Explore Braunton - The Most Biodiverse Parish in England


During 2010, archaeological survey work was carried out at Knowle Castle, to the north of Braunton.  Initiated by North Devon AONB to provide details of this archaeological structure, the survey team worked with local community volunteers and also students from the Braunton Community College.  Read on to find out the results.  Important – the Knowle site is private property and there is no public access.  Please do not investigate the archaeological remains yourself.

See the downloads links on the right hand side of the page to view illustrations of the survey work, which accompany the following report.

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The later prehistoric occupation (late Bronze Age and Iron Age) in the area that compromises the North Devon AONB is currently poorly understood.  The territories further to the north and east, in southern, eastern and midland England, witnessed an increasingly organised landscape in the Iron Age, with many smaller fiefdoms amalgamating to form larger chiefdoms. 

Towards the end of the Iron Age these large chiefdoms were ruled from large and impressive Oppida enclosures, such as the Maiden Castle in Dorset.  Palaeoenvironmental evidence for such areas shows organised arable farming widespread across the landscape.  The transition from Iron Age to Romano-British rule is marked in the central, southern and eastern zones, with a definable change in architectural styles, some technological practices and material culture.

Archaeology workIt is clear that the nature of topography, the underlying geology and the coastal climate of North Devon played a pivotal role in defining the exploitation of resources in the South West in prehistory and the distribution of archaeological sites and monuments found today. 

In comparison, there has been relatively little research carried out in the area of North Devon AONB investigating the Iron Age period. However, the little work undertaken provides an emerging picture that contrasts to this central and southern England view, providing one of regional differentiation in the Southwest. 

The landscape appears to be dominated by smaller enclosed settlements, perhaps representing fiefdoms instead of chiefdoms.  Local economies appear to be dominated by pastoral farming, with less evidence for widespread arable agriculture.  It is also possible that metals derived from local resources played a significant role in prehistoric economic exchange from the South West.

Furthermore, the change from the ‘Iron Age’ to ‘Romano-British’ period in North Devon is extremely difficult to detect in the archaeological record.  There appears to be little change in material culture and architectural tradition, with very few Romano-British sites recognisable throughout Devon and Cornwall.  In fact, it would appear that people in North Devon continued in the same way after the Roman invasion and inclusion into the Roman Empire as they did before.


It is within this context that some archaeological research at Knowle was conducted (Figs 1 and 2).  Geophysical surveys were initiated by North Devon AONB to provide details of this archaeological structure, working with local community volunteers and also students from the Braunton Community College.  Two survey methods were used; earth resistance and gradiometer survey (Figs 3 and 4).

Both survey types produced substantial results, clearly defining the bank and ditch that form the perimeter of the enclosure (Figs 5, 6 and 7).  This univallate bank and ditch structure clearly follows a change in the natural topography of the land, exaggerating a natural gradient through the digging of a ditch and construction of the bank.  The interior of the enclosure proved surprisingly quiet in terms of definition of archaeological features. 

It is possible that buildings were merely constructed using postholes and these are not interpretable in the survey results produced.  Some curious linear features were seen on the exterior of the enclosure, and the origin of these features is currently unknown.  It is possible they represent a pre-Victorian remnant field system, but this is an unverified interpretation.

Whilst it should be acknowledged that geophysical survey can only be verified through excavation, the results potentially indicate these sites were not permanently or extensively inhabited by a large population, due to the lack of structure-like features in the interior of the enclosure.  If such results are substantiated by excavation, they will necessitate a change in the perception of such enclosures. 

Instead of being viewed as defensive sanctuaries that were permanently inhabited, such sites should be seen as expression of status and power.  Much more work needs to be done on this enclosure type in North Devon, in terms of geophysical survey, earthwork survey and excavation.  However, a picture is starting to emerge of these sites as significant monuments for the societies that built and used them.  It is not a narrative of habitation and defence, but a story of power, status and economics.

Although the results appear to indicate a relatively empty monument, more work needs to be undertaken to verify this.  Key facts, such as the periods of use and dates of construction of the banks and ditches are completely unknown.  It is hoped that further archaeological investigation at the site will help to resolve some of these questions.


(Note: each is available as a PDF from the menu at the top right hand side of this page)

Archaeology Fig 1Fig 1: The enclosure at Knowle (1:10,000 OS data reproduced with permission HMSO Crown Copyright).

Archaeology Fig 2 ThumbnailFig 2:  The aerial image draped onto the topographic model.

Archaeology Fig 3 ThumbnailFig 3:  The gradiometer survey at Knowle (1:10,000 OS data reproduced with permission HMSO Crown Copyright).

Archaeology Fig 4 ThumbnailFig 4:  The earth resistance survey at Knowle (1:10,000 OS data reproduced with permission HMSO Crown Copyright).

Archaeology Fig 5 ThumbnailFig  5:  The interpretation of the gradiometer survey results.

Archaeology Fig 6 ThumbnailFig 6:  The interpretation of the earth resistance survey results.

Archaeology Fig 7 ThumbnailFig 7:  The combination of the interpretations of the earth resistance and gradiometer data.


explore braunton, the most biodiverse parish in england - a north devon aonb project