Dun Osdale, Dunvegan, Skye

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – NG 24162 46424

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 10832

Getting Here

Dun Osdale, by the roadside

From the A863 Dunvegan road, a mile south of the village turn onto the B884 road at Lonmore, making sure you veer right after a few hundred yards and head towards Glendale.  About a mile along, on the left-hand side of the road, note the small rocky crag that begins to grow just above the roadside.  At the end of this crag you’ll see a huge pile of rocks, seemingly tumbling down, just by a small T-junction to Uiginish.  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Listed as one of the duns, or fortified prehistoric structures in Skye by the old writer J.A. MacCulloch (1905), the rediscovery of this broch was, said A.A. MacGregor (1930), one that “became historical only within living memory.”  I find that hard to believe!  The Gaelic speakers hereby merely kept their tongues still when asked, as was common in days of olde—and it was a faerie abode….

Looking at the SW walling

Looking at the SE walls

Once you go through the gate below the broch, the large boggy area you have to circumnavigate is the overflow from an ancient well, known as Tobar na Maor, where Anne Ross said, “tradition that the stewards of three adjacent properties met there.”  This well was covered by an ancient Pictish stone (now in Dunvegan Castle), which may originally have been associated with the broch just above it.  When I visited the site with Aisha and Her clan, we passed the overgrown well and walked straight up to the broch.

Despite being ruinous it is still most impressive.  The massive walling on its southwestern side is still intact in places; but you don’t get a real impression of the work that went into building these structures until you’re on top.  The walls themselves are so thick and well-built that you puzzle over the energy required to build so massive a monument.  And Scotland has masses of them!

Aisha in the broch

Small internal chamber

The site was surveyed briefly when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1877, subsequently highlighting it on the first OS-map of the area.  But it didn’t receive any archaeocentric assessment until the Royal Commission (1928) lads explored the area some fifty years later.  In their outstanding Inventory of the region they described Dun Osdale in considerable detail, although kept their description purely architectural in nature, betraying any real sense of meaning and history which local folk must have told them.  They wrote:

“The outer face of the wall of the broch for a great part is reduced to the lower courses, but on the west-southwest a section still maintains a height of about 7 feet; on the south-side, although hidden by fallen stones, it is about 4 to 5 feet high, and on the northeast there is a very short section 3 feet in height.  The stones are of considerable size and laid in regular courses.  In the interior a mass of tumbled stone obscures the most of the inner face of the wall, but on the south and northwest it stands about 8 feet above the debris.  The broch is circular with an internal diameter of 35 feet to 35 feet 6 inches, and the wall thickens from 10 feet on the north to 13 feet 7 inches on the south. The entrance, which is one the east, is badly broken down, but near the inside has a width of 3 feet 2 inches, and appears to have been 2 feet 10 inches on the outside; it has run straight through the wall without checks.  In the thickness of the wall to the south of the entrance is an oval chamber measuring 10 feet long by 4 feet 9 inches broad above the debris with which it is half-filled.  The roof has fallen in, but the internal corbelling of the walls is well displayed.  The fallen stones no doubt still cover the entrance, which has probably been from the interior.  Within the western arc of the wall, nearly opposite the main doorway, is another oval cell 12 feet in length and 4 feet 6 inches in breadth over debris, with a doorway 2 feet 9 inches wide; its outer and inner walls are 5 feet 9 inches, and 2 feet 6 inches respectively.  The roof od this chamber has also collapsed, but from the masonry which remains in position it must have been over 6 feet in height.  Immediately to the west of the cell near the entrance are exposed the left jamb of a door and a short length of a gallery 3 feet 6 inches wide in the thickness of the southern wall, which probably contained the stairs, as traces of a gallery at a higher level than the oval chambers are seen here, the inner wall being about 3 feet and the outer 8 feet thick. Parts of a scarcement 9 inches wide can be detected on the northwestern and southeastern arcs.”

