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Clovelly Dykes


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The iron age hill fort of Clovelly Dykes or Ditchen Hills stands at a watershed on the Hartland peninsula, North Devon, commanding a panoramic sea view over the Severn estuary as far as the coast of Wales. Inland, the earthwork has a more restricted view.

clovelly dykes - iron age hillfort - north devon

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Clovelly Dykes was built in the second or first century BC, in two distinct phases

The first phase of construction at Clovelly Dykes consisted of two concentric banks and ditches 

The inner bank and ditch encloses about two and a half acres, the outer bank and ditch adds another two acres. 

The outer bank is substantially the larger of the two with an escarpment of some twenty six feet compared to the sixteen feet (approx.) of the inner. 

The entrances to both faced east at this time.

In the second phase the area of the fort was increased from four and a half acres to twenty three acres by the construction of approximately one and a half miles of earthworks making it one of the largest hill forts in  south west England. The new plan placed the entrances at the north /west ( a double entrance) and the northeast. 


Clovelly Dykes is of a type classified by historians as a "concentric multi enclosure plateau hill fort". It stands on level ground about 700ft. above sea level, occupying a nodal point in the hill-system, situated as it is on the watershed and at the junction of three ridgeways.

The southern ridgeway approaches the southwest corner of the fort, joining with the western ridgeway and then paralleling the western embankment and ditch, finally entering the fort at the north west gate.


The north central gateway opened on to "an ancient roadway paved with large square stones" leading to the village of Clovelly. The eastern ridgeway entered the fort through the northeastern entrance.

The one and a half miles of earthworks enclose an area of twenty three acres making this one of the largest hill forts in  south west England. All three northern entrances lead to nearby sources of water and each entrance grants easy access to all three western strip enclosures.


The multivallate, hill-slope forts of the south west ( including Clovelly Dykes ) are contemporary with the promontory and contour earthwork fortifications of the area. Close by Clovelly Dykes there are remains of promontory earthworks at Embury Beacon and Windbury Head and there is a local  tradition that there was a third of these cliff castles at Hartland Point, now undermined by the sea.

These two distinctly different designs were built and used at the same time.

The contour hillforts and promontory forts were defended settlements; built and used for the protection of the local populace in times of danger. The multivallate hill-slope forts were more like secure warehouses / stock pens.

The reason for being was primarily economic, their secondary role was to keep invaders out, but their primary role was to keep trade goods secure. Thus the two types, multivallate, hill-slope forts and promontory /contour forts, existed side by side. Each fulfilling a different need.

The economy of Dumnonia was built on the trade routes with the Mediterranean, reliant as it has always been on the sea. Links were established between the silver miners of the Severn Estuary and Carthage as early as 450 BC.

The red cattle of Britain were mentioned in the story of the Labours of Hercules, where it relates that hero's adventures on his return from robbing Geryon of his cattle. Pomponius Mela, ii. 5 (p. .50), makes Hercules on that journey fight with two sons of Poseidon or Neptune ,Albiona and Bergyon. 

"To us there can hardly be any mistake as to the two personal names being echoes of those of Albion and Iverion, Britain and Ireland."  from Prof Rhys - Celtic Folklore

According to the ancient writers, tin and cattle were the main exports, according to the archeologists, wine and olive oil from the mediterranean were the main imports. This trade needed secure distribution centres, fortified sites like Clovelly Dykes, Tintagel and Gwithian were the solution.


revised Jan2009


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