Archive for Public archaeology

Fell of Barhullion: Fort and Cup and Ring Marked Rocks

We spent much of the final week of survey around the Fell of Barhullion, an area liberally sprinkled with archaeology, particularly cup and ring marked rocks. We conducted a detailed survey of the fort on the summit of the fell using the GPS and total station; details of the site can be found here.

There are numerous cup and ring marked rocks in the area, some of which are marked on the OS 1:25000 map. One particularly fine example, to the north of the fell, featured a cup mark measuring about 4cm in diameter surrounded by five concentric ring; three wavy parallel lines ran for about 40cm to the SE of the cup and rings. These carvings are so easily missed as they rarely stand out clearly, so it was a good exercise in opening our eyes and looking at our sruroundings – even when the mist came in so we could barely see in front of our noses!

Cup and ring marked rock

As the weather deteriorated on Friday afternoon, we headed back to Kirkmaiden to finish off the survey begun there in January. It was a wet and miserable afternoon but we recorded the final gravestones and architectural detail on the church.

Massive thanks go out to all of the volunteers who have braved all weathers to come out with us throughout the Machars Archaeology Project. We have surveyed a great many sites from a wide range of time periods, and we have enjoyed watching the volunteers grow in understanding and confidence throughout the course of the six week-long surveys. We hope that those who have taken part will continue to go out into the landscape with their eyes open, as there really is archaeology all around us.

Keep in touch with Janet and the Whithorn Trust for details of further events as part of the project!

Cruggleton Castle & Barhullion Fell

The first three days of this last week of survey have seen us at Cruggleton Castle and Fell of Barhullion Fort. Cruggleton Castle, sitting in a prominent position on a rocky coastal cliff, was excavated in the 1970s and 80s. Work revealed six phases of use of the site, dating as far back as the Iron Age. All that remains today are pits cut into the bedrock, believed to be the footings of a prehistoric roundhouse; a reconstructed arch sitting on stone-built footings; and the walls of a small building with adjoining cell. These stone-built structures are perhaps the basement level of the castle. We spent Monday and Tuesday getting to grips with the site and conducting a detailed survey using the GPS and total station.


Wednesday was spent on Fell of Barhullion at the site of a prehistoric fort with chevaux de frise – a defensive system consisting of end-set stones around the site, angled outwards, particularly effective against attackers on horseback. These defences are still visible but survive to only about 0.75m at the most – we spent a good deal of time discussing their possible original form and how impressive and formidable they might have looked. The fort sits on the summit of the fell with spectacular views all around and out to sea. Two concentric rings demarcate the fort, with entrances in the south and north. A large modern cairn sits in the north end of the fort with two intriguing engraved stones set into the south-western side, one marked ‘THE MORLEYS DUMFRIES 1944’ and the other indecipherable, but beginning ‘WA…’. We began surveying the fort but will go back there tomorrow to finish off. There are numerous cup and ring marked rocks in the area, so we hope to identify a few of those as well – so we have a busy few days ahead of us, with lots to do!

Green House Bridge Hut Circle

Friday was spent back at Garheugh, with volunteers George and Peter conducting a plane table survey of the possible hut circle there. You can find details of this site, which sits just over a low ridge from a large cairn surveyed earlier in the week, here. It was a wet, misty and generally miserable day but well done to George and Peter for cracking on and getting the plan finished! And many thanks of course to all of the volunteers involved in this penultimate phase of survey.

Peter and George plan the hut circle using a plane table

We have just one more week of survey left, in March, so if you want to get involved, that will be your last chance! Contact Janet at the Whithorn Trust as always for more information, or keep up to date through social media, links in the Blogroll to the right.


Wednesday and Thursday saw us tackling more of the sites around Garheugh. We group surveyed a number of hut circles and enclosures on Wednesday, but the highlight was certainly a long structure built of massive stones. Situated on the bank of a stream in a sheltered hollow, the structure featured a possible entrance with edge-set stones in the west end of the structure.

From here we headed towards Green House Bridge Cairn, a lovely round cairn with exposed cist. The cairn has suffered a good deal of stone-robbing over the year but is nonetheless still very impressive, and the cist is a beautiful example of these prehistoric stone-lined boxes. We returned on Thursday to undertake an accurate survey using the GPS.

The rest of Thursday was spent recording a number of sites in close proximity to Green House Bridge Cairn, including a section of a substantial enclosure just north-west of the cairn; the curved section of wall is more than 2m thick. We also surveyed nearby Cairn Buy, a cairnfield with numerous enclosures and pens, and a farmstead. Our volunteers will surely be seeing stones in their sleep, after having visited all of these drystone constructions!

