Stylish self-catering holidays and short breaks in Somerset

Historic Sites in Somerset - Iron Age Hill Forts, Long Barrows & More

Immerse yourself in the mysterious realm of Somerset, a land of legends, where the mighty Excalibur was once held aloft by King Arthur and the valiant but sleepy King Alfred burnt an old lady’s cakes over her fire.

So come with us and discover the ruins of our mystical Bronze & Iron Age past and uncover the secrets of an ancient Somerset. Whether you’re looking for a real-life adventure, or just a brief glimpse of local human history from thousands of years ago, Somerset is the perfect place to visit for you and your family.

1) Stanton Drew Stone Circle

Stanton Drew Stone Circle is a Neolithic stone circle located in the village of Stanton Drew, in the English county of Somerset. It is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles, and is believed to have been constructed between 3000 and 2000 BC.

Sadly it is perhaps not as well known as some other stone circles (check out our Stonehenge Visitor Guide for more) but then that does add to the mystery of it all!

This Somerset stone circle consists of three separate circles of stones with the largest circle (called the Great Circle) being 370 feet in diameter, and contains 26 stones of varying heights. It is believed there were 3 more stones in the past but they may have been removed or lost to the earth.

Modern archaeologists believe that the stones were arranged in a deliberate pattern, although the original purpose of the circle is unknown. It has been suggested that it may have been used for religious ceremonies, or for marking key astronomical events such as the rising and setting of the sun.

The standing stones are believed to date from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age and the site would have been used as a religious or ceremonial gathering place. The site is certainly associated with Druidic beliefs and it would have been a place of important spiritual significance for people living close by during those times.

Managed by the National Trust the stone circle is open to the public though the local landowner does charge a £1 for entry into his field to take a closer look. It is a popular tourist attraction certainly around the annual summer solstice celebrations which draws visitors from around the world keen to explore the circle's mysterious history and admire its beauty.

Stanton Drew Stone Circle in Somerset
Stevekeiretsu, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons



2) Cadbury Camp Iron Age Hill Fort

Cadbury Camp Hillfort is an Iron Age hill fort located near the M5 motorway on the ridge above the village of Tickenham in North Somerset. It dates back to between 1000 BC and 100 BC and is believed to have been an important defensive site for the local Dubonni tribe. The 7 acre site is listed as a Scheduled Monument and consists of a well preserved outer rampart and inner rampart, with a deep ditch and two gateways. It is believed to have been built for trade and tribal accommodation though at times it would have also been used to defend the local population from other hostile tribes.

Excavations have also uncovered pottery fragments which suggest the site was used throughout the Roman occupation and into the time of the Anglo Saxons. The site was also used again during World War 2 as a searchlight battery and an area for bomb disposal.

The site is now managed by English Heritage and is open to the public during the summer months. Do note access is gained by walking up a steep footpath from Tickenham village.

More information here:

Cadbury Camp Iron Age Ramparts
Sharon Loxton / Cadbury Camp Ramparts


3) Cadbury Castle

Cadbury Castle, located in Somerset, England, is an impressive Iron Age hillfort that is thought by some to be the legendary site of Camelot. It is situated 500 feet up, near the village of South Cadbury, 6 miles (10 km) north-east of thetown of Yeovil and is listed as a Scheduled Monument. It's not an actual "castle" per se, instead it's an 18 acre multivallate fort, surrounded by manmade ramparts on its hillside to ward off invaders.

The site is strongly associated with the legend of King Arthur, although archaeological excavations have shown it was actually built in the late Bronze Age and occupied by the Durotriges tribe as far back as the 7th century BC. It was then in constant use throughout the Iron Age to the 1st Century AD, and is believed to have been used as a mint some time during the Saxon ages.

This hill fort consists of two concentric rings of banks and ditches which enclose an area of approximately 6.5 acres. The inner enclosure is roughly oval shaped, and is surrounded by a single large rampart and ditch. The outer enclosure is roughly circular and is surrounded by two concentric ramparts and ditches.

The site has been excavated by archaeologists a number of times and some interesting finds have been made, including Iron Age pottery, coins, and the first Bronze Age shield discovered in Europe (dating back to 1200 BC and now housed in the Museum of Somerset in Taunton).

The site has been popular with visitors for years and is now owned and maintained by English Heritage.

Graham Horn / Cadbury Castle from Parrock Hill
Cadbury Castle from Parrock Hill via Wikipedia Commons


4) Worlebury Hill Iron Age Hill Fort

Worlbury Hill Fort - also known as Worlebury Camp - is an Iron Age hill fort located above the coastal town of Weston Super Mare in Somerset. It is one of the largest Iron Age hill forts in Britain and was registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1915.

