Castlehill Wood, St Ninians, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NS 75074 90902

Also Known as: 

  1. Canmore ID 46233
  2. Castlehill Wood

Getting Here

In ghostly mist and bracken

Take the Gateside Road from St Ninians or Polmaise Road out of Torbrex across the M9, heading out west onto the southern moors of Touch Hills, passing the Wallstale dun in the trees and then the Castlehill dun just off the road.  Keep going uphill for just over half-a-mile, keeping your eyes peeled on the right for where the MOD lads play some of their war-games.  Walk along the track here, following the line of the woods, until it gets to the spot where it doubles back on itself.  Just here, about 30 yards in front of you, a rounded walled knoll gives the game away!

Archaeology & History

Artists impression of the reconstructed site (PSAS 1959)

An impressive-looking site, not too far off the moorland road, it is one of more than half a dozen hillforts and duns found to the west of Stirling, all of them relatively close to each other—showing that a lot of human activity was going on here in the Iron Age and, probably, much earlier.  Looking like a cross between a broch and a traditional hillfort, the site is best visited in the Winter and Spring months before the bracken starts to encroach and cover it.

Officially rediscovered in 1952 and excavated three years later, it was thought to have been built in the 1st century AD and used for a few hundred years thereafter.  As you walk up to the eastern edge of the monument, a large entrance, 4½ wide, allows you into the large open space within.  From here, and walking around both the inner and outer walls, you get an idea of the huge amount of work it must have taken to build this structure.  The walls alone which constitute the main of Castlewood Dun are, on average, 16 feet thick!  The Royal Commission report for the area (summarizing the archaeological work of F.W. Feacham in the ’50s) gives the basic architectural features of the place:

“The dun is oval in plan…and measures 75ft from NE to SW, transversely within a drystone wall 16ft thick.  The faces of the wall are composed of large, angular blocks, and the core of boulders, small rubble and earth.  The entrance in the E arc, is provided with door-checks.  Within these, the passage measures 4ft 6in in width, and outside them 3ft 9in.  A few paving-stones were laid to level the rough rock surface of the passage-floor.  Traces of what might have been the bottom step of a stair, rising up the inner face of the wall, were found at a point 8ft N of the entrance.  The dun had no mural stair or galleries, but two sets of mural chambers were located, one in the W and the other in the S acr of the wall.  The former consisted of an entrance-passage, 6ft in length, which varied in width from 2ft at the outer to 3ft at the inner end, where it opened into a circular chamber 4ft in diameter.  From either side of the passage a narrow duct or flue, about 19ft in length and 1ft 6in in width, led off obliquely through the core of the wall to debouch into the interior of the dun.  The construction in the S arc consisted of a similar passage, one flue and a smaller chamber.  Ash and a clinker of very light weight were found in the form of deposits in both passages and all the flues. …The excavator suggested they might have been corn-drying installations.”

Groundplan of site (PSAS 1959)
Entrance details (PSAS 1959)

Apart from a small piece of Roman glass, quern fragments, anvils stones and a pot lid, the excavators found very little inside the dun—not even any hearths.  The walling on the southwest and western edges was built onto a small cliff, making access slightly difficult from that side.

From the site itself, views are excellent, particularly in an arc through the north, east and southeast, with the western skylines being only a short distance away.  This enabled relatively easy tribal communication with people at the other brochs, duns and forts in the area, across an otherwise large but difficult landscape in prehistoric times.  A few hundred yards to the northeast, on the other side of the recently planted tree-farm (forestry plantation), a large D-shaped structure—possibly Iron Age, possibly medieval— is accompanied by lines of ancient walling running down the slopes.

References:

  1. Feachem, R W., “Castlehill Wood Dun, Stirlingshire“, in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 90, 1959.
  2. Feachem, R W., “Castlehill Wood, Polmaise”, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1955.
  3. MacKie, E W. “English Migrants and Scottish Brochs’, in Glasgow Archaeological Journal, volume 2, 1971.
  4. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  5. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Edinburgh 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.094510, -4.009638 Castlehill Wood

Caisteal Nan Coin Dubh, Craobh Haven, Argyll

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NM 8000 0763

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 22744

Archaeology & History

Caisteal Nan Coin Dubh (after RCAHMS 1988)

Up above the roadside leading down the gorgeous Craobh Haven road, we not only find remains of a previously unrecorded standing stone, but we see this little-known overgrown fort that has been described as a “galleried dun” by the Royal Commission (1988) lads.  Known in folk tradition as the “castle of the black dogs” and an important place in the great legends of the Finns, in archaeological terms the Royal Commission described the site as:

“Oval in plan, the dun measures about 13m by 10m within a wall which varies from 3m to 4m in thickness.  Considerable stretches of the outer face survive and on the N it rises to a height of 1.7m in ten rough courses; the inner face is less well preserved, but a long stretch is visible on the NW.  There are traces of a gallery within the thickness of the wall on the NW; it was entered through a narrow passage, the S-side wall of which it stands to a height of 0.4m in three courses.  A second break in the line of the inner face, 2.5m to the NE, is either another entrance to the gallery or the entrance to a second chamber.  Depressions in the thickness of the wall on the S may indicate the presence of yet another intramural feature.  The entrance to the dun lies on the WSW; it measures about 1m in width at the outer end, 1.8m at the inner end, and is checked for a door 1m from the exterior.  On the NE there is a short stretch of facing at right-angles to the line of the wall, and this may be a straight-joint similar to that at Castle Dounie…or one side of a postern gate. In the interior there are the remains of at least two animal-pens and a modern rectilinear cairn. There is no trace of the midden-deposit noted by Campbell & Sandemann to the W of the dun, and the cairns and stretches of field-walling on the N flank of the ridge are of relatively recent date.”

