Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Castlestede Iron Age fort, Kendal

Castlestede Iron Age fort
Nr Kendal

The remains of this multivallate hillfort (a fort with more than one bank and\or ditch) lay 185metres above sea level at the summit of the Helm, 2 miles South of Kendal, and a short walk from the A65.

Above. A view along the Helm, looking North East.

The hillfort lays at the South end of the Helm, and is easily accessable by foot from the road below it. The remains probably represent an Iron Age hillfort, with the Northern end of the site protected by two ramparts. These have been created by cutting a ditch into the rock across the line of the ridge. To the East of the field wall that bisects the fort, a rough outer ditch can still be seen.

Above. A view of the flat topped summit of the hill fort with the trig point.

The inner rampart carries right along the Western side of the enclosure, although here there is no ditch. This side of the fort is protected by the naturally occuring cliff.

Above. The inner rampart . This could represent the footings or foundations of a wall.

At the South end of the fort, a single rampart with a wide top defends the summit. From here, the ground slopes downwards steeply, however an oval shaped platuea seems to have been cut into the hill side (as shown above)

The Eastern side of the fort has lost its ditch, possibly through erosion and soil slippage. However, this side of the fort is still fairly steep, so a ditch may not have been necessary.

Above. A view of the fort from the South.

To the South and the North of the fort, and outside of the ramparts, small basins have been found cut into the rock. It has been suggested that these were created to collect rain water. The nearest source being Saint Sunday's beck down in the valley below.

Above. 1908 etching of the hill fort.

In 1908, when the site was surveyed, the survey from which the etching above comes from, it was noted that at the East side of the summit of the fort (over the present day fence) two pits and three shallow depressions were seen. It was thought at the time that these could have been the remains of hut circles, one of which was noted to have been about 40 feet externally. This larger depression is quite possibly still visible on the latest aerial photos of the fort....shown below.

 Above. Aerial view of the fort.

The fort is easilly accessable by following the footpath which runs parallel to the wall across the back of the Helm. However, the descent at the other side is very steep and has to be treated cautiously.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New photos of Kendal Castle

Photos of Kendal Castle,

Some new and old photos of Kendal Castle.

The remains of the Great Hall.

Remains of the gatehouse and the Great Hall.

The Great Hall looking across the courtyard.

The North West tower.

The North West tower from inside the moat.

The Great Hall from the curtain wall.

The moat and the remains of a drum tower.

Remains of a round tower, the South postern and the minimal remains of the original keep.

The castle walls as they appear from the Parr street approach.

The North West tower in the snow.

North West tower from the moat.

Kendal Castle from Park Side Road at night.

Friday, November 02, 2007

More Roman forts in Cumbria

Roman forts in Cumbria.

As well as the forts mentioned earlier on in this blog (Galava at Ambleside, Mediobogdum at Harknott and Low Borrowbridge near Tebay) there are other Roman sites in the South of Cumbria, that sometimes get overlooked, as well as a lesser fort recently visited in North Yorkshire. The reason behind this, is that they are rather 'overshadowed' by the structures that are built over them, therefore dominating the landscape in which they lie.

The three that will be mentioned here, are at Brough and Brougham in Cumbria, and Elslack in North Yorkshire. The forts at Brough and Brougham lay beneath large medieval castles, and the Roman remains have been incorporated into the defences of these structures. The fort at Elslack lays alongside the now dis-used railway.


The Roman name for the fort that lays beneath the castle, was Verteris. The castle and the fort lay just to the South of the ancient village of Brough, and to the West of the A685. Indeed, excellent views can be had of the castle as you descend into Brough from the A66 as you travel West.

The medieval castle lays along the North side of the Roman fort, occupying around a third of the 3 acre site. The fort would most likely have been built early in the 2nd century, and there is archaeological evidence to suggest that it was occupied well into the 4th and 5th centuries. In the 3rd century, the fort was manned by the VII Cohort of Thracians. In the 4th and 5th centuries, it was manned by the Numerus Directorum, an irregular unit of auxiliary soldiers consisting of around 300 mounted and foot soldiers.

