Hidden deep in woodland above the River Fowey is what remains of Largin Castle. It sits on the top of a steep ridge that towers above the Glynn Valley, and is the perfect spot for a defensive structure. But Largin was no Roman outpost or ‘motte and bailey’ affair. This ‘castle’ was built in the Iron Age, around 800BC – 43AD.
Iron Age hillforts remain a dominant and often striking feature in our landscape, even 2000 years after they were constructed. Largin is just one of around 3,300 hillforts that can still be found across Britain. In fact, most hillforts are found in the South West of England, in Wales and Scotland. Around eighty have been identified in Cornwall alone, dating from various periods of prehistory and the county also has a number of cliff castles like Trevelgue Head and tor enclosures such as the one at Helman tor. Cornish hillforts tend to be a bit smaller than those found in other parts of the country.
Largin Castle covers an estimated 4 acres and described as a ‘large multivallate hillfort’. It has triple ramparts and ditches which surround an oval central enclosure. In places these ramparts are as much as 3.5m high.
Ethnologist J. Forde-Johnston describing hillforts as an “eloquent testimony of the technical ability and social organization of the Iron Age peoples.” And the effort taken in their construction is impressive and thought-provoking. Largin, like so many hillforts, was constructed to take advantage of the natural topography and defence seems to have been the main purpose of its construction. Ann Preston-Jones, Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Officer for Cornwall described this site as being “arguably of national importance”, but despite this it wasn’t actually scheduled until June 2020 and as far as I can gather very little study has been made in the area.
There was a small discovery in March 1975 which adds to out understanding of the site. A Bronze Age urn was found in a burial pit on the sloops close to the castle. The urn was of the local Trevisker style and suggests human activity in the area far earlier then the Iron Age.
The Purpose of Hillforts
The actual purpose of hillforts is up for debate. Indeed the term hillfort is a catch-all phase often used to describe any kind of enclosure or earthworks on the top of a hill or similarly high feature. And the term ‘fort’ also assumes some kind of defensive purpose but that may not have always been the case. In fact each individual ‘hillfort’ may simply have been built for it’s own specific purpose or need. Many were defensive, of course, taking full advantage of the contours of the landscape, but some of these structures may have had more ceremonial or ritualistic uses. An idea that has seen little serious investigation.
Largin is one of those wonderful places in Cornwall that still retains an air of mystery. It has that lost and unexplored feeling about it. The outline of the hillfort is quite obvious from a distance, highlighted by the older trees amongst the evergreen trees of the forestry plantation that surrounds it.
It was first mapped in 1837 appearing on the local Tithe Map and then appeared on the first Ordnance Survey map in 1882. But despite the lack of myths and legends or indeed archaeological study, Largin is well worth the walk to find it!
Further information about Largin Castle is very scant. So if anyone is able to add to this I would very much appreciate you getting in touch.
Finding the castle isn’t difficult it is very well marked on the OS map.
I walked up the hill from Two Watersfoot bridge (beside Trago), under the railway line and entered the plantation via the gate near the top of the hill. From there you just follow the track down through the valley and up the other side. You will see a track leading off to the right, this takes you to the castle.
Since writing this I was contacted by someone online who felt so strongly about the lack of protection for this site that they created a Wikipedia page for it!
Warbstow Bury – Cornwall’s Finest Iron Age Fort
Our Defenceless Monuments: The Threat to Cornwall’s Heritage
Chapel Carn Brea – Cornwall’s First and Last Hill
16 thoughts on “Largin Castle – Iron Age Hillfort”
Thanks for this-we need to understand and celebrate all these early sites which suggest a complex and vibrant society long before ‘ history’ says it was present in Cornwall
I totally agree Terry! Thank you!
Duly noted for future occasions when I am well enough to travel to Cornwall – a very interesting little site.
Well worth the visit I think, if a little off the beaten track and requiring some imagination!
I live not far away in Bodmin, and visit Largin every so often – the forest is a great place to explore. One of the walking trails actually goes right under East Largin viaduct (turn right off the road just after crossing the river and
then just follow the path). The path then continues under the viaduct and climbs up hill so that you can get to the castle. The stone piers of the viaduct are MASSIVE when you see them up close, and you can walk up and touch them – well worth a visit in their own right.
My mother found the urn fragment in a cutting the forestry had made to manage the pine forest. She used to take me there to walk when I was a boy, after the find we made a plasticine scale model as a school project. We crawled through brambles and nettles to access the ramparts. It is an amazing place close to my heart.
My soon to be wife’s last name is Largin
My soon to be wife’s name is Largin
Interesting location – is it defendng a watershed boundary?
it is a fascinating spot, I can’t really answer that question, I’m afraid that’s above my paygrade! There is of course the River Fowey right beneath it and various other streams in every direction, so I am pretty sure they would have played a part in the decision to put the castle on that hill top . . .
I was at a lecture by john blair recently which suggested that lots of border patterns actually connected with watersheds and therefore the same borders repeated themselves under different cultures.
THank you for all the hours of research and work you put into these wondrous places. Your articles are a delight to read and I am so glad I came across your blogs. You put your soul into it.
Thank you so much Eileen! It’s so kind of you to say that and I am delighted you enjoy reading them 😊