Abbey Craig, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – NS 8094 9566

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 47113
  2. Wallace Monument Fort

Getting Here

Abbey Craig on 1866 map

Most folk visiting here are coming from Stirling city.  There are various buses to get here, which head out over Stirling Bridge along Causewayhead Road (the A9) for half-a-mile where, at the roundabout and the William Wallace pub, go straight across up the minor road, zigzagging back on itself, until you reach the signs for the Wallace Monument.  Follow the well-defined footpath and, once on top of the hill, walk round the back of the mightily impressive tower.

Archaeology & History

Located right where the impressive Wallace Monument proudly stands, this prehistoric precursor to Sir William Wallace’s memory was where Scotland’s legendary hero and his men cast a clear and easy view over Bannockburn, where the halfwit english came for a fight—and deservedly lost!   The structures that used to be inside the now denuded hillfort would, no doubt, have been used by Wallace’s men; but much of those prehistoric remains have now been destroyed.  The visible remains of the fort can be seen round the back of the Wallace Monument: elongated rises of overgrown walling that run almost all the way round, getting slightly higher as you approach the more northern edges, like a semi-circular enclosure.

Royal Commission plan
Abbey Craig – and the great Wallace Monument

The site was described very briefly in William Nimmo’s (1880) early survey of the area, where he told that in 1784, “eleven brazen spears were found on the Abbey Craig, by a Mr Harley”, which he thought came from the time when the earlier ‘castle’ stood here.  He was probably right.  Many years later, the prehistoric remains were included in the county survey of archaeological sites by the Royal Commission lads (1963), who told that, near the north end of the summit of Abbey Craig,

“there is a fort which has been damaged by the construction within it of the Wallace Monument.  All that remains is a substantial turf-covered bank, cresentic on plan and 260ft in length, the ends of which lie close to the brink of the precipice that forms the west face of the hill.  The bank stands to a maximum height of 5ft above the level of the interior and presumably represents a ruined timber-laced wall, since numerous pieces of vitrified stone have been found on the slopes immediately below it.

The entrance to the fort presumably lay between one end of the bank and the lip of the precipice, but both the areas concerned have been disturbed by the construction of the modern approaches.  The interior of the fort measures about 175ft from north to south, by about 125ft transversely and the interior is featureless.”

The fort was probably built sometime in the early Iron Age; so the next time you visit this fine spot, check the remains out round the back of the tower—and remember that our ancestors were living up here 2500 years ago!

References:

  1. Aitchison, N.B., “Abbey Craig Rampart’, in Discovery & Excavation, Scotland, 1981.
  2. Feacham, Richard W., Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  3. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  4. Nimmo, William, The History of Stirlingshire – volume 1 (3rd edition), T.D. Morison: London 1880.
  5. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling –  volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  6. 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

 

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  56.138744, -3.917531 Abbey Craig hillfort

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

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

Devil’s Dyke, Poynings, Sussex

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – TQ 260 111

Also Known as:

  1. Brighton Dyke
  2. Poor Man’s Wall 

Getting Here

Map of Devil's Dyke
Map of Devil’s Dyke

Plenty of ways of approaching this huge fella!  Personally, I’d take it from the steep valley immediately east and north where the ramparts drop you down the hill, if only to get a decent idea of the scale of the thing!  But those of you into taking it easy can do no better than take the country road south out of Poynings village (towards Brighton), down Saddlescombe Road, for just under a mile, where you should take a right-hand turn along the Summer Down lane for a mile. You’ll then hit the Devil’s Dyke Road. Turn right here and go to the end.  You’re right in the middle of it!

Archaeology & History

Early plan of Devil’s Dyke ‘camp’

Although most of this huge monument hasn’t been given the investigation it deserves — hence making knowledge of its origins more speculative than factual — as Jacquetta Hawkes (1973) wrote, seemingly all those years ago now, “it is known that a village lying half in and round them was occupied in the Belgic period at the end of the Iron Age.”  And it’s certainly big enough!  The encircling circuit of dykes themselves stretch all the way round a distance of more than 2150 yards long (that’s 1.22 miles, or 1.97km!), with the longest east-west axis being more than half-a-mile across.

