Battle of Cynuit (5) – further thoughts

There wasn’t, when examined, much substantial evidence to support either Kenwith or Beaford (both quite close to Appledore)  as the site of the battle of arx Cynuit, and there seems little reason to loiter on the west Devon coast looking for some alternative landing place for the Viking raiders who crossed from Dyfed in 878.

Countisbury Hill on the north Devon coast remains the scholars’ choice and the situation of the camp on Wind Hill fits such few details as we have. But the one thing that seemed questionable (to me, but what do I know?) was that it is quite a remote corner, so what was a sizeable Saxon contingent doing gathered in the area, quickly withdrawing to the stronghold and able to burst out unexpectedly, overwhelm and slaughter something like 800/1,200 Vikings besieging them?

Countisbury cliffs and the estuary of the River Lyn

Countisbury cliffs and the estuary of the River Lyn: where would the Danes have landed?

And where exactly would the invaders have been able to land, unless the narrow East Lyn valley had been navigable?

The northern Devon/Somerset coast was subjected to frequent raids during the 9th and 10th centuries. Asser is clear that the raiders of 878 descended upon arx Cynuit in ‘Devon’ (ad Domnaniam) and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle specifies on Defenascire without being more precise. Scholars will allow this to include the modern north Devon/Somerset border since it isn’t clear exactly where Somerset ended and Devon began at the various points in history. At one time the boundary seems to have been as far east as the mouth of the river Parrett, with the river forming the boundary.

Just on the western bank of the Parrett estuary is the small harbour of Combwich with the camp of Cannington – a royal estate – not far away. Cannington itself has been suggested as a possible rival to Countisbury, probably for no other(?) reason than that the name bears a slight  resemblance to Cynuit; and it’s not in a completely implausible location. However, I shan’t consider it seriously unless all else fails. It does not, at first sight, convince.

But, somewhere between Countisbury and Cannington, perhaps?

The area of interest: between Countisbury and Cannington

The area of interest: between Countisbury and Cannington

There are no place names that leap out to support the hypothesis, but there is no reason to suppose the old (Romano-British?) connection with some Conovitus/Cynuit survived into modern times, in the way a Saxon name might. Many place-names mentioned in the primary sources can no longer be identified.

Next time I will subject this area of the coastline to a closer scrutiny, looking particularly at the places which suffered Viking raids around this time.


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