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Date 12 March 2015 - 26 October 2016

Event ID 1044297

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Note


Craig Phadrig, the steep and wooded hill that rises abruptly on the western outskirts of inverness is crowned by a spectacular fort. Its defences comprise two walls, the inner of which is a massive vitrified structure reduced to a bank about 12m thick and 1.4m high internally taking in a subrectangular area on the elongated summit of the hill measuring some 72m from NE to SW by 22m transversely (0.18ha). The outer wall appears to be of slighter proportions around most of the circuit and appears to be accompanied by an internal quarry in some sectors, following a roughly concentric line around the NE, NW and SW, only to diverge along the SE flank to an angle on the E; an external ditch and an outer rampart on the NE follow this same course, the rampart terminating at its S end above what is almost certainly the site of an entrance, though the inner end of the passage is blocked by the collapsed outer wall. In common with other subrectangular forts with heavily vitrified walls, there is no evidence of an entrance into the inner enclosure on the summit; a feature variously described as an entrance (Headland 2011) and a barrow-run (RCAHMS 2014, 8) almost certainly overlies the defences and probably facilitated later access into the interior. Traces of the excavation trenches dug in 1971 can be seen within the interior, where Alan Small identified two main phases of occupation, apparently separated by a long period of abandonment; the later occupation was evidently early medieval, finds from a floor including sherds of E Ware and a fragment of a mould for a hanging bowl escutcheon (Small and Cottam 1972). There are seven radiocarbon dates from various samples of timber from beneath and within the walls, and the interior, but the brackets of their probabilities are so wide as to be of little use in dating the defences.

Following the second season of excavation in 1972, Alan Small claimed that the inner wall had been reconstructed following its catastrophic destruction and vitrification (1972), though whether this refortification related to the early medieval occupation is unclear. He also cryptically describes on the NE 'a double rampart, the impression of a third being created by the ditch from which the material for the outer rampart had been upcast' (1972). Apparently he dismissed the outermost rampart that the most recent surveys by Headland Archaeology and RCAHMS have identified in this sector, but there must be some doubt in the light of these surveys and the identification of a blocked entrance on the E whether the ditch was an external accompaniment to the outer of the walls here, which had also been burnt, or was an internal quarry for a robbed rampart on its outer lip. Given the traces of internal quarrying elsewhere around the outer circuit, the latter is perhaps the more likely, in its turn indicating that the outer vitrified wall on this side is a secondary construction that not only blocks the entrance on the E but crosses the internal quarry at this point. As the RCAHMS investigators suggest (RCAHMS 2014), the outer circuit is perhaps the remains of the earliest fortification here, forming a polygonal enclosure measuring about 120m from NE to SW by a maximum of 60m transversely (0.6ha) within a rampart with an internal quarry and an entrance on the E. This rampart was robbed in antiquity to build the rectangular enclosure on the summit, explaining why Small failed to find any trace of it on the NW (1972). The inner enclosure was subsequently burnt and later reconstructed, though the chronology of these events is unknown. The outer vitrified wall on the NE, now appearing as the middle line of defence, appears to be an outwork to the inner enclosure, and given that it does not follow the line of the earlier rampart, we can guess that it was not conceived in the initial construction of the inner enclosure but is a later addition long after the rampart of the earlier fort had been robbed.

In 2015, remedial work following the removal of a wind-blown tree, revealed a phase of refurbishment in the medieval period, with a substantial timber palisade set along the crest of the inner ruined wall, which at this point proved to be 6.5m thick (Peteranna and Birch 2015); radiocarbon dates from this work have yet to be published.

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 26 October 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC2896

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