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Situated a couple of miles or so ESE of St Columb Major in Cornwall, Castle an Dinas is an Iron Age hillfort, considered by many to be one of the most important hillforts in the southwest of Britain. It dates from around the 3rd to 2nd century BCE and consists of three ditch and rampart concentric rings, 850 feet above sea level. Within the central enclosed area are the remains of two Bronze Age round barrows. During the early 1960s it was excavated by a team led by Dr. Bernard Wailes of the University of Pennsylvania during two seasons of excavation.

Satellite image from Google Maps

Satellite image from Google Maps

History:

Traditionally, Castle an Dinas was the hunting lodge (hunting seat) of King Arthur, from which he rode in the Tregoss Moor hunt. The earliest written record was made by William of Worcester during his visit to Cornwall in 1478 when he noted that legend says that the fort was the place where Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall and husband of King Arthur’s mother, died.

In March 1646, during the English Civil War, Royalist troops camped for two nights within the rings of the fort and held a Council of War where it was decided that they would surrender to the Parliamentarians.

From 1916 to 1957 it was the site of Cornwall’s largest wolfram mine. Many of the old buildings and workings have now been removed, following work by the current owners, Cornwall Heritage Trust, in 2008-2010, details of which can be found in a report lodged with the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)

Description:

The History of Cornwall: From the Earliest Records and Traditions, to the Present Time, Volume 1”  by Fortescue Hitchins and Samuel Drew (1824), gives the following description of the hillfort, ascribed to a ‘Mr Hals’:

In this parish stands Castell-an-Danis, alias Castell-an-Dynes, Castell-an-Denis, synonymous words; i. e. is the Men’s Castle, or is the Castle of Men; otherwise Castell-an-Dunes, Castell-an-Dunis; that is to say, is the castle, fenced fort, or fortress, or is the fort or fortress castle. It consists of about six acres of ground, within three circles or intrenchments, upon the top of a pyramidical hill, built of turf and unwrought rough stones, after the British manner, without lime, comparatively a hedge ; each of these circles or ramparts rising about eight feet above each other towards the centre of the castle, which consists of about an acre and half of land, in the midst whereof appear the ruins of some old dilapidated houses. Near which is a flat vallum, pit, or tank, wherein rain or cloud water that falls, abides, more or less in quantity as it falls, one half of the year. Which I suppose supplied the soldiers’ occasions, as no fountain, spring, or river water, is within a thousand paces thereof. There are two gates or portals leading to this fort, the one on the east, the other on the west side thereof, which on a stony causey, now covered with grass, conduct you up and down the hill towards Trekyning; that is to say, the king, prince, or ruler’s town.

Current State:

On a recent visit, sheep and their lambs were grazing on the site, this is apparently quite usual – on a previous visit goats were also present. A couple of ponies were also present near the carpark.

On approaching the hill fort from the car park, the inclination (excuse the pun) is to head straight up the rampart – it appears as if a footpath has been cut for this purpose, but this is actually erosion of the rampart. An apparently ‘invisible’ sign directs visitors to the left, toward the original entrance at the southwest and away from the erosion, but as can be seen, it appears few people notice the sign!

Can you see which way to go?

Can you see which way to go?

...many obviously can't.

…many obviously can’t.

There's no excuse for this!

But there’s no excuse for this!

Entering the central area from the SW, the remains of the barrows are to the right, and ahead to the left. On the far side is a boggy area, the pond or vallum described by Hals in the quote above. Also ahead to the left is an observation plaque set on stone. This points out various landmarks in all directions, very useful and interesting on a clear day, less so on a misty/foggy one! The plaque is placed upon an ancient stone with an interesting story:

“Anne, the daughter John Pollard, of this parish [St. Columb], and Loveday, the daughter of Thomas Rosebere, of the parish of Enoder, were buried on the 23rd day of June, 1671, who were both barbarously murdered the day before in the house of Capt’n Peter Pollard on the bridge, by one John the son of Humphrey and Cicely Trehembern, of this parish, about 11 of the clock in the forenoon upon a market day.”

The following tradition is given in connection with the above: “A bloodhound was obtained and set upon the trail, which it followed up a narrow lane, to the east of the union-house, named Tremen’s-lane; at the head, the hound made in an oblique direction towards the town, and in a narrow alley, known as Wreford’s-row, it came upon the murderer in his father’s house, and licked his boots, which were covered in blood.”

The sentence on Tremen was “that he be confined in an iron cage on the Castle Downs, 2 miles from St. Columb, and starved to death.” While in confinement he was visited by a country woman on her way home from market. The prisoner begged earnestly for something to eat; the woman informed him that she had nothing in the shape of food but a pound of candles; this being given him, he ate them in a ravenous manner. It’s a saying here, in reference to a scapegrace, that he is a regular Tremen.

Richard Cornish. St. Columb.

The stone is supposedly the one upon which the cage was set, and where John Tremen met his death.

Directions:

OS Grid Ref SW945623.

From the A30 Westbound, take the B3274 through Victoria – this is the old A30 road. Continue along, under the old iron railway bridge until the road bends right and drops under the new A30. Just under a mile past the A30 bridge is a signposted track to the right. this leads direct to a small carpark behind a farm house. The fort is a 5 minute walk from the carpark.

From the East, take the A39 to the St Columb junction. Take the exit from the Roundabout signposted Castle an Dinas. The farm trackway is about 2 miles from the roundabout.

A signpost points the way to the Carpark and hill fort from both directions. There is an interpetation sign and map of the site in the carpark.

CaDSign

More information:

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