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Beyond the Pale

25th March 2024

Anyone visiting the Restormel Estate can look up onto the hill and see the circular ruins of Restormel Castle. Ownership of the castle passed to the Duchy of Cornwall (then the Earldom) in 1268, after which it was rebuilt.

It was, for its time, extremely luxurious with piped water, large fireplaces and high windows.  Records show that Edward the Black Prince stayed there on two occasions in 1354 and 1365.  Despite its tactical position above the River Fowey, its construction suggests it was more a prestigious residence and administrative centre than a place of military significance.   Restormel has a long and interesting history.  The varied and productive landscape of the area, its diverse natural resources and proximity to a tidal river mean it has seen continuous occupation for centuries, including an important Roman fort and evidence of earlier prehistoric peoples.

The stone castle visible today was built on the site of a motte and bailey castle, itself probably constructed around 1100 after the Norman conquest as a hunting lodge.  Deer parks flourished and proliferated under the Normans and the park at Restormel was one of the largest in Cornwall.  It was designed to provide food, water, shelter and hunting cover for the deer, and to create a rare private landscape for sport and aesthetic enjoyment.  The park covered over 500 acres with the River Fowey running through it and was enclosed within a pale.

A pale was a deer-proof fence, for the most part a stone wall topped with timber.  In some places a ditch was excavated on the inside to give the barrier more height.  Deer could leap in but not out.  The positioning of the pale created a rare private landscape with no sign of land “under the cultivation of peasants”; and was an early example of landscape design.  In 1999 construction of a pipeline provided an opportunity to examine a cross section of the pale, showing an earth and stone bank 2.7m wide and 1.9m high.  Some parts of the pale are visible today, repurposed as field boundaries. As well as keeping the deer in, it was designed to keep people and farm animals out, and entry was through five gates with locks and bolts.  The Town Gate which gave access to the town and quays of Lostwithiel was likely to have been an important entrance and was probably an impressive and ornate structure.  Another gate, Barn Gate, is remembered in the name of the dwelling that exists there today.

The costs were immense.  The construction of the pale would have taken considerable time and manpower.  It is estimated that it took 3,400 man days to build, and required constant maintenance. A parker was employed to oversee management of the park, and to supervise the many huntsmen, grooms and kennel men required to run the hunts.  In addition masons, carpenters, smiths and labourers were employed to maintain the pale and the gates.  It is estimated that around 5% of the profits of the Duchy’s Cornish manors was required to maintain its deer parks.  About 300 adult fallow deer were kept within the park.  They would be culled to supply the kitchens at Restormel and elsewhere, or given as gifts.  Today the nearby Boconnoc Estate still keeps a herd of 120 fallow deer, a truly beautiful sight.

Nowadays the land is farmed and accommodates acres of woodland as well as a golf course.  It retains an  unexpected atmosphere and beauty.  Visitors to the  Duchy of Cornwall Nursery can take the footpath down through the woods and across the valley to Restormel Castle, walking through land that was the deerpark.

Restormel Castle is now managed by English Heritage and will be open to visit from: Tuesday 26th March, every day. Visit their website HERE.


Sources:Information has been sourced from the Duchy of Cornwall Archives and a Duchy commissioned report: Restormel Manor, Lostwithiel, COnrwall, Historic Buildings Analysis and Landscape Survery. Report: 2007RXXX, June 2007. Report authors: Eric Berry, Cathy Parkes and Nigel Thomas, published by Cornwall County Council. 

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