Castle Dore


Castle Dore
St Sampson
NGR: SX 1034 5482

Castle Dore is a defended settlement of Iron Age date located in Cornwall. William of Worcester (1415-1482) described the site as “a delapidated castle by the name of Dirford, near Golant” and Leland identified it as “Castledour”.

The defences consist of a circular rampart set within an oval one; both ramparts were constructed from material excavated from external ditches. The ditch to the inner rampart survives well but that associated with the outer rampart is now infilled on the west side of the earthwork. Recent work by the Ordnance Survey indicates that, apart from the entrances on the eastern sides of the two enclosures, other breaches in the ramparts are modern.

McLauchlan carried out a detailed site survey and his plan, published in 1849, shows three circular banks with an additional outwork on the east side, in a field called Castle Meadow. McLauchlan commented that this outwork was barely visible at the time, and there is now no trace of it. Recently, however, traces of two annexes were identified as cropmarks to the south and east of the site on an aerial photograph. Of the ‘three circular banks’ recorded by McLauchlan, it is likely that the middle one is in fact the result of the cleaning out and dumping of material from the inner ditch, a common feature of such sites and known to archaeologists as a ‘counterscarp bank’.

Parts of the interior and defences were excavated by Raleigh Radford in 1936-37. He proposed that Castle Dore originated as a multivallate site during the Iron Age and that the entrance was altered during a long period of occupation. Some twenty Iron Age round houses were revealed in the interior, representing three phases of activity. The two best preserved houses had internal rings of six posts to support the roof timbers and large post-holes were interpreted as porches. Pottery from the excavations mainly consisted of late Iron Age types such as ‘south-west decorated’ ware’ and ‘cordoned’ wares. Some abraded amphora sherds and a bead were also recovered.

Radford’s excavation in 1936-37 indicated that the two ramparts were of glacis construction and of equal size. During the occupation of the hillfort, the site was strengthened by raising the inner bank to 2.5m high and adding a stone revetment to its outer face. At the same time the access through the inner rampart was re-designed by creating an inturned entrance which would have been easier to defend against attack. The entrance through the outer rampart was not excavated. A roadway linked the two entrances, flanked by banks and ditches on either side, with gaps allowing access to the inter-rampart spaces on each side.

Radford considered that a number of roughly parallel lines of post holes which he discovered during the excavations were the remains of a ‘Dark-Age timber hall’ with an attached kitchen; this he interpreted as the palace of King Mark. The amphorae sherds and the bead were also assigned to this phase of the occupation. However, the archaeological evidence for Dark Age activity was extremely scant, and when Quinnell and Harris re-examined the evidence from the excavations, they concluded that all structural phases, including the supposed Dark Age hall, and almost all the finds, fall between the 5th BC to the 1st century AD. The parallel lines of post holes were re-interpreted as a series of four-post above ground granaries. The bead has been re-dated by Fitzpatrick to between the mid-3rd to later-1st centuries BC, and the amphora sherds from the 2nd century BC to the end of the 1st century AD. It seems that no post-Roman finds came from the site.

The area around the site was the scene of a civil war battle in 1644.

It is possible to park in a small lay-by to the south of the site from where the monument can be reached by a short walk back along the B3269 road to a gateway on the west side of the fort. This is a busy road, however, and great care should be taken. Access over the site is permitted by the owner, although there is no formal right of way.


Leland, J, 1540. The Itinerary of John Leland.

Harvey, J, 1969 (Ed). Itineraries of William of Worcestre.

McLauchlan, H, 1849. Unknown Title, pp 29-31. RRIC.

Quinnell, H and Harris, DG, 1985. Castle Dore – The Chronology Reconsidered in Cornish Archaeology 24, pp123-131.

Radford, CAR, 1951. Report on excavations at Castle Dore. JRIC.

Rahtz, P, 1971. Castle Dore – A Reappraisal of the Post-Roman Structures in Cornish Archaeology 10, pp49-54.