experience for many. Indeed Hod Hill, has a straight lines Roman fort built with a corner of the site. With Badbury Rings possibly damaged by the Romans in 44AD.
Most Easterly fort, in the British Isles, another promontory fort, at North Foreland Lighthouse, Kent, (All four of the North, South, West, East, point hillforts, were from me looking at the Atlas of Hillforts website in May 2020)
Some claim The Wrekin, the site of a hillfort partly inspired Tolkien's geography in Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, This is up for debate though.
I want to see
2 A top French oppidum
such as Bibracte
3 A top German oppidum
4 A proper coastal castro in Spain
5 A New Zealand hillfort / pa
6 Dún Aonghasa
8 Ham Hill, Somerset, England,
9 Cadbury Castle
10 Badbury Camp
/ Liddington Castle
11 A Lithuanian Hillfort
12 Caesar's Camp London
13 Traprain Law
14 Hengistbury Head
15 A Breton cliff fort
16 Broch of Mousa (not a hillfort at all, but I would like to see it)
17 Biskupin( Not a hillfort, more a Venice of the Iron Age)
18 A Czech oppidum (I have seen Slovak sites in a sense.)
Some Lithuanian hillforts or
mounds are famed as sites
of Pagan temples, and
Pre Christian Lithuanian kings
Most isolated hillfort in the British Isles
It's debatable, there is a fort in Norfolk called Tasburgh that at 6.5 hectares looks pretty much further from other hillforts on land than any in the British Isles,, in terms of maps. Also the Burgh in Suffolk looks pretty far from any other hillfort. Maybe a couple of dozen miles away or so.
Those forts in the Scilly Isles, and Saltee Ireland, off Cork, are quite far from others. Perhaps though the 2 forts on Fair Isle, A isle between the Shetland and Orkney Islands, which each have a number of forts, are together including its Landberg hillfort site, maybe the furthest from other hillforts, as of the sea. dividing them away. Even if you could argue the sea was a connector in times past, when there were less roads, I still say, in some ways it was a divider as well.
But our hill thought was that they hill fought an our Hillfort !, and you hill thought a different hillfort was where they hill fought, which hill fort ? * Also, there is a debate if Caratacus ( Caradoc or Caradog in Welsh) fought a battle with the Romans that was notably storied in their sources by Tacitus, at either British Camp, Herefordshire or maybe Caer Caradoc, Shropshire, the 2 most talked of such potential sites.
Other claims have been made for Breidden Hill, Powys, Mynydd Y Gaer near Bridgend, and Coxall Knoll and Wapley Hill Herefordshire again.
When upon Llanymynech Hillfort, I noticed on the golf course at Hole 6, there was a plaque from the 1980s, in 2021, boasting that the site, may have been the site of this battle of the ancients.
Though some doubt if such, or this specific battle, occurred at all. As stated elsewhere in hillforts.co.uk
I say it could have been anywhere in England and Wales, and a mish mash of stories of lots of Rome's battles in Britain, like maybe it could have been at Roman Ridge, and Wincobank in Sheffield.
Some hillforts, have been lost to the sea. Such as Deganwy's "Castell Tremlyd", or the "Black Rocks fort". you may say as it now under water, it is more a gill-fort as in the fish gill sense now, or fish-fort.
Some have even been quarried away, sometimes for good hard working needs for jobs, but some in ludicrous self interested greed, such as sites like Braich Y Dinas.
Stonea Camp sitting 2 metres above sea level in a marsh in Cambridgeshire, is said to be the lowest hillfort in Britain, not under the sea. Of course it was built when those sea levels were a bit lower, but even then it would have been on a very low elevation.
Craig Rhiwarth is also said to be the 2nd largest hillfort in Wales at 16 hectares.
Vytautas Hillis said to be the highest hillfort in the country of Lithuania.
Walbury Hillfort, Berkshire, at 297 metres is also the highest hill in South Eastern England. (The highest in Southern England is not a hillfort and is in Devon.)
2 More Welsh hillforts at over 500 metres high are Moel Y Gaer, Llantysilio 504, and Foel Fenlli, 511,
The biggest hillfort in South Wales, is Y Gaer Fawr, in eastern Carmarthenshire at the western end of the Brecon Beacons at 11 hectares. Though there is strong debate about the nature of a enclosure here, and debate about the status of a Neolithic enclosure on the hill it is on Y Garn Goch.
Caerau Hillfort is a rare hillfort with a church within it's bounds, it is among the largest forts in South East Wales
Outside of forts, the Celts were famed for chariot armies, fighting Caesar when he invaded Britain. Gaul by then had developed cavalry, like Romans, though not to a extent that Medieval armies were capable of, and Eurasian steppe armies.
The Lithuanian term for a hillfort is Piliakilnis. It has a hillfort culture quite distinct from the Celtic tradition,
Take the high ground
Sun Tzu the Chinese 5th Century BC military strategist advised other generals to take the high ground, so like hillforts.
Celebrated novelist Sir Walter Scott helped excavate the Green Cairn hillfort in 1796 Aberdeenshire., which was then in Kincardine and Deeside.
What the Dickens
Charles Dickens wrote a tale about how he and a friend walked up Carrock Fell hillfort in Cumbria, a true life story like a diary, or such thing really. Apparently you can see hills in Scotland from it's top on a clear day.
Spookiest hillforts. Most hillforts have not such legends.
Though In legend Creech Hill Hillfort, in Somerset is haunted. Apparently some bodies were dug up in some quarrying in the 19th Century, Then from there it was believed there were unseen footsteps and dark shapes, and other stories.
So ghostly goings on there
Also in legend in north Cornwall, at Castle-an-Dinas, hillfort in the 18th Century the ghosts of King Arthur's army were seen there.
