The restoration of Wooston Castle

I went on Thursday and had a look around a project which is in the process of restoring Wooston Castle. This was a project I was involved with when I worked for the National Trust. Wooston Castle is part of Fingle Woods – the joint partnership project between the NT and the Woodland Trust.

Many people will be familiar with Wooston Castle, the Iron Age hill fort above the River Teign and they may have thought that the open area you can visit today is the total extent of the place.

Wooston map 2
This map however shows that the hill fort is actually much more extensive – the open area people visit is the ‘circular’ part at the top of the map – but there are number of deep ditches running away to the south – these are currently under trees – mostly conifers.

The hatched area on the map is the extent of the Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM). Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund the WT and the NT have been able to devise a project to clear all the trees from the SAM and if the Stage 2 HLF bid is successful (decision expected within a month) then a series of archaeological projects will be carried out over the next 5 years to try and understand more about Wooston Castle.

Wooston Lidar
The NT and the WT have already been able to carry out a LiDAR survey of the valley (courtesy of HLF funding) and one of the early outputs is this wonderful 3D terrain map of the ditches at Wooston Castle. In total the SAM is around 15 acres in extent.

Working in parallel with the survey and research aspects of the project work has now begun to clear the trees off the entire area.

Wooston 4
This is an area that has been cleared adjacent to the road which runs from the Saw Mill car park to the Wooston Car Park

Wooston 1This is the ditch at the very southern end of the site

Wooston 2Same ditch looking the other way

Wooston 3An old oak tree on the ditch

Wooston 5This is another ditch in the middle of the site between the road and the Castle

It will be really interesting to see this site reappear from the trees as the felling continues. In addition to restoring the open status of Wooston Castle it will also create a large area of open habitats (a very rare feature in Fingle Woods) which will hopefully benefit wildlife such as pearl bordered fritillary butterflies.

There are many more questions than answers when it comes to our understanding of Wooston Castle but hopefully over the next few years some of these will begin to be answered. If the HLF Stage 2 application is successful it is proposed that some excavations will take place.

We might then begin to understand what the purpose was of the ditches to the south of the ‘main’ fort was and why there are four blind alley ditches.

We might even have a chance of understanding how Wooston Castle relates to the two other nearby Iron Age hill forts Prestonbury and Cranbrook (both less than a mile away) – were they contemporaneous, all occupied at the same time etc etc?

Exciting times ahead and with a bit of luck it might encourage some academic archaeologists to get involved with the site and help unravel the mysteries of two to three thousand years ago.

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