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Warbstow Bury

 

Introduction to site

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On a broad ridge high on the north-eastern edges of Bodmin Moor, sheltered by a summit to the south-west stands Warbstow Bury, one of the largest and best-preserved hillforts in Cornwall. The site overlooks the valley of the River Ottery and commands far-reaching views for miles around.

There is a car park at the site from which a signposted public footpath leads to the site. From the A395, Warbstow is signposted at the village of Hallworthy. The car park is on the left before you reach the village of Warbstow from this direction.

There are regular bus services to Warbstow, which is located approximately 560m from the site. Visit the Traveline website for customised sustainable transport options.

The site is free to visit, and is open any reasonable time in daylight hours.

There are refreshment facilities in the nearby village of Hallworthy, which lies approximately 3.7km from the site.

View our interactive Access to Monuments map to find this and other nearby sites.

Hillforts began to be built in Cornwall from the middle of the Iron Age – around 500 BC, though there is evidence for earlier origins for some sites. They vary hugely in layout and design, in the area enclosed and the scale and number of ramparts. Warbstow Bury represents one of the larger and more impressive types, with two widely-spaced ramparts with a smaller bank running between them around the south-western half of the site. This may be part of an unfinished rampart or perhaps represents an earlier phase partly demolished by later remodelling of the defences. Each rampart has an outer ditch with smaller ‘counterscarp’ banks on their outer edge. These are probably the result of regular clearance of silt and debris from the bottoms of the ditches. The ramparts are very large and when topped by wooden palisades the site would have appeared formidable indeed. There are two causewayed entrances to the hillfort at the north-east and south-west corners; the inner ramparts turn slightly inwards at these points, and the gaps would have been spanned by strongly built wooden gatehouses.

There is not a great deal of evidence to suggest that there was a real need for strong defences during the later Iron Age, although the strategic position of the site in relation to the surrounding landscape is clear enough. Rather, the massive scale of the defences may have been intended as a visual indication of the status and importance of the builders – though this may also be the expression of a sense of insecurity in a time of rapid political and cultural change. The period was one of increasing population, more effective industrial and agricultural production, and increased contact and trade with Northern Europe. This is likely to have led to a requirement for more effective organisational structures as well as an increased need for people to congregate together for business, social and ceremonial occasions. Warbstow Bury, along with many other hillforts, may have provided the arena for some or all of these functions as well as providing a safe and secure tribal base if required.

Most hillforts went out of use at the end of the Iron Age, though the extent to which this is due to the Roman occupation is not clear. Certainly, the Roman period ushered in a new phase of social and economic development.

Whilst many excavated hillforts have produced evidence for houses and other structures, for trackways, and for the organisation of the interior into what might be termed residential and industrial zones, Warbstow Bury has never been excavated and so its internal details are unknown. There is however, a long low mound centrally sited within the hillfort known as the Giant’s Grave or Arthur’s Grave and many legends are associated with this site. One story has it that the mound is the grave of a giant who lived on the hill and was killed by the neighbouring giant of nearby Condolen Beacon. However, it is much more likely to be a medieval rabbit warren.

  • Fleming F. 2008. Iron Age Settlement Pattern within the Culm Measures of North Cornwall – Trends Analysis and Comparative Evaluation. Unpublished.