In the Medieval era there were some reported cases of ghost armies, fighting night time battles in the forest, or the remains of an Iron Age Celtc hillfort, like at Wandlebury, near Cambridge, in England. Indeed living knights were at times challenged to single combat by these phantom knights, that vanished when defeated.
The Iron Age, Cold War Warrior
Dover Castle has strong evidence of formerly being an Iron Age hillfort. It was used in the Middle Ages, and more recently for coastal protection. Amazingly it even had a nuclear bunler underneath it in the Cold War as well.
More poetry, Romantic Scottish poet, John Leyden, wrote of Rubers Law, a hillfort in the borders, near Hawick.
He wrote in 1803,
Oft have I wandered, in my vernal years, Where Ruberslaw his misty summit rears, And, as the fleecy surges closed amain, To gain the top have traced that shelving lane, Where every shallow stripe of level green, That, winding, runs the shattered crags between
And lower down in his poem, ,
Dark Ruberslaw, that lifts his head sublime, Rugged and hoary with the wrecks of time! On his broad misty front the giant wears The horrid furrows of ten thousand years; His aged brows are crowned with curling fern, Where perches, grave and lone, the hooded Erne (eagle), Majestic bird! by ancient shepherds stiled The lonely hermit of the russet wild, That loves amid the stormy blast to soar, When through disjointed cliffs the tempests roar, Climbs on strong wing the storm, and, screaming high, Rides the dim rack, that sweeps the darkened sky.
1980s Music Video Stardom
A rare example of a hillfort in a major music video was Kate's Bush's Cloudbusting. A film partly thought up by Julian Doyle and Terry Gilliam. It apparently is to do with William Reich a psychologist and his son. It also stars Donald Sutherland. It is set partly about Uffington Castle.
Yes it does look a little Terry Gilliam ish.
I have seen and heard this, and it is a fine song,
For Auld Hillforts
Dowan;s Hillfort, in South Ayrshire gets a a reference in Rabbie Burn's poem, "Halloween". under a other moniker of it, Cassillis Downans
Upon that night when fairies light
On Cassillis Downans dance
Or owre the lays in splendid blaze
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the rout is ta'en
Beneath the moon's pale beams;
There up the cove, to stray and rove
Amang the rocks and streams
Wandered gently as a cloud
So romantic poets and authors Dorothy Wordsworth, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, loved the walk up to Dowsborough Hillfort in Somerset in the 19th Century, I could not find any poems they wrote about it though. It is a nice thought they wandered gently as a cloud up there though. I mean a lot of us feel a bit of that nice elated feeling when reaching atop hillforts after a good walk.
Another site the Wordsworth's liked was Pilsdon Pen in Dorset.
Cinema extra, hillfort
Hillforts appear little in movies, but Maiden Castle did appear in 1967's Far from the Madding crowd. In it a star, did some swordsmanship, to impress the heroine, It stars Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terrence Stamp among others, of this adaption of a Thomas Hardy work. I have not seen the movie, but I shall try if it is ever on. The trailer I saw on YouTube features the hillfort magnificently with the actors and actresses just as well shown.
Update update I have seen this movie, there are some very sad bits that would be too much for me when I was a kid, but it was a thoroughly good movie.
There are more "fun" in this website's view, facts below
THE Articles on hillforts
Elementary hillfort fact my dear reader
Hillforts are mentioned in a passing reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's
"The Black Hand"
It is not a Sherlock Holmes story though.
Beacon Ring Hillfort, on Long Mountain, near Welshpool, had trees planted on it to honour the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. As of this means from above aerial photos still pick up a E R, on it.
Castle Hill, a hillfort near Huddersfield, had a tower built on it honouring Queen Victoria, quite a site it is.
One Man, One Vote
Castle Hill, Huddersfield, actually was a point of meeting for Chartists in the 19th century. This was as the flat hill was so suited for meetings.
For that matter there was also a big suffragette meeting by Clifton Downs camp hillfort in 1908. It is in Gloucestershire.
This fort is the biggest in modern Northumberland, the county of 2021 (not the larger ancient kingdom), and with that has roundhouses that actually would have had houses, that were a kind of pink, as of the type of stones in early days, that turned grey over time.
It sits 361 metres high.
Also it stands above the major Anglo-Saxon site of Yeavering.
Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield
This is a book that mentions the Battle of Alesia, which was a battle fought between the Romans and Gauls, at a massive oppidum, a kind of a large hillfort in this case.
Borough Hill, Northamptonshire, one of the largest in Britain, is not the same hillfort, as Burrough Hill, Leicestershire, which is large, but not as big a site.
Interestingly, Burrough Hill Lad, a 1976 born, thoroughbred race horse, was named from the Leicestershire village near the fort which got it's name from the fortification site. Many horses have had their names from hillfort sites, but this one was far more successful at racing than most. Winning the Welsh National and the famous Cheltenham Gold Cup, to name but a couple.
I am not supporting gambling at all there, just remarking on the great racing achievement.
Mynydd Maendy Hillfort in Rhondda Cynon Taf, has electricity generating wind turbines atop it's summit.
WW1 Trenches action. Not only was one of the bloodiest battles of World War One, Verdun fought at the site not of a hillfort specifically, bujt it was of a site with Dun or the Celtic for fort in it's name., Verdun.,
Also Old Oswestry in Shropshire seems likely to have been the location for Wilfred Owen, when he was at training for action in the trenches on the Western Front, They seems to have put certain preparations there which were in and about the hillfort
Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grand Dad's Army (Re:, the famous sitcom Dad's Army based on WW2 home guard soldiers, often too old to serve in the regular defence forces, but wanting to do what they could on the home front in terms of protection)
Iron Age hillfort, Dinas Dinlle had a World War Two seagull trench built atop it, Seeing it was so close to the airfield, So it saw action, in terms of usage, many dozens of generations after it was built.