The fort was constructed around 2300 years ago and is approximately 360 metres in diameter with 3 Bronze Age ditches and 7 Iron Age walls and ditches as well as the remains of hut circles and storage pits. It is thought to have been used as an ancient settlement, a refuge and a stronghold against invasion during dark turbulent times.

The fort is located on the summit of Worlbury Hill and the surrounding area is now a nature reserve so the site is covered by trees. Sadly this ancient Somerset fort has been neglected over the years but there is now an ongoing effort by the Worlebury Hill Fort Group to bring it back to it's former glory.

Within the fort there is evidence of Iron Age roundhouses, storage pits and a number of other structures. There is also evidence of burials at the site with skeletons found in some of the storage pits.

Today the site is a popular destination for local dogwalkers and the few hardy explorers wanting to explore the Iron Age history of Somerset. Climb the path to the fort and you'll also be rewarded with brilliant views over the Bristol Channel too!

Worlebury Camp Ramparts
Ethan Doyle White, CC BY-SA 4.0 - Wikimedia


5) Ham Hill

Ham Hill is a hill in south Somerset located near Yeovil and currently operated as a 400 acre country park by the local Somerset council. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is thought to have been first inhabited by Stone Age man over 5000 years ago. The hill is formed from sandstone, towering over the 2 river valleys nearby and is the highest point in the area at 400 feet above sea level.

The "Ham" part of its name comes from the Old English for a settlement though it's original name was "Hambdon" - meaning "Hill amongst the Water Meadows" and with the Somerset Levels sitting below you can see why!

The site is renowned for its archaeology and its spectacular views across the surrounding countryside. There has been a lot of evidence found of Iron Age and Romano-British occupation, including several Iron Age houses and a Romano-British temple. The ancient Roman road, the Fosseway is less than a mile away. The site also contains a number of Bronze Age barrows, a "modern" stone circle and Neolithic flint mines.

The hill in modern times is now used for recreational activities such as walking, running, cycling and a bit of climbing with around 20 climbs. There are several trails that criss-cross the hill, as well as a number of public footpaths. The summit of the hill - you'll find a War Memorial at the top - is easily accessible from the car park at the bottom, and it is possible to reach the highest point by following the footpath that runs around the perimeter.

The area is also home to a number of flora and fauna and is a great place for wildlife watching. Some of the species that can be found here include skylarks, meadow pipits, buzzards and kestrels.

Ham Hill is a great place to explore with friends or your family and lets you appreciate the area’s rich history and stunning views. It is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Ham Hill's War Memorial
Jim Champion / Stoke-sub-Hamdon War Memorial, Hamdon Hill


6) Stoney Littleton Long Barrow

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow in Somerset
Photograph by Mike Peel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons



7) Priddy Nine Barrows and Ashen Hill Barrow Cemetery in Ashen Hill, Somerset

Priddy Nine Barrows and Ashen Hill Barrow Cemetery make up a collection of Bronze Age long barrows, located in pasture land on one of the highest hills in the area and just 1km east of the village of Priddy, Somerset, in England. There's so many some consider it to be an open pre-historic museum!

It is believed to be one of the oldest Neolithic burial sites in the UK, dating back to around 3000-2500 BC. The 2 cemeteries are made up of 17 burial mounds, which were constructed from earth and stones to cover the remains of important people from the local community.

The site was excavated in the 1800's where various artifacts, such as amber jewellery, spear head and even Bronze Age daggers. This suggests that the people buried in the cemetery were engaged in a range of activities, including very likely hunting, farming and trading.

Both long barrows are a fascinating reminder of our ancient past and a great place to explore the history of the Neolithic Somerset.

Priddy Nine Barrows
Rodw, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


8) Barrows on Longstone Hill near Kilve in Somerset

This Somerset moorland hill on the northern end of the Quantocks is home to a large number of prehistoric burial mounds or barrows, dating from the Bronze Age circa 700-2000BC. The barrows are spread over an area of approximately four hectares and are believed to have been in use over a long period of time. The barrows are of various types including round, long, oval, ditched and bell-shaped.

The barrows have been the subject of archaeological excavation in the past and have revealed a wealth of information about the life and culture of the people who built them. The site is particularly important as it is the only known Neolithic barrow cemetery in the UK.


9) Black Ball Camp on Gallox Hill near Dunster, Somerset

Black Ball Camp is an important Iron Age defended settlement located on Gallox Hill, three quarters of mile south west of Dunster (near Minehead) and overlooking the River Avill. It is a univallate fort and Scheduled Monument that has been dated to somewhere between 700-600 BC..