To the South East of the fort, and outside of the protective earthworks, a vicus (civilian settlement) has been found, indicating that the fort attracted local interest both in trade and people seeking protection from the soldiers stationed there. The fort is thought to have been an important administrative centre.

The Roman fort at Brough is not particularly visible from the ground. The public footpath that leads visitors in from the North, hides the fact that the majority of the ancient earthworks are beyond the fence (to your left as you walk to the gatehouse) It's only when you see aerial shots of the castle, that the full extent of the Roman fort can be appreciated. Some of the best aerial photos can be seen here. These photos by Simon Ledingham illustrate the size of the fort, and the amount of earthworks that still survive.


The Roman name for the fort that lays beneath the castle at Brougham was Brocavvm. The Roman complex here consists of a major fort, a civilian settlement and a marching camp (situated about 400 yards North East of the fort and the castle) Both castle and fort sit next to the B6262, and just off the A66. The best views of the fort are to be had from the B road, as it almost exactly follows the course of the surviving Roman earthworks at the South side of the site.

The Eight Legion were known to have been stationed at the fort at Brougham, probably as early as 43AD when the Roman Emperor Claudius led his troops in the invasion of Britain.

A great Roman cemetery has also been found near the site. The cemetery was excavated before the building of the A66 which now completely covers the site.

On the whole, the Roman fort at Brougham has not been excavated to any great degree, so the historical and archaeological record of this large site are scarce.

Good views of the site can be seen from the roadside and also from walking around the castle. The earthworks are very well preserved all the way round with some of the ditches and embankments surviving to a height of around 6 feet in places!! Again, the Visit Cumbria web site has some excellent aerial views of the castle and the fort.

The whole site is open to the public, and managed by English Heritage. The access is such, that both the interior and the exterior of the castle can be walked....which obviously incorporates much of the Roman fort.

Elslack (North Yorkshire)

The Roman name for this fort was Olenacvm. The remains lay just off the A56 and about 3 miles South West of Skipton. The fort lays just yards away from the now disused railway....and it's a wonder that anything of this site still survives. Indeed, walking along the now trackless railway, if you didn't know that there was a Roman fort there, it would go un-noticed. Check out the satellite photo to see how the railway nearly obliterated the fort's remains. (Multi map) Zoom in and select aerial photo to see the fort.

There appear to be two forts overlaying each other. The first was a Flavian Infantry fort, measuring around 345 feet on each side, and occupying nearly 3 acres. The whole site was surrounded by a clay based rampart with stone foundations, somewhere between 16 and 18 feet wide. The fort was protected by a double ditch, with more banks and more ditches providing more defensive obstacles to any would-be attackers. Pottery has been recovered from this stage of the fort's history, dating from the 1st century. It's estimated that the first fort would have been able to house around 500 soldiers.

The second fort replaced the first totally. The clay and stone ramparts were levelled, and a larger fort built over the remains. This was probably done sometime during the 2nd century. The new fort was rectangular and measured around 603 by 406 feet, and occupied around 5 and a half acres. The external ramparts were once again constructed of clay, but this time faced with stone, and about 8 feet wide. It's thought that the larger fort was built to enable more horses to be based here.

Various excavations over time have failed to find the remains of any buildings within the confines of the fort, probably indicating that any that were here, were constructed of timber.

The fort is easily accessible just off the walk that follows not only the route of the dis-used railway, but a Roman road. You can park at the side of the road just down from the pub, and then follow the public footpath onto the railway. Make sure you turn left, and look for the gate on your right. There is a sign here that indicates the presence of the fort. You'll need to walk along side the railway (but in the field) for about 200 yards before you get to where the fort is. Admittedly, it's fairly difficult to see what's what....the site is nothing like Ambleside or Hardknott. Some of the ramparts can be seen very faintly in the field, and slight humps and bumps show where other pieces of the ramparts are. Not much to photograph I'm afraid.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Flodden Wall, Edinburgh

The Flodden Wall
Greyfriar's Kirk

The Flodden Wall was a defensive barrier built around old Edinburgh soon after the defeat of the massed Scottish armies at the battle of Flodden in 1513. It was built as a reaction to the perceived threat of an English invasion of Scotland. The construction of the wall continued right through the 16th century, but it was a poorly planned and inefficient defensive barrier. During the 'Rough Wooing', Edinburgh was sacked by English forces, with the gates to the city being left opened by drunken Scottish guards (so the story goes!!)