Dun Osdale plan (RCAHMS 1928)

Dun Osdale on 1881 map

Measurements and architectural tedium aside, the broch is worthwhile for anyone interested in our ancient mythic past, not least because of its position in the landscape and its visual relationship with other sites of the same period nearby.  As well as that, there are unrecorded ancient sites still hiding in these olde moors…

Folklore

Tradition tells that Dun Osdale was used as a watch-tower by the tribal folk—which seems quite credible.  But the original inhabitants of Duirinish, the sith or fairy folk, were also said to live here.  It’s one of several places in Duirinish where the legendary Fairy Cup of Dunvegan was said to have come from.  Otta Swire (1961) told its tale:

“One midsummer night a MacLeod, searching for strayed cattle, stayed late on the moor.  In the moonlight he saw the door of Dun Osdale open and the little people come out, a long train of them, and began to dance on the green grass knoll nearby.  Fascinated, he watched, forgetting everything but the wonderful dance. Suddenly he sneezed.  The spell was broke.  The dance stopped.  MacLeod sprang up to fly, but the fairies were upon him and he was dragged, willy-nilly, into the dun.  Inside, as soon as his eyes grew accustomed to that strange green light associated with fairyland, he beheld a pleasing sight.  A great banquet was spread on a large table carved from a single tree: on it were vessels of gold and silver, many of them set with jewels or chased in strange designs.  His fairy ‘hosts’ led him to the table, poured wine into one of the beautiful cups and, giving it to him, invited him to toast their chief.  Now this man’s mother was a witch, so he knew well that if he ate or drank in the dun he was in the Daoine Sithe’s power for ever.  He lifted the cup and appeared to drink the required toast, but in fact skilfully let the wine run down inside his coat.  As soon as his neighbours saw the cup was half empty, they ceased to bother about him but went off on their own affairs or to attend the banquet.  Thereafter MacLeod watched for a chance of escape and, when one offered, slipped quietly through the door of the dun and away, carrying the cup with him.

“The fairies soon realised what had happened and started in pursuit, but he was already across the Osdale river and in safety.  He hurried home, told his mother the story, and showed her the cup.  Being a wise woman she realised the peril in which he undoubtedly stood and at once put her most powerful spell upon him to protect him from the arts of the Daoine Sithe, warning him seriously never to leave the house for a moment without getting the spell renewed.  But she forgot to put a protecting spell upon the cup also.  The fairies soon discovered the exact state of affairs and immediately laid their own spell upon the cup, a spell so powerful that all who saw the cup or even heard of it, were seized with an overmastering desire to possess it, even if such possession involved the murder of the holder.

“For a year, all went well and thanks to his mother’s care the young man went unharmed.  Then he grew careless and one day ventured out without the protecting spell.  A one-time friend, bewitched by the cup, had been awaiting just such a chance and immediately murdered him and went off with the prize.  The fairies, their revenge achieved, took no further interest in the matter, but MacLeod of MacLeod did.  The boy’s mother hurried to him with her story, and he at once gave orders that the murderer be found and brought to justice.  He was duly hanged and the trouble-making cup, now free of enchantment, passed into the possession of the chief and can still be seen in (Dunvegan) castle.”

References:

  1. Donaldson-Blyth, Ian, In Search of Prehistoric Skye, Thistle: Insch 1995.
  2. MacCulloch, J.A.,  The Misty Isle of Skye, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier: Edinburgh 1905.
  3. MacGregor, Alasdair Alpin, Over the Sea to Skye, Chambers: Edinburgh 1930.
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles, HMSO: Edinburgh 1928.
  5. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

Acknowledgements:  Eternally grateful to the awesome Aisha Domleo and Her little clan for getting us to this ancient haven on Skye’s endless domain of natural beauty.  Without Her, this would not have been written.  Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.424152, -6.596830 Dun Osdale

Baile Mhargaite, Bettyhill, Sutherland

Broch: OS Grid Reference – NC 69742 60973

Highlighted on 1878 OS-map

Highlighted on 1878 OS-map

Also Known as:

  1. Ca an Duin
  2. Canmore ID 5786
  3. Invernaver
  4. Lochan Druim An Duin
  5. Sandy Dun

Getting Here

Baile Mhargaite broch from below

Baile Mhargaite broch from below

Take the A836 road west through Bettyhill and downhill, turning right and going over the small bridge at the bottom. From here, go over the gate on the right-hand side of the road and follow the edge of the river towards the sea. Crossing the large extensive sands, you’ll reach a large rise ahead of you and, to the left (west) a burn tumbles down from the hills above. Walk up it and head to the rocky rise on the level 50 yards past the burn. You’re here!

Archaeology & History

Once you’ve clambered the rocky hill to reach the broch, you’ll be damn impressed. This is a real beauty – although from the outside it looks nothing of the sort. The outer wall is a veritable jumbled mass of rocks piled on top of each other in a manner that looks as if human hands once fumbled them in some sort of order, long since fallen away. Around the western side of the structure, faint remains of steps lead up towards more ordered-looking walling ahead of you. Before you walk up the remains of steps, notice the more structured walling, about three feet high to your right, curving around the large structure you are already inside the edges of.

