During my recent trip to Cornwall, I managed to finally visit a site I’ve had my eye on for some time: the remains of an Iron Age hillfort near to where we stay.

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales included in his description of Ludgvan the following:

“A ditched camp, called Castle-an-Dinas, and measuring 436 feet in diameter, occupies the summit of the highest hill, and commands extensive views.”

Whilst this may be factually correct, the hillfort is now quite difficult to see from the surrounding countryside, due in part to the existence of the upthrow of a large quarry to the southeast. However, once access to the hillfort has been obtained (see access notes, below), there are indeed wide ranging views to the North, East and round to the Southwest. Chysauster Courtyard House settlement lies 3/4 of a mile directly west from the hillfort. The hillfort itself consists of two concentric stone ramparts. A further slight external rampart of earth and stone can also be seen.

Borlase gives us slightly more detail:

“Castle-an-Dinas consisted of two stone walls, one within the other in a circular form, surrounding the area of the hill. The ruins are now fallen on each side of the walls, and show the work to have been of great height and thickness. There was also a third or outer wall, built more than half way round. Within the walls are many little inclosures of a circular form, about seven yards in diameter, with little walls round them of two or three feet high ; they appear to have been so many huts for the shelter of the garrison. The diameter of the whole fort from east to west is 400 feet, and the principal ditch 60 feet. Towards the south the sides of the hill are marked by two large green paths about 10 feet wide.”

The approach to the NW entrance

The ditch from the NW entrance, looking SW.

The ditch from the NW entrance, looking SW.

But this hillfort, the north entrance of which is still quite well defined (if somewhat overgrown in mid-summer) holds another surprise. Near the southeast rampart is what looks to all intents and purposes to be a small castle with four turreted towers. This is Rogers’ Tower, a folly built sometime in the late 1700’s by the Rogers family, who carried much influence in the local area. They owned Treassowe Manor, situated between the hillfort and Ludgvan Churchtown, and later moved to the Penrose estate just outside Porthleven.

The tower was built largely using stone ‘robbed out’ from the ramparts of the hillfort. The precise date of construction is debatable, but there is some supposition that the tower may have been used as a lookout point over the English Channel during the political upheaval which lead to the Napoleonic wars.

Rogers' Tower

However, although used by the family as a destination for outings it seems the tower quickly fell into disuse, and by 1817 was described as ‘now in a state of decay’. By 1859 this had progressed to ‘ruined’. In the 1920s, Castle an Dinas and Rogers’ Tower were included in Cornwall’s newly established list of Scheduled Monuments, and the tower was used as a lookout by the Home Guard during the Second World War. In 1960 some repair work was carried out, and this is commemorated by a roughly scrawled carving in the replacement pointing inside the tower. Further work was carried out in 2002/3 leading to the tower we see today.

Also placed within the confines of the hillfort, near to the tower is an Ordnance Survey triangulation (trig) point. The trig point was last levelled in 1955 (Levelling is the process of measuring the relative height marks across the landscape, and ultimately to a fixed datum – Mean Sea Level at Newlyn for the British mainland). Digital mapping has largely made such trig points redundant, and no doubt they will be regarded as heritage sites in their own right (if they’re not already – some enjoy scheduled monument protection).

A view SE from near the entrance, showing the trig point, the tower, and St Michael's Mount

A view SE from near the entrance, showing the trig point, the tower, and St Michael’s Mount

Access Notes:
The 6″ OS map of 1888 clearly shows a south eastern approach from the road at Inch’s Castle (now Castle Gate), but this has long been gobbled up by the quarry. A road 300 yards to the west now passes through into the quarry, but is marked as private property (and could be considered dangerous for pedestrians). There is a footpath on the road from Badgers Cross to Chysauster to the southwest, near to Little Chysauster farm but when I tried this route, the footpath was marked as closed ‘due to erosion’. Instead, I therefore elected to take a path from a farm shop to the east (just off the B3311 at Grid Ref SW491350), following the track northwest and skirting Trenowin Downs. At the first cottage, do not be tempted to cut across left, but continue on the track until a gate across the track. Go through the gate, and immediate left (now heading southwest and uphill) where the track dog-legs across Noon Digery. Continue uphill, crossing a stile where the track reduces to a footpath. Still heading uphill, look out for a stile on the left (approx SW482352), onto Tonkins Downs. This heads directly southeast again, and leads directly to the hillfort and the northwest entrance. Once through the causeway entrance, Rogers Tower can be easily seen almost directly ahead, beyond the trig point.

map courtesy of Bing Maps/Ordnance Survey.

map courtesy of Bing Maps/Ordnance Survey.

Sources:
Archaeology Report describing the remedial work of 2002/3

West Penwith Resources

The Megalithic Portal

All photos © Alan S. 2014