A round-up of achievement

This blog has now succeeded in solving a number of historical puzzles to the complete satisfaction of absolutely no-one.

1. Asser’s Arx Cynuit: not Countisbury (scholars), and certainly not the west coast of Devon (romantics). The height of the sheer north Devon cliffs seemed to preclude either landing ships or climbing to reach the supposed encampment at Countisbury; and there is no early evidence of any kind for the area around Appledore, favoured as it is by its local historians – and promoted by antiquarians. More likely than either of these is the area to the east of Countisbury, where there are no cliffs, where there were several, well-attested Viking attacks and where there were richer pickings for lightning raiders. Likelihood 7/10.  However, if the Danes had landed here, might they have chased the thegns for ten miles along the north Devon coast to Countisbury? If so, one thing that could support Countisbury is the very fact that the camp was remote, probably abandoned, and thus a refuge of last resort and a good place to besiege trapped enemies.   (A hypothesis that the arx itself might have been at Watersmeet was ‘proposed, considered and finally rejected’.)

2. Ptolemy’s Iscalis: not Charterhouse-on-Mendip (scholars), the centre of the Roman lead-mining industry, but somewhere to the south west, near the mouth of the river Parrett – a noteably watery region – where there are plentiful signs of Roman settlement and a salt-mining industry. It is conveniently placed with Roman ports at Combwich and Crandon Bridge. All that’s missing is any sign of a town comparable in size to Charterhouse, though much is possibly hidden beneath the M5.

The main Roman settlement is underneath the M5 interchange, 2km from the Roman port at Crandon Bridge

There are also signs of early British settlement (the lake village at West Huntspill, for example) which could explain why, according to Ptolemy, it was made a tribal centre in the Roman era. Likelihood 7/10.

3. The Antonine Itinerary’s Traiectus: not Bitton (thus scholars and just about everyone else), but slightly further west in the area south from Willsbridge, over to Keynsham on the other side of the Avon. There are abundant Roman remains at Keynsham and a ‘traiectus’, over the river from the Abona to Aquae Sulis Roman road. A north-south Roman road meeting the east-west road, for which there is slight evidence, would strengthen the case. Likelihood 8/10

4. And, right at the beginning, there was King Alfred’s æstel. The scholars are agreed it was a stick, or pointer, used by Saxon monks to keep their place when reading their manuscripts, to follow the text as they read it; and that the Alfred Jewel and a few similar artefacts were fixed to the top of such æstels. The drawback is that, although such sticks, or pointers, ought to exist, there seems no evidence that they actually did. Where are they mentioned? Where are they depicted in illuminations of monks reading their manuscripts? So, not a reader’s stick or pointer; but an alternative suggestion is that the jewels were fixed to the top of bookmarks, which, as Alfred directed, were to be kept in the bound volumes. The Latin translation indicatorium could as easily indicate a page or opening in the manuscript, rather than the exact place on the page. Likelihood 4/10

Done. So where next?


In the Saxon tongue Apultreo (1)

The explanation as to when (and why) this corner of Devon became associated with Hubba and arx Cynuit predates Tristram Risdon. But Risdon’s own contribution is (a bit) clearer.

He seems to have been the first to name the village of Appledore as the place where the Danish fleet landed in 878. The text below is from the earliest edition (1714) of his Survey which, though generally unsatisfactory, differs little from the equivalent paragraph in the more reliable 1811 edition:

APLEDORE is in the Saxon Tongue APULTREO, [ … ] it is the Outlet of two notable Rivers into the Sea, and the next Harbour for Ships within the Bar. In this Place it was that Hubba, the Dane, in the Days of King Alfred that Saxon monarch, landed with 33 Sail of Ships, coming out of South Wales, where he had wasted all in his Way with Fire and Sword. And hereabout it was he laid Siege to the Castle of Kenwith; which Place some have sought for, as it were for Ants Paths, but found it not, unless they guess Hennaborough, a Fort not far hence …

His source would seem to be, in part, Asser (for the mention of the slaughter in South Wales). But ‘Appledore, in the Saxon’s tongue Apultreo’ is puzzling. Appledore isn’t mentioned at all in the Post-Conquest Domesday Book, and its first recorded name, 1335, is given as le Apildore in the manor of Northam. Neither Asser nor the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the two sources dating from Saxon times, mentions where the raid took place,  so what was Risdon’s source for saying that Appledore had been called ‘Apultreo’ in Saxon times? Where was this recorded?