Also Wincobank Hillfort by Sheffield was used in a similar way for the city there.
Both these were I believe in this sense fitted with such, anti aircraft guns, during the war. In fact the Sheffield one that sits high above the city was also used as a site for this activity against World War One zeppelins.
Also in World War Two, some Yugoslav Partisans used Bronze Age Hillfort, Kunci as a base. It is now in the Republic of Croatia.
More war wounds
Indeed also in World War Two, well in the build up the Nazis damaged Germany's very fine Celtic heritage in terms of the Oppidum of Manching for a airbase,
Also the western Allies damaged Barbury Castle hillfort in Wiltshire, with bomb craters, during training.
Then more militarily a German plane randomly dropped a bomb on Cissbury Ring, as they did not want to return to base with bombs, causing a crater lasting to today, no deaths were recorded though, so just a fascinating story.
Dunmore Hillfort in Fife also has a bomb crater on it, though I have not discovered the reason yet.
Scottish international comedy icon, Billy Connolly, once recited famed doggerel poet, William Topaz McGonagall's poem about the 1897 Tay Bridge Disaster, for his 1990s TV show A world Tour of Scotland, from Dundee Law hillfort. Also Not the Nine o Clock News star', Griff Rhys Jones, visited Old Oswestry Hillfort, for a TV show of his, I can also remember Blackadder star Tony Robinson did some great stuff about Maiden Castle, early in his career, less comedically, more dramatically., Plus Monty Python's Michael Palin, lionised Uffington Castle and the White horse, as a top thing to see in Britain, for British people, before they go abroad. Also his colleague, Terry Jones mentioned hillforts in some of his history books, as he got interested in history, more so the Middle Ages though.
The Eildon Hills, are also in legend of local folklore, the hollow hills. With a King Arthur style figure in legend. With a huge cavern inside, with a warrior, when in reality in times past they were atop it. The Eildons hit 422 metres high, and are a very noticeable trio in the Scottish borders.
The highest hillfort I know of in Southern Scotland is Hownam Law at 449 metres, it is in the Cheviots.
Don't think about the ludicrously out of place Barbary Macaques,
So anyway, that's like that Ironic process theory as psychologists say to do with pink elephants. So anyhow these Barbary Macaque have been found at hillforts Emain Macha, from Iron Age deposits, and Titelburg in Luxembourg, also a Iron Age hillfort from those times as well. You can think about them really.
Do think about hillforts.co.uk or not if you don't want to.
In October 2021, it was revealed that the 270 metres above sea level, Neolithic Causewayed enclosure, and Iron Age fort, Hembury Hillfort, in South East Devon, near Broadhembury, Honiton, with a inner area of 3 hectares, and well over 10 metre high ramparts on parts, was for sale for 100,000 pounds, which including some wider patches of land outside of the fort, all enclosed 38 acres. The hillfort on the estate agents advert "Savills", was mentioned as a major part of the sale.
It is not to be confused with Hembury Castle in North Devon, and Hembury Castle, Buckfast, in South Devon. Interestingly it had a medieval fair on St Andrews Day to the 19th Century.
Big Iberian Castros I have read the Galician Iron Age urbanising Castro of Castro de Santa Trega, which has hillfort rises, may be 20 hectares in size. Though to what extent other castros in Spain and Portugal are towns or hillforts I am uncertain. So I am at a loss to say which is biggest and which is an actual hillfort style site, or more a town, there is a difference. I am certain some "castros" may be towns or proto towns, some of the larger ones, but some castros despite being larger than typical medium sized hillforts and such, are still up on hills. So this one Sant Trega is on a mount so I shall say it is like a Maiden Castle, or some of the hilltop oppidum in France and Germany. Though some of those such oppidum I think are on such flats, they look more like towns.
There is a 403 metres high 22 hectares, 1st Century AD site in Portugal known as Castro de Monte Mozhino. With wide views across the landscape, but also known as Cidade de Morta Penafiel, the city of the dead. I don't know if this is a respectful or sorrowful nickname, but there is also a lot there to see for the living, indeed, so it is the city of living really as well. If anything a life enhancing place to visit I am guessing. On the lighter side, I believe Citania de Briterios, a castro had a spa with hot and also cold water in it, before the Romans, I am not sure though.
Bronze for A Iron Age Site. Mither Tap in Aberdeenshire is another hillfort at over 500 metres, 528 in fact, It seems to have had settlement certainly a hill fort for a period, in both the Bronze and Iron Age, possibly of a religious significance. As the 3rd highest hillfort in Scotland, you could give it a Bronze Medal for that. It sits on one of the four summits of Bennachie. It is the 1055th highest peak in the Brittish Isles. Scotland has more of those peaks than any other of it's countries. 518 metres is 1,700 feet, so it just over that.
A top 40 music single
Solsbury Hill, a 191 metres high point above Bath and Batheston, has a song written about it, by Peter Gabriel, of Genesis, performed by him in the solo element of his career, in 1977. The hill also has a hillfort that sits atop it. It peaked at 13 in the national hit parade.
2 forts, the highest point in county, and 1 mirage hillfort
There are a number of forts that are on the highest hills in their county in England. I mention that for Shropshire, and Uffington in 2021 Oxfordshire, and for other hillforts elsewhere in my site for counties in Britain as a whole. I can say Dundry Hill at 233 metres ahigh above Bristol has Maes Knoll hillfort at 197 metres above the sea level on it.
Ditchling Beacon at 248 metres high, is the highest point in East Sussex in 2021 (the borders change every so often). A Iron Age hillfort of 7 hectares sits atop it.