You can find more information on Green House Bridge Cairn and the other sites at

Culshabbin and the May; and Drumblair and Garheugh

Another week of survey got off to a great start on Monday. AOC’s Gemma and team surveyed the area around Culshabbin, south of the B7005, while Charlotte and team headed north of the road to The May.

Charlotte’s group surveyed three cairns in various states. The first took the form of a stony pile in the middle of a field, which had had many large boulders placed on top of it in recent years. The second took the form of a round, flat, grassy platform approximately 16m in diameter; and the third, known as Court Cairn, was barely distinguishable save for the remains of a shepherd’s pile recorded there in the Name Book of 1848. Also according to the Name Book, the Court Cairn is so called as criminals were traditionally brought there for trial. Apparently the Marquis of Bute undertook the excavation of a number of local cairns in the 1940s, but there are no known records of his findings.


May Farm is also home to a lovely cross-slab. Ordnance Survey’s records from 1976 state that it sat in the side wall of an outbuilding, approximately 3m above the ground. Try as we might, we could find no such stone until the farmer kindly pointed us in the right direction. The original building had fallen down, and the cross-slab was repositioned during the repair of a second outbuilding. It now sits in the north-eastern corner of a building, about 2m above the ground, with a date slab reading 1948 beneath. What seemed to be a fragment of millstone had also been built into the same wall at ground level. The date slab also had some graffiti carved into it: what looked like JA, then S or &, and then WiLSON.

The Cross Slab in the building wall

At the end of the day, Charlotte’s group walked west from May Farm to Doon of May, a prehistoric vitrified fort in dense forest. Vitrification involves the burning of a stone structure, which effectively melts the stone into large, globular masses.

Tuesday saw Charlotte’s group head to Drumblair Farm, where there are numerous field systems, clearance cairns, enclosures and possible hut circles. The highlight, however, was a burnt mound positioned on the south bank of a burn.

Gemma and her team spent Monday south of the B7005 in Culshabbin looking at a number of cairns.  The first site seemed like an uneven stone pile until on closer inspection a series of kerb stones in a semi-circular alignment were discovered.  This find was only trumped by the finding of a square cist lined with large stones further down the track to Corwall.   A number of ruinous cairns were also visited but were unfortunately piled up with additional field clearance rubble on top covering any distinguishable features.  Tuesday was spent crossing the head-dyke separating Drumblair and Garheugh and visiting prehistoric enclosures and field-systems.  The team were thoroughly confused by the amount of rock present in the landscape with many walls of different ages running into each other and across other features in the landscape.

Buildings Week 16th – 20th January 2012

Last week was the very successful buildings week where AOC’s Diana Sproat and Gemma Hudson led the team to record three excellent old churches at Kirkmaiden, Sorbie and Cruggleton and some crofting settlements at Torhousemuir.

The week started on Monday and Tuesday with some detailed recording at Kirkmaiden Old Church and Graveyard in Monreith, just down from the golf course. We completed a full graveyard survey, including a detailed measured survey with the total station and individual records and photographs of all the gravestones. We also had a closer look at the church, which originated in the 11th century although the Maxwell family converted the former chancel into a burial aisle in the late 19th century and added a very ostentatious arched and decorated doorway in the south wall complete with typical Romanesque chevron patterns.

Volunteers Kirsty and Chris deciphering one of the gravestones at Kirkmaiden

One of the more interesting gravestones at Kirkmaiden, complete with angel with wings,
hourglass with wings, coffin and skull and crossbones, all within a neatly panelled border

Wednesday saw us visit the mid 18th century Old Sorbie Church in the village of Sorbie, having a closer look at the old features and phasing within the church, identifying the original layout such as beam slots in the walls where the galleries were located and even the remains of an elaborate fireplace and chimney breast in the north wall which would have been a laird’s gallery! The total station was whipped out once again to do an elevation survey of the west and north wall of the kirk and we also undertook a detailed hand-drawn plan of the kirk getting in all the openings, features and phasing of the building, annotating all features of interest as we went. Finally, we undertook a record for the graveyard, which identified a number of interesting stones and dates (too many to do a full individual gravestone survey here!) including some supposedly pre-dating when the church was built. Could this lie on an earlier church site?

George and Gary having a closer look at the phasing on the east wall of the church

Mike and Helen getting to grips with the floor plan

On Thursday we visited another Norman church, Cruggleton, which was rebuilt in the 19th century, although some of the original stone rubble walls were re-used in the build. A detailed written record and sketches were made of the kirk and its surrounding enclosure, including a slightly more detailed context record of each feature within the church to accompany a detailed hand-drawn floor plan of the kirk. The 3D laser scanner was used to undertake a full exterior survey of the kirk (all we had time for in one day!) which will hopefully give us some highly accurate elevations and enticing oblique views and flythroughs.