In fact, there is evidence of it as a name for Appledore in John of Worcester’s 12th-century Chronicon ex chronicis. He records the arrival of a Danish fleet at the river mouth and how they constructed a fortress ‘in loco qui dicitur Apultreo’. Was Risdon’s source John of Worcester? It’s possible, though John, following the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was recording a Danish landing in 892 at Appledore in Kent, not Appledore in Devon. Lord William Howard published his edition of John’s chronicle – attributed then to Florence of Worcester – in 1592, though the name appears there as ‘Apultrea’ rather than ‘Apultreo’, so is less likely to be the source.

William Lambarde (1536-1601)

William Lambarde (1536-1601)

The antiquarian William Lambarde, of the circle of Archbishop Matthew Parker and a scholar of Anglo-Saxon, describes this same event in his Perambulation of Kent (1576).  Lambarde writes:  ‘Apledore, corruptly,  for the Saxon Apultreo: in Latine Malus, that is, An Apletree’. This seems a more likely source for Risdon’s own ‘Appledore, in the Saxon’s tongue Apultreo’.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself records the 892 raid on Appledore: a large fleet of 250 ships sailed from Boulogne into the mouth of the Lympne, followed soon after by a smaller fleet – 80 ships led by the Danish chief Hæsten – which entered the mouth of the Thames.

þa comon up on Limene muþan. mid .ccl. (hunde) scipa. Se muþa is on easte weardre Cent …  Þa sona æfter þæm com Hæsten mid .lxxx. scipa up on Temese muðan, 7 worhte him geweorc æt Middeltune, 7 se oþer here æt Apuldre [ … ] Wæs Hæsten þa þær cumen mid his herge, þe ær æt Middeltune sæt. 7 eac se micla here wæs þa þærto cumen, þe ær on Limene muþan sæt æt Apuldre .

The larger fleet landed at Appledore, which was a port at that time; but the Saxon name given here is not Apultreo but Apuldre (in all the extant manuscripts, or Apuldran in the Latin Annals of St Neots). Apultreo looks like apul + treów and Bosworth-Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary records the forms æpel-tre, æppel-treów, along with æppelder, æppeldor, apulder, apuldor, apuldur, all in the sense of apple-tree.

However, these are not Apultreo, the exact form common to John of Worcester, William Lambarde – and Risdon. Since the first two refer to Appledore in Kent, it looks as if Risdon made an  assumption: that since the place-name Appledore in Kent derived from the Saxon Apultreo, Appledore in Devon must have the same origin. Perhaps the raid on the Kentish Appledore at the mouth of the river Lympne/Limene caused him to realise that the mouth of the river Taw was a likely place for the raid of 878 …

However, one other fact suggests that Risdon was not the onlie begetter of this Devon legend. To whom was he referring when he wrote: ‘And hereabout it was he laid Siege to the Castle of Kenwith; which Place some have sought for, as it were for Ants Paths, but found it not, unless they guess Hennaborough, a Fort not far hence …’? Who had already been speculating that Hennaborough, or Henny Castle, was this ‘Castle of Kenwith’? Or was Risdon inventing them to add support to his own theory?

Camden’s speculation

In the first edition of Camden’s Britannia (1586), he’s musing over whether ‘Chimligh’ (for Chulmleigh) is Asser’s ‘Kinuith’ or not. He describes how the Torridge, not far distant from the Promontory of Hercules (Hartland Point), passes through Torrington and Bideford before joining the Taw. The course of the Taw itself is further inland, rushing through Chulmleigh, not far from the village of  ‘Chettelhampton’ (Chittlehampton) before hurrying on to Barnstaple (click on image for clearer details).