Arbury Hill, the highest hill in Northamptonshire, at 225 metres has a phantom or mirage hillfort atop it, of around 5 hectares. Astonishingly there is debate if this square ditch and bank site was a hillfort, or if it was just a natural formation. Many experts declare it was not in actuality a hillfort at all.
Some hillforts now sit blanketed under urban expansion, such as in Birmingham, and even beneath Margate. The seaside resort in Kent, had a 6 hectare area site,, Inside the ramparts, it was filled with roundhouses, with it lasting from 250 BC to the Roman conquest. It was forgotten, till excavations rediscovered it in the 2000s.
In Lithuania in 1812, Jiesia or Pajiesys HillFort, got the appendage " Napoleon’s Hill. ". The steep hillfort now covered in trees stands 63 metres high. It overlooks Kaunas.
Emperor Napoleon watched his La Grande Armee cross the Nemunas for 3 days from it.
This site had in the past centuries before been used as a traditional Lithuanian hillfort.
Hillforts feature to a small extent in some computer games. For instance there is a 2010s version of Total War, that has kinds of hillforts, I checked on YouTube. I have not found examples with the likes of Maiden Castle, but shall be making sure I look sometimes.
There are other battle simulation games as well.
There is also a ringfort in a Assassin's Creed. Also the The Wrekin features as the Wrocken in a version, but I did not see hillfort elements of what I saw on YouTube. Maybe there is, but I did not see so. I am not sure of the age range for these games by the way, of who can play them, in specific countries. It seems also the Titterstone Clee Hill Camp site features on some level on one of the Assassin's Creed's..
Also apparently fortnite has a hill fort of some type, as I say I do not know if these games are suitable for under 18s, it is not for me to say they are or are not. Maybe they are for all I know.
The composer of the classic "lark ascending" also put 6 poems of Housman's Shropshire Lad to music, of which 2 of his songs by chance refer to hills with hillforts. They are Wenlock Edge, which mentions the Wrekin, and Bredon Hill, which has a fort .
More war poets
Also Siegfried Sassoon, wrote a poem titled with the name "On Scratchbury Camp" a hillfort of 15 hectares in west Wiltshire. Written in 1942.
His lovely piece of work includes
Now, through that song, a fighter squadron's drone I hear
from Scratchbury Camp, whose turfed and cowslip'd rampart seems
more hill than history, ageless and oblivion-blurred.
I walk the fosse, once manned by bronze and flint head spear;
on war's imperious wing the shafted sun ray gleams:
one with the warm sweet air of summer stoops the bird
Tour De France
In the year 2014 for example, at the half way point of stage 4, Mont Cassel, in Northern France was used as a climb. A site with a altitude of 176 metres and a 2000 people town of Cassel atop this prominent hill in French Flanders. It almost certainly had a hillfort or oppidum on it in Iron Age Belgae times.
Carcassonne in Southern France of 50,000 people, has a history of Celtic and Roman settlement, atop it's hillfort fortifying it Oppidum style, well it has been the start and even finish of many a Tour De France stages, such as in 2004 and 2006.
More poetry by John Kenyon re Maiden Castle in 1836
Along thy sides they stretch, ring above ring,
Marking thee from afar; then vanish round
Like the broad shingly banks, which ocean heaves
In noble curves along his winding shore.
The passing wayfarer with wonder views
E'en at imperfect distance, their bold lines,
And asks the Who? the Wherefore? and the When?
Wafting his spirit back into far times,
And dreaming as he goes. But whoso stays,
And climbs the turf-way to thy tabled top,
Shall reap a fuller wonder; shall behold
Thy girdled area, of itself a plain,
Where widely feeds the scattered flock; shall mark
Thy trenches, complicate' with warlike art,
And deep almost as natural ravine
Cut in the mountain
Other hillfort site works,
Other works about hillfort sites include, Arnold Bax, and Harriet Cohen's 1917 Work, Tintagel. Also Tennyson visited the site, and referenced the area in his works,
Then also The Waterboys, Mike Scott did a song Called Edinburgh Castle.
Lewis Grassic Gibbon was partly inspired for his works, by visiting the Barmekin of Echt in Aberdeenshire. For Grey Granite.
Mike Tokin, referenced Hillforts in Galleons Sailing across the sky,
Nobel Prize Winner Seamus Heaney referenced hillforts in The Old Road,
Plus Heywood Sumner, and John Constable produced paintings in the 19th Century of hillforts. Then 1960 born artist Simon Callery produced representations of them more recently.
One Tree Hill
U2's One Tree Hill, references a hill in New Zealand, This hill Maungakiekie in Maori (Mountain of the Kieki vine) , has a Pa, or Maori hillfort on it. It sits above Auckland, like Dundee Law, in Dundee, Though the song is not about the hill or fort. It is a 1987 song, that was number one in New Zealand
Only 1 Hillfort in Britain and Ireland lies above 610 metres the official in 2021 UK designation of a mountain. In fact it may be a ritual site rather than a fort, but I still call it a hillfort. Many are above the early 20th Century definition of a mountain at 300 metres. Some though such as Conwy Mountain in North Wales, and Tatchbury Mount Hillfort, near the New Forest are on sites that local customs define as mounts or mountains. I myself would put Tre'r Ceiri, and such as effectively Mountain forts if such a term existed. In all honesty, if a hill is under 300 metres, as in below the official UK designation of a hill, it is still called a hillfort same too for higher. I am just being pedantic. Of course the Donnersberg Keltishe oppidum in Germany, is 687 metres above sea level and is a mountain.
The Scottish Play - Macbeth
Dunsinane Hill a hillfort .in Perthshire is mentioned in Shakespeare's Macbeth.