This sad and sorry photo is the only one I have of one of the remaining portions of the wall. This particular stretch once enclosed the whole of Greyfriars Kirk. Now it simply cuts the graveyard in half. As a consequence, one half of the graveyard is within the old city limits....the other is outside. From the middle of the 17th century the wall was dismantled piece by piece, as it was preventing the city from expanding to the South.

In July 2008, whilst building work was being undertaken at the King's Stables end of the Grassmarket, a small portion of the wall was unearthed. This small patch of the wall, now buried beneath the road foundations, has been marked with brass plates so that tourists can see where the wall was.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh

Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace lays to the North of one of Edinburgh's most famous landmarks, Arthur's Seat. The palace and the abbey behind it are approached from the West along either Holyrood Road or Canongate both streets lined with some of Edinburgh's finest buildings. The palace consists of an impressive complex of buildings dating from various periods, and now used as the official residence of the Queen when she's visiting Scotland.

Facade of the palace, showing the North and South towers.

In 1128, King David I was hunting in what is now Holyrood Park, when he was attacked by a stag. As the animal confronted him, he had a vision of a cross, or a 'rood' between its antlers. He believed he was seeing a representation of a relic of the cross of jesus that his mother Queen Margaret had in her posession. He survived the confrontation, and whilst sleeping the next night, had a dream where he was told to build an Augustinian monastery on the spot he had seen the stag. A guest house was also built on this site, to accomodate the monastery's many visitors.

In 1501, King James IV of Scotland built a Royal palace on the site of the guesthouse....and from this time on, Holyrood as it had become known, became the official residence of Scottish kings and queens. The palace also assumed the role of official residence of the English monarchy after the union of the crowns in 1603. The new palace contained a new chapel along side the monastery, seperate living quarters for both the king and the queen, a hall and a gallery. A gatehouse was also added to the complex at this time, fragments of which are said to survive in the Abbey courthouse.

Replica of Linlithgo Palace fountain.

Between 1528 and 1536, James V of Scotland extended the palace, adding a new north western tower and a new facade to the west frontage of the palace. The new tower was later to become the apartments where Mary Queen of Scots, his daughter, would spend much of her time after her husband, Francis II of France died. It was in this tower that David Rizzio, whom Mary's husband Lord Darnley believed Mary was having an affair with, was front of Mary.

In 1567, after Mary's husband Lord Darnley was murdered, Mary married her lover James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell at Holyrood Palace. Later that year, Mary was imprisoned on the orders of Elizabeth I of England. She was never able to return to Holyrood palace again.

In 1603, upon the union of the crowns, James VI of Scotland also became James I of England. He moved to his new court in London. He visited Holyrood once more in 1617, and the palace then ceased to be the home of the royal court.

In 1633, Jame's son, Charles I was crowned at Holyrood Abbey. It was probably this occasion that prompted Charles to order the refurbishment of the palace, and it was brought back into royal favour. In 1646, Charles gave the title of Keeper of the Holyroodhouse to the 1st Duke of Hamilton and his heirs....a title that has been passed down the generations. The Duke's descendants still hold apartments in the palace even today.

In 1650, during the years of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth, the palace was home to a garrison of troops from his New Model Army. It was during this time that the palace was damaged by fire. At Cromwell's death, and the demise of the Commonwealth under his son Richard in 1661, Charles II was crowned in Scotland. Between 1671 and 1679, Charles ordered that Holyrood palace be reconstructed and repaired. When the work was done, it became the residence of Charles' brother James, Duke of York, later to became James VII of Scotland, and James II of England.

Main entrance to the palace.

In 1707, the title of King of Scotland ceased to exist under the Act of Union which united the English and Scottish parliaments in a new United parliament. The palace was hence used for the election of Scottish peers to the new British parliament.

