On Saturday July 2 the Fingle volunteers were hard at work at Wooston Castle. This Iron Age hillfort is situated on a prominent ridge above the Teign Valley, but the hillfort’s commanding position has gradually disappeared, obscured by the growth of trees and vegetation around the ramparts. So the volunteers spent a productive day removing conifer trees and trampling the bracken to help to win back the commanding views from the hillfort, looking westwards down into the Teign Valley towards Castle Drogo.
Reclaiming the view was just one aspect of this work, the removal of conifers and trampling the bracken will help increase light and reduce the encroachment of roots into the scheduled ancient monument. Increasing the light will allow native woodland flora such as violets and bluebells a chance to recolonize the area and will in turn, benefit invertebrates such as butterflies. It is hoped practical management will benefit species such as the pearl bordered and silver-washed fritillaries.
The volunteer task was a step towards the management that will be needed over the next few years to improve the condition of this fascinating monument. On a recent visit to the hillfort with the archaeologist for Dartmoor National Park Authority, he explained that the rhizomes of bracken are particularly damaging to the below ground archaeology at the site. Their vigorous rhizome system mixes up the original layers laid down over time, confusing the evidence that archaeologists can use to unpick the history of a site. The rhizomes are so invasive, that he even described finding plastic pushed underneath the original historic layers at one particularly ‘brackeny’ site!
To set Wooston Castle in its’ historical context, it is interesting to read English Heritage’s (EH) description of why the hillfort is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (see text below). EH’s detailed description of Wooston gives an insight into some of the exciting discoveries that the planned management of the site and the excavations of the earthworks might reveal over the next few years – such as what the hillfort was used for and how it relates to the wider landscape.
Reasons for Wooston Castle’s Designation
Slight univallate hillforts are defined as enclosures of various shapes, generally between 1ha and 10ha in size, situated on or close to hilltops and defined by a single line of earthworks, the scale of which is relatively small. They date to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth – fifth centuries BC), the majority being used for 150 to 200 years prior to their abandonment or reconstruction. Slight univallate hillforts have generally been interpreted as stock enclosures, redistribution centres, places of refuge and permanent settlements. The earthworks generally include a rampart, narrow level berm, external ditch and counterscarp bank, while access to the interior is usually provided by either simple gaps in the earthwork or an inturned rampart. Outworks are limited to only a few examples. Slight univallate hillforts are important for understanding the transition between Bronze Age and Iron Age communities. Wooston Castle is extremely unusual because it has a complex array of outworks. Wooston Castle survives well and will contain important archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction, development, use and landscape context.
To find out more about our work to restore Wooston Castle – do come along to the next Fingle lecture on 1st September 2016 – Revealing Wooston Castle. This walk and talk will focus on the process of tree removal from the Iron Age Hillfort, which begins this winter. The walk will take about an hour but were expecting a round trip of 2 hrs to be back at the Fingle Bridge Inn by 8pm. The event will be led by David Rickwood (Site Manager), Tom Wood (NT Ranger) and the archaeological team (James Parry).
For more information and to book a place you can visit the Woodland Trust website. Four wheel drives will be available to assist with access, if you would like a place in a 4 wheel drive do let us know.
Words by Kate Smith, Woodland Trust. Images by Jim White