Whether you walk up the stepped remains or simply up the outer walling, once you see the internal stone walling of this high cliff broch, you’ll be impressed. It’s a big bugger – and in damn good condition when you consider that it’s probably 2000 years old, or more! A large round walled structure, about three feet high all round, well sheltered from the wind and rains, measures some 30 feet across.Arc of outer western wall

The internal living quarters

The internal living quarters

Eastern section of the broch

Eastern section of the broch

The site is still known by some local people as a “Pictish Tower” and was described as such on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map (see above) and its Gaelic name is Ca an Duin(Mackay 1906).  The probability of the brochs as being Pictish in origin is more than likely.  Tradition up here speaks of them as such – and we know that such traditions go back many centuries in these isolated areas.  An early mention of this Pictish Tower was given in James Horsburgh’s (1870) essay, but it wasn’t described in any real detail until the Royal Commission (1911) fellas looked at the site.  They wrote:

“On the summit of the hill which rises to the W of the gravelly plateau opposite Bettyhill, and on the N side of the track which leads from Strathnaver to Torrisdail, is situated a broch.  It is called the “Sandy Dun”.  The wall is probably erect for a considerable height, but the interior is largely filled up with blown sand.  The entrance is from the SW.  The interior diameter is 29 feet and the thickness of the wall 12 feet.  Near the top of the wall in the interior is a projecting ledge, about 10 feet wide, running all around.  The slabs which form it are an integral part of the structure and the wall is thicker below than above.  The outer face of the wall is much ruined…”

Gazing NE from inside the broch

Gazing NE from inside the broch

Although some of the internal walling has been taken away since the 1911 survey, the interior of the site has been cleaned up by local people and it is presently in a very good condition indeed.  The broch may have been built onto an earlier fortified structure, rising above the stunning prehistoric settlements and necropolis on the sandy plateau immediately below. It would make sense – as many earlier Neolithic and Bronze Age remains look up at the prominent rock pinnacle it’s built upon from the sandy plain below, almost as if it was a natural temple in the animistic traditions of the earlier peoples.

If you visit this gorgeous region, the Baile Mhargaite broch should definitely be on your list of sites to see.

Folklore

Old lore told that this broch was attacked by outside invaders many centuries ago.   Mr Horsburgh (1870) told that,

“an old woman hid a croc of gold previous to the dun being attacked, and measured the distance from it with a clew of thread.”

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  2. Mackay, Angus, “Notes on a Slab with Incised Crescentic Design, Stone Mould for Casting Bronze Spear-Heads, a Cup-Marked Stone, Holy Water Stoup, and other Antiquities in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, 1906.
  3. MacKie, E W., The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC-AD 500 – volume 2, British Archaeological Report: Oxford 2007.
  4. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockfird, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  5. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

Acknowledgements:  Immense thanks go to Aisha Domleo and Unabel Gordon for their help getting me up here.  This site profile would not exist without their encouragement.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.517348, -4.237922 Baile Mhargaite Broch

Castle Craig, Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire

‘Fort’ (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 9116 9769

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 48294

Archaeology & History

This ancient fort could once be seen in the ancient woodlands on the western side of the Mill Glen, above the village, going into the Ochils—but it was completely destroyed, as usual, by the Industrialists when they quarried the entire structure out of existence.  It was a big thing too, by all accounts.  When Stewart Cruden (1964) saw it, shortly before its final demise, it was still impressive to look at.  He told that the fort consisted of a deep rock-cut ditch with a stone wall on the inside and the remains of a stony rampart on the outside.  Although damaged it still measured 300 feet across.  Its interior contained an almost precise circular enclosure, more than eighty feet across inside the remains of a large stone wall some twelve feet thick.

Nearly a hundred years earlier, Miss Christian MacLagan (1875) told it to be much bigger!  Not only did she report how locals remembered a stone roof on top, but it possessed three concentric circular walls, thirty-five apart, with the central area eighty feet in diameter—much as Cruden later reported.  However, even in MacLagan’s day, she told how many of the stones from the fort were being used to construct sheepfolds.  This destruction was being lamented by the local historian William Gibson (1883), who wrote:

“On the west side of the burn, and overtopping the village, stands the beautiful Castle Craig, wooded to the top, and on which stood, in ancient times, a round Pictish fortress, the traces of which can still be distinctly seen. This craig is, I think, one of the most picturesque objects on the Alva estate, and it is a very great pity that it should be so disfigured by the extensive quarrying operations that are being at present carried on at it.”

