Bat’s Castle Hillfort, Near Dunster, Somerset.
Bat’s Castle hillfort is a bivallate sub-circular enclosure of around 1.2 hectares. The banks reach a maximum height of around 2 metres, and the ditches are around 2 metres in depth. It was largely stone built, and has an impressive and unusually pronounced out-turned entrance approximately 30 metres in length (see Fig.01).
Although Bat’s Castle is the dominant feature of Gallox Hill, it should really be viewed in light of the other Iron Age structures present on this hilltop. In addition to the main hillfort, there is also Black Ball Camp, a sturdy bivallate hillfort some 570 metres to the North. Both of these hillforts have outworks – substantial bank and ditch defences that are built to deter unwelcome visitors. Black Ball Camp is protected by a 130 metre rampart sited at the top of the combe which leads down to Dunster, while Bat’s Castle is protected by a serpentine rampart that lies across the neck of the hill to the South East. Taken all together they form a complex of defences which lays claim to the entirety of the promontory in a very economical manner (see Fig.03).
The view from Gallox Hill is both extensive and spectacular – there is an unbroken vista down to the shore of the Bristol Channel and over to Wales, and you can also keep an eye on the Avill Valley, the only easily navigable route between the pinch of Gallox and Grabbist hills (on which Grabbist Hillfort is perched).
In the 1980s two schoolboys rummaging about in the ramparts stumbled across a hoard of eight silver coated coins spanning a period from 102 BCE though to AD 350 (though I think you’ll agree that the term ‘hoard’ here would have to be viewed in it’s absolutely narrowest sense).
The bank of the outwork is around 170 metres long, up to 2 metres high (rising to 3 at the gap), and fronted by a ditch almost a metre deep. It is an unusual affair – though there are other examples of outworks in Exmoor (Trendle Ring and Mounsey Castle being the most obvious), I can’t think of another which follows a similar line – it is serpentine, or, if you’d rather, takes the form of a cartoon lightning bolt (see Fig.02).
It’s unclear whether the current path that runs through it was the original entrance – if so then it was designed to channel visitors through a narrow area. Coincidentally or not, this would expose any aggressive visitor’s sword arm to the long wall, as opposed to their shield arm – a vulnerable position against sling stones and other projectiles. However, it should be noted that the outwork doesn’t run across the entire neck, so it may not have had a defensive role at all, though other uses fail to spring to mind. If it was for show – statement architecture – they chose a very odd shape for it. It’s possible that there was a wooden structural addition which would make more sense of the layout, but without excavation, it will remain a moot point.
OS map reference: SS 9882 4214. Nearest town/village: Dunster.
Forde-Johnston, J (1976). hillforts of the Iron Age in England and Wales. Liverpool.
Denison, Ed (1989). The Hillfort Study Group – Exmoor. Somerset County Council.
Burrow, Ian (1981). Hillfort and hill-top settlement in Somerset in the first to eighth centuries A.D. BAR.
Somerset HER 33443, now transferred to Exmoor HER MSO9083.