Folklore

Close to a little-known cailleach site, this ruined fortress was one of the many places which the illustrious historian and folklorist Archibald Campbell told about in his awesome series of Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition (1889).  The tale of the fort was known to local people as “The Fight between Bran and Foir and is as follows:

“The black dog, Foir, was the brother of Bran, the far-famed hound of Fionn. Foir was taken early from his dam, and was afterwards nurtured by a band of fair women, who acted as his nurses. He grew up into a handsome hound, which had no equal, in the chase or in fight, in the distant North. His owner, Eubhan Oisein, the black-haired, red-cheeked, fair-skinned young Prince of Innis Torc (Orkney ?) was proud, as well he might be, of his unrivalled hound. Having no further victories to win in the North, his master determined to try him against the strongest dogs in the packs of the Feinne.

“He left home, descended by Lochawe, and entered Craignish through Glen Doan. Before his arrival, the Fienne, after spending the day in the chase, encamped for the night in the upper end of Craignish. Next day Fionn arose before sunrise, and saw a young man, wrapped in a red mantle and leading a black dog, approaching towards him at a rapid pace. The stranger soon drew near, and at once declared his object in coming. He wanted a dog-fight, and so impatient was he to have it, and so restless by reason of his impatience, that he suffered not his shadow to dwell a moment on one spot.

“Fifty of the best hounds of the Feinne were slipped at last, but the black dog killed them all one by one. A second and then a third fifty were uncoupled, but the strange dog disposed of them as easily as he did of the first.

“Fionn now saw that all the dogs of the Feinne were in serious danger of being annihilated, and therefore he turned round and cast an angry look on his own great dog Bran. In a moment Bran’s hair stood on end, his eyes darted fire, and he leaped the full length of his golden chain in his eagerness for the fight. But something else besides the casting of an angry look was still to be done to rouse the fierce hound’s temper to its highest pitch.

“He was placed nose to nose with his rival, and then his golden chain was unclasped. The two hounds, brothers by blood, but now champions on opposite sides, at once closed in deadly fight; but for an adequate description of the struggle between them the reader must consult the bards. See the “Lay of the Black Dog”, in Islay’s Leabhar na Feinne, the McCallum’s Ancient Poetry, etc.

“The contest lasted from morning to evening, and victory remained, almost to the close, uncertain; but in the end Bran vanquished Foir, and, by killing the latter, amply revenged the death of the three fifties. The Feinne buried their own dogs, and the stranger, with a sore heart, laid his black hound in the narrow clay bed.

“This great dog-fight, so celebrated in Gaelic lore, is said to have been fought at Lergychony, in Craignish. It is further said that the place was called Learg-a-choinnimh, or the “Plateau of Meeting”, because it was there the two hounds met in fight. There are, of course, many other places in the Highlands which claim the honour of being the scene of this legendary contest.”

References:

  1. Campbell, Archibald, Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition – volume 1, David Nutt: London 1889.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.210248, -5.549032 Caisteal Nan Coin Dubh

Firbrush Point, Killin, Perthshire

Dun (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NN 603 337

Archaeology & History

Not to be confused with the ‘fort’ shown on modern OS-maps on the wooded slopes a few hundred yards to the south, the denuded remains of this site were shown on an 18th century map of the area (the Breadalbane estate plans). Probably Iron Age in nature, the local historian William Gillies (1938) described the place in his fine work,

“According to the atlas of 1769 there were ruins of an ‘Ancient Castramentation’ at Firbrush Point on the farm of Auchmore. An examination of this little peninsula revealed the foundation of a very thick wall that at one time ran across its neck, and formed a defence on the landward side. It is probable that the stones were removed for the erection of the small pier and harbour close by.”

An assessment of the site by some of the Scottish Royal Commission lads in the late 1970s found no remains of the thick walling and it seems all remains of this fort have sadly been destroyed.

References:

  1. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Firbrush Point

loading map - please wait...

Firbrush Point 56.474844, -4.270902 Firbrush Point

Duncroisk, Glen Lochay, Perthshire

Dun (lost): OS Grid Reference – NN 539 386 (approximation)

Looking towards Laraig Bhreislich, from the south

Also Known as:

  1. Dun croisgh
  2. Lairig Breisleich
  3. Laraig Bhreislich

Archaeology & History

Although this site doesn’t appear in the modern records, the remote situation of the place suggests that some remains of the site could remain and be uncovered by diligent explorers and students. It is one of several lost “circular forts” that were described in William Gillies’ (1938) detailed historical text, that were first highlighted on a map of 1769. His brief description of this old fort told,

“The name ‘Duncroisg’ in Glenlochay, bears witness to the fort that once stood at the southern entrance to Laraig Bhreislich, the pass leading over the mountain to Glenlyon.”

