The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Cow Castle

Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork


You know... the more hillforts I visit, the more I'm convinced that there is a far greater symbolic aspect to them than is usually attributed by the authors of guidebooks and academics. In short, I guess what I'm suggesting is that in not all cases was defence the primary, overriding concern of the inhabitants. Far from being simply 'fortified villages', I reckon they performed a serious spiritual function, too, perhaps recognising that 'the spiritual world' was as tangible to peoples' everyday lives as the basic human necessities of water, food and shelter? Cow Castle is, I think, a case in point.

I decide not to take the longer, northern approach from Simonsbath - lazy sod - but walk from Horsen Farm at the terminus of a minor road leaving the Simonsbath/Braysford road at Blue Gate [incidentally also the route of The Two Moors Way]. I think it was the old time, cheesy entertainer Max Bygraves who's catchphrase was 'I want to tell you a story'. Well, the stream which flows roughly eastwards towards Great Ferny Ball says more or less the same thing... but with infinitely more style. Yeah, the traveller is compelled to literally 'go with the flow' towards what lies unseen 'around the corner'. Upon meeting a ford I decide to take the higher approach via the aforementioned Great Ferny Ball, to be rewarded with a jaw dropping view of Cow Castle to the north... in its magical landscape setting, within a natural ampitheatre of encircling hills. Is 'jaw dropping' over-eulogizing, perhaps? To be honest, I don't think so. A military engineer might disagree with Cow Castle's placement, but not those with a permanent spot reserved within the psyche for wild, uncompromising, down right beautiful landscapes.

A sharp descent brings me back to the main track [stay on this if you prefer and so avoid the climb] and a wooden bridge across the River Barle, followed by another crossing its tributary, White Water. Here a steep ascent northwards brings the traveller to the summit of Cow Castle. Just how a cow is supposed to get up here is anyone's guess? But there you are. Perhaps utilising rocket assisted cow take off, or something. The ramparts aren't exactly the most formidable you'll encounter, granted, but they are pretty well preserved, with entrances - original, I think - to south-east and north-east, the latter, it would appear, with additional outworks. So this was clearly a pretty defensible enclosure, well protected against surprise attack. And only your wannabe Beserker would attempt to storm it, surely? Not with flanks that steep. OK, our military engineer would no doubt cite the higher, surrounding hills as a weakness. Perhaps. But then again - even though we aren't talking anything as extreme as, say The Chesters up near Edinburgh - I reckon the inhabitants just felt compelled to occupy this isolated hilltop, no matter what. Their home just HAD to be here, perhaps to gain some supernatural protection, perhaps in veneration of a long time spiritual site? In many ways the landscape says it all, the enclosure more or less surrounded by water courses, save a gap to the north.... a 'meeting of the waters', no less. There are possibly other clues, too, most notably that the enclosure ditch is traceable on the INSIDE of the ramparts at several points. That this apparent absurdity echoes henge structure may be coincidental, or it may not?

Many walkers pass by below my hilltop perch. None, however, take the effort to join me. Consequently the vibe remains intact. Yeah, there's definately more to these hillforts than meets the eye.
18th January 2011ce
Edited 18th January 2011ce

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