English Civil War Action
Dorset in 1645, saw Parliament's forces led by Colonel Fleetwood defeat 1000 Clubmen. Cromwell then had to face up to a larger group situated on Hambledon Hill Hillfort. About 60 minutes of battle saw sixty clubmen dead, and their defeat. So a brutal Iron Age style battle in a way.
The clubmen were local not royalist or parliamentarian groups.
Also a parliamentary army camped at Cadbury Castle, Devon, that is not the big Cadbury Castle.
30 Years war
Do you know what? In the 30 years war, in 17th Century Germany, the Celtic hill fort of Otzenhausen, was used as a refuge by local villagers amid the strife.
The Hillfort files
Somerset's Cley Hill Hillfort, has had 6 at least UFO claimed sightings. I have to admit I do not really believe in UFOs, back home on Ork we would scoff at such claims. (That is my jokey remark, I don't really believe in UFOs though it is a fun subject, and some folk do, and I like sci fi shows at times).
Ley lines and Dowsing mythology
Another even more pseudo science is
dowsing, which some believe in, I don't want to be too critical, but I do not see evidence it is true yet. Though, one site said to have ley lines centred on it, that has been investigated by dowsers is Pilsdon Pen in Dorset, For instance some associated it to lines towards Cerne Abbey, and Badbury Rings. It is the second highest hillfort in Dorset. I do not believe in lay lines or dowsing as such. 14 roundhouses have been found at this, the second highest point in the county of Dorset,
The mile or so away Lewesdon Hill, at 279 metres, is 2 metres higher, and also has a hillfort on it. It is the highest hill in Dorset, but It was only in 2004 that the National Trust discovered, later confirmed by Ordinance Survey, that it was this way round of which is highest, not the other. One is called the cow, and the other the calf, but which way round has only thus been categorically confirmed.
I say more about football in my quizzes section. In 2021, Few football teams have associations to hillforts, but Dumbarton, and Hibs stadium's have views in terms of some wide panorama views of the stadias of hills and rocks with hillforts. Indeed Hearts' stadium has a name rooted in a hillfort name. Aberdeen have a Gaelic named stadium, but no hillfort connection there, Anyway my quiz section is where to find the few hillfort football links,
There be Dragons there
Dinas Emrys, Uffington Castle and Norton Camp, all have associations to dragons in their legends.
The Hill of Crosses
Also in Lithuania there is the Hill of crosses.
It is a site in northern Lithuania. Crosses started being placed on the ancient Jurgaičiai or Domantai hillfort after the 1831 Lithuanian Uprising (Same year as the Polish uprising) when the Lithuanians were part of the Russian Empire. Over generations, crosses and crucifixes, statues of the Virgin Mary, carvings of patriots and more were placed. This across the Soviet era as well, so 100,000 were counted in 2006.
Mythical Welsh Hillforts in the
United States of America,
There is a legend in Wales, which experts state was likely a old folktale merged with a Tudor propaganda campaign to legitimise English claims on certain parts of the USA instead of Spain. That Prince Madoc left Rhos On Sea in the 12th century and discovered America before Columbus, meeting up with Native Americans tribes and settling there. There are lots of inconsistencies in the story, but is a brilliant proud legend for Wales.
The tiny minority of people who choose or chose to believe the myth have developed all sorts of ideas that some sites here and there in the USA were ancient Welsh sites. Including the Devil's Backbone where local legends state, on this bedrock ridge once was a stone fortress built by explorers led by Prince Madoc in the 12th century. Sites in Alabama, and Fort Mountain in Georgia also have such tales. I mean some could call them castles or hillforts or something else. Though of course they were either Native American or natural depending on the site and formations on them you are talking of.
St Kilda, off the west coast of the Western Isles of Scotland, also had a site which a 18th Century writer claimed was a ancient fort, but writers in the 19th Century disputed that, so not many experts feel it was. So you could say that is another phantom hillfort site, as in maybe it was just fantasy. Unlike the real hillforts listed on this website which were the real deal and were lived in and that is good enough I say. It was given a name, like Dun, erroneously.
A number of hillfort sites are also names for local golf courses, Hollingbury, Torwoodlee, Painswick, and more. Including Llanymynech which like it's fort crosses into two countries, Wales and England. Indeed Major winner Ian Woosnam, trained at that last one of them.
William Butler Yeats used to recommend that certain writers such as Synge and Symons, I think, visit the Aran Islands, where they each saw Dun Aengus. That out of the ordinary site.
Also a early publishing group he was part of, and helped found, was called Dun Emer, named after the term for fort and a important character in the Irish myths. Herself famed for being the wife of a great warrior in the stories. I am no expert on this, but a snippet I read, did read that she was in a dun, and heard beyond the ramparts the arrival of this heroic warrior on his chariot.
Many hillfort sites have been prepared as beacon sites from England's defence versus the Armada to Britain's during the Napoleonic war, like Warton Crag.
Such high sites were also prepared as sites for beacons in the Scottish defensive wars of the 14th Century, I am uncertain if they specially used hillfort sites but speculate so.
Sites such the Eildon Hills and many others were used as beacon sites in these preparations at certain times.
Interesting Fact - Coronation sites
It seems certain or likely Tullyhogue, Dunadd, and Rathcroghan, were the sites of major coronation festivals of kings. Plus surely many many more hillfort sites.
Some hillforts, like Foel Fenlli, and Traprain Law, have had hoards, of what you could call treasures found mid them.
Under Milkwood - Dylan Thomas
One of the many characters, in this pretty mature salacious classic, Rev Eli Jenkins describes Llareggub Hill above the town, with its "mystic tumulus". A phrase taken from Arthur Machen's description of Twmbarlwm's hillfort area, which is quite near Newport in South East Wales. "The Twmp" or even "The Pimple" known as that, as the fort and such cause this shape on the 419 metre summit hill from afar. Despite Newquay, in South West Wales, being more the inspiration for the fictional moonless dark night, cobblestreets town, by the fishingboats bobbing sea.