Here he pauses to say: ‘An verò Chimligh illa, sit Kinuith castrum cuius meminit Asserius, non facilè dixerim.’ He must have heard this suggestion from someone before 1586 (so not Tristram Risdon who was born c. 1580). Asser’s Domnania and the ASC’s Defenascire stretched much further afield than this little corner of Devon, so who had first located the Danish raid of 878 here?

Following through subsequent editions of Britannia, 1587, 1590 and 1600, Camden adds a number of new details, but the key sentence in 1600 is the same as in 1586: ‘An verò Chimligh illa, sit Kinuith castrum cuius meminit Asserius, non facile dixerim.’

It isn’t until the final edition in 1607 that he omits it, substituting a new passage: ‘Hinc [i.e. from Barnstaple] Tawus Ralegh [an estate north of Barnstaple, not the hamlet of Raleigh close to Henniborough/Henny Castle], quae olim nobiles sui nominis habuit dominus, nunc clarae familiae de Chichester cognominatae possessionem salutans, et postea Towridgi aquis auctior Sabrinianum mare petit, sed Kinuith castrum, cuius meminit Asserius, non invenit.’

The mention of Raleigh appears to be incidental, included in order to give details of the local gentry – an abiding interest of the antiquarians. So between 1600 and 1607, Camden omitted his reference to the possibility of ‘Kinuith castle’ being at Chulmleigh.  Less importantly, since Camden is no authority anyway, what is implied in the final edition which says the Taw does NOT ‘find’ the castle in the region of the lower Taw?

Wm Camden, Britannia, pub. Radulphus Newbery, 1586

Wm Camden, Britannia, pub. Radulphus Newbery, 1586

Risdon began work on his Survey in 1605, so it is possible that he had some contact with Camden before the 1607 edition was completed; but if so he didn’t say that Appledore was the place where Hubba landed, since Camden merely says, ‘Ad hoc enim littus eius nominis castrum erat …’

Risdon, apparently, first names Appledore but in 1586 Camden had an earlier source which identified Hubba’s raid with this part of Devon. Aside from that, it is just possible that he mistook Raleigh, very close to ‘Henny Castle’, for Raleigh north of Barnstaple and added the genealogical details while under that misapprehension.

Michael Alford

Who? Michael Griffith. He was a 17th-c. Jesuit missionary with aliases, because he lived through an era of persecution. Arrested and imprisoned several times, he took the names Michael Alford and John Flood. I did not know any of this last week.

Philosopher, theologian and scholar, Alford was born in London in 1592/3 and died in St Omer in 1652. His best known work was the Fides regia Britannica, sive, Annales ecclesiae Britannicae (Liège, 1663), of which Tomus Tertius is ab Anno Domini 800. AD. 1066.

Title page of the Fides regia Britannica, t. 3, Liège, 1663. At the sign of the Earthly Paradise

For the present purposes, the interest is that Alford is a scholar who compares favourably with the more rigorous standards of the present day. He has three relevant named sources: Asser, c 892, biographer of Alfred the Great; Henry of Huntingdon, annalist, writing in the 12th century and familiar with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; and his own near contemporary, the antiquarian and topographer William Camden, compiling Britannia at the turn of the 16th-17th centuries.

For his retelling of the 878 ‘Battle of Cynuit’, Alford has combined these three sources (though Henry disposes of the incident in under four lines) and comes up with a version not far removed from the familiar Appledore ‘legend’. He elaborates the narrative without adding extra details, rewriting it in his own smooth, learned neo-Latin, and indicates where he’s transcribing his sources verbatim. He mentions Æthelweard in his text, but did not apparently use his version for this incident, as there is no mention of Odda, dux Provinciae Defenu being present. Alford might have distrusted him in view of Æthelweard’s obvious mistakes here – like saying the Danes won the battle, when they lost.