The earthwork site is oval in shape, and consists of a single rampart and ditch. The camp encloses an area of approximately 3 acres, so is a small hill fort, with the remains of several mounds (likely the remains of roundhouses) as well as the suspected foundations of a stone tower. The ramparts banks are 2.5 to 3 metres high and would have been originally topped with a palisade of wooden posts to help protect the inhabitants from raiders or other hostile tribes. There is an impressive causeway still evident on the south west side of the camp and a 1.6 metre ditch around the rest of camp would have helped served as a further deterrent to attack.

The site is open to the public and is a great place to explore and get some fresh Somerset air. Visitors will also be able to reach nearby Bats Castle which was possibly associated with Black Ball Camp.

Blackball Camp Hill Fort, Dunster, Somerset
Barbara Cook / Black Ball Camp on Gallox Hill in Somerset


10) Beacon Hill Earthwork and Barrows in Stoke St Michael, Somerset

Circular earthworks and barrows on Beacon Hill, Stoke St Michael, Somerset, are a Scheduled Monument of great archaeological importance. The site includes a series of earthworks, which are believed to be Iron Age in origin, and a cluster of burial mounds, or barrows. The earthworks are made up of ditches, banks and pits, which have been interpreted as a defensive enclosure. The barrows are likely to have been constructed in the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age.

The site is of particular interest as it is situated on a prominent hilltop overlooking the village of Stoke St Michael and the surrounding countryside. This suggests that it may have had a significant role in the local landscape and may have been used to control the surrounding area.

The earthworks and barrows are an important reminder of the past and provide an insight into life in the Iron Age and Bronze Age. They are a testament to the engineering skills of our ancestors, as well as the importance of burial rites in prehistory.

The site is also of importance as it is one of only a few in the area to have been archaeologically studied. As such, it provides an important source of information about the past, and can help to further our understanding of the history and culture of the region.

The site is protected as a Scheduled Monument, meaning that it cannot be altered or damaged without specific permission from the Secretary of State. This is to ensure that the archaeological remains remain undisturbed and that its importance is preserved for future generations.


11) Curdon Wood Camp near Stogumber, Somerset

Curdon Wood camp is a Scheduled Monument located in Stogumber, Somerset, England. It is believed to be a camp of Iron Age origin, and is an oval enclosure surrounded by a bank and ditch. The bank is up to 4m in height and the ditch is up to 2.5m deep.

The camp was probably constructed during the Iron Age, between 500BC and the Roman Conquest of 43AD. It is likely that the camp was used for defence, or as a meeting place for a tribal group.

The monument is a Scheduled Monument, meaning it is protected by law. It is managed by Historic England, and is listed Grade II on the Historic England Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England.

The camp is of particular interest because of its unusual construction. Unlike many other Iron Age sites, Curdon Wood camp is an oval enclosure, rather than a rectilinear one. It is also of interest due to its large size and its impressive bank and ditch.

The camp is an important part of the local history and heritage of the area, and provides an insight into the Iron Age way of life. It is open to the public, and visitors can explore the site and get a sense of the area's past.

12) Meare Lake Village

"Discovered" in 1895 by a local farmer (he found pottery), there were once 2 Iron Age villages built next to each other within the perimeter of a 2 by 1 mile muddy lake surrounded by a peat bog. Built on artificial foundations on top of a morass of moss, using rubble, clay, brushwood and bracken, with an estimated 50 to 60 huts in each village. Clay was spread over the dried peat allowing timbers to be used to create huts, hearths and paths keeping the inhabitants dry and warm. It is thought that visitors to the Iron Age villages would have seen tent-like structures, windbreaks and animal folds rather than actual stone buildings in use. It's likely the sites were only used on a temporary basis as a meeting place or perhaps a seasonal market, especially if the Levels were to flood.

Evidence shows that the people living there in prehistoric times were involved in the production of glass beads, some of which can now be seen in the National Museum of Wales though most of the other finds are on show at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.

It would have been easy for locals to get around the area as the villages were situated within a network of raised and timbered tracks, such as the Sweet Track, Nidons, Honeygore etc within the peat bog and wider area.

Several excavations have taken place over time including the use of ground penetrating radar carried out by archaeologist in 1998. The excavations have unearthed a number of interesting finds including several cut pieces antlers of a red deer, roman coins, part of a bronze bowl and a bronze ring. It's interesting to note that many bone weaving combs were also found and some have noted it suggests that braid production was carried - this also explains why glass beads were also made - to be used in braided hair.

The villages were in use till the end of Roman times when they were likely finally abandoned very likely due to regular flooding as water levels rose.


I hope the above list of some of Somerset's historical favourites really will "float your boat". If you're a history buff and want to read more then check out:

The county of Somerset will offer you so much more history than you could ever possibly think!