Yeavering - The Hillfort Walls

It has been suggested that Yeavering Bell could well be the only true hillfort in the Cheviots. It certainly is the largest and our only contender to measure up to forts, like Maiden Castle, elsewhere in the UK. The scale of the hillfort on Yeavering is made obvious simply by walking around the substantial stone bank, the remains of the original rampart walls. They make an impressive statement even now.

The rubble stretches for almost 900m in a circuit around the twin summits of the hill and can still be seen from quite a distance. The spilled rubble is as wide as 9m and could have represented a dry stone wall as high as 3m in its day. The walls would have been thicker at the base and have been constructed as two outer dressed layers with a fill of smaller stones. This is much like the construction of some dry stone walls today.

There is no sign of a ditch around the outside of the walls. The walls are so completely ruined that it is difficult to locate any evidence of their original form. There are some sections (look along the rubble to the east of the southern entrance) where there are short stretches of rough construction to be seen. The rubble bank seems to be more substantial to the north east.

At the eastern and western ends of the ramparts there appear two curved annexes which look like later extensions of the hillfort. They appear as partly overgrown stony banks. The survey carried out in 1998 by T.Pearson, K. Blood, M. Jercock and S. Ainsworth for RCHME has revealed that these were not additions to the hillfort at all. They mark the line of the original construction phase of the Yeavering enclosure. The second construction phase shortened the length of the ramparts and isolated these outer sections. This second phase created the form of the hillfort rubble we walk around today. This is supported by the fact that the western end of the hillfort actually buries some of the annexe wall. The extent of the stone robbing on the annexe walls and the poor state their preservation suggests an earlier constructional phase and a later obsolescence. Shortening the circuit of the ramparts could, possibly, have had a defensive motive as it would have moved the eastern and western ends of the hillfort higher up the hill making them less vulnerable.

The massive quantity of material was not, as often assumed, carried up the hill. It was quarried from the hilltop. Evidence of this can still be seen in the form of a shallow hollow behind the ramparts where stone was harvested. When new the andesite would have been a striking pink colour. The hillforts in the northern Cheviots would have been quite something to see in their day.

Few places in Northumberland have attracted more attention than Yeavering Bell. It’s old written history, beginning with the Venerable Bede, and it’s older unwritten history, as seen in its great stone walls, It’s hut circles and mounds have given rise to much speculation among antiquaries.

Every tourist too and pleasure seeker, who rambles along the Borders, must climb to it’s summit, pore over it’s mysterious monuments and enjoy the extensive and rich view it commands.

George Tait – 1862

The walls did not simply follow the contours of the hill. There is something of a 15m variation as we walk around Yeavering Bell. The walls tend to dip when we reach the saddle; they dip between the two peaks of the hill. This is where, at the north and south, the two logical entrances to the hillfort lie. There are suggested entrances at the eastern and western ends of Yeavering though these could well be later breaches in the tumbled ramparts.

The northern entrance is just over 2m wide. There are several larger boulders along the western side of the entrance and a hollow corresponds to it on the inside of the ramparts suggesting this was an actual entrance. However a photograph taken during Brian Hope-Taylor’s excavation at this point on the hill shows stones running across this entrance. This, as well the fact that this northern entrance opens on to a very steep and rocky part of the hill, cast possible doubt on the validity of this entrance.

The southern entrance is, by far, the most likely as the actual main entrance. It is almost 4m wide and free from stones underfoot. There are large boulders at its western end which could represent one side of the original entranceway. A deep scoop adjacent to this entrance on the inside of the bank could have been formed by the passage of traffic. The slope of the hill on the southern side is not as steep as elsewhere and walkers, today, use the southern entrance as the easier route to the hillfort. Horses, carts and cattle would, doubtless, have found this the better route too. The quarry hollow is not evident behind this southern section of the ramparts which would make sense near to an entrance.