Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland

SC2879: Urquhart Castle  

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HER:  Highland HER MHG45241

NMR:  NH 52 NW 3 (12547)

SM:  90309

NGR:  NH 5301 2855

X:  253019  Y:  828555  (EPSG:27700)

Boundary:  

Summary

Castle Urquhart, which since at least the 13th century has been a major stone castle enclosing a series of low eminences at the tip of Strone Point, occupies the site of an earlier fortification. The principle evidence for this structure comes from the rocky boss that is the highest of these eminences that was probably the core of the earliest castle and forms the SW bulwark of the medieval complex. Here pieces of vitrifaction were recovered along its eastern flank during clearance work to display the castle in the 1920s (Simpson 1929, 3), and in subsequent excavations Leslie Alcock uncovered stratified cobble and paved floors and hearths beneath a layer of burning dating from the early medieval period (1992, 242-56), though the stones that he postulated as the basal course of the rear revetment of a defensive wall are unconvincing in that role. Thus, while we can be confident that this was the site of a fortification, no stratified remains of the defences have been recorded and its plan is unknown, though the summit of the boss measures a maximum of 40m from NNE to SSW by 15m transversely and the enclosed area cannot have extended much beyond 0.05ha. In accordance with his concept of ealy medieval fortifications, however, Alcock suggested that this was the citadel of a larger enclosure that probably took in much the same area as the later medieval castle (1992, 257), identifying a line of stones extending along the inner lip of the castle ditch to the NE of the gatehouse as possibly the back of a collapsed drystone wall; this remains untested by excavation, but implies an enclosed area measuring up to 140m from NE to SW by 50m transversely (0.5ha).

Status

Citizen Science:  ✗  

Reliability of Data:  Confirmed

Reliability of Interpretation:  Confirmed:  The size of the fortification here is unknown, but the inner core is probably well below the 0.2ha threshold, and the extent of any outer enclosures is quite unknown.

Location

X:  -494557  Y:  7826603  (EPSG: 3857)

Longitude:  -4.442677  Latitude:  57.32386  (EPSG:4326)

Country:  Scotland

Current County or Unitary Authority:  Highland

Historic County:   Inverness-shire

Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  Urquhart And Glenmoriston

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:  27.0m

Boundary

Boundary Type:  

Second HER:  

Second Current County or Unitary Authority:  

Second Historic County:  

Second Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  

Dating Evidence

Leslie Alcock (1992) argued the case for a date in the 2nd half of the 6th century for a fortification on the strength of oblique references in the Adomnan's Life of Columba. His subsequent excavations and analysis, supported by eight radiocarbon dates, identified stratified early medieval deposits within what was probably the interior. Part of the terminal of a Pictish silver penannular brooch dating from the late 8th century is also claimed to have been found at Urquhart Castle.

Reliability:  D - None

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

Pre Hillfort Activity:  ✓  two Early Bronze Age axes are referenced to Urquhart Castle (See RCAHMS Canmore 12551)

Post Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

Artefactual:  No details.
C14:  Eight dates from stratified deposits extending into the High Middle Ages
Other:  Documentary

Investigations

The castle itself has attracted more extensive evaluation and excavation than has been documented here, which identifies only those engagements with the earlier fortification. Both RCAHMS and Highland HER also contain extensive photographic collections covering the castle.

1st Identified Written Reference (1906):  Colonel M'Hardy first notes vitrifaction on the shore (1906, 149)
Excavation (1929):  Clearance work on the castle uncovers loose vitrified stones on the southern boss (Simpson 1929, 3)
Other (1956):  Description for RCAHMS Survey of Marginal Lands
Excavation (1983):  Directed by Leslie Alcock (1992, 242-67 )
Other (1997):  Scheduled, having been in Guardianship since at least the 1920s

Interior Features

Occupied by the castle

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

Floors and hearths

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

None known

Total Number of Breaks Through Ramparts:  

Number of Possible Original Entrances:  0:  Not known

Guard Chambers:  

Chevaux de Frise:  ✗  

Enclosing Works

At least one timber-laced wall

Enclosed Area 1:  0.05ha.
Enclosed Area 2:  
Enclosed Area 3:  
Enclosed Area 4:  
Total Enclosed Area:  0.1ha.

Total Footprint Area:  0.5ha.

Multi-period Enclosure System:  ✗  

Ramparts Form a Continuous Circuit:  ✗  Extent unknown

Number of Ramparts:  1

Number of Ramparts NE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SE Quadrant:  1
Number of Ramparts SW Quadrant:  
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:  ✓  Alcock postulates outlying enclosures taking in lower terraces and extending to perhaps 0.5ha, but this remains unproven and the possible drystone wall he identifies might in any case belong to a free-standing enclosure

References

Alcock and Alcock, L and E A (1992) 'Reconnaissance excavations on Early Historic fortifications and other royal sites in Scotland, 1974-84; A, Excavations and other fieldwork at Forteviot, Perthshire, 1981; B, Excavations at Urquhart Castle, Inverness-shire, 1983; C, Excavations at Dunnottar, Kincardineshire, 1984'. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 122 (1992), 215-87

M'Hardy, A B (1906) 'On vitrified forts, with results of experiments . . . '. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 40 (1905-6), 136-50

Simpson, W D (1929) Urquhart Castle. Privately printed

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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