Also apparently Maiden Castle is mentioned in Thomas Hardy's, work of 1886 The Mayor of Castlebridge. Where one of the characters runs across it.
National Eisteddfod A celebrated winner at that all Wales event, in the early 20th Century, Myfanwy Haycock, herself called Twmbarlwm,"The hill of dreams". So big praise there for you.
Arthur Machen,1922, writes,
Twym Barlwm (A hillfort site, aforementioned), that mystic tumulus, the memorial of peoples that dwelt in that region before the Celts left the Land of Summer,
William Henry Davies,
the late 19th to mid 20th Century Welsh poet himself said when viewing from the same hill,
Can I forget the sweet days that have gone
When poetry first began to stir my blood
And from the hills of Gwent I saw
The earth torn in two by Severn’s silver flood
Work in progress - Under construction
The hillfort known as Ladle Hill in Hampshire, is a fort, that sits in countryside, unfinished. There are still spoil heaps, lying about from the Iron Age of a this partially completed fort. I do not know if hard hats are optional or essential on visits.
Models of hillforts have been made from lego, and on Minecraft, plus normal arts and crafts materials, so good fun there. I even gave a go at a plan of one using beads. Lets face it, clay, sand, and play dough can be used for such thing as well.
As in the sense, the cream is at the top, and the highest hillfort I know of in Devon, is Shoulsbury Castle, at 472 metres above sea level. I would also guess it is the highest in the south western strip of England, and South East England. I have to admit that top 10 list and counting one I have at the top of this page, is more accurate nearer the top, but the further down the list I am unsure if there are other forts in counties that I just have not well examined enough with higher forts, but as I say, it is a list of the highest I know of.
The highest and largest hillfort on the Isle of Man, is South Barrule Hillfort, which sits on a hill of the same name, At 483 metres high, it is also in legend the home of Manx God, Mannanan beg mac y Leir, Either the God is is named after the island, or the other way around, stories vary. Indeed the Manx triskelion, the island's national symbol on it's flag has a association to this mythological deity.
Maiden Castle a novel and a rhapsody
Has had both a novel by John Cowper Powys written under it's name in 1937 Maiden Castle. He was a major writer in those days, the great site was a part of the story.
Also John Ireland in 1921 composed a symphonic rhapsody devoted to it. This he called Mai-Dun.
As indicated earlier Maiden Castle or as he sometimes called it, Mai Dun, has a bearing on Thomas Hardy's 19th Century works as well.
From Clee to Heaven, and more,
AE Housman, in 1877 wrote a poem in Shropshire Lad, priding in the hill, and the landscape, and how soldiers from the area were fighting overseas for it's country. He referenced a beacon which would be lit upon Titterstone Clee Hill in times of importance.
Plus the Titterstone features as a site of a fort in one of the Cadfael Chronicles works, by Ellis Peters
Housman also wrote a poem in Shropshire lad, Wenlock Edge, which mentioned that Wrekin site,
On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.
There are 4 other verses, of that particular poem. Also would you believe he also mentions a other hill with a hillfort on Bredon Hill, in Shropshire Lad, which has a hillfort upon it, called Kennerton Camp.
In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.
Also Owen Sheers wrote a poem in 2006 on Y Gaer, he is one of the more well known poets of the early 21st Century in Britain.
A David Cooke, wrote a poem om 2014 called Hill-fort,
This composer's work Caratacus is partly dedicated or inspired may be a better word to the Malvern Hills, and the legend that his great stand against the Romans was at British Camp, in that area there. So pretty good there. .
on Maiden Castle
by William Barnes
The grassy downs of Dorset,
Rising o'er our homes of peace,
E'er teem with life and riches
In the sheep and precious fleece;
And charm the thoughtful roamer
When, like us, he climbs to scan
Their high-cast mounds of war '" the works
Of Britain's early man,
Whose speech, although here lingers yet
His mighty works of hand,
Has ceased a thousand years to sound
In air of this green land,
And startled may it be to hear
The words of British kin '”
An gwaliow war an meneth
An caer war an bryn...
Also Jethro Tull did a song labelled Dun Ringall, after a hillfort, and it seems broch site on Skye.
One Tree Hill again
This prominent hill in the North Island of New Zealand had a hillfort of at most 5,000 people in the 18th Century, It would extract tribute and resources from passers by, and live off the fertile soils, close by seafood of 2 nearby coasts, and it's great defendable terrain.
The name of this song also inspired the title of a 2002 - 2013 US TV series, drama, called One Tree Hill. Though other than that it was not really connected to the song. or it's subject matter,
The thoughts of a painter
Maiden Castle "struck awe even into the most vulgar mind', 1936.
Surprisng- well I never knew that,
The highest hill in Kent, at 251 metres high, Betsom's Hill, has a Victorian fort built to protect London, from a invasion which never occurred in that time from foreign invaders, but no Iron Age hillfort.
Some Iron Age sites in Britain are as large as the larger hillforts, but are not hillforts, as of their geography such as the site at Wheathampstead near St Albans which it 40 hectares in size. It was a proto town, a oppida.
John Cowper Powys on Maiden Castle It is hard to believe that objects of frantic invocation, however weird and monstrous, do not release, when freed from their long imprisonment, something of the magnetic potency that the minds of their far-off worshippers communicated to them as they prayed
Examples of sites resembling hillforts today.
Ok there are those abandoned sites, pretty much that is it, Maiden Castle, to Tre'r Ceiri, and when they have people in pretty good, and what about reconstructed sites like Castell Henllys.
Then what about modern sites lived in and used today.
