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Archaeology Notes

Event ID 671688

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Archaeology Notes


NJ96NE 7.00 99864 67528

(NJ 9986 6752) Lighthouse on the Remains of Kinnairdshead Castle AD 1592 (NAT)

OS 25" map, Aberdeenshire, 1st ed., (1869).

See also NJ96NE 12 and NK06NW 3.00.

For nearby Wine Tower (NJ 99937 67510), see NJ96NE 9.

For (present and successor) New Lighthouse (at NJ 99837 67567), see NJ96NE 7.01.


Kinnaird Head Lighthouse.


National Libraries of Scotland

Source: Mr R Q C Stevenson, 18 Mortonhall Road, Edinburgh 9.

Bell Rock Folio.

46. Kinnaird Castle.

Upper half of sheet. Plan and elevation.

Pen and grey wash with black shading showing the old castle.

Lower half of sheet. A plan of Kinnaird's Head Castle by Will Urquhart Octr 1786.

Pen and ink and grey wash for castle. Also shows old tower on coast.

Scale 3":70'

[Undated] notes in NMRS.

Kinnaird Head Castle, founded on the 6th of March, 1570, measures 39ft by 27ft and is 60ft high. It was leased, c.1787, to the Northern Lighthouse Company by whom it has been much altered although it still retains a good corbelled course with round projecting bartizans at the angles and square ones in the faces.

Lord Saltoun states that Kinnaird and the Wine Tower (NJ96NE 9) were 'almost certainly successors one of another', (Saltoun 1963) and were two of a chain of castles along the Buchan coast, probably originated by the Comyns in the 13th century. (Simpson 1951)

OSA 1793; J B Pratt 1858; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887- 92; W D Simpson 1940; W D Simpson 1951; Saltoun 1963.

Kinnaird Head Castle is as described above.

Visited by OS (NKB), 16 January 1969.

(Location cited as NJ 999 677). Built 1786-7, engineer Thomas Smith. A short circular tower, with a triangular-paned lantern with a domed top, rising from a square tower with corner circular turrets, formerly a tower house. There are the usual flat-roofed, single-storey keepers' houses. The oldest lighthouse in the north of Scotland.

J R Hume 1977.

This lighthouse was first lit on 1st December 1787 as the first of the Northern Lighthouse Board, and, as such (according to Robert Stevenson) was largely of timber construction (apart from cast iron window-sash frames, copper sheeting in the wooden cupola, and fireproof plates of tinned iron and ceilings and floors); these early lights were built to be as small, plain and simple as possible, and only fixed oil lights were shown.

The lighthouse was rebuilt between 1821 and 1830 (together with others from among the early lights) into a more permanent form and to conform with the Commission's 'national establishment' policy; it was lighted with a dioptric or catadioptric system from 1851. A permanent radio beacon was installed in 1929 and the lighthouse was attacked by German aircraft in 1941.

R W Munro 1979.

Air photographs: AAS/94/01/G2/9, 13-20.

NMRS, MS/712/21.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse is now open to the public as Scotland's Lighthouse Museum.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 16 September 1997.

NJ 998 675 Four weeks of excavations were carried out in the basement during 1997 and 1998, with the objective of revealing the primary mid-16th-century floor surfaces and elucidating the architectural sequence.

The construction, inside the castle, of the first lighthouse in northern Scotland in the 1820s by Robert Stevenson had severely truncated the medieval deposits. However, remnants of the primary occupation surfaces were revealed in all rooms of the basement, although it appears the majority of occupation-derived debris has been removed, probably during the conversion of the castle to a lighthouse. Very few artefacts were recovered from the medieval deposits, although a 1612 twopence and a bone-handled iron awl were recovered from an early pit. Animal and fish bone predominates, supporting the use of the western vault as a kitchen.

The arrangement of the basement has been altered on several occasions during its use. The lighthouse builders removed the southern part of the eastern vault and the original staircase to the first floor alongside the S wall. It appears the spiral staircase to the first floor is a later insertion, and it is also of note that this stair is not on the same alignment as the spiral stair in the upper storeys. A small lobby at the base of the original staircase, which ran down to the western vault, originally provided access to the eastern vault. This doorway was blocked by the lighthouse builders, as was another doorway between the E and W vaults, although the second opening was not in itself an original feature.

The surviving archaeological deposits give a clear picture of the sequence of architectural alterations, but unfortunately very little pottery was found to date these events.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

F Baker 1998.


(Flashing White)

and remains of

Kinnaird Head

Castle [NAT]

OS (GIS) MasterMap, January 2011.

In 1991, this lighthouse was superseded by the New Lighthouse (NJ96NE 7.01), 50m to the NNW. It was then re-opened as the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.

Information from Virginia Mayes-Wright (Director, Museum of Scottish Lighthouses), 25 January 2011.

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