Cow Castle, Somerset
Cow Castle hillfort crowns the upper contours of an impressively steep knoll, bounded to the West by the River Barle, and on the East by White Water. It is an ovate univalate hilltop fort of a little under 3 acres (1.2 hectares). The approach to the South is restricted by the confluence of these two bodies of water, and to the North the knoll slopes rapidly down to a thin neck of land cut off by a dry stone wall. The wall is not thought to be ancient, however, if the inhabitants of Cow Castle had decided to build a defensive outwork, they couldn’t have chosen a better spot for it. Although this is a smallish hillfort enclosing a little under 3 acres (1.2 hectares), a lot of work has gone into the ramparts, which form a flat topped bank up to 2m in height, possibly revetted with stone both inside and out.(1)
Burrow notes that there are possible ‘hut’ platforms on the East side of the enclosure, while investigators for the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England noted a further possible four on the Northern side, and also noted that there were ‘several natural terraces on this (North) side which would have been convenient locations for settlement.’(2)
There is some debate about the position of the entrance. Grinsell thought the original was in the North-East of the rampart, but the consensus has it in the South-East, where the ramparts gain height either side of an 8 metre gap. Where the ramparts terminate at this gap, they are both in and out-turned, with this feature being more exaggerated on the Southern terminus (described as a ‘T’ shape).(3)
There is a small standing stone/post at the external corner of the Southern terminus, a feature which is shared by Brewer’s Castle and Mounsey Castle 7.5 miles to the South-East. Cow Castle is overlooked from every side, but its upturned pudding-bowl profile renders this detail of little significance – the nature of its location is its best defence, it has access to the high grazing to the North, and exists in splendid isolation.
OS map reference: SS 79444 37355. Nearest town/village: Simonsbath.
Burrow, Ian (1981). Hillfort and hill-top settlement in Somerset in the first to eighth centuries A.D. BAR British series 1
Wilson-North & Chapman HAI 11-OCT-1994 RCHME Field Investigation.