What about Edinburgh Castle, OK, maybe not as it is a castle really, but it has the same spirit as any hillfort afore it. Even if it is like many such sites more a tourist site now.
What about hilltop villages, of modern tribes in 2021, like in New Guinea, or Yunnan, or India. You know the remote ones.
Or what about modern European, French or Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or British hill top villages like Monsarez. Or how about sites that are in war zones, estates in war zones, or cold war, on hill tops, well thats too disturbing so I will not say them. I mean they are too close to each other really though to be proper hillfort like. You know like when a community is rivalling another nearby and each are on hilltops, in a big city or town, you know there are war zones like that in 2021.
So I give the award to hilltop villages. Apparently even in the 1980s, a tribe in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea were still using villages with palisades on mountain ridges, so really there were effectively hillforts being built in my lifetime, and likely still today as in 2021 they are being used or just are within their users, or some vistor's living memory. So that is that. Then again, as long as there are wars there may always be modern armies using sites that have some tiny or even large similarities in terms of banks, and fences to defend their armies or others. Then again hillforts were not just about war, but they are affected largely by them in terms of reasons and history. .
Hillforts can be spelt Hillforts or Hill forts, though hillforts is the more common spelling so likely is more acceptable now, than
hilL FORTS or hill fort for that matter.
You've been - Hill taught !
Keep safe when on hillforts
Pictures on this page are as follows, Pazyrik Horseman 6th century bc public domain, from Wikimedia Commons, not Celtic, bit surely some Gaulish Celts had similarities,
And clay and stone sling bullets from Ham Hill, a public domain picture, from a museum near there, public domain as it is from a wikimedia Commons pic, that is marked public domain.
Then another Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons, Slingers on Trajan's Column. Below are some of my pictures, so not public domain
There are more pictures below by hillforts.co.uk.
My definition of hillforts. (I am just saying) not a fun fact, just my opinion
So I think it is fair to say that most of us kind of look at a dictionary and see the definition of a word in it as a Biblical truth, when in reality though there is a legalistic and real world truth to that, most words are more nuanced than the definition, and great wordsmiths can even mould them into all sorts of peculiar and beautiful meanings. I.e Conan Doyle or Steinbeck etc etc works.
So the term of hillforts is not totally defined, I mean the term was well in use to describe the earthworks which at earlier times had been of unknown origin. Such as the idea were they Saxon, or Roman or Viking, or British. Some take a powerful caveat to the term to say they were not just Hill forts, but many things, ritual sites, animal enclosures, more largely places to flee to, or even hilltop villages some use the term for structures of totally separate origin in India or New Zealand etc. Plus the term can also be used for sites that were not really on hills, but were or little peninsulas, or some such like
To me, the term is very broad, but tangible, and I think it is helpful to not define it too much.
I put it in these categories.
(1) The classically imagined hillfort, a earthworks surrounded structure like Maiden Castle or Rhosesmor, in this case you may be not including sites on peninsulas, or some such.
(2) The broader definition of many forts in Britain, from before 1066, and castles, that does not have a other describing moniker such as a broch, or ringfort, a Saxon Burgh, or a Roman site. All in all I mean, the sites larger than homesteads, that were Celtic Iron Age, or Celtic Dark Ages or even Roman times Celtic. Though even for some Celtic fortifications, like ringforts, or the pro towns of South East England, or dykes I can not count them as hillforts. What I mean is for instance a crannog can not be classed as a hillfort, but perhaps a site like Edinburgh Castle, or St Michael's Mount can be said to be put in the hillfort sites, list, in that sense. Even if they do not look like what was classed as hillfort in (1). So some may not be hillforts anymore, but may be hillfort sites, and some may be coastal forts, that are put in the hillfort category, in it's broader definition as either former sites of hillforts, which became so much so castles, (though some castle sites like Dumbarton and DInas Bran retain those hillforts, so much that they can still be called hillforts, not just hillfort sites,
(3) I even say there are some sites like Edinburgh Castle or Dinas Bran, which today are clearly castles which have evidence of being defensive redoubts before they were a castle. And in that I mean castle as in the idea that the Normans were the first to have castles in Britain of that sort. Even if motte and bailey castles were not stone.
(4) I even count at times sites like St Michael's Mount just as it had a likely a defensive barrier to help the site long ago.
(5) Then lastly, yes some hillfort sites may have been just ritual sites or some such or some other thing rather than military. I still count them as hillforts, Ingleborough, Navan, maybe Uffington, as surely we do not know for sure they were ritual. We can still put it in the category of hillfort even though it was a ritual not military site. For some, they will not be excavated and we will never know, how many of the 4000 or so hillforts were ritual, or whatever sites, why not just accept the term is just a term to some extent. Sometimes it is a definition of a military site, but just look that up I say. Surely the term Hillfort is just a word, it almost might as well be Marshmallow or pillow, it is not the case that the term in itself hillfort has to mean specifically what the word started as, anymore than William Shakespeare, was a shakey spear called William. Yes it is lovely to have words that do the job on the tin, the Stapler, staples, the tin opener opens tins etc etc. Some words though overtime started like that, and then developed to a other meanings. Like how a mouse on a computer was so named as it had the long wire that looked like a tail, and the buttons looking like ears. But now, some mouses have no wire and are oddly shaped, but are still mice, though they look nothing like mice. Yes there is something in the mists of time, that the term has a original base meaning that has a sense and a importance a unifying truth on its collective history, but I think the same is true for hillforts. The term is just a term that describes many structures that on a level could be seen as similar on some ways, and were seen by many as hill forts, and similar to other hill fort type sites, but in others are not. To my mind yes the term hillfort is a uniting factor that they were mostly defensive fort type sites in some sense, but we can keep that in mind, but also move away from that fact, and keep them all in this box as a category as it has a unifying aspect to it, that I feels has a use to understanding the concepts in history. You just have to then look more at the detail to understand it more, and the caveats and nuances within the subject and term. To a sense hillfort is a descriptive term like a stapler is a stapler and such, but in a sense it is also a term that has a meaning that has taken a step back and seen a broader more complex nuanced list. So the term hillfort is right, as even if it were by any other name, they would still be what they are, what I said, there, a hillfort. It's like what Shakespeare says about Roses in a way. A rose is still a rose if by any other name. And if you start giving them different names, like a double or treble barrelled decriber, I believe you start getting political. Not that II oppose politics, it has it's place, but if you start describing them, as one describing term, second and third all in one sentence, you are usually displaying what you think they are, when that may just be your, or you group's view. Whether you think they are highly ambiguous sites, or whether you think they are a specific thing, a fortified village, or ritual site whatever. So as I say the term hillfort is a good catch all term, for these sites that were surely of various diverse uses. Indeed maybe it is good we can have all these varied sites, in one title as then we are not segregating sites by task and use so much, which is maybe not always the right thing to do.
