A Norman castle or simply a damaged Bowl Barrow? Wimble Toot divides opinion amongst academics with many arguing it was a fortification built circa-1067 by vassals of Robert, Count of Mortain. If so, it was raised to control movement along the River Cary and the Fosseway which were both important communication arteries.
Although the point is disputed, many historians now consider that Wimble Toot was a small fortification raised circa-1067 shortly after the Normans advanced into Somerset. If so, it was probably raised by the two porters of Montacute. They were vassals of Robert, Count of Mortain who had invaded the south-east of the county (currently with other invasions in the north by Walter of Douai and west by William of Mohun). The castle was probably built for three purposes. Firstly, it overlooked the River Cary at the point it became navigable for small ships and thus enabled control of that important waterway which provided access to the Bristol Channel. Secondly it was in close proximity to the Fosseway, a major (formerly Roman) road running between Lincoln and Exeter. Thirdly, in partnership with another fortification at Sock Dennis, it enabled control of the existing major settlement at Ilchester.
The castle was raised upon a slight rise overlooking the River Cary and protected by substantial marshland on all sides other than the north-east. Modified from an earlier bowl barrow, a prehistoric burial mound, it consisted of an earth motte surrounded by a ditch. The summit of the mound would have been topped with a timber tower and possibly also a wooden palisade. There is no evidence of a bailey.
Wimble Toot probably had a relatively short life as there is no evidence to suggest any sort of legal, economic or other community functions ever took place there. Accordingly, after its military role became eclipsed by larger fortifications along the river at Downend and Castle Cary, Wimble Toot probably went out of use.
Castle or Bowl Barrow?
Academic opinion remains divided on whether Wimble Toot was the site of a Norman fortification or not. Those who doubt it point to the fact it is a typically proportioned bowl barrow albeit with a levelled top, the latter possibly having been created by archaeological investigation. They also cite the lack of any roads or access routes to the site indicating it cannot have served as any form of economic or social centre. The lack of a bailey also implies it may not have been a fortified site.
The other side of the argument is that the modifications to the barrow are consistent with Norman modification. Those supporting this argument also point to the strategic importance of the site at a key nodal point near the River Cary and Fosseway meaning it was a prime location for fortification. Furthermore it was on the line of advance into Somerset by Robert, Count of Mortain. He built castles to control both the River Brue (Cockroad Wood Castle) and River Parrett (Montacute Castle) meaning it was likely he also built one to control the River Cary.
The issue as to whether Wimble Toot was a Norman castle remains open. The arguments of both sides are persuasive and each supported by respected academics. The case will remain debated until a full, modern assessment of the site is completed at some point in the future.
Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.
Cornish, J.B (1906). Ancient Earthworks.
Historic England (1996). Bowl barrow known as `Wimble Toot', List entry 1015279. Historic England, London.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Montgomerie (1924). Ancient Earthworks. VCH Worcestershire.
Ordnance Survey, Historic England and RCAHMW (2016). Roman Britain. 1:625,000 Scale. Ordnance Survey, Southampton.
Prior, S (2006). A Few Well-Positioned Castles: The Norman Art of War. Tempus, London.
Salter, M (1999). The Castles of Wessex. Folly Publications, Malvern.
Wimble Toot consists of the earthwork remains of an overgrown mound, surrounded by a ditch (part of which is infilled).
Castle or Bowl Barrow? There is still debate in academic circles as to whether Wimble Toot was ever actually a castle or simply just a Bowl Barrow. Until a new survey of the site is undertaken, the question remains open.
Wimble Toot Context. Wimble Toot was located near the River Cary and the Fosseway near Ilchester. Assuming Wimble Toot was a castle, it would have operated in conjunction with another fortification at Sock Dennis to control Ilchester.
River Cary. Modern drainage has reduced the river to a fraction of its former size and breadth.
Wimble Toot. The earthworks are now covered by trees.
Wimble Toot is accessed via a kissing gate off North Street just to the south of Babcary. Onroad parking near the gate is difficult (without impeding local traffic), so it is recommended you park in the village and walk to the site.
Car Parking Option
Main Street, ta11 7DU
Access to the right of way to Wimble Toot is found off Steart Lane.