Only Asser had given a full account of the siege of arx Cynuit, and Alford gives what is, verbally, a completely different version but equally full. Most of the details are there, though additions are that Alford names the Danish brother as Hubba, whereas Asser leaves him unnamed, as does Henry; and the detail of the Raven standard, which Asser himself omits though Henry includes it, is present. Most significantly, arx Cynuit has become the ‘arx Kinwicus’ (jubet Hubba in Kinwicum arcem pugnare) and Alford tacks on to the end of his description Camden’s details of where the defeated Hubba fell:

& loco nomen fecit Hubbeston. Pugnatum in Devoniensi agro, auguratur Camdenus, ibi nimiùm, ubi Tawus fluvius, Towridgi aquis auctior, Sabrinianum mare petit; licet castri supradicti, nulla sint jam reliqua vestigia.

But note the words ‘auguratur Camdenus’ – ‘as Camden conjectures’ – though I’m not quite sure whether ‘ibi nimiùm’ refers to the river mouth or Camden’s conjecture (suggestions, anyone?), since obviously there is no dispute that the site was in Devoniensi agro somewhere.

[There is a fine picture of the Taw estuary HERE (copyright, I assume). The Taw is the river heading off to the left, the Torridge to the right. The bareish land on the right is Northam Burrows, so Appledore will be on the small headland where the two rivers part.]

One would like to think that Alford was familiar enough with his early sources to know that the location is unidentified. The phrase Camdenus putat also appears several times in Alford’s text, as if he is not himself quite ready to vouch for it all, perhaps is even a little sceptical.

This may be  significant in indicating that in the mid-17th century (when Camden’s work became well known?), the Appledore legend was circulating but was not fully accepted. Added to that, we have Vidal’s  (slightly miffed?) report in 1804 that the local people had no memory of any notable event having taken place at ‘Kenwic Castle’ and that they had, in any case, known it by no other name but Henni Castle or Henni-borough until the time of the current owner.

Vidal saw Henni as a possible corruption of Cynuit, but, historically, how could that work? Cynuit might, just conceivably, have been corrupted over the centuries into Henni, but on what evidence, and by whom, would it then have been identified with arx Cynuit and converted back into Kenwith or Kenwic?

If there is no evidence of a persistent folk tradition in the locality, dating back a very long time, and no early written evidence which would support such a tradition ………?

Se non è vero …

Most of the tortuous plot and counterplot of Fitchett’s King Alfred, A Poem is pure fiction; but small details are thrown in which show that the author did know some early sources (that Hubba’s slaughtered army numbered 1,200 comes directly or indirectly from Asser’s Life of Alfred, for instance, a variant version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s 840 dead).

But Fitchett, who  began his poem c.1798, also knew something of the local Devon legend of the arrival of the Viking fleet in Appledore, the siege at nearby Kenwith Castle, and the battle at Bloody Corner, just outside Northam; this even though he had no obvious connection with Devon. He also had some familiarity with the ‘factual’ base around which he was to weave his extraordinary imaginings.

Robert Studley Vidal wrote his own, rather more scholarly, essay in 1804. His version names Kenwith or Kenwic Castle, whereas Fitchett has Kinwith (cf. Cynuit); Vidal quotes Camden, Baxter and the ‘annotator on Rapin (de Thoyras)’ as siting the ‘castle’ (i.e. arx Cynuit) near the junction of the Taw and the Torridge.

Richard Cumberland (1732-1812), dramatist, by George Romney

Richard Cumberland (1732-1812), dramatist, by George Romney

A few thoughts arising from Fitchett’s King Alfred: it looks as if some story relating the deeds of ealdorman Odda – known as earl Oddune – were ‘in the air’ at the turn of the 18th/19th cc. The prolific playwright Richard Cumberland (1732-1811) wrote a play called The Days of Yore (Cumberland appears in Sheridan’s The Critic as ‘Sir Fretful Plagiary’, a name reflecting two aspects of his character and writing). The Days of Yore. A Drama in Three acts. Performed at the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden, was published in 1796.

The Dramatis Personae included Alfred, King of England; Oddune, Earl of Devonshire; Gothrun, a Danish chief; and among sundry others an attendant lord named Roger de Malvern, who seems to have slipped back in time from post-Conquest Britain. The scene is set at ‘Kenwith Castle, and the Country adjoining’. The play opens in ‘A wild and rugged Scene on the Western Coast of England, with a distant View of the Sea’.

[I resume, several hours later]

This really is a very silly play: sort of cod-medieval Mills and Boone effort – and nothing to the point. As a (digitised) contemporary (1796) review in the London Evening Mail reported:

The.plot, Or rather(ketch, isflirnfey, and betrays mire the arrjefs un connections ofari .adventurer, than the, vigorous” effortsof the Veteran judgment. “It wars liaceiyed v/ith a degree of rapturer^but what could ‘ jrefiii the feri’urjrtehts ofloyalty and ; the fine acling of JMr.,Pop.E, who;’.never before difplayed … “. Which about sums it up.


Apart from Oddune’s Kenwith Castle being near the rugged West Devon coast, within sight of the sea, the only other piece of relevant information is that the historical action – such as it is – must have taken place some time after the Danish defeat at ‘arx Cynuit’ in 878, because Oswene, the widow of a valiant Dane called Hastings, reminds her son Voltimar that the two of them are prifoners of Earl Oddune, and that the loft ftandard of their country, the magic Reafen, the proudeft trophy England has to boaft, floats in Earl Oddune’s hall.

Gothrun (not Ubba) is on this occasion the Danish chief gathering his army round the castle after a disastrous Danish defeat at Exeter (historically, Alfred had defeated Guthrum at Edington in 878, the same year as the ‘Battle of Cynuit’). Voltimar, son of the valiant Dane Hastings, is pretending to have lost his wits. He somewhat resembles Edgar in K. Lear; he is also a bit like a Shakespearean clown, or fool, and acts the part of a harp-playing minftrel in the service of Earl Oddune (his own favourite minftrel is called Llewelyn, but he doesn’t appear in the play). Voltimar loves Earl Oddune’s daughter and saves the life of King Alfred the Great who, disguised by his cape, is captured as he walks alone outside the caftle, by the treacherous Gothrun. This means Voltimar is a Noble Dane and will be able to marry Earl Oddune’s daughter.

Apart from the fact that it’s vaguely interesting that Earl Oddune, West Devon, Kenwith Castle and sundry Danes and Englishmen are present in a garbled version of the historical record, there isn’t – oh, but hang on! there is either an enormous clue here or a very striking (and, in the circumstances, very irritating) coincidence, and the possible key to the enigma! But can one rely on anything in Sir Fretful’s chronological charade, where bits may have been wittingly collected from various sources and sewn together? In which case they will explain nothing.

On to the past (arx Cynuit) (1)

I’ve probably gone as far as I can go with Iscalis. My final thought was that it was somewhere on the coastal plain around Burnham-on-Sea, and south to the River Parrett. The heavily Romanised area, with many Iron Age sites,  seems a more likely location (to me) than Charterhouse (on top of the Mendips). This area would have been a centre of the Durotriges, rather than the Belgae as Ptolemy said (so it’s a bit like believing you have the correct exam answer – provided the examiner has made a slight mistake with the question.)

There are no facts, only interpretations.

“There are no facts, only interpretations.”

As Nietzsche said: “We hear only those questions for which we are in a position to find answers.” So I’m  now hearing a different question.

I advanced a little further with Iscalis  than in my study of  arx Cynuit where I was fairly confident it wasn’t at Countisbury, but couldn’t come up with a likely alternative. And speaking of arx Cynuit …  my dismissal of the suggestion that it was Castle Hill, near Beaford, was challenged, so I thought my next investigation could be around the west Devon coast, yes, back to arx Cynuit again.

