Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland

SC2833: St John's Point  

Sources: Esri, DigitalGlobe, Earthstar Geographics, CNES/Airbus DS, GeoEye, USDA FSA, USGS, Getmapping, Aerogrid, IGN, IGP, and the GIS User Community

HER:  Highland HER MHG1693

NMR:  ND 37 NW 1 & 2 (9369)

SM:  2689

NGR:  ND 3105 7515

X:  331050  Y:  975150  (EPSG:27700)

Boundary:  

Summary

The large headland known as St John's Point is defended by a substantial rampart and ditch barring access from the S. The rampart is massive in Scottish terms, forming a bank some 12m in thickness at the base by 3m in height and is probably fronted by an equally broad ditch, though of the latter all that can be seen is a shallow hollow about 10m in breadth with a later turf field-bank extending along its counterscarp. The interior measures about 210m from N to S by up to 140m transversely (2.25ha), and is indented by deep geos along its seaward end to form three smaller promontories. Turf field-banks extend around the margin of the headland and much of its surface has been cultivated in rigs, but aerial photographs reveal traces of a ploughed-down arc of bank enclosing an area about 30m across in the angle between the cliffs on the E and the rampart on the S. This enclosure is the 'Grave Yard' annotated on the 1st edition OS 25-inch map (Caithness 1877, sheet 2.11), which places a cross marking the site of St John's Chapel at its centre. This attribution has been transposed to the remains of a building visible beneath the E end of a stone field-dyke that surmounts the rampart. In 1910 Alexander Curle noted that this was locally said to be a chapel, but he also observed that it was not correctly oriented and doubted the attribution (RCAHMS 1911, 20-1, no.56). Nevertheless, in 1919 John Nicolson uncovered the W gable end to reveal a central entrance and what he described as a slab-lined grave, with its head to the W and a reused cross-slab in one side (Nicolson 1922); the stratigraphic relationship between the chapel and the rampart was not recorded. Apart from a second compartment at the E end of this building, the only other feature visible within the interior of the fort are the remains of a rectangular building platform on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the N side of the small bay that cuts into the headland from the E (ND 31117 75151).

Status

Citizen Science:  ✗  

Reliability of Data:  Confirmed

Reliability of Interpretation:  Confirmed

Location

X:  -355121  Y:  8106999  (EPSG: 3857)

Longitude:  -3.190104  Latitude:  58.658783  (EPSG:4326)

Country:  Scotland

Current County or Unitary Authority:  Highland

Historic County:   Caithness

Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  Canisbay

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:  15.0m

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 modern 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:  ✓  Chapel and burial-ground possible; Cultivated in the post-medieval period and the site of at least one other rectangular building

None:  No details.

Investigations

1st Identified Map Depiction (1873):  Annotated 'Fosse' on 1st edition OS 25-inch map (Caithness 1877, sheet 2.11)
Other (1910):  Description (RCAHMS 1911, 17, no.40; 20-1, no.56)
Excavation (1919):  John Nicolson uncovers part of the supposed chapel (1922)
Other (1965):  Visited by the OS
Earthwork Survey (1967):  Description and sketch-plan of the chapel and burial-ground (Macdonald and Laing 1968, 124-5, fig3)
Other (1968):  Scheduled
Other (1971):  Description and photographs by Raymond Lamb (1980, 74)
Other (1972):  Surveyed at 1:10,000 by the OS
Other (1982):  Visited by the OS
Other (1982):  Caithness Coastal Survey (Batey 1982; archive held in RCAHMS)

Interior Features

Two rectangular buildings, one of which is possibly a chapel associated with a burial-ground

Water Source

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

Surface

probably post-medieval buildings

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 (South):  Simple Gap

Enclosing Works

Single rampart and ditch

Enclosed Area 1:  2.25ha.
Enclosed Area 2:  
Enclosed Area 3:  
Enclosed Area 4:  
Total Enclosed Area:  2.3ha.

Total Footprint Area:  

Multi-period Enclosure System:  ✗  

Ramparts Form a Continuous Circuit:  ✗  

Number of Ramparts:  1

Number of Ramparts NE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SW Quadrant:  1
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:  1

Annex

Annex:  ✗  

References

Batey, C E (1982) Caithness coastal survey 1982: interim reports 1980-2, typescript Durham University.

Feachem, R (1963) A guide to prehistoric Scotland. Batsford: London (p 180)

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

Macdonald and Laing, A D S and L R (1968) 'Early ecclesiastical sites in Scotland: a field survey, part 1'. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 100 (1967-8), 123-34

Nicolson, J (1922) 'A cross-slab found at St John's Chapel, Canisbay, Caithness'. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 56 (1921-2), 66-7

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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