When the Jacobite rebellion took off in 1745, Prince Charles (Bonnie Prince Charlie) held court at Holyrood palace. This continued until the rebellion was put down by the Duke of Cumberland, after the Prince's army was chased to its final battle at Culloden on April 16th 1746

In 1768, the roof of the Abbey church finaly collapsed after years of neglect. No repairs were ever made, and the church stands today pretty much as it did then.

In 1822, the palace was again rennovated, this time for the visit of George IV. King George also ordered that the state apartments that had belonged to Mary Queen of Scots should be preserved.

During the 1830's the palace was used as a palace of exile for the Compte de Artois who was the younger brother of Louis XVI, whilst France was going through its revolution. He stayed at the palace for two years, leaving in 1832 for permanent exile in Austria. The palace didn't recover its title of Royal residence again until 1842, when Queen Victoria made her first visit.

In 1922, further rennovation work was carried out, this time to bring the palace into the 20th century. Running water and electricity were two of the utilities added at this time.

If you visit, I'd strongly suggest not just looking around the grounds of the palace and the Abbey next door. The interior is fascinating too, and contains many items once in the possession of Mary Queen of Scots, as well as other members of the English and Scottish royal families.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Carnasserie Castle, Carnasserie

Carnasserie Castle

The remains of Carnasserie Castle lay to the West of the A816, about a mile and a half North of Kilmartin, and about six miles South West of Ford.

Built between 1565 and 1572, the castle is a combination of Hall and Tower House, built by John Carswell, Bishop of the Isles, with some remodelling done during the 17th century.

The remains consist of the five storey tower house, three storey hall and a four storey stair tower.

Photo courtesy of John Jefferies.

Castle Tioram, Loch Moidart

Castle Tioram
Loch Moidart
The remains of Castle Tioram (pronounced Cheerum) lay to the South East of the island of Eileen Shona, on a small tidal island. From this point, the castle's inhabitants would have been able to control sea borne traffic through the safe waters of Loch Moidart.

The castle was probably built in the early part of the 14th century and was the home of the MacDonalds. There is documentary evidence to suggest that there was a fortified building of some sort on the island some time before this. This early 13th century castle would have consisted of a simple curtain wall, within which would have been a collection of timber buildings. The walls have been built on the bedrock without any foundations! Sometime during the 14th century, the curtain wall's height was increased, and a tower house was added, built in stone against the east part of the curtain wall.

In 1715, during the Jacobite rising, the castle was set alight by the Scots, so that it wouldn't fall into the hands of the Hanoverian forces. Since its partial destruction it has been uninhabited. Although the castle is closed to the public, the island can be accessed and the external walls easily seen when walking around the island.

Photo courtesy of John Jefferies.

Criccieth Castle, Criccieth

Criccieth Castle

The magnificent castle at Criccieth sits on a rocky outcrop looking over the town below it, and the sea to its south. The castle's past has been affected by both Welsh and English hands, with the original castle being built by Welsh Princes sometime between 1230 and 1240, and later additions attributable to the English. The castle was most likely built by the Welsh, with the prominent twin towered gate house being the defining part of this building. The castle was later captured by Edward I, who strengthened the fortifications, and adapted the twin towered gatehouse so that it could be used as a huge catapult. These fortifications were tested after the castle had been adapted, when it was placed under siege by the Welsh. The attackers were however, unable to prevent supplies being sent to the castle by a sea route, and the defenders held out.

In 1404, the castle was captured by the cheiftan Owain Glyn Dwr. He set fire to it and destroyed it to such an extent that it would never be used as a fortification again. The remains are open to the public.

Check this link out for some more photos and information.

Photo courtesy of John Jefferies.

Dunstaffnage Castle, nr Oban

Dunstaffnage Castle
nr Oban

Dunstaffnage Castle sits on the West side of Dunstaffnage Bay, and to the South of Eilean Mor in Scotland. The first thing that strikes you about this 13th century castle, is that it literally sits on top of a huge outcrop of rock. This outcrop is so integral to the fabric of the castle, that the lines of the walls were altered to best make use of this natural defence.

