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Publication Account

Date 2007

Event ID 586626

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account



ND/3729 6375

This promontory fort in Canisbay, Caithness was partly excavated by Sir Francis Tress Barry during the 1890s and is included here because of the similarity of the door-frame to that found in brochs. No plan made at the time of the excavations is known but some photographs were taken; the only nearly contemporary description is that of the Royal Commission [2].

The site consists of a simple curved wall crossing the landward end of a high, cliff promontory of which the length from cliff to cliff was 18.9m (62ft); it was 3.8m (12ft 6in) thick and about 1.2m (4ft) high near the middle. Slightly east of the mid point the entrance passage was found, 96.5cm (3ft 2in) wide at the outer end. Although its left wall was broken down, the right wall was reasonably well preserved and a door-check, formed of an upright slab against a built face, was found in it 2.03m (6ft 8in) from the exterior; behind this the passage widened to 1.45m (4ft 9in). The floor of the passage was paved with large sandstone slabs and another thin slab, projecting 20cm (8in) above the floor, formed a sill stone. This is described [2] as being in front of the door-check but the photograph suggests that it is in line with it. Behind the door-frame a bar hole is in the right wall; this was 20cm (8in) square and was found to be at least 1.07m (3ft 6in) deep. A drain was found under the flags of the passage floor, leading from the interior to the outside.

Behind the wall and approximately in line with the entrance was a hearth formed of flags set on edge and full of ashes, food refuse and pottery. To the left of the inner edge of the passage and about 1.22m (4ft) back from it was found an oval chamber in the wall, measuring about 3.05 by 2.14m (10 x 7ft).


It is pity that so little is known about this site, and in particular that nothing is known about the pottery found. There are good reasons for thinking that some promontory defences belong to the early Iron Age, probably at least as early as the 6th century BC; examples are the promontory semibrochs (sites NG31 1 and HU44 1) as well as the Shetland 'gatehouse forts (sites HU30 3 and HU56 4). Sgarbach may be another of these early defensive sites and it would be worth re-excavating it with the aim of establishing its date.

Sources: NMRS site no. ND 36 SE 5: 2. RCAHMS 1911b, 18, no. 45: 3. Feachem 1977, 180: 4. Lamb 1980b, 26 and fig. 8: 5. Batey 1984, 65, site CAN 086: 6. Swanson (ms) 1985, 569-70.

E W MacKie 2007

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