Nowadays it seems, the Devil’s Dyke is the name given to the steep valley below the encampment, but a hundred years back it was the camp itself that was known by this name.  Described by the wandering antiquarian R. Hippisley Cox (1927) as “a camp containing forty acres (with) very steep and difficult approaches,” another early account in The Antiquaries Journal — commenting on a ground-plan of the site from the Brighton and Hove Herald of 1925 — told:

“The heavy encircling lines represent ramparts, and the thin line marks the outer margin of the accompanying ditch.  A spur renders the earthwork weakest on the south-west, and the rampart is therefore highest between the points 1 and 3, rising 21ft vertically above the ditch, which is nearly filled up at the present time.  On the north-west there is steep slope outside the camp, and the ramparts are considerably lower, the iner ditch being nearly obliterated.  The outer rampart is now wanting betwen 7 and 8, but this inner one becomes stronger as the outer slope of the ground decreases, only to die away again on the south-east where the camp overlooks the steep Dyke Valley.  A double-bank and inner ditch can still be traced from the north-east angle to a point near the old golf-club house.”

I first came here as a young lad and the site was lost on me (in them days, if monuments weren’t stiff and upright, I really didn’t see the point!).  These days however, the size of it alone blows you away somewhat.

Folklore

As you’d expect the creation myths of this site and its edges relate to our old heathen friend, the devil!  The landscape itself was, in old lore, the work of the devil (though prior to this, the devil was known in peasant-lore to be a legendary giant, though I am unaware of the name/s of the giant in question); and the great valley below the Devil’s Dyke encampment was actually dug out by Old Nick in the old tales.  That old folklorist Jacqueline Simpson (1973) takes up the story:

“The Devil…had been infuriated by the conversion of Sussex, one of the last strongholds of paganism in England, and more particularly by the way the men of the Weald were building churches in all their villages.  So he swore that he would dig right through the Downs in a single night, to let in the sea and drown them all.  He started just near Poynings and dug and dug most furiously, sending great clods of earth flying left and right — one became Chanctonbury, another Cissbury,  another Rackham Hill, and yet another Mount Caburn.  Towards midnight, the noise he was making disturbed an old woman, who looked out to see what was going on.  As soon as she understood what he was up to, she lit a candle and set it on her window-sill, holding up a sieve in front of it to make a dimly glowing globe.  The Devil looked round, and thought this was the rising sun.  At first he could hardly believe his eyes, but then he heard a cock crowing — for the old woman, just to make quite sure, had knocked her cockerel off his perch.  So Satan flew away, leaving his work half done.  Some say that as he went out over the Channel, a great dollop of earth fell from his cloven hoof, and that’s how the Isle of Wight was made; others, that he bounded straight over into Surry, where the impact of his landing formed the hollow known as his Punch Bowl.”

That’s the story anyway — take it or leave it!  Of importance in this fable is the figure of the “old woman”: a much watered-down version of the cailleach figure of more ancient northern and Irish climes, where tales of her doings are still very much alive.  And many are the tales of her battles with other giant figures, just as we evidently once had here.

Ghosts have been reported by local people upon this hill-top site; and there are a number of other folktales to be found here…which I’ll unfold over time as the months pass by…

References:

  1. Anon., “Notes: The Brighton Dyke,” in The Antiquaries Journal, 5:4, October 1925.
  2. Clinch, G., “Ancient Earthworks,” in Victoria County History of Sussex – volume 2 (edited by W. Page), St. Catherine’s Press: London 1905.
  3. Cox, R. Hippisley, The Green Roads of England, Methuen: London 1927.
  4. Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide to the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales, Chatto & Windus: London 1973.
  5. Hogg, A.H.A., “Some Aspects of Surface Fieldwork,” in The Iron Age and its Hillforts (edited by M. Jesson & David Hill), Southampton University Archaeology Society 1971.
  6. Simpson, Jacqueline, The Folklore of Sussex, Batsford: London 1973.
  7. Simpson, Jacqueline, “Sussex Local Legends,” in Folklore Journal, volume 84, 1973.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Devil's Dyke

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Devil\'s Dyke 50.886007, -0.209097 Devil\'s Dyke