This is not so much a ‘Well, we shall never know for sure’ question (even if we shall never know for sure) but: How did the local tradition develop and why did it persist for so long? What lay behind it? Where did it start? It MAY have started when the Danes landed near Appledore in 878, if they did. But did they (we shall never know for sure)? It’s the tradition I’ll be focusing on here, not the historical fact.

Method: If this were family history, you would start with modern times and work your way back, because you start with what you know and it gradually uncovers the unknown. But here we already know the ancient sources and we need to uncover the successive stages which led to the present. So I shall begin with Asser and the ASC (which neither support nor contradict the tradition).

[To be continued]

A Recapitulation

The site of the battle of arx Cynuit, 878 AD: at Countisbury or not?

The argument for COUNTISBURY

1. Countisbury is in Devon – as was arx Cynuit, according to Asser and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Domnania, Defenascire)

2. The name Countisbury might derive from something like Cynuits-burh

3. Wind Hill promontory fort at Countisbury is surrounded by high cliffs and a river gorge and is therefore tutissimus on all sides, except the east –  exactly Asser’s description of arx Cynuit. This is the most persuasive argument, along with 4

4. The fort has a rampart (mœnia nostra more erecta) on the vulnerable, eastern side – Asser again, perhaps meaning ‘as the Welsh built them’, with a bank and ditch?

And that’s the evidence, I think.

The argument against COUNTISBURY

Redo arrows

The Countisbury coast line

1. Landing: The contemporary accounts (Asser and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) say that the Saxons were forced into retreat by a Viking force, reportedly of 800-1200 men. ‘Arx Cynuit‘ was where they took refuge, and where they were besieged by the Vikings.

At Countisbury, the precipitous cliffs (north) and the gorge of the Lyn  and East Lyn rivers (west and south)  made the hillfort inaccessible, tutissimus on three sides.

So, where did this fleet of 23 ships with at least 800 men on board land so as to position themselves on the eastern side of Wind Hill, just outside the rampart, a good 700 feet above sea level (see note 1 below)?

 If the Saxons retreated into the hillfort, they would have entered it on the eastern side which is where the only entrance was. So the besiegers must have been further east again, following them westwards and then settling in front of the rampart to starve them out.

The Countisbury rampart from the east: a Viking-eye view - if this was arx Cynuit

The Countisbury rampart from the east: a Viking-eye view of the entrance – IF this was arx Cynuit

2. Viking raids: There are no records of any Viking raids on this coast further west than Porlock, which is about 10 miles away to the east (most dates a bit uncertain):

833 [836] Danes raided Carhampton(?) in 35 ships and defeated King Egbert

840/841 [843] Another(?) 35 ships landed at Carhampton(?) and defeated King Æthelwulf

845 [848] A raiding party was defeated by Eanwulf, ealdorman of Somerset, near the mouth of the R. Parrett (maybe after landing near the harbour at Combwich

[878 arx Cynuit – 23 ships landed but the invaders were defeated]

914/915 raids east of Watchet and then Porlock

988 a raiding party sacked Watchet

997 Watchet again sacked

And when the banished Harold Godwinson sailed back to Britain from Ireland in 1052, he landed – at Porlock, and looted it while he was there.

The Danish raids in the ninth and tenth centuries

The Viking raids in the ninth and tenth centuries

What all these raids have in common – Countisbury is the odd one out – is that they were all at precisely identified places on easily accessible parts of the coast, where there were low-lying beaches and harbours; and these raids went no further west than Porlock Bay, at which point the precipitous cliffs began. So, did the Vikings land at Porlock and advance on a Saxon fyrd which then ran away, for 10 miles, until they reached the Wind Hill fort at Countisbury?

3. Viking aims: Although the Vikings eventually began to settle in Britain instead of carrying out lightning raids, there was no sign as yet (in 878) of attempts to settle in this part of the country. It seems that up until the end of the 10th c. they were content to raid, loot and kill here. And this poses another difficulty for locating arx Cynuit at Countisbury: what were they hoping to raid?

