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Castle Dore



I have just written this up in preparation for a tour I have got to give to 40 americans to the site... thought it might be of some use to somebody:
Castle Dore supposedly means earth castle.

It is an Iron Age Fort consisting of an inner circle and outer circle. Both have an entrance in the eastern side, away from the prevailing winds. It is thought to have been built originally about 200BC.

Views from the fort are extensive, surrounded on both sides by valleys that would have been flooded in Iron Age times. The Fowey Valley to the east, and St Austell Bay and Tywardreath to the west. It is only in the last 300 or so years that the valley to the west has dried up and become farmland. This is a result of mining activities on the higher ground of central Cornwall.

The ridge that the hillfort is built on has always been an important trade route from coast to coast. At the time the site was inhabited the climate of Britain was cooling down. People had moved off the high moors to settle closer to the sea. They had started trading with other countries, Ireland and the Brittany area of France being just two examples. The people of these "kingdoms" would rather travel overland than risk the seas around Lands End, something that would continue well into the middle ages. The trade route, and the traders, needed protecting. By sticking to higher ground they had a good view of the surrounding countryside that most probably would have been heavily forested at the time. All across Cornwall hillforts sprang up, apart from the high desolate moors. Many still remain, others have been ploughed back into the landscape, only appearing on the occasional aerial photo.

It is thought that a small village existed outside the eastern gate of the hillfort in its early days. There is also evidence from aerial photos that a circular site of some sort stood a short distance to the south west of the hillfort. This could have been a henge, a Bronze Age ritual site, consisting of an earth bank and ditch. Was this where the Tristan Stone originated?

After the fort had been in use for 100 years or so it is thought that the defences were strengthened. This could have been as a result of the advent of the sling into Iron Age weaponery or it may have been because of the threat of a Roman Invasion. Whatever the reason, the walls were built up, probably topped off with wooden fencing, and a covered gateway erected over the entrance.

Experts believe the site was abandoned shortly after the Romans invasion of Britain. No evidence of a great battle has ever been found at Castle Dore and it is not thought that the Romans ever "invaded" Cornwall. The general thinking is that they traded along the coast and very rarely travelled in land, in fact there are only thought to be a few Roman sites in Cornwall, and they are only basic camps, possibly set up to shelter the odd legion.

The Romans called Cornwall the "Cassiterites", a name deriving from the fact that there was tin here. This was the main reason for them coming to the county to trade.

So what happened after the Romans?

Experts differ… An excavation carried out in the mid 20th century found evidence of postholes inside the central circle. It was decided these were supports for a large hall or palace, a separate kitchen and another slightly smaller hall. Other buildings were also thought to have been included in this grouping including a chapel and stables. At the time it was said that these holes dated to the 5th or 6th century and tied in nicely with the story of King Mark. He is said to have lived in the Fowey/Lostwithiel area and through his association with the story of Tristan and Isult the argument for Castle Dore being the centre of his "Kingdom" was strong.

Sadly, for those romantics amongst us, we cannot stop there. Research done in the mid 1980's failed to find any evidence that the site was occupied after the Iron Age. That is not to say King Mark did not exist. He could have easily lived at Lantyan, a nearby manor mentioned in the Domesday Book, and possibly the Lancien of the Tristan story. Chances are that wherever he lived it was a wooden structure, now long gone and we will never know exactly where it was.

In my view the name also holds clues to the fact King Mark never settled here. Castle Dore is said to be translated from middle Cornish and means "earth castle". Middle Cornish dates from the 13th to 16th century, whereas many of the Iron Age hillforts in the area are prefixed with the word Bury or Berry, a word more associated with the Saxons or Britains. Did Castle Dore not get a British name because it was not occupied at the time?

In fact the Castle lay abandoned and forgotten until the English Civil War of the mid 1600's. In 1644, with Fowey surrounded, the Parliamentarians commanded by the Earl of Essex, used the site as a camp. Eventually in August, King Charles I and his men surrounded the area, by which time Essex and Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock had slipped away and sailed to Plymouth in a fishing boat. The Parliamentarians, under Major General Philip Skipton, surrendered and the army consisting of 6000 men were disarmed and sent on their way. Unfortunately for them, many paid for the poor treatment they had inflicted on the local people during their occupation. It seems only 1000 survived.

Nowadays the site is supposedly under the protection of the national conservation body for ancient monuments – English Heritage. I am a bit concerned about the erosion being caused by the cattle that are put onto the site, but at least they keep the vegetation down.
Mr Hamhead Posted by Mr Hamhead
5th June 2005ce
Edited 5th June 2005ce

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