On the top of the quarry edges can still be found old walled remains crumbling at the edge of the huge cliffs, but these are unlikely to have been attached to the ancient fortress, and may just be the fragmentary memories of the sheepfolds built from the old fort.

Folklore

Tradition told that this was one of the old forts of the Picts who lived in the Ochils.  If it was a fort, then the Pictish tradition is probably true.  Old lore also told that some of the stones from the fort were used in the construction of Stirling Castle, 7.8 miles (12.6km) to the west.

References:

  1. Corbett, L., et al., The Ochil Hills, Forth Naturalist & Historian 1994.
  2. Cruden, Stewart H., “Castle Craig, Tillicoultry,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1964.
  3. Feacham, Richard, Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  4. Gibson, William, Reminiscences of Dollar, Tillicoultry and other Districts Adjoining the Ochils, Andrew Elliot 1883.
  5. Maclagan, Christian, The Hill Forts, Stone Circles and other Structural Remains of Ancient Scotland, Edinburgh 1875.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
  7. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Clackmannan District and Falkirk District, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1978.
  8. Watson, Angus, The Ochils: Placenames, History, Tradition, PKDC: Perth 1995.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.159423, -3.754137 Castle Craig

Carleatheran, Gargunnock, Stirlingshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 68789 91880

Also Known as:

  1. Caerlatheran
  2. Canmore ID 45381

Getting Here

Caerlatheron, looking NW

The quickest way here is still a long one.  From Gargunnock village, take the road west towards the A811, turning left just before the bend down to the main road, and up through what looks like private estate gates.  Walk all the way along this road as if you’re visiting the Leckie broch and its carvings, but keep going, until it becomes a track.  Continue into the woods, uphill and out the other side until you have the Gargunnock cliffs rising a few hundred yards ahead of you.  On your right a few yards up is a long straight length of walling running to the first set of cliffs.  Go up it and up the next rise and the next. When you’re on top of the moors, look for the highest spot close by.  You can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

Cairn-edge, looking NW

Nearly 1600 feet above sea level, this seemingly isolated giant cairn sits on the highest point of the Gargunnock Hills, giving a truly fantastic 360º view, looking across a diameter of perhaps 100 miles on a clear day—which is what I was greeted with when I visited.  Giant cairns scatter hilltops all across the British Isles, many of them peopled with creation myths of giants, devils and thoroughly animistic creatures!  But I can find no such tales here… Equal lackings are in the archaeological texts which, it seems, only catalogued the site in recent years.

Caerlatheron, looking SE

The name of the site is intriguing.  The element caer is a fort, but no such ‘fort’ seems to be here.  But we’ll come back to that shortly.  The element latheron and its variants apparently relates to a mire or swamp (Watson 1926), whose existence to the immediate south and west is considerable (a small loch was once hereby, but its size has decreased over the last 150 years), and it is very boggy across the tops here.  When I visited, it was a scorching day (I was fucked by the time I got here!), but in many places the ground was very dangerous to walk over.  It was superb!  So it seems that the place-name indicates Caerlatheron was ‘the fort by the swamp’.  It works perfectly, except that this is listed as a cairn – and it’s a large one at that!

Note the overgrown raised embankment (lower centre)

The cairn sites on top of a large mound.  This mound seems to be artificial and is between 10-12 feet high.  The cairn and mass of rocks on top of the mound (within which is a triangulation pillar) is itself 4-5 feet high—although much of this relates to Ordnance Survey and walkers piling up many of the loose stones to create an enclosure or wind-break to protect any traveller up here in stormy weather.  The cairn-pile is 20 yards across at the top, and as you walk around it you become aware that this appears to be slightly raised on top of its parent mound with an evident ’embankment’, particularly on the eastern side.  As you follow this round, you lose sight of it completely on the southern edges, which is covered by the extended cairn-mass; but some of it seems in evidence on the northwest and northern side.  A number of stones marking this out would seeeem to be in evidence.  A few larger flat stones on the south and western top of the cairn might suggest that it was once a chambered cairn – but this is highly speculative.  The late great Audrey Henshall never got here; and I don’t know whether the great local archaeologist, Miss Christian MacLagan, ever got her fingers here either, so we don’t have their expertise to help us out.

