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

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

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

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

 

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  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

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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

 

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  56.516580, -4.376025 Duncroisk fort

Dun Toiseach, Ford, Kilmartin, Argyll

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NM 880 047

Getting Here

Dun Toiseach plan (after RCAHMS 1988)

You can see the rocky hillock ‘pon which this old dun sits from the roadside – and can approach it by either climbing up the slope, or go round t’ back and approach it from t’ track. Either way, it’s easy to get to.

Archaeology & History

The old dun was rather ramshackled when I used to sit here, sometimes on mi way home from working at the Inverliever Nursery, a bit further up the lochside — but it was a good spot to sit and daydream into Loch Awe and beyond…

Described as a vitrified fort, the structure is oval in shape.  Thought to have been constructed in the Iron Age, Dun Toiseach was originally about 50 feet across and its walls averaged 10 feet thick, with an entrance at its northeastern side.  The Royal Commission lads (1988) described it thus:

“Situated on a prominent rocky knoll overlooking the S end of Loch Awe 250m ESE of Torran farmsteading, there is a severely ruined dun measuring about 16m by 13m within a wall which has been some 4m thick. Two stretches of outer facing-stones are visible, as well as a few possible stones of the inner face, but, particularly on the NE, the wall has been severely robbed and the core material scattered. The entrance lies on the NE, the innermost portion of the SE passage-wall and what may be a door-jamb on the opposite side still being visible.  The knoll has acted as a focus for recent field-walls, but there is no indication that it was additionally defended by outworks. A small modern cairn…surmounts the dun wall on the SE.”

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.188255, -5.416833 Dun Toiseach

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

 

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  56.094870, -3.971199 Wallstale dun

Dun Chathach, Connel, Argyll

Hillfort: OS Grid Reference – NM 9674 3401

Also known as:

  1. Canmore ID 23261
  2. Dun Cathich

Getting Here

Dun Chathach (drawn by Miss J. Knox Smith 1885)

Go up from Oban on the A85, past Connel and towards Taynuilt, keeping your eye out for where the train-line crosses the road. Just before this is a small road on your left leading down to the sea, with the train line running parallel all the way down. Go right to the end and then look up to the rocky rise a coupla hundred yards on where the train line runs out of view round the coastal edge. That’s it!

Archaeology & History

When Scottish writer and historian R. Angus Smith (1885) first saw this, the close arrangement and size of the stones that make up the edges of this dun made him think this was actually a stone circle up here.  Sadly it wasn’t to be.  Following an examination of the site in 1969 by members of the Scottish Royal Commission (Argyll – Volume 2, 1975), they described Dun Chathach as,

“circular in plan…measuring 18.3 metres in diameter externally. The wall, which has been about 3.4 metres in average thickness, is now reduced to a low grass-grown stony bank, but considerable stretches of the outer face are still visible in situ. Many of the facing stones, which lie as much as 1.6 metres below the level of the summit, are of massive proportions, the largest measuring 1.4 metres by 1.3 metres and 1 metre high. It is uncertain which of the three gaps now visible in the wall indicates the site of the original entrance.”

Folklore

Legend has it that this was a hill of battles.  It was also said by R. Angus Smith (1885) to “have been used as one of a chain of beacons,” with the next fire on being lit upon a small hill nearer Connel called Tom na h-aire, ‘the mound of watching.’

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll- volume 2, HMSO: 1974.
  2. Smith, R. Angus, Loch Etive and the Sons of Uisnach, Alexander Gardner: London & Paisley 1885.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.454189, -5.300001 Dun Chathach hillfort