There is is the possibility that some of the remote shielings clustered on the level at Airigh Allt an Eilein and Riabhaich used stones from this ancient site for their construction. On the level to the south of here are the overgrown remains of a prehistoric cairn, not included in archaeological surveys.

Note – Huge sections of prehistoric man-made walling have been located in the area, comprised of gigantic boulders, more reminiscent of enclosure walling.  The remains are extensive and huge, but severely overgrown in this remote landscape.  Watch This Space!

Folklore

Although not named specifically, this site would have been another of the Forts of the Fiann, or tribes of the hero-figure, Finn. The valley immediately adjacent to the location of the fort is still known as Fionn Ghleann, with the waters of Allt Fionn Ghleann strongly flowing through.

References:

  1. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.516580, -4.376025 Duncroisk fort

Caisteal Mhic Neill, Cashlie, Glen Lyon, Perthshire

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NN 49036 41779

Also Known as:

  1. Caistealan nam Fiann

Getting Here

Caisteal Mhic Neill ruins, looking east

Truly remote, but easy to find once you’re nearing the western end of Glen Lyon. Going upstream, past Cashlie Dam, watch out for the well-preserved stone kiln on the left-hand side of the road, just before Cashlie house.  50 yards or further along, cross the road and in the field by the riverside, the circular mass of stones sorta gives the game away.

Archaeology & History

Caisteal Mhic Neill, below the hill of An Grianan

Shown on modern OS-maps as a ‘homestead’ and described variously by archaeologists and historians as a fort or a round-house, this is just one example of around twenty large prehistoric constructions that scatter the stunning mountainous Glen Lyon region which legend tells were the forts of the hero-figure, Finn.  Three other constructions of the same nature are found just a few hundred yards further up the Glen from here.  Each is of roughly the same age and nature by the look of things.  Their walls are extremely wide and made up of very large rocks, which would have taken huge efforts to construct.

Although the exact nature of the sites has yet to be academically ascertained, the Canmore website ascribes the monument as a settlement – however, tradition tells them to be forts, so we’ll stick with that until excavations tell otherwise!

The great Gaelic place-name master W.J. Watson (1912) told that:

“The fourth of the Cashlie towers is a few yards south of the road, right in front of Cashlie farmhouse, now a shooting lodge. Though a quantity of large stones marks the site, the structure has been so badly knocked about that we found it impossible to take measurements sufficient for a plan. It was, however, apparently not circular, but rather oval. Its walls appeared to vary from about 9 feet to 12 feet 6 inches in thickness.”

This is one of several other duns (or homesteads as the OS-map calls them) close to each other.

Folklore

Close-up of Caisteal walling

Ascribed as one of Glen Lyon’s Caisteilean nam Fiann, or “castles of the Fiann”, Mr Watson (1912) again told how “there is a widely known saying, the earliest notice of which occurs in Pennant, who got it doubtless from the Rev. J. Stewart:

‘…Twelve castles had Fionn,
In the dark Bent-glen of the stones.'”

References:

  1. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  2. Watson, W.J., “The Circular Forts of North Perthshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 47, 1912.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:  Many thanks to Andy Sweet of Stravaiging Around Scotland, for pointing me to the W.J. Watson article.  And of course, a huge thanks to Marion—”I don’t have a clue where I am!”—Woolley, for getting us here….

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.543675, -4.456915 Caisteal Mhic Neill

Wallstale, Cambusbarron, Stirling

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NS 7744 9085

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46232

Getting Here

To be found on the wooded hill about 160 yards north of Wallstale Farm, on the Polmaise Road on the western side of the M9, a mile or so south of Cambusbarron, below the hugely impressive Murrayshall Quarries.  Walk up the steep slope into the woodland and when you reach the level you’ll find the stonework remains.  It’s on the edge of the slope in the trees.

Archaeology & History

This old fortified walled structure is best seen in the winter months when all the vegetation has fallen back to Earth.  If you come here in the summer, the woods are nice but the monument can’t be seen as clearly.  Found at the top of the slope above the roadside, it was described in the Stirlingshire Royal Commission (1963) account as follows:

Ground-plan of Wallstale Dun (after RCAHMS 1963)
Wallstale Dun, up there somewhere!

“It is almost circular in plan…measuring about 45ft in diameter within a ruined stone wall some 11ft in thickness.  Except on the ESE side, where the entrance was probably situated, the wall can be traced continuously by patches of rubble core, and round the east half outer facing-stones are visible up to a maximum height of four courses.  In contrast, the inner face is only exposed for a short distance on the ENE.  The interior of the dun is featureless.  On the NW side the dun is protected by a rock-cut ditch of substantial proportions which traverses the spur; it measures 26ft in width at the top and the scarp is 5ft 6in in depth.”

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.094870, -3.971199 Wallstale dun