The castle was probably built in 1275 by the Lords of Lorn, either Duncan or Ewan MacDougall. Robert the Bruce captured it in 1309, and in 1470 it passed into the hands of the Campbells.
The castle's walls are anything up to 10 feet thick in places, and ringed with a continuous wall walk. There are three towers built into the walls, standing at the North, East and West, with the 16th century gatehouse built into the West tower.

The castle has been in the hands of the Campbells for over 500 years. It was occupied by them up until 1810 when it was rendered uninhabitable by a fire. The castle is still the seat of the Campbell Captains of Dunstaffnage, and as a symbol of the clan's continued occupancy of the castle, the current Captain must spend one night a year in the Gatehouse.

To the west of the castle, the ruins of a 13th century chapel can still be seen.

Photos courtesy of John Jefferies.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Stalker Castle, Appin

Stalker Castle

Castle Stalker, or Stalcaire in Gaelic, lays at the Southern entrance to the Sound of Shuna, and in the Western end of Loch Laich. It is built on a rocky outcrop called the Rock of the Cormorants. The site is thought to have been occupied by a smaller defensive building from the 1320’s, when the MacDougalls were Lords of Lorn. The MacDougalls lost the title of Lords of Lorn when they were defeated by King Bruce at Brander Pass in 1308. The title was regained briefly by the family, but lost again in 1388, with the title passing to the Stewarts. It’s thought that the building we see today, was built by Sir John Stewart in around 1446.

The castle was reputedly a frequent haunt of King James IV of Scotland, who used the castle as a base for hunting trips to the Highlands. The addition of the top floor and the roof were probably due to the Royal visits, and a coat of arms that survives over the front door of the tower is probably the Royal arms.

The castle really is a simple structure, consisting of a four storey keep, accessible through a doorway on the first floor at the top of a flight of stone steps. Its main defensible qualities come courtesy of the fact that it is difficult to reach, accessible only usually by boat, and on foot at low tide.
An interesting note: the castle may be familiar to Monty Python fans, as Castle Aaaaaaaargh, the likely resting place of the Holy Grail. King Arthur and Sir Bedevere attempt to storm the castle but are beaten back by the French who have occupied the castle and drive them away by throwing farm animals at them.

Photos courtesy of John Jefferies

Gylen Castle, Island of Kerrera

Gylen Castle
Island of Kerrera

Gylan Castle has seen better days. The ruins are now roofless, and a certain amount of consolidation work has recently been undertaken to ensure the castle’s survival. The ruins lay on the South West of the Island of Kerrera, at the foot of Cnoc Biorach, guarding the bays of Port a’ Chaisteil and Port a’ Chroinn. The tower was probably completed sometime around 1582, and was a base for the MacDougall clan. The tower was probably situated on the South West of Kerrera to provide cover for the Southern approaches to Oban through the Sound of Kerrera.

Above. Gylen Castle from the West (from personal collection)

Above. Another view of Gylen Castle, this time from Port a Chroinn (from personal collection)

Above. Gylen castle from the South West.

The surviving remains consist of the main block of the tower, which is built in an L shape, and stands to four storeys. The stair tower can still be seen jutting out of the West angle of the tower. The walls of the tower still have a variety of small windows, shot holes and gun loops. The entrance defences still survive, and consist of two 1 metre thick, parallel walls that contain loop holes and still stand to around 2 metres in height. These walls lead into a vaulted passageway and then into a small courtyard which in turn is protected by the cliff faces below it.

In 1647, General Leslie laid siege to the castle, and when he gained entry, had the tower burned. It’s likely that it was never inhabited after this. The extent of the damage caused by General Leslie’s sacking of the tower were evident when it was excavated in 1988. There were soot and ash marks up all the internal walls, layers of burnt timbers and straw on the floor of the tower and the slate roof, now lying on the floor, was reddened from the heat of the blaze.

Following the recent consolidation, the tower has been rescued from its slow demise, and visitors setting foot on Kerrera can now even enter the tower to view it.