Caerlatheron, looking E
Cairn-mass of the huge mound

The mound upon which the ‘cairn’ sits is also intriguing.  When walking round and around the bottom of it, you note the unmistakable substantial mass of overgrown rocks, particularly around from the northwest, to north, to northeast, both on the slopes and at the bottom, seeming to imply that the entire mound is artificial.  I kept walking up and down and around it, to see if these had simply fallen from the top, but wasn’t 100% sure and wished there was a geologist at hand to tell me, one way or the other.  In truth, the shape of the mound from the bottom, from most angles, reminded me of an overgrown broch and not a cairn.  And there are a few brochs nearby—the closest of which is just at the bottom of the hill from here: the Leckie broch (I aint done the site profile for it yet, soz….).  It was only when I got home and looked for the meaning of Caerlatheron that the ‘broch’ idea came back to me with a little more fortitude, perhaps making sense of it as a ‘fortified structure by the bogs and swamps’.  Perhaps…  Without an excavation, we may never know for sure.

Singular cairn, 350yd NNW

About 350 yards northwest, across truly dodgy swampy ground (walk up here at night and it’ll probably be the last thing you ever do!) is another small singular cairn, made up of quite large rocks, with a few smaller ones filling it up.  It looks to be either a shepherd’s cairn, or one for his sheepdog perhaps, a few centuries old.  I can find nothing about it in any local history or record-books.

The place is well worth visiting—but it’s a full day out and you’ll be knackered when you get back.  However, from here Nature grants us a stunning view of these tiny parts of Her body.  It’s well worth the effort!

References:

  1. Watson, W.J., Celtic Placenames of Scotland, William Blackwood 1926.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.101540, -4.111047 Carleatheran

Dun Riaskidh, Torrisdale Bay, Sutherland

 

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  58.520932, -4.254953 Dun Riaskidh, Torrisdale

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 68763 61406

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5775
  2. Dun Richard

Getting Here

Approaching Dun Riaskidh

Along the A836 road between Bettyhill and Tongue, keep your eyes peeled for the turning down to Borgie and Skerray.  Go along here for 1.8 miles (2.9km) until, just past a tiny road on your left, a small parking spot with a tourist board is by the roadside. Walk down hill and over the River Borgie below and follow the footpath round until your reach the edge of Torrisdale Beach. From here, walk right, uphill, across overgrown sand-dunes to the stone escarpment 400 yards or so to the east.  A large scattered mass of rocks on top of one of the first rocky knolls is what you’re looking for.  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Dun Riaskidh, looking north

This is worth the journey for the scenery of Torrisdale Bay alone: one of the most beautiful places in all Scotland. …Not far from the legendary Ringstone and the carving above, this collapsed mass of scattered rocks was said, in local lore, to have been the remains of an old broch—or that’s what Hew Morrison told the Royal Commission (1911) lads about it when they surveyed the area more than a century back.  Their description was short:

“About ½-mile E of the footbridge across the River Borgie, near Torrisdail, and on the W. side of Druim a’ Chleibh, are the remains of a broch. No outlines of walls are visible. The site is indicated by a structureless heap of stones.”

It seems at first to be in an unusual position for a chambered cairn: built onto solid rock instead of soil.  Yet we find this geocentric structuralism echoed at the Borgie chambered tomb 1½ miles to the southeast.  When you reach the place, a large mass of stones—hundreds of them piled-up several feet high—is strewn across the rocky surface and reaching onto more typical moorland ground.  On top are a number of large stones, some laid down, some half-upright appearing, perhaps, to have played some part in an internal cist or chamber.  On the eastern side the rocky mass falls down a natural steep slope, with many of the fallen stones covered by centuries of vegetation.  As you walk around it, cairn-scatter seems to extend southwards towards another natural rocky knoll 20 yards to the south, giving the impression of a second cairn (much like the Fiscary 1 and 2 cairns 2.8 miles to the east), but this is improbable.

The first detailed archaeological account of the site was by Audrey Henshall (1972), who told us:

“…The cairn is about 4ft high, consisting of a mass of angular stones.  On the S side the edge can be traced, and the indications are that the diameter was about 57ft.  The edge on the N side is rather vague and may have been flattened in plan.  On the E and W sides, where there are steep drops, the stones have evidently spread downhill, though on the E side parts of a roughly built edging can be seen.

“Many large slabs lie about the site, probably mainly displaced corbels and roofing stones.  Much of the chamber structure probably exists, and a few visible orthostats are probably in situ.  The entrance has probably been from the N or seaward side.  A slab towards the S side, aligned E-W, projects 1ft 6in, and is likely to be the back-slab.  The E side of the chamber is represented by a slab 4ft 6in to the N, aligned N-S, which is just visible.  On the W side of the chamber there are a number of large slabs, one over the other wide their E edges aligned vertically, and laid declining to the W, which appear to be corbel stones only slightly displaced.  To the N of them, a stone set transversely to the axis of the chamber, 10ft 3in N of the back-slab, might be a portal stone.  Another upright stone seemingly firmly set but obstructing the probable position of the entry into the chamber, is presumably displaced.”

