Great Castle Head, Dale

Has been described as a Possible Timber Castle (Other/Unknown)

There are earthwork remains

NameGreat Castle Head, Dale
Alternative Names
Historic CountryPembrokeshire
Modern AuthorityPembrokeshire
1974 AuthorityDyfed

The defensive banks and ditches at Great Castle Head survive in reasonable condition, but a massive landslip has lowered the overall land surface on the southern side by many metres, making interpretation of the earthworks very difficult. Within the defences only a small portion of what would have been a large area available to build houses now remains. As with other excavations on iron age forts in southwest Wales, only a few artefacts were found: a couple of sherds of prehistoric pottery, a piece of Roman pottery, and 80 fragments AD 12th - 13th pottery produced at Ham Green, Bristol. These last objects were associated with a remodelling of the defences in the Medieval Period. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the fort was constructed in the early to mid first millennium BC. (Dyfed Archaeological Trust 2002)

Great Castle Head promontory fort is a coastal promontory enclosure, sundered by landslips, with an interior denuded by erosion, defined by two lines of rampart, ditch & counterscarp, showing a possible, centrally placed entrance: excavation in 1993-4 demonstrated occupation beginning in the early to middle Iron Age and contnuing through at least into the Roman period: the site appears to have been adapted as a medieval, castle fortification, being eventually abandoned in the 13th century. (Crane 1999 (AC 148), 86-145.) Weather and waves have taken their toll on Great Castle Head for over two millennia. The site has some of the most massive promontory defences of all the Pembrokeshire coastal forts. In the late 1990s, with a serious danger that the remainder of the fort might be lost to coastal erosion without record, an excavation was mounted by Cambria Archaeology, funded by Cadw. As at Porth y Rhaw, the work revealed that the fort had been densely occupied, with the defences originally finished with stone walls and timber work

Postholes, a spindle-whorl and sherds of pottery confirmed Iron Age and Roman occupation, but finds of medieval pottery also suggested to the excavator, Pete Crane, that this may have been refortified as the first Dale Castle when the Normans occupied south Pembrokeshire. A First World War cap badge was also found, probably lost when the fort was used as a look-out post for coastal defence. (From: Pembrokeshire - Historic Landscapes from the Air, RCAHMW 2007). (Coflein)

The monument comprises the remains of a defended enclosure, which probably dates to the Iron Age period (c. 800 BC - AD 43). The enclosure is located on a narrow coastal promontory above the sea that marks part of the defensive circuit. The construction of one or more ramparts placed across the neck of the promontory divide it from the mainland. Great Castle Head Rath is defended by double banks and ditches, with a third bank in between in places. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

The suggestion that the Norman's occupied Great Castle Head as the caput of Dale came from Neil Ludlow (although he discussed it with Peter Crane). It is certainly possible the site was used during the Norman Conquest of Pembrokeshire and it may well have continued in use as the caput of the manor of Dale until the late C13 when the caput may have moved the the site of Dale Castle when a market was set up here and possibly an unsuccessful, attempt was made to found a borough. It is also possible the strong earthworks could have continued to offer a refuge to the local people and their livestock from pirate raids.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

The National Monument Record (Coflein) number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSM799056
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Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image

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  • Driver, T., 2007, Historic Landscapes from the Air (RCAHMW)
  • RCAHMW, 1925, An inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Pembrokeshire (HMSO) p. 86 no. 210 online copy


  • Ludlow, Neil, 1999, ‘Great Castle Head during the Medieval Period – A medieval castle?’, in Crane, P. ‘Iron Age Promontory Fort to Medieval Castle? Excavations at Great Castle Head, Dale, Pembrokeshire 1999’ Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 148 p. 86-145