Home WORLD NEWS Hill fort hotspots in UK and Ireland mapped for first time in online atlas

Hill fort hotspots in UK and Ireland mapped for first time in online atlas

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Some soar out of the landscape and have impressed tourists and inspired historians and artists for centuries, while others are tiny gems, tucked away on mountain or moor and are rarely visited.

For the first time, a detailed online atlas has drawn together the locations and particulars of the UK and Ireland’s hill forts and come to the conclusion that there are more than 4,000 of them, mostly dating from the iron age.

The project has been long and not without challenges. Scores of researchers – experts and volunteer hill fort hunters – have spent five years pinpointing the sites and collating information on them.

Their task has been made more complicated by the term “hill fort”. Many of the sites that make it on to the atlas, which goes live on Thursday, are not on hills and are not really forts.

Stirling Castle, Scotland.



Stirling Castle, Scotland. Photograph: Alamy

Gary Lock, an emeritus professor of archaeology at the University of Oxford and one of those involved in the project, said the term was not particularly helpful. “The name hill fort is quite an old one, coined in the early 20th century. The sort of archaeologists that were around in those days were of a military frame of mind,” he said.

“The theory of the time was that during the iron age Britain was invaded from the continent and hill forts were constructed as a response. It was called invasion theory. If something new occurred in the archaeological record then it was a response to aggression and invasion.

“Things have moved on since then. We’ve discovered a lot of so-called hill forts are not all on hills and current interpretation is that while they may have had some sort of fort-type function, there’s very little evidence of them being attacked in the iron age.

“The thinking now is that they were some sort of communal, central place. If you had people living in farmsteads at certain times of the year they would get together in their hill fort and take part in ceremonies or trading. But the name hill fort has stuck. You can’t change that.”

The team of researchers, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council decided that 4,147 sites warranted the term hill fort.

Of these, 1,695 are in Scotland, more than 400 of them in the Scottish borders. There are 1,224 in England, 271 of these in Northumberland. Other hotspots include Cornwall and Devon and the borderlands between England and Wales. However, there are few hill forts in some places including Kent. Nobody knows why.

Aerial view of the hill fort known as Cadbury Castle in Somerset, reputedly the location of King Arthur’s Camelot.



Aerial view of the hill fort known as Cadbury Castle in Somerset, reputedly the location of King Arthur’s Camelot. Photograph: Alamy

Even once the limitations of the term had been accepted, working out which site merited the flawed term was at times tricky.

Sites such as Maiden Castle, which stretches for 900 metres along a saddle-backed hilltop in Dorset, are obvious. But some that have made the cut are little more than a couple of roundhouses with a ditch and bank. Certain hill forts in Northumbria are tiny and probably would not have got into the atlas if they were in Wessex, where the sites tend to be grander.

Many hill forts will be familiar, such as the one on Little Solsbury Hill, which overlooks Bath. But there are others, such as a chain of forts in the Clwydian Range in north-east Wales, that are not so well known. Many are in lovely, remote locations but there are also urban ones surrounded by roads and housing.

The online atlas and database will be accessible on smartphones and tablets and can be used while visiting a hill fort.

Alice Roberts, a professor of public engagement in science at the University of Birmingham and presenter of the BBC show Digging for Britain, said “Hill forts are an astonishing reminder of the ancient past; monumental impressions left by our ancestors on the landscape.”

Hill fort hotspots

The sun rises over Brown Caterthun near Edzell.



The sun rises over Brown Caterthun near Edzell. Photograph: Kieran Baxter/Arts and Humanitie/PA

England

Northumberland – 271

Devon – 89

Cornwall – 77

Shropshire – 63

Herefordshire – 52

Northern Ireland

Antrim – 15

Tyrone – 8

Down – 3

Armagh – 3

Derry – 2

Republic of Ireland

Mayo – 73

Cork – 72

Clare – 54

Kerry – 42

Donegal – 40

Scotland

Scottish Borders – 408

Dumfries and Galloway – 286

Highland – 209

Argyll and Bute – 199

East Lothian – 89

Wales

Powys – 147

Pembrokeshire – 136

Ceredigion – 86

Carmarthenshire – 86

Gwynedd – 80

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/22/hillforts-uk-ireland-mapped-first-time-online-database-atlas

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