North Devon Coast

National Landscape

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Hillsborough Iron Age Promontory Hillfort

The North Devon Coast AONB is defined by its Special Qualities. These are what make our AONB so special. There are 14 Special Qualities and for each of these we have chosen a place within the AONB where you can see what we mean.

Special Quality 11 –  Historic coastal quays and fishing villages, coastal promontory sites for strategic defences and lighthouses.

The imposing cliff castle at Hillsborough near Ilfracombe is a fine example of an Iron Age Promontory Hillfort, one of several key defensive fortifications that lay along the North Devon Coast in pre-historic times. In this image, you can see the twin earthen banks that would have cut the hillfort off from the mainland.  Hillsborough is a Local Nature Reserve

As well as a popular Local Nature Reserve, a hike up to Hillsborough will reveal the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, the largest cliff castle in the south west and around 2000 years old. Gaze across the stunning landscape from the summit of Hillsborough and you’ll see why this location offered such an enviable strategic position. The harbour provides a safe haven from the perilous coastline, while the hills form a natural barrier to the landward side.



Though the wooden defences of this scheduled ancient monument have long since vanished with age, you can still see the high banks which formed the ramparts guarding the inturned entrance of this impressive fort. The site is undoubtedly both important and complex. In the 1930s, workers disturbed what are believed to be even earlier bronze age burial cysts on the side of the hill, and bronze age artifacts have been found in the local area.

Recent archaeological project work involving volunteers and Birmingham University (supported by North Devon Coast AONB, Biosphere and North Devon Council) has started to reveal just a few of Hillsboroughs secrets, which are shared through new interpretation boards on site. Take a look through some of the resources on the right of this page. 

Landscape and nature

Interestingly, Hillsborough is also one of the earliest examples of conservation schemes in the area – arising when the quiet, recreational facilities of Hillsborough were threatened by developers in 1895. Ilfracombe Urban District Council came to the rescue and purchased Hillsborough (now a Local Nature Reserve), prompting The Journal to run the headline “Saved from the builders’ hands.”

Arts and Culture

 In 1988, the film Paper House was shot along the cliffs of Hartland Quay (the Warren) and scenes of a fake lighthouse were created on Hillsborough above Ilfracombe Harbour.This dark fantasy film starred Charlotte Burke, Elliot Spies and Ben Cross


 A great spot for walking, wildlife watching and picnicing – all amidst spectacular views of the coast and harbour.