Photo courtesy of John Jefferies.

Kisimul Castle, Isle of Barra

Kisimul Castle\Chisimul Castle
Isle of Barra

On a small rocky outcrop, Kisimul Castle, a stronghold Of the Clan MacNeils since the 11th century, guards the bay. The castle consists of a strong square keep at one end of the small island, with a high curtain wall around the courtyard. The castle was built with comfortable defence in mind, with its two artesian wells and a fish trap in a basement. The castle was equipped to fend of any attack using a small ship that was permanently berthed alongside the castle walls. At the first sign of trouble, the ship was to be launched by its crew and sent to see off the attackers.

The castle’s walls range from 4 to 7 feet in thickness, and are about 50 feet high. There is evidence to suggest that the walls were raised to their current height some time in the past. The keep, situated at the South East of the island, is four storeys high, with walls of 6 feet in thickness.

In 1838, the 21st chieftain of the Clan MacNiel was forced to sell Barra, including the castle, and it wasn’t long before the structure was in ruins, with some stone from the castle allegedly turning up in Glasgow as paving stones. In the late 1930’s, Robert Lister MacNeil, the clan chief at the time, purchased the castle. By the time he died in 1970, the castle had been restored to its previous condition. Robert’s son, Ian Roderick took over ownership of the castle, and in March of 2000, it passed into the care of Historic Scotland for a 1000 year lease, with a ground rent of £1 and a bottle of whisky per annum.

Photos courtesy of John Jefferies.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Duke of Gloucester, Penrith

The Duke of Gloucester\Dockwray Hall

Directly across the road from the Two Lions Inn, the Duke of Gloucester enjoys continued success and use as an inn. Dating from around 1470, the building contains a core which is made from an early pele tower. Much of the building dates from the late 16th century, and the additional building work from this period has all but removed all the hallmarks and signs of the original pele tower.

Historical records tell us that the property was converted to house the Duke of Gloucester (later to become King Richard III) whilst building work was undertaken at Penrith Castle....hence the defensive qualities of the core pele tower withing the current building.

Also known in the past as Great Dockray, the main front door to the current inn sports the original coats of arms of the Duke, dating from around 1580. The coats of arms of the de Whelpdale family also survive on the adjacent doorhood.

The interior of the building contains much 16th century plaster and panelling work.

Two Lions Inn, Penrith

Two Lions Inn

At the junctions of Rowcliffe Lane and Angel Lane, the Two Lions inn now sits empty and boarded up. Probably built in the latter part of the 16th century, the property possibly represents the remains of a fortified house.

Above. Looking into the courtyard.

Looking from the road into the courtyard, the Two Lions consists of a roughcast two storey building, with a doorway leading to the rear of the property. There are the remains of stone mullioned windows in the rear wall facing the car park, and a studded door can still be seen at the head of the alley. Stables stand to the left of the courtyard, probably dating from the 1700's. The porch is modern, as is the larger of the three windows fronting the property. The two smaller windows may be original, although all detail seems to have been lost over time.

Above. The studded door (possibly original)

The main door of the inn apparently shows signs that it had a draw bar, fortifying the entrance. Although the interior was not seen, records state that there is a fine plaster ceiling showing the Lowther family arms. Indeed, by all accounts, the building seems to have been the family home of one Gerard Lowther. Lowther was Sheriff of Cumberland in 1592, and also later the Lord Warden of the West Marches......and probably erected the building in 1585.

Above. Floor plan of the Two Lions Inn.

Gerrard was involved with his brother, Sir Richard Lowther, in attempting to release Mary Queen of Scots from her captivity in England, probably from Carlisle Castle, and probably around 1568 to 1570. Gerard Lowther was one of the forebears of the Lowther family, who were the Earls of Lonsdale.

Above. One of the old windows at the rear of the building.

Across the road the Duke of Gloucester Inn still stands, a much changed pele tower reputedly once the quarters of the Duke of Gloucester, who later became King Richard III. In recent months, the building has been renovated and returned to use as an inn. I'll need to photograph the building as it appears now and add them to this post.