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Cliff Castles

Iron Age 800 BC - AD 43

Cliff Castles are found all along the ‘Celtic Fringe’ in Cornwall, Devon, Wales, Ireland and Brittany.

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They were constructed by building one or more ramparts and ditches across the neck of a coastal promontory and have much in common with hillforts, including the fact that both site types appear in the fourth millennium (from 500 BC) and go out of use in the first century AD, around the time of the Roman occupation.

Like hillforts, their purpose is being re-evaluated in the light of information from recent excavations and studies – they do not seem to function primarily as settlements, and their coastal location suggests they may have played a particular role in maritime trade.

Examples to visit


Chynalls cliff castle is formed by two earthen banks built across the neck of the promontory, with a ditch between. The inner rampart is stone revetted and the original entrance was probably at the centre where the footpath now runs. The site has never been excavated, but there are no obvious traces of any houses or other internal features.


Lankidden cliff castle lies on an impressive headland on the south Cornwall coast approximately one and a half kilometres east of Kennack Sands. At this point the natural serpentine of the Lizard area is cut by a thick dyke (or sheet) of hard crystalline Gabbro which terminates in the rugged stack at Carrick Luz, whose name translated from the Cornish means ‘grey rock’.

Rame Head

The dramatic promontory of Rame Head lies on the south coast at the southern tip of Cornwall, close to the mouth of the Tamar estuary. Finds of flints reflect activity in the area as far back as the Mesolithic Period and during the Iron Age the headland was enclosed by a substantial ditch and rampart stretching across the narrow isthmus forming a cliff castle.

The Rumps

The cliff castle exploits the narrow isthmus which links the twin headlands to the mainland massif. During the Late Iron Age three lines of ramparts were constructed, the outermost of which exploits a natural fault line in the rocks.