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David's Fort

Moated Site (Medieval)

Site Name David's Fort

Classification Moated Site (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Conon Wood; Balavil Wood

Canmore ID 12866

Site Number NH55SW 4

NGR NH 5394 5328

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Urquhart And Logie Wester
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Ross And Cromarty
  • Former County Ross And Cromarty

Archaeology Notes

NH55SW 4 5394 5328

(NH 5394 5328) David's Fort {NR}

[Undated] OS map.

The origin of the name 'David's Fort' is unknown.

Name Book 1876.

Homestead Moat, David's Fort, Conon: Of characteristic trapezoid plan it is formed on a minor eminence, the interior standing a few feet above the surrounding ground. It measures 83ft from N-S by 85 to 105ft transversely within a wet ditch, approx. 15ft deep. Internally the only feature visible was a circular depression 25ft in diameter and 3ft in depth situated close to the margin halfway along the west side. The ditch is surrounded by the remains of a substantial bank standing up to 9ft in height and to 3ft above the ground outside. The west sector, only 2ft high, is cut by a depression about 5ft wide outside which a hollow track leads off west down the slope. The gap & depression may represent the place where a wooden bridge originally spanned the moat.

A J Beaton 1885; Information from R W Feachem (Mss notes) 2 July 1958.

David's Fort is a homestead moat covered with scrub and trees. The moat still contains water, but it is partially filled with debris in the south. It was originally fed by a waterway running from an artificially constructed pond, 100.0m east of the site to a cut in the bank at the NE corner. Another cut through this outer bank in the NW was most probably the original entrance. The purpose of the break in the outer bank in the S corner of the moat could not be ascertained. The 'circular depression' in the interior, mentioned by Feachem, has apparently been made by an uprooted tree, now lying in the moat.

Re-surveyed at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (N K B), 22 January 1965.

Moated site: David’s Fort, Balavil Wood. This site lies 1km WSW of Balavil House. A trapezoidal area measuring 25m from N to S by between 26m and 32m transversely is enclosed by an impressive wet ditch and an external bank. On the W there are traces of what may have been a bridge spanning the ditch. June 1979

Beaton 1883; MS. notes in NMRS, RCAHMS Survey of Marginal Lands; RCAHMS 1979.

This site is listed in an Atlas of Scottish History (McNeill and MacQueen 1996) as a moated site.

Information from RCAHMS (DE) September 1997


Field Visit (2 July 1958)

Homestead Moat, David’s Fort, Conan

This structure stands at