More than twenty years later however, Miss Henshall (1995) revisited Dun Riaskidh and altered her initial diagnosis of it as a chambered cairn, suggesting it to be something completely different, telling:

“The cairn-like structure…has an overall spread of about 17m including stone displaced downhill, and a height of 1.6m on the S side.  On the summit a group of upright slabs protrudes up to 0.35m, and forms a rough oval 5.5m E to W, by 4.5m N to S.  They seem to be on the inner side of a ring of stony material  about 2.5m thick.  In the interior is a disorganised mass of lintel slabs and three earthfast upright slabs.  The structure appears to be a house with spaced uprights in the inner face of the wall, and with a series of uprights which helped to support a partly lintelled roof.  A hollow on the N or seaward side probably indicates the position of the entrance.”

Top of the cairn, looking W

Now woe am I to go against the words of a giant like Miss Henshall, but having slept in numerous derelict houses and seen countless numbers of them in the hills, this structure does not seem to have such properties.  The category that is continued by Canmore and Ordnance Survey re Dun Riaskidh is still a “chambered cairn”; but, perhaps, if Miss Henshall is correct in saying that it is not a cairn, then maybe the words of local tradition may have been right all along (again!) and this is a collapsed broch?  Who knows for sure…?

Whatever its original nature and function, this vestige of antiquity is enveloped within another one of Nature’s incredible domains…

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S. & Ritchie, J.N.G., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  3. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  4. Mercer, R.J. & Howell, J.M., Archaeological Field Survey in Northern Scotland – volume 2, University of Edinburgh 1981.
  5. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray, for putting me up in this part of Paradise.  Cheers Donna.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Borgie Farmhouse, Tongue, Sutherland

Broch (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NC 675 594

Archaeology & History

A singular reference to this site appears in James Horsburgh’s (1870) early article on the prehistoric remains of Sutherland.  It seems he was on an early road-trip (or dirt-track-trip as it would have been in those days, as there were no real ‘roads’) and as his journey took him along the remote tracks in the far North, visiting places that are still intact and mentioning those which, oral tradition told, had passed into memory, local folk told him about a couple of brochs that had recently met their demise.  This was one of them.  He wrote:

“Between Farr and Tongue, after crossing the Naver Ferry… some miles on, near Borgie-farm house, there was a Pictish tower, now demolished, and on the side of the old road to Tongue, another.”

In asking the lady who lives here if she knew anything about the broch, she told that although she didn’t, she’d ask some old locals to see if they knew of any folk remnants about the place.  It would have stood a short distance above the little-known Borgie souterrain. If we receive any additional info, the site-profile will be updated. (the grid-reference for this broch is an approximation)

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks again to Donna Murray for enquiring to see if any old tales remained about this long-lost site.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.502926, -4.274836 Borgie Farmhouse

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 

 

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  56.094510, -4.009638 Castlehill Wood

Auchensalt, Thornhill, Stirlingshire

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – NN 6533 0099

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24398
  2. Easter Borland
  3. Keir

Getting Here

Auchinsalt broch, looking south

Take the A873 from Thornhill to Aberfoyle, and literally 1 mile west of Thornhill turn right up the track up and past Easter Borland farm (as if you’re heading up to Auchensalt).  250 yards past the farm, a large field opens up.  Walk 100 yards east along the side of the wall towards the trees and follow the tree-line upstream 250 yards (don’t go into the lovely little glen) until, on your right, you’ll see a reasonably large area of grassland that rises up, with a steep-ish slope down to the burn below.  This is the remains of the broch.

Archaeology & History

Shown as a ‘Keir’ on the 1866 OS-map, this is an old Scottish dialect word, barely used at all nowadays (folk need to start using it again!) which meant “an ancient fortification” or “rude forts”.  The word is mentioned in early Statistical Accounts in 1795 and in the Second Account of 1845 the “Kiers at Auchinsalt” are mentioned specifically, albeit in passing….

Auchinsalt ‘Keir’ on 1866 map

When we visited the site yesterday, very little could be seen due mainly to the summer vegetation covering the area.  A very small section of open walling was noted on its western side, and beneath the undergrowth a roughly oval structure was in evidence on the rise between the edge of the field and the drop into the small glen below.  Something obviously man-made lies beneath the grasses, but in the last 100 years or so there has been debate as to whether it was a fort, a dun or a broch.  The consensus at the mo, tells Euan Mackie (2007), is that it’s a broch!

