Grinnan Hill, Braco, Perthshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8338 0936

Also Known as:

  1. Grianan Hill
  2. Grinan Hill
  3. Grinnon Hill

Getting Here

Grinnan Hill on 1866 map

If you’re coming by car, Braco’s an easy place to park.  Once here, walk up the main road, past the terrace houses until, on your left, you reach the B8033 Feddal Road.  About 500 yards on, where the houses end and you reach the small river bridge, you’ll notice a footpath immediately on your left with a small table where you can have a cuppa.  Walk past this, into the trees and along the riverside for barely 100 yards, and walk up the hillside on your left.  On your way up are a couple of large humps, a bit like a small roller-coaster.  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

Antiquarians amongst you are gonna love this.  It’s huge!  Hiding away and all but forgotten in the little village of Braco, overgrown with trees and brambles, this steep wooded defensive structure has a series of large ramparts—three in all—that you’ll walk up and down before hitting a slightly undulating summit.

William Roy’s 1793 plan
Christison’s 1900 plan

The site was shown as an unnamed triple-ringed hill on William Roy’s 1747-52 survey of Scotland, with the lines representing the ramparts of this ‘fortress’.  Some years later, Roy (1793) briefly mentioned the site when he was comparing indigenous fortifications with those of the Roman invaders, saying that “the small camp at Ardoch” probably “contained more than a Roman legion, with their auxiliaries.”  His sketch and layout of the hillfort (right) is interesting in that it shows the more compete fortified ramparts on the north-eastern sides, which have today been covered by the modern houses.  The ramparts in this part of the hillfort were still visible when the brilliant Miss Christian MacLagan (1875) came here; and in a subsequent visit by Mr Christison (1900) they could still be seen, as we can see in in his sketch (left).  When we visited recently, it looked as if the lads who’d landscaped the large gardens most probably, unknowingly, used the soil of the ramparts to create them!

Apart from the missing northeastern ramparts, the site today is little different from when our antiquarians wrote of it more than a hundred years back.  Read Miss MacLagan for example, who said:

“Near the parish church is an eminence called Grianan Hill, on which are still to be traced the remains of a British fort.  The hill is a beautifully wooded knoll to the west of the village of Braco.  It appears to be about 100 feet in height above the level of the surrounding land; on three of its sides the ground is perfectly flat, and we could suppose that in the amply days of the fort above, it had been environed on three sides by a lake, which would of course contribute to its strength.  The fourth side of the hill, having but little natural strength, has been strongly fortified by three great walls.  This is the side which connects the knoll with the neighbouring rising ground which is nearly as high as itself.

“The area enclosed by the innermost circular wall has a diameter of 130 feet.  The space between this wall and the second is 37 feet, and the space between the second and third walls 47 feet.  Almost every stone of this fort has been removed, but the lines and trenches which mark their former presence are still very distinct.”

Christison (1900) subsequently gave us much the same, with just some additional points here and there:

Looking up at SW side
Looking up at S side

“The site is less than ½-mile SW of Ardoch camp, 420 ft above the sea, on the edge of a steep descent, 40 to 50 ft high, to Keir Burn, but only slightly elevated above the field towards Braco village.  It has apparently been an earthwork with a semi-oval triple line of defence…partly ramparted and trenched, partly terraced, the broad oval being rudely completed by the unfortified edge of the steep bank.   The entrance, a, is along the narrow crest of a ridge, i, from the E, and it is likewise approached by a rude roadway, c, from the burnside below.  Roy’s plan makes the work nearly complete, but the middle half of the lines no longer exists.  He says that it may have been a work of the natives before the arrival of the Romans, but calls it a (Roman?) ‘post.’   There can be no doubt that it belongs to a common type of native fortresses.  Its extreme length is about 320 ft, and the interior may have been about 200 by 170.”