This was (and still is) among the most remote, bare and inaccessible parts of the British coast. There’s little sign of Roman occupation, and not much sign of the Saxons.

Exmoor: still wild and unpopulated

Exmoor: still wild and unpopulated

Further east, there were royal estates at Carhampton, Williton and Cannington and there would have been some kind of military presence there: thegns tasked with protecting the king’s interests; Watchet became one of King Alfred’s burhs – and of these four centres only Williton escaped the raids. But to the west from here there was little more than some smaller settlements and abandoned Iron Age hillforts. Little or no spoil for considerable effort.

And what would a band of Saxon thegns, presumed to be several hundred strong and fully armed (since they eventually slaughtered most of the enemy army), have been doing there, far from the royal estates? Had the Vikings landed at Porlock and marched westwards, away from the rich plunder of the eastern settlements, to Countisbury where the Devon detachment happened to be gathered (unsupported, apparently by any source of provisions)?

A slightly later version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the chronicle of Æthelweard, has a brief report of the incident, and he was first to introduce the name of Odda, ealdorman of Devon, as commanding the force (which would presumably, therefore, have been part of the shire fyrd). However, Æthelweard can’t be entirely relied on – according to him the Vikings won the ensuing battle. Nevertheless, the story persisted that Odda was the man in command and, since all other versions confirm that the Vikings were defeated, Odda was transformed into the victor rather than the vanquished.

The main questions are why would the Vikings choose this difficult area to invade with nothing obvious to plunder? and what was this fairly substantial armed Saxon force doing in the middle of nowhere?

4. Archaeology: The archaeologists report that there are no signs of settlement or any 9th-c. reoccupation of the Wind Hill fort at Countisbury.

5. The name: There have long been doubts as to whether the name ‘Cynuit’ can be the derivation of ‘Countisbury’. Though many things are possible, names of similar origin develop quite differently. Cynuits-burh would not become Countisbury [Old Somerset has suggested the common Celtic toponym ‘condate’ – a confluence – as an alternative, based on the British settlement overlooking Watersmeet].

6. Water: Asser specifically stated that there was no water close at hand on arx Cynuit, so thirst was a risk for the Saxons. However, there is certainly a spring on Wind Hill now.  Not a strong point but it doesn’t support the Countisbury case.

7. Devon: Arx Cynuit may not even have been in present-day Devon as the position of the Somerset-Devon border at that time is unknown. Or it may have been, as a persistent legend has it, on the west Devon coast near Appledore, not the uninviting north.

Conclusion: Although many modern scholars have expressed no doubt that Countisbury is the site of arx Cynuit, other scholarly sources indicate it as no more than one possibility among several. Old Somerset is among the sceptics.

More archaeological evidence would be valuable. Although those precipitous cliffs must have been a temptation for a mass dumping of 800 slaughtered Vikings, recent evidence has suggested that in the 10th c. the Saxons decapitated and stripped their Viking victims before burying them in a pit. Given that – IF Countisbury is the correct location – the exact site of the battle is known, has it ever been excavated? Rhetorical question. But it hasn’t.

Note 1: This quote is from the Exmoor National Park website: “The Exmoor shoreline is the most remote in England. Because of the height and steepness of the cliffs, there is no landward access to the six mile stretches of shoreline from Combe Martin to Heddon’s Mouth and Countisbury to Glenthorne and there are few places where you could land even a small boat.”

“Exmoor has the highest coastline on the British mainland. It reaches a height of 314 metres (1350ft) at Culbone Hill. However, here the crest of the coastal ridge of hills is more than a mile from the sea. If a cliff is defined as having a slope greater than 60 degrees, the highest cliff on mainland Britain is on Great Hangman near Combe Martin. The coastal hill is 318 metres (1043 ft) high with a cliff face of 250 metres (800ft).”