Auchinsalt broch, looking east

Measuring some 25 yards across, the walling that makes up the broch was between 4-6 feet wide all round, and about 2 feet high.  There seemed to be aggregates of large scattered stones inside and outside the main oval feature.  If there was an entrance, it seemed to be at the western side, but I wasn’t sure about this. In truth, unless you’re a hardcore broch fanatic, you’d be truly disappointed with the dilapidated state of this monument.  Much better ones can be seen just a few miles away…

References:

  1. Chrystal, William, The Kingdom of Kippen, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1903.
  2. Grant, William (ed.), The Scottish National Dictionary – volume 5, SNDA: Edinburgh 1960.
  3. MacKie, Euan W., The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC-AD 500, BAR: Oxford 2007.
  4. McCulloch, Stuart J., Thornhill and its Environs, Munro Trust: Perth 1995.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Paul Hornby for getting us here. Cheers matey!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.182442, -4.171079 Auchinsalt

Achnaburin, Bettyhill, Farr, Sutherland

‘Hut Circle’:  OS Grid Reference – NC 7082 5891

Also Known as:

  1. Achnabourin
  2. Canmore ID 6210

Getting Here

Site as ‘Picts House’ on 1873 map

Take the A836 road (between Bettyhill and Tongue), crossing the metal bridge across the River Naver a mile south of Bettyhill.  Keep going for nearly a mile, past the houses and into the small trees, keeping your eyes peeled to the right where a small but notable bracken-covered mound rises 10-20 yards in the rough field. Go through the gate and you’re there!

Archaeology & History

Low stone wall along S side

A site which, from the nearby roadside, has all the hallmarks of being yet another Sutherland broch (there are tons of them up here!)—but apparently it isn’t!  Despite being shown on the earliest OS-map of the region as a ‘Pict’s House’ (which are usually brochs), the site has subsequently been designated by modern archaeologists as a simple ‘hut circle’.  I have my doubts over this, as it’s a most unusual one with little logic over its positioning—unless it was either a look-out point, or an odd ritual spot.

The south side of the mound

As you can see from the poor photos I got of the place, a large angled tumulus-like hillock (it’s akin to a mini-Silbury Hill at first sight) rises up from the ground with a reasonably uniform angle around much of it, to a height of between 16-20 feet.  Scattered rocks and stones adorn the mound as you walk up its embankments and onto the top where, around the edges, a notable man-made ring of walling shows it to have been artificially created.  Unfortunately most of the top of the mound was completely covered in thick decayed bracken when I visited, so it was difficult to get any good photos of this topmost walling.

The SE side of the mound

From the top of the mound, the walling is between 1-3 feet high, in a roughly circular setting, measuring 36-40 feet across.  The most distinct section of it was visible on the west-to-south-to-east section; with the lowest and depleted section occurring on its northern edges.  The entrance to the ‘hut circle’ is apparently on its eastern side.  Although it is assumed to be Iron Age in nature, its real age is unknown.

References:

  1. Mercer, R.J. & Howell, J.M., Archaeological Field Survey in Northern Scotland – volume 2, University of Edinburgh 1976-1983.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.499176, -4.218019 Achnaburin, Bettyhill

Leckie Broch Carving (02), Gargunnock, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 6926 9399

Getting Here

Ornate face of Leckie-2 carving
Ornate face of Leckie-2 stone

Take the A811 road between Stirling and Kippen and go up into Gargunnock, From the village centre, go along the Leckie Road (not the Main Street!) for half-a-mile, then turn left up the tiny road. ¾-mile (1.15km) along, a small bridge crosses the Leckie Burn (a.k.a. St Colm’s Burn).  From here, walk up the footpath into the woods for 100 yards or so and cross the waters.  When you see the large overgrown rocky rise of the Leckie Broch covered in pesky rhododendrons, walk up its left-side where (presently) a clearing has been made and the carved rocks stand out.

Archaeology & History

A very curious design here!  Possibly carved at the same time as the Leckie broch to which it is attached—possibly not—we have here a curious amalgam of Nature’s incisions and human design, culminating in cup-and-rings and cups-and-squares no less!  When we came to visit it a few days ago, Lisa Samsonowicz found the stone hiding away, buried beneath a thin layer of natural cover.  The rest of the team thereafter enabled a much clearer pictures of the carving.

