Hidden Norman fort revealed in Co Down

The National Trust hard at work clearing trees from the 800-year-old motte revealed on the Mountstewart estate
The National Trust hard at work clearing trees from the 800-year-old motte revealed on the Mountstewart estate

An 800-year-old Norman structure that had lain hidden beneath dense forest on the Mount Stewart estate in Co Down has been revealed by a precise laser-mapping technique.

The National Trust took ownership of the land on which the imposing defensive structure sits around three years ago.

While it was known that there was a motte, a mound-style type of defensive structure built by the invading Normans in the years after 1177, little else was known about it.

Speaking to the News Letter, National Trust regional archaeologist Malachy Conway explained that uncovering the motte was not an easy task, since it was entirely covered by thick forest and shrubbery.

“We knew it was there, but we were struggling to get a sense of the scale of this thing,” he said.

After using drones to take aerial photographs, the Trust then decided to employ a technique known as LiDar, which involves the use of lasers shone from the air and allows precise mapping of a particular area.

The images revealed an imposing structure standing eight metres (26ft) tall, surrounded by a defensive ditch some five metres (16ft) wide.

“The motte istelf was this sort of conical mound, and on top of that there would have been a sort of palisade, a timber ringing structure,” Mr Curran explained. “Inside that would have been a sort of keep, but not in stone at that stage.”

He added: “This would have been seen for miles around and was used by the Anglo-Normans as a way of consolidating their gains.”

The National Trust, with the help of volunteers, have been clearing trees from the site and hope to open it to the public in the coming weeks.