Revealing Killerton's hidden treasures

killerton devon deer park pale repair

Recent restoration work in the parkland has unearthed striking stories from the past and revealed hidden features of Killerton’s landscape.

Did you know the parkland at Killerton was once a deer park? Two long stone walls topped with wooden fencing prevented the fallow deer from escaping.

These walls are known as the Deer Park pales. They were built by the Irish workmen who had laid the railway line from Exeter to Bristol. The story goes that Sir Thomas Acland was worried about the newly unemployed workers frequenting local pubs and inns, so offered them a new construction job: building the pales.

The pales are now recognised as historic features of Killerton’s eighteenth century parkland, and are protected as Scheduled Monuments.

Unfortunately they had fallen into disrepair as the banks collapsed or the stone was removed. Young trees had been allowed to grow on top of the pales, their roots damaging the walls. Brambles and scrub had grown up in front of the pales, hiding their presence in the parkland.

The “Bringing Killerton park to life” project has opened up the pales by removing selected trees and scrub. A team of volunteers has been specially trained to rebuild the stone faced walls of the pales and will use traditional techniques to restore them over the next three years.

Revealing radar

As the parkland restoration work started, we asked for advice from South West Archaeology. They used LIDAR  - a type of ground penetrating radar – to look under the surface of the modern parkland, and made some fascinating discoveries.

Not only did they find evidence of Neolithic earth works, which tell us that Killerton was inhabited long before the Iron Age hill fort was built, but they also shed some light on the fate of the Deer Park pales.

LIDAR images show a Victorian carriageway buried between the pales.  The Victorians were known for enjoying country walks, and this new evidence suggests they preferred to use the parkland for recreation rather than hunting. It is likely that the pales were forgotten about after the deer were released, and quickly fell into disrepair.

See for yourself

Several of the new parkland walks now take in the Deer Park pales, and you will be able to see the re-built sections of the wall. Look out for the Iron Age ditches and mounds on the Clump which make up the hill fort. The Neolithic earth works are hard to spot but if you see a ranger or volunteer while you’re on your walk they will be able to point them out to you.