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Iron Age
Cliff Castles
Rame Head
The Rumps
  Rame Head

NGR: SX 4188 4846
Aerial photo of Rame head cliff castle from north east
The dramatic promontory known as Rame Head lies at the south-eastern tip of Cornwall, close to the mouth of the Tamar estuary. Flint tools found in the vicinity of the headland indicate that the area has been occupied from as far back as the Mesolithic period. During the Iron Age the headland was severed from the mainland by a substantial ditch and rampart stretching across the narrow isthmus to create a cliff castle. The rampart is still visible although the bank is very overgrown and the ditch has partially silted up. Cliff castles are by their very nature sited in bleak windswept locations, and it is doubtful whether they could ever have been constructed as permanent settlements. At Rame Head there are slight traces of what might be house sites lying within a large natural hollow to the north of the crest, and there may also be some other banks and terraces in the interior. The site has not been excavated, but there is good evidence from other cliff castles for round houses and other structures within their ramparts. The presence of Bronze Age barrows on the nearby clifftops or inside the ramparts of several cliff castles indicates a continuity of attention on these sites over more than a thousand years, and suggests that they may have held a deeper significance. Whilst the ramparts seem to imply a defensive role, it is possible that, as with hillforts, these could be the means to demonstrate the status of the site and the power and importance of its owners. Seen in this way it is possible to envisage a range of functions for cliff castles, including a role as social and administrative centres, meeting places for religious ritual or seasonal gatherings, or as neutral places for the conduct of trade.

In the mediæval period a chapel was constructed on the headland and, in common with many other chapels and churches in high and rocky places, was dedicated to St Michael the Archangel. Its isolated and prominent location, together with the fact that the manor of Rame was owned by Tavistock Abbey in the 10th century may suggest that the site originated as an Early Mediśval hermitage. However, it is not recorded until 1397; in 1425 a licence was granted for mass to be held here every Monday and at Michaelmass. The chapel is well constructed out of local slates probably cut from the surrounding rocks and cliffs and it still retains an impressive barrel vaulted stone roof which has helped preserve the structure. Traces of render survive in places suggesting that both interior and exterior were rendered and white- washed so that it would have been an eye-catching feature for vessels approaching Plymouth Sound. Internally there is some structural evidence to suggest the later addition of a stone staircase and upper storey. Restoration of the chapel took place in 1882 for William Henry, IVth Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, but the building has been ruinous for the majority of the 20th century.

It is recorded in the fifteenth century accounts of the Borough of Plymouth that a watchman was to be paid to maintain a beacon on Rame Head, and to give news of incoming vessels. During the attempted invasion by the Spanish Armada in 1588 another entry records that two watchmen were paid to keep a look out for Spanish vessels sailing along the coast. An anti-submarine gun was mounted on a platform here during World War I and hydrophones were used to detect passing submarines. During World War II a concrete gun platform was constructed to the south of the chapel and a modification to the window in the south wall of the chapel is possibly evidence of a doorway connecting the two structures. A mobile radar installation was also sited here during WWII.

Rame Head lies within the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, to the south-west of Rame village and can be accessed by public footpath from a car park at SX 4209 4876.

Firth, A, Watson, K, and Ellis, C, 1998. Tamar Estuaries Historic Environment: a review of marine and coastal archaeology. Plymouth Archaeology Occasional Publication No. 3, 1998. ISBN 1-85522-592-1.

Pye, A, and Woodward, F, 1996. The Historic Defences of Plymouth. Cornwall County Council. ISBN 1 898166 46 3.

Thomas, N, 1993. A Brief Historical and Archaeological Survey of St Michaelís Chapel, Rame Head. Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council.

How to get there


Rame Head lies within the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, to the south-west of Rame village and can be accessed by public footpath from a car park at SX 4209 4876.

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Ground & Aerial photographs


Illustrations & Plans


Nearby sites

Doniert Stone
Duloe Stone Circle
Trethevy Quoit
supported by HLF and compiled by the Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council  
last updated: 14/09/2007