Ancient Hill Forts of Britain & Ireland Compiled into Online “Atlas”

Maiden Castle Hillfort in Dorset (Image: Bing Maps. Maiden Castle, Dorset, is one of Britain’s best known hill forts)

As with the ancient stone circles that preceded them, Britain’s Iron Age hill forts have fascinated academics and amateur historians for centuries. Now, a group of researchers at the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford and University College Cork have catalogued thousands of ancient earthworks across the country into a new website.

Working with citizen scientists and historians, academics identified some 4,147 hill forts across the UK and Ireland, from the well-preserved to the barely discernible. Almost 40 per cent of these ancient sites, which date mostly to the Bronze Age, were found in Scotland, with an impressive 408 in the Scottish Borders alone.

Castlelaw Hillfort in the Pentland Regional Park outside Edinburgh, Scotland. (Image: Bing Maps. Castlelaw hillfort in Penland Regional Park)

Despite their name, hill forts weren’t purely defensive structures. They were also likely used as trading centres and social gathering places. Some sites date back to the late Bronze Age, emerging as early as 1200 BC. Their intricate construction typically follows the contours of hills, though some were built on low-lying land.

Experts spent five years researching and documenting the hill forts of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man. These ranged from the relatively well-known and well-preserved, like Maiden Castle in Dorset, to the more esoteric, where barely a trace remained.

(Image: Bing Maps. The Iron Age hill fort on Rothbury Moor, Northumberland)

Professor Ian Ralston, from the University of Edinburgh, told the Scotsman: “Standing on a windswept hill fort with dramatic views across the countryside, you really feel like you’re fully immersed in history.

He added: “This research project is all about sharing the stories of the thousands of hill forts across Britain and Ireland in one place that is accessible to the public and researchers.”

(Image: Bing Maps. Carl Wark near Sheffield)

The collaborative project, by the University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford and University College Cork, was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Academics gathered a wealth of information from citizen scientists, enthusiasts and amateur historians, and compiled it into a valuable website that compliments existing resources like the Megalithic Portal and Canmore.

Professor Gary Lock from the University of Oxford said: “We hope it will encourage people to visit some incredible hill forts that they may never have known were right under their feet.”

You can explore the “Atlas of Hillforts” website here.

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