Star motif & other cups
Star motif & other cups
Allison McLaren sitting on the new find
Young Allison on the new find (photo courtesy John McLaren)

We’re not quite sure who first rediscovered the carving. In an early photo of the site taken in the late ’70s or early ’80s, a young Allison McLaren sits highlighting the design.  But she wasn’t the fortunate lass who discovered it!  One account describes a local woman, Lady Younger of Leckie House, who was out walking her dog, accidentally dislodging some of the rocky debris of the Iron Age broch and unearthing the petroglyphs, thereafter taking Allison along to see it.  The other account tells of it being noticed for the first time during an excavation of the broch by Euan MacKie and his team.  Whichever it was, Prof Mackie (1970) was certainly the first person to write about it.  He told:

“Part of the sandstone face of the northern end of the promontory on which stands the Leckie dun is covered with well preserved cup-marks, presumably much older than the dun.  They were discovered when rubble and soil fallen from the dun was removed.  Some of the cup-marks stand alone and some are surrounded by what appear to be incised rectangles in a ladder pattern.  There are other, less clear markings.”

Ron Morris' 1981 sketch
Ron Morris’ 1981 sketch
Small & large cupmarks
Small & large cupmarks

There then followed a series of written accounts, small and large, about the Leckie broch—but little else was said of the carvings.  It wasn’t until Ronald Morris (1981) came to see them a few years later that they gained a slightly lengthier description.  He described how the petroglyph was,

“carved over about 3m (yds) at heights of 1-2m (yds) on faces now sloping mostly 0-90º NW, with 3 cups-and-one-near-hexagonal-ring up to 12cm (4½in) diameter, a ‘sun-burst’ and other grooves, and at least 40 cups up to 12cm (4½in) diameter and up to 8cm (3in) deep.  On a vertical E-facing slab there are also many grooves, some of which connect lines of cups. Some grooves resemble a ‘sea-horse’, an ‘axe’, etc. All except the cups are probably incised, but some may be natural.”

Large cupmarks on sloping face
Large cupmarks on sloping face
Looking down the spine of 2 rocks
Looking down the spine of 2 rocks

The entire design in fact covers two separate sections of rock.  On the vertical face of one stone is a curious conjoined cup-and-rectangle, attached to a cup-and-square, attached to a traditional cup-and-ring.  A cluster of other cups, large and small, are immediately left of this odd geometric pattern.  The ‘cups’ within this section of the petroglyph are quite deep and, it would seem, were geological in nature but have been touched-up by human hands.  Immediately below this rectangle-square-circle sequence, faint carved lines run a little further down the face of the rock.  They were difficult to see clearly and require subsequent visits to enable a more complete picture. Along the top of this section of rock are several cups, one or two of them seeming to have faint rings around them.  (at the very bottom of this vertical carved face, at ground level, a small section of man-made walling is visible, which was no doubt a section of the huge broch)

Above the top of this vertical carved face is a gap between this and a second, larger earthfast stone.  This has a series of cups, some with faint rings around them, but most of them are just cups, both shallow and deep, running down the slope of the rock.  A notable ‘star’ of five cups surrounding a single-cup stands out on this section.  Some of them seem to have been geophysical in nature, but again have been touched-up and added to.

Cluster of curious peck-marks
Cluster of curious peck-marks

Slightly higher still, on another third section of rock, a curious cluster of weird ‘pecks’, almost in a square pattern, with a possible cup-mark close to the edge of the stone is clearly visible.  The edge of this rock seems to have been quarried and the markings here may just be mason marks preceding the breaking of the stone in the Iron Age.

Walk around to the south-side of the broch and there, in the walling, on a vertical stone face, is the small cup-marked Leckie 1 carving.

One final note of concern: the carving (and the broch) have become overrun with rhododendrons, to the point where they are severely damaging the monuments here. They need to be curtailed before further archaeological destruction occurs. Help!

References:

  1. MacKie, Euan, “Leckie, Cup-Marked Rock,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1980.
  2. MacKie, Euan, “The Leckie Broch, Stirlingshire,”, in Glasgow Archaeological Journal, volume 9, 1982.
  3. McLaren, John, Personal Communications, 7.2.17 & 16.2.17.
  4. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.

Links:

  1. Gargunnock Village History

Acknowledgements:  Immense thanks to Lisa Samsonowicz, Fraser Harrick, Nina Harris, Frank Mercer and Paul Hornby for all their work, enabling a clear picture of the site.  And a huge thanks to John McLaren of the Gargunnock Village History site for allowing us to include the early photo of the carving here – thanks John! 🙂

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.120806, -4.104421 Leckie broch (2)