(6) Yes, hillforts overseas, some like castros or oppida in cases are more like some British hillforts, than some other British hillforts, but it is still acceptable to accept the term hillfort in British context lets us understand the history of our British historians interpretation of the subject. So I feel it is OK Britain has a different term for similar structures as all you have to do is look at the subject and see they are similar. You don’t need to rewrite the whole instruction manual and guide for every change in understanding.
(7) Yes some sites further afield are called Hillforts despite having a totally separate history, again that is OK, just look at the facts and you find that out.
(8) All in all it is a descriptive term on a sense but also a name that has lost it's meaning.
(9) Sometimes the term hill fort is used interchangeably with the term hillfort, some see the idea that they are different, as a hill fort could define a any fort on a hill, and a hillfort just a specific category of Iron Age etc site, but others see them as the same word.
(10) Lastly I like the term, it has a use as a broad vague term.
It seems British Camp, and Pictish fort, were used in the Victorian era by many as a name for Iron Age hillforts, but the term hillfort became the more commonly used term, when it started, maybe before, or after I have not investigated. Certainly the term hillfort has been used for a long time. Indeed Pitt-Rivers in the 1860s, was talking of the hill-forts of Sussex in South East England, I will not search more than that on the origins of the term. Also on some old maps of the past, the word fort or camp, or the local name are sometimes used when overlaid over a outline of such hillfort sites. I have even seen the terms Caratacus' Camp and Celtic camp used. Plus even from a 1940s book, by the Hawkes, a Iron Age Camp, or even just Camp.
OK another bit, What is in a name. Well I have studied British and Irish hillfort names for my quiz questions. What I realise is that despite them sounding so different it seems, the vast majority fit into these categories, and are a variation on a theme. That almost all have a word in them that is either a Celtic or English or Viking language term, sometimes very old terms, denoting a hill, like law, or bryn, or a Celtic or same again languages term denoting a fortification site, or sometimes less often a kind of olde term for a major settlement. With that there may be a descriptive term describing the geography there of the site, or the site itself, and possibly with or instead a name of a person, usually from history and pre-history, sometimes major, with sometimes it possibly being a person who was not that famous, who may have ben a important figure there at a time, whose name often diverges in some way from it's original wording. Sometimes the fort gets named after a nearby settlement as well also, so pretty good there. There are likely other name types as well. That is what I have found though, despite there being so many possible variations of these names, maybe another is like Fort of the, and then a name of a people or group. I am sure this list could be expanded for ages, but that is all I want to say on that topic of just the names for now. I mean some hillforts in Wales, many, indeed are a variation on a theme, and they make me think, they could have been very local names. Like a local farmer, or villager or homestead fellow saying I just going up to the Gaer, or up to the bare hill of the fort, which is why so many have similar names. There was no need to have lots of radically different names, when not many people outside the area had a need to have lots of different names, and the local utilitarian name was good enough. I think there is a bit of that in England and Scotland but not so much, as there there are a few more names that sound like they had people's names or groups added, though there as well, really it is a similar thing. Also there are some hybrid names, which are terms bringing in words from, 2 languages, the classic one is to have the old British term for fort, then add the Saxon term for castle, and then the later English term, so you have 3 words for castle in the same name. Or perhaps even a photo semantic term, which turns a Welsh / British term into a garbled version of a English word, that sounds similar, but does not mean the same. Like Maiden Castle started as the Mai Dun of course a Celtic term for Great Hill. So no doubt, in England the Viking and English language impact and history have made a wider variety of language origins for names of forts there. Scotland's hillforts in many cases adopted Scots English names, but often had Gaelic names, Norse names, and old British names. All in all though there is a bit of a just a variation of a theme for all hillforts in Britain, and to a extent in Ireland. So that is what I say on hillforts then for you all. for now.
So I also will say most of my pages are on sites I have been to, as if I have been to it, I have a unique selling point on it, of having seen it in my view. Though I do some pages I have not been to.
Last lot of pictures on this webpage. All these photos are by me so you need my permission to use them. They are excavations of forts, I saw on my walks and such. So first is Penycloddiau, I visited the site and saw a excavation had revealed this, and the dry stone wall effect of builders. It has to be said some fort's walls do look a bit like rubble, but that is as of the effects of time in the main, but these walls here were built by very skilled craftsmen who piled these stones, as skillfully as dry stone wallers today.
Then a site I helped at, Moel Y Gaer, Bodfari, I took these photos, of it and they are impressive I think I also added a picture of Bodfari's Moel Y Gaer on the Clwydian Hills, to add to the feel here. Hope that is OK. P.S promonotory fort, is spelt promontory fort,