Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland

SC2826: Holburn Head  

(Holborn Head)

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HER:  Highland HER MHG2385

NMR:  ND 17 SW 1 (8571)

SM:  559

NGR:  ND 1085 7155

X:  310850  Y:  971550  (EPSG:27700)

Boundary:  

Summary

This promontory fort is situated on Holborn Head, precipitous headland girt with sheer cliffs over 30m high and riven with two deep clefts that cut into the cliffs on the SE and across two thirds of the neck on the landward side. Strongly protected by these natural ditches, the artificial defences comprise a thick wall about 145m in length, which forms band of stony debris with occasional facing-stones extending across the full breadth of the promontory on the crest of the slope that rises sharply up behind the clefts; at the foot of this slope in the central sector, on the lip of the seaward cleft, an outer bank about 0.75m high can be seen, though opinion on its character is divided, some investigators omitting it (Mercer 198177, fig 31), others suggesting that it is derived from an internal quarry scoop (Lamb 1980, 73). The entrance is towards the WNW end of the main wall and the interior, which measures about 145m from NW to SE by up to 75m ransversely (0.8ha) and is partly bare rock, is featureless.

Status

Citizen Science:  ✗  

Reliability of Data:  Confirmed

Reliability of Interpretation:  Confirmed

Location

X:  -393706  Y:  8099297  (EPSG: 3857)

Longitude:  -3.536721  Latitude:  58.622774  (EPSG:4326)

Country:  Scotland

Current County or Unitary Authority:  Highland

Historic County:   Caithness

Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  Thurso

Condition

Extant:  
Cropmark:  
Likely Destroyed:  

Land Use

Woodland:  
Commercial Forestry Plantation:  
Parkland:  
Pasture (Grazing):  
Arable:  
Scrub/Bracken:  
Bare Outcrop:  
Heather/Moorland:  
Heath:  
Built-up:  
Coastal Grassland:  
Other:  

Landscape

Hillfort Type

Contour Fort:  
Partial Contour Fort:  
Promontory Fort:  
Hillslope Fort:  
Level Terrain Fort:  
Marsh Fort:  
Multiple Enclosure Fort:  

Topographic Position

Hilltop:  
Coastal Promontory:  
Inland Promontory:  
Valley Bottom:  
Knoll/Hillock/Outcrop:  
Ridge:  
Cliff/Plateau-edge/Scarp:  
Hillslope:  
Lowland:  
Spur:  

Dominant Topographic Feature:  

Aspect

North:  
Northeast:  
East:  
Southeast:  
South:  
Southwest:  
West:  
Northwest:  
Level:  

Elevation

Altitude:  33.0m

Boundary

Boundary Type:  

Second HER:  

Second Current County or Unitary Authority:  

Second Historic County:  

Second Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  

Dating Evidence

In the absence of excavation, there are neither stratified artefacts nor radiocarbon dates to provide a chronology for the defences.

Reliability:  D - None

Pre 1200BC:  
1200BC - 800BC:  
1200BC - 800BC:  
400BC - AD50:  
AD50 - AD400:  
AD400 - AD 800:  
Post AD800:  
Unknown:  

Pre Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

Post Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

None:  No details.

Investigations

1st Identified Map Depiction (1872):  Annotated Camp on the 1st edition OS 25-inch map (Caithness 1877, sheet 5.3)
Other (1910):  Description (RCAHMS 1911, 120, no.438)
Other (1933):  Scheduled
Other (1964):  Visited by the OS
Other (1971):  Description and photographs by Raymond Lamb (1980, 73)
Other (1972):  visited by the OS
Other (1981):  visited by the OS
Earthwork Survey (1981):  Plan and description by R J Mercer (1981, 76-8, fig 31)
Other (1997):  Visited by the Hill-Fort Study Group

Interior Features

Featureless

Water Source

None:  
Spring:  
Stream:  
Pool:  
Flush:  
Well:  
Other:  

Surface

No Known Features:  
Round Stone Structures:  
Rectangular Stone Structures:  
Curvilinear Platforms:  
Other Roundhouse Evidence:  
Pits:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  

Excavation

No Known Excavation:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Geophysics

No Known Geophysics:  
Pits:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Finds

No Known Finds:  
Pottery:  
Metal:  
Metalworking:  
Human Bones:  
Animal Bones:  
Lithics:  
Environmental:  
Other:  

Aerial

NO APPARENT FEATURES

APs Not Checked:  
None:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Other:  

Entrances

See main summary

Total Number of Breaks Through Ramparts:  

Number of Possible Original Entrances:   

Guard Chambers:  

Chevaux de Frise:  ✗  

Entrance 1 (Southwest):  Simple Gap

Enclosing Works

Two ramparts cutting off a spectacular promontory

Enclosed Area 1:  0.8ha.
Enclosed Area 2:  
Enclosed Area 3:  
Enclosed Area 4:  
Total Enclosed Area:  0.8ha.

Total Footprint Area:  

Multi-period Enclosure System:  ✗  

Ramparts Form a Continuous Circuit:  ✗  

Number of Ramparts:  2

Number of Ramparts NE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SW Quadrant:  2
Number of Ramparts NW Quadrant:  

Current Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  
Unknown:  

Multi-period Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:  
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  

Surface Evidence

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Rubble:  
Wall-walk:  
Evidence of Timber:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
Other:  

Excavated Evidence

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Murus Duplex:  
Timber-framed:  
Timber-laced:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
No Known Excavation:  
Other:  

Gang Working

Gang Working:  ✗ 

Ditches

Ditches:  

Number of Ditches:  

Annex

Annex:  ✗  

References

Feachem, R (1963) A guide to prehistoric Scotland. Batsford: London (p 114)

Lamb, R G (1980) Iron Age promontory forts in the Northern Isles. Brit Archaeol Rep, British Ser 79. BAR: Oxford

Mercer, R J (1981) Archaeological field survey in northern Scotland: volume II, 1980-81. University of Edinburgh, Department of Archaeology, Occasional Paper No. 7: Edinburgh

Name Book, Ordnance Survey Object Name Books (6 inch and 1/2500 scale); available http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/

RCAHMS (1911) The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Third report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Caithness. HMSO, London

Terms of Use

The online version of the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland should be cited as:

Lock, G. and Ralston, I. 2017.  Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland. [ONLINE] Available at: https://hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk.

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