A promontory fort is an Iron Age hillfort that is located on a promontory of land so that the steep scarp slopes form the natural defences of the fort. They are quite rare with only about one hundred recorded frequently on coastal headlands. They are thought to be high status permanent settlements sited for display as well as defence. Knolls End Promontory Fort is at the west end of Live Moor and the most obvious feature is the rampart and ditch across the neck of the spur including a gap for an entrance. The earthworks are accentuated at this time of the year by the lush growth of bilberries. Knolls End was first identified from aerial photographs in the 1970s and to date is unexcavated. The long distance footpath The Cleveland Way cuts through the site but few walkers are aware of its existence.
90 AD, around fifty years after Claudius’s invasion of Britannia, and although campaigns were extended as far as Caledonia the northern Brigantes tribes were restless and hostile. To control the natives it is thought a chain of forts were built between Malton and the coast. The Roman camp at Cawthorne was a key part of this chain.
The Romans chose the fort’s location well. On the edge of the limestone plateau that is the Tabular Hills, it had clear views over the moors to the north with a gentle slope to the south. There were actually two separate forts at Cawthorne. An older enclosure in a polygonal plan and a newer following the more typical Roman rectangular pattern with rounded corners both protected by a rampart and one or more ditches. A wooden palisade would have topped the earthbank.
It is thought the camp was occupied for about forty years by which time the northern tribes had been subdued and the Roman efforts were directed at building Hadrian’s Wall as defence against raids by the Picts.
When Antoninus Pius decided to venture beyond the wall built by his adopted father, Hadrian, and incorporate southern Scotland into the Roman Empire a second frontier wall was needed between the Forth and the Clyde to control the Northern tribes. Like Hadrian’s Wall the Antonine Wall made the best advantage of local geology and here at Croy Hill used a sill of hard volcanic dolerite. The name Croy comes from the Gaelic, cruaidh, meaning hard. But unlike Hadrian’s Wall the Antonine Wall was largely made of turf stacked like bricks to create a rampart 13 feet high and topped with a wooden palisade and a ditch on the outside. Forts were more frequent than on Hadrian’s Wall. There was one here at Croy Hill. It was constructed of stone which has been robbed leaving a few humps and bumps which hasn’t come up well in the photo.
The Antonine Wall was built in about 142 AD. It was abandoned in 160 AD and Hadrian’s Wall reoccupied. In the photo the centre of the fort is where the two trees are. The west gate where the boulder is. It would have stationed about a hundred men of the VI legion.
Link to map.