Humbleton - The Hillfort

Enclosing an area of 2.5 acres (1 hectare) the highest part of Humbleton Hill is surrounded by the tumbled walls of the Hillfort. These walls, known as the ‘Citadel’ are now visible as a broad spread of larger facing stones and mixed rubble. The remains of the walls are up to 16m across in places and the amount of material suggests that, in their day, the stone ramparts must have been massive and very impressive.

The photograph shows the rubble spread remains of the ramparts looking South towards Hedgehope and The Cheviot.

The area inside the walls is not the smooth, domed hilltop sometimes found in the Cheviots. The area is very uneven with several changes in level not helped by the intrusion of craggy outcrops of volcanic Andesite.

However, these features have been used by the builders of the Hillfort to add to the effectiveness of the defences. For example, the Western edge of the defences are built upon a large natural scarp. The outcrop shows evidence of some quarrying. This would have both made the scarp a steeper, more formidable defence and also provided building material for the wall erected on it.

In the diagram below you can see the layout of the remains on Humbleton.

The original phase of the citadel was later modified with the addition of a second, internal rampart marked as ‘Phase 2’ on the diagram. This new wall must have been around the same size as the original and adds to the defences on the East and North East of the hill. This is the more vulnerable area of Humbleton (the hill is almost unclimbable to the South thanks to the steep cleugh and to the West the natural scarp adds to the defence). Being set higher up the hill the modified defences would present the attacker with two lines of defenders, one above the other. The upper defenders would be able to fire missiles and slings safely over the heads of their colleagues on the lower rampart.

The internal wall is shown to be later than the external by the way it joins the original wall at its North end. The outer wall is continuous. At this joining point it is possible to see just how these walls were constructed and to get some impression of just how massive they were. Here it is possible to see several courses of the wall undisturbed.

To the East, the wall presents the attacker with a face composed of large well-dressed stones which fit together well. On the Western side, the ‘inside’ of the fort, is a retaining or ‘revetment’ wall. Again this is made from large stones but less well dressed than those on the East. Between these walls is a rubble fill. At this point, the rampart was around 3.5m across. This was no garden wall then!

The cairn on the summit is seventeenth century and supported a beacon. The circular walker’s shelters, which previous visitors to the hill may remember, have been controversially removed. To the East the path descends the hill towards Wooler, breaching the inner and outer ramparts.

It is tempting to suggest this was the original entrance to the Hillfort but this makes no defensive sense. Placing the entrances in line with the weakest aspect of the hill is unlikely. Probably the walls here have simply been robbed to make a path up to the hill and it is still possible to see the outline of stones under the path. It is more likely the original entrance was on the South East of the original phase of the citadel near the cleugh where a gap in this rampart is still visible along with several, apparently undisturbed, larger stones. On the inner rampart, there is, however, no corresponding gap suggesting, given the increasing defensive capability of this face of the fort, that the entrance was moved, possibly to the South West of the fort, again next to the cleugh. The thickness of the rubble here could be evidence that this part of the wall was more heavily defended.

Marked on the diagram as ‘Enclosure’ the outer enclosure does not completely surround the citadel. On the Northern side, where it is better preserved, this enclosure shows a similar construction technique to the citadel walls but it is, in no place, as massive. In places, the walls reach a width of 2m. The remains of the enclosure wall are not totally exposed, especially on the Western side of the hill, as they have been overgrown but it is easy to follow their course as a hump in the ground. It is thought the enclosure is a later phase than the citadel.

There are other smaller enclosure like features on the hill which appear to have been added after the decline of the Hillfort though it is impossible to be certain about so many aspects of the timeline of Humbleton without excavation.