Southern line of walling
Footpath along rampart

What he failed to point out—and contrary to Canmore’s comment that “the interior is featureless”—is the length of internal walling running nearly halfway through the top of the hillfort, cutting it in half so to speak, roughly southeast to northwest: the eastern area slightly larger than the west, which is a little higher.  A ‘gate’ or passage between these two sides seems apparent halfway along this line of walling.  This wall, like the long one running along its southern edge, is a couple of feet high and more than a yard across.  In the western section a small pit has been dug, about eight feet across and a yard or so deep.  Local lore tells that this was an old Roman fire-pit!

Around the very bottom mainly on the west-side of the hill, remains of old walling can be seen for a couple of hundred feet beneath the vegetation, but I’m unsure about the date of this structure.  It may well be a 19th century construction, but without an excavation—and none has ever been done here—we will never know for sure.

Undulating ramparts

One final thought on this place is how is may have related with the large Roman forts that are just a few hundred yards away to the northeast.  When the invaders came here, local tribal folk no doubt watched them with caution.  One wonders whether or not some sort of ‘agreement’ was made between our local folk and the aggressive incomers, with them coming to some sort of nervous truce between them which allowed the Romans to build their camp to the east, as long as they kept their distance from the folk in this hillfort.  Just a thought…..

References:

  1. Christison, D., “The Forts, Camps and other Field-Works of Perth, Forfar and Kincardine,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 34, 1900.
  2. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  3. MacLagan, Christian, The Hill Forts, Stone Circles and other Structural Remains of Ancient Scotland, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1875.
  4. Roy, William, Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain, W. Bulmer: London 1793.

Links:

  1. Canmore notes

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Cairnwochel, Ardoch, Perthshire

Chambered Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NN 830 127

Archaeology & History

References to this site are few and far between.  I wandered past the place the other day on my way back from the megaliths of Dunruchan and Comrie without knowing anything about the place; but was, for some reason, drawn up the grassy hill slope towards the forestry plantation, where the scattered old walling implied (to me at least) the presence of some old prehistoric ruin… But as the daylight hours were fading, I had to head for home, wondering what it was that was pulling my nose to this place I’d never visited before.

The following day when I was searching for information about the prehistoric archaeology of the area, I came across Audrey Henshall’s (1972) description of some giant cairns that once stood here, upon the hilltop – exactly where my nose had led me!  Sadly however, they have been all-but destroyed.

At least two prominent prehistoric cairns were to be found in relative proximity to each other hereby, each with their own name.  The site was first described in A. Gordon’s 1726 work, Itinerarium Septentrionale, where he wrote the following:

“On the hill above the moor are two great heaps of stones, the one called Cairnwochel, the other Cairnlee: the former of these is the greatest curiosity of its kind that I ever met with; the quantity of great rough stones lying above one another almost surpasses belief, which made me have the curiosity to measure it, and I found the whole heap to be about 182 feet in length, 30 in sloping height, and 45 in breadth at the bottom.  That at Cairnlea is not near so considerable as the former.”

Nearer to the end of the 18th century, Cairnwochel was mentioned again – this time in the Old Statistical Account (1793), where a description was given of some dig into the giant cairn, to see what lay beneath the mass of rocks.  The report told that,

“there was found a stone coffin, in which there was a skeleton 7 feet long.  The cairn lay from north to south and the coffin was nearly in the middle of it, with the head to the east. Most of the stones have been carried away to inclose the neighbouring farms; but the coffin, with a few large stones around it, has, by the order of Sir William Stirling, been preserved.”

When Miss Henshall explored the site in the 1960s, she found very little left of this once superb tomb, simply, “the only sign of any structure (were) a few laid stones on its S side, possibly part of a revetting wall-face.”

The sheer size of the cairn implies that it was probably Neolithic in origin (its description reminded me of the King’s and Queen’s Cairns near Skipton, Yorkshire).   We have hardly any information about the nearby Cairnlea site.  The intrusion of the forestry commission here has probably covered over a number of other important Neolithic and Bronze Age remains, but if anyone has further information on this site it would be hugely welcome.

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey, The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian