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Woden Law

Fort (Prehistoric), Linear Earthwork(S) (Prehistoric)

Site Name Woden Law

Classification Fort (Prehistoric), Linear Earthwork(S) (Prehistoric)

Alternative Name(s) Woden Law, 'siege Works'

Canmore ID 58068

Site Number NT71SE 15

NGR NT 76777 12547

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2018.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Hownam
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Roxburgh
  • Former County Roxburghshire

Treasured Places (25 July 2007)

The ramparts that enclose the summit of Woden Law belong to at least three phases of construction, and the innermost rampart surrounds the remains of a number of timber round-houses. Linear earthworks on the lower slopes of the hill probably formed parts of Iron Age field-systems, which were in use sometime during the occupation of the fort. Further evidence for prehistoric farming on the flank of the hill is provided by extensive swathes of cord rig (narrow cultivation ridges), some of which overlie the banks of the field-system.

Information from RCAHMS (SC) 25 July 2007

Ritchie, A and Ritchie, G 1998

Archaeology Notes

NT71SE 15 768 125.

(Centred NT 7677 1251) Fort (NR)

Roman Training Siegeworks (R)

OS 6" map, (1962).

On top of Woden Law there is a notable group of remains comprising (i) a native fort with multiple ramparts (I - III, see RCAHMS 1956 plan, fig.197); (ii) earthworks T, W. X, Y and Z, identified as Roman siege- works, and in view of the small size of the fort and other reasons, considered to have been built and used for practice rather than actual siege operations; and (iii) a small enclosure, Q (described on NT71SE 48).

A section cut across the defences of the fort (noted as a settlement by Feachem) in 1950 revealed three structural periods. It was originally defended (barring a palisade) by a wall (I on plan) enclosing an oval area meauring about 400' N-S by 140'. This is analogous with the earliest stone defences at Hownam Rings (NT71NE 1) which were obsolete in the late 1st century AD. Ramparts IIA and IIB, with a medial rock-cut ditch, which were deliberately destroyed soon after their construction, also paralleled at Hownam Rings, were probably erected immediately before the Agricolan invasion of Scotland.

The fort was abandoned during the Roman occupation of Scotland, until, in the 3rd century AD or thereby, the place was re-fortified by wall III, the innermost structure on the hill; within it are slight traces of four probable huts. The fort is everywhere enclosed, except on the steep W slope and the steepest part of the N slope, by earthwork 'Z', consisting of two banks between three ditches. This, in turn, is enveloped by outer lines, made up of three independent works, sometimes double and sometimes single, of which 'Y' runs across the S, and 'W' and 'X' across the E face of the hill. 'Y' is over-ridden by 'X'. All these works are incomplete, and show signs of having been erected in short stretches, Sections were cut by the RCAHMS, who gave a full description.

Traverse 'T' comprises a ditch of lunate plan enfolding an almost circular mound, which closely resembles the well-known traverses in the N front of the S Roman siege-camp at Birrenswark.

RCAHMS 1956, visited 1952; R W Feachem 1965.

Fort, etc, as described above.

Visited by OS (WDJ) 13 September 1960.

Woden Law and its associated works are as described by RCAHMS except that the outer annex IID appears to be unfinished. This is evident from the generally ragged and insubstantial nature of the enclosing bank and ditch together with the fact that it stops short of the Roman siegeworks on the S.

Visited by OS (BS) 16 September 1976.


Field Visit (13 September 1960)

Fort, etc, as described by RCAHMS.

Visited by OS (WDJ) 13 September 1960.

Field Visit (16 September 1976)

Woden Law and its associated works are as described by RCAHMS except that the outer annex IID appears to be unfinished. This is evident from the generally ragged and insubstantial nature of the enclosing bank and ditch together with the fact that it stops short of the Roman siegeworks on the S.

Visited by OS (BS) 16 September 1976.

Aerial Photography (1984)

Publication Account (1985)

The climb of Wo den Law (423m) is well worthwhile. The line of the Roman Road is quite well preserved alongside the gully rising from Tow Ford, but is even more distinct further east, towards Hunthall Hill- a linear mound some 8.2m wide and 1.2m high. It is but a short stretch to the Border, to the signal station on Brownhart Law (NT 79009G) and to camps at Chew Green (NT 7808-7908). A major highway throughout the later medieval period, and equally in pre-Roman times, to the Romans it was their crucial link between York and the Firth of Forth, crucial to their conquest of Scotland. Though the road fell into disrepair after Agricola's withdrawal cAD 100, it was reconstructed during the Antonine reoccupation in the 2nd century and played an important part in the 3rd century Severan Campaign.

Equally vital was control of Wo den Law, strategically situated just north of the watershed. Originally it was a native British fort, built in three stages (see section 8) a settlement surrounded by a single, oval stone dyke, to which was then added a double rampart and intervening ditch. Both ramparts were demolished quite soon after completion, probably as a result of Roman road-building and occupation, and the site was only reoccupied by native peoples after the Romans left. Then the innermost rubble dyke on the top of the hill was built and faced with boulders.

The Romans, however, seem to have used Woden Law for siege practice (if the so-called siegeworks are not simply part of the native defences). They dug a remarkable earthwork of two banks between three ditches at 12m-30m from the fort's defences: in other words, mostly beyond the killing-range for hand-thrown missiles. Several flattened platforms on the outer bank seem to have provided sites for siegeengines, protected by the inner bank and ditch, whilst beyond the main siegework, three further independent lines of earthworks were built in the customary Roman manner of short, separate sections. These are all incomplete.

A further feature, the series of five cross-dykes spanning the easy ridge between Woden Law and Hunthall Hill, is pre-Roman however, and part of the native British defence system. Such cross-dykes are not uncommon in relation to hillforts in the Cheviotsi here they guard access from the main Cheviot ridge and emphasise the importance of the site and the route.

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

Aerial Photography (1992)

Aerial Photography (24 November 1994)

Field Visit (16 November 1999)

NT71SE 15


Woden Law

NT 768 125

This site was recorded as part of the Kale Water Survey project and is largely as described previously on the date of visit.

The defences of the fort crowning the summit of Woden Law are previously depicted in the Roxburgh Inventory (RCAHMS, 1956, p. 169, no. 308). Within the interior, however, there are traces of numerous timber round-houses and stone-walled hut-circles disposed along the crest of the hill on the NW side of the fort; to the E and S of the ramparts lie extensive remains of cord rig cultivation.

At the SW end of the fort, is a ring-ditch house (NT 76751 12513) measuring 10.2m in diameter over a shallow ditch 1.2m in breadth. Immediately to the N lies a slightly smaller ring-ditch house (NT 76754 12527) which measures 8.5m in diameter over a shallow ditch 1.1m in breadth with a causeway on the S. About 10m to the E of these two houses, there is a circular platform (NT 76768 12521) 6m in diameter, which has been terraced into the slope on the NW up to a depth of 0.4m and possibly indicates the position of another round-house; what may be another platform lies immediately to the N of it. A little to the W of the centre of the interior there is a ring-groove house (NT 76764 12544) which measures 11.5m in diameter over a shallow groove up to 0.5m in breadth. A low internal bank can be traced within the N and S arcs of the groove and there is an entrance on the ESE. On the N, this house overlies a smaller ring-ditch house (NT 76766 12555), which measures 8m in diameter over a ditch up to 1.3m in breadth. A small stone-walled hut-circle (NT 76771 12566) lies immediately to the NNE and measures 4.7m in diameter within a low stony bank 1m in thickness. This hut-circle, which has its entrance on the S, overlies another possible ring-ditch house (NT 76776 12572) on the NE, which measures 7.2m in diameter over a shallow ditch up to 2m in breadth. Situated at the NE end of the interior there is another ring-groove house (NT 76792 12585) which measures 11.9m in diameter over a low bank with an outer groove between 0.5m and 1m in breadth; here there is also a low internal bank accompanying the groove and the entrance is on the ENE. The second stone-walled hut-circle (NT 76786 12598) abuts the inner rampart to the NNW of this ring-groove house; it measures 4m in diameter within a bank 2m in width and 0.3m in height and there is an entrance on the SW.

Abutting the outer edge of the outer earthworks (RCAHMS, 1956, p169 , fig 197 ‘Z’) and extending SW for about 400m lies a plot of cord rig covering an area of at least 2ha (see NT71SE 51, NT71SE 53).

(Kale99 129-36, 141)

Visited by RCAHMS (MFTR) 16 November 1999

Aerial Photography (17 January 2000)

Sbc Note

Visibility: This is an upstanding earthwork or monument.

Information from Scottish Borders Council


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