Setting up the laser scanner to survey the exterior of the church

The (very thin!) elaborate door in the south wall of the church leading to the Chancel

Some tantalising graffiti set high up on the soffit of the chancel arch – who was Mary Rennie?

The final day saw us visit the former crofting settlements at Torhousemuir, many of which now lie as stone rubble heaps in the ground with little more than half-collapsed drystone walling depicting their boundaries. However, we discovered that three of the crofting cottages had survived, which were identified as ‘Hillview’, ‘Windy Gap’ and ‘Mossend’ thanks to the wonderful publication by Joe Whiteford on the living at Mossend in the 1930s and ’40s (thanks also to Jane Murray for providing a copy of the book on the day). Surviving as little more than single-storey linear cottages, the buildings would have once housed large families working the land with outbuildings such as stables, dairy, milk house, creamery, cow byre (usually attached to one end of the house), cart shed and more. The weather was less than clement, which led to some soggy recording sheets, but we managed to get a good sound written and photographic record of the cottages as well as a detailed measured survey of one of the them – Hillview – and all of its surviving outbuildings. A further wander up from Mossend revealed that the Forestry Commission had now enclosed the land to the north.

All that is left of Hillview, now a ruin

There’s not much left now of Windy Gap – Kirsty and Chris (left) brave the
wind and rain to get a written record of what remains of the building completed


A view of all that remains of Mossend – a stone rubble built crofting
cottage with a later brick-built bedroom to the east

All that is left of the cooking range in the east wall of the main living area



Torhousekie Stone Circle

Here’s our laser scan survey of the stone circle at Torhousekie, recorded in December. Join us in January when we’ll be recording Historic Buildings!

Crouse: hole stone, cairn, chapel and moated site

We spent today and yesterday at Crouse recording the White Cairn, a hole stone, and the supposed site of a chapel. We also went to the area recorded in the Name Book of 1948 as being the site of a moated enclosure. In 1970, the Ordnance Survey recorded that the moated site had been ploughed out and we can confirm this. However, the other three sites kept us occupied for much longer.

Gemma, Helen and Mike recorded the hole stone, a large monolith with a hole right through it. Local legend states that the stone was traditionally used in marriage ceremonies; read the Royal Commision’s records here. Team Gemma also recorded White Cairn using the GPS.

Charlotte, Chris and Jane went down the hill to check out the moated site, and then headed off to the site of a chapel, read the record here. The site consists of banks in a roughly rectangular shape, with much of the interior covered by gorse. We recorded the site using the total station.

The weather has been pretty awful, so well done to our volunteers for persevering in the rain and gales! Fingers crossed it will get better as the week goes on.

Boreland: cairns, standing stones, mote and fort

We made great headway today on the first of five more days of survey in the Machars. Working in the Boreland area, Gemma, Chris, Kirsty and Jane surveyed two cairns and a pair of standing stones. One of the standing stones is no longer in its original position, having fallen or been knocked over sometime between 1976 (when it was last surveyed) and today. These stones have been interpreted in different ways in the past; in 1911 it was suggested that they used to form part of a stone circle, but a later survey refutes this claim.

Standing stones at Boreland

Graeme and Charlotte headed to Doon Hill with Mike and Helen, recoding what is left of a fort there. The afternoon was spent at Boreland Mote, a motte on the western bank of the Bladnoch. Standing at about 6m tall, 30m long and 20m wide, the site probably had a stone or wooden tower on the summit. We conducted a survey of the site using the total station, recording the undulations of the ground so that we can create a 3D image of the site.

We are thrilled to have learned that Mike and Helen have been out and surveyed a site or two on their own since the last phase of the project. Well done chaps!

Laggan Camp and Carleton Fell Homestead

Today the team made the epic journey to Laggan Camp. We didn’t have a boat handy, so it was a rather long walk from Rouchan towards the sea, made all the longer by the heavy survey equipment we took with us. The fort is on a steep-sided hillock with small lochs to both east and west. It is defended by double ramparts with a medial ditch. Gemma, Janet, Kirsty, Chris and George used the total station and GPS to record the site.

The team heads home.

Charlotte, Mike and Helen peeled off to record a homestead on the other side of Carleton Fell, north of Laggan Camp. Sitting at the end of a low rocky ridge, turf-covered stony banks outline the enclosure with a probable entrance on the east side.

The enclosure at Carleton Fell, viewed from the north-east.

Well done to everyone who came out with us this week. We walked many miles between us, trudging through mud, climbing dykes, and clambering over hilltops in some pretty nasty weather. It was a hard week but we achieved an incredible amount, so thank you all very much for your efforts. See you in December for more of the same!