‘Flemma, flemma e poi flemma, my dear.’

To the Central Library to consult PNDevon, 62-63, and discover why I and WH Stevenson are/were wrong in doubting that Countisbury is the site of arx Cynuit. Unfortunately, the volume required is in store elsewhere and has to be ordered; so I have ordered it. The librarian showed me to the open shelves and offered me alternative books about place-names and Devon; but I do need to consult pages 62-63 of that particular volume. The library will phone or email me within a week to say it has arrived.

However, I have discovered an interesting paper/book by Hazel Riley and Rob Wilson-North, entitled The Field Archaeology of Exmoor,  English Heritage (220 odd pages which I haven’t read in full). Below is one illustration (in fact, I’ve now replaced it with a different photo as the other one was ©English Heritage) which shows the problems that might face an army of 800 Vikings landing their longships below Countisbury.

Sillery SandsOn p. 86, they write: ‘Place-names with Celtic connections on Exmoor are rare. Of the few, Countisbury (with the later bury suffix) is an example.’ However, in case it should be thought that the ‘Celtic connection’ might have been the name Cynuit, the writers continue on the same page:

In AD 878  an unnamed brother of Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan crossed the Bristol Channel and attacked the north Devon coat at a place called Arx Cynuit. The battle was decisive with more than 800 Vikings being killed. The location of this battle has been suggested as Countisbury where the substantial prehistoric earthwork on Wind Hill no doubt could have been reoccupied and would have proved an ideal defence. (Todd 1987, 275-6; Gover et al 1969, p 62). There are problems with associating the place-name Arx Cynuit with Countisbury, and other contenders have been put forward (Grinsell 1970a, 114-15). Specific archaeological evidence is needed to prove a 9th-century reuse of this site. 

On which: we do not know for sure that the attack was on the north Devon coast – it could have been on the west coast: indeed, WH Stevenson queried whether the battle itself necessarily took place near the coast at all; and it would have been interesting to hear an alternative explanation of the exact ‘problems’ of associating the place-name Arx Cynuit with Countisbury.

Finally, on p. 177:

The massive promontory work on Wind Hill, Countisbury, still dominates the modern landscape and hints at the former importance of the place. It is no coincidence that it overlooks Lynmouth – one of the few landing places on this otherwise inhospitable coast. 

Though for our purposes, Lynmouth is not at all a likely landing place for chasing the Saxons into the stronghold behind the rampart. It is to the west of the rampart and a place further east would be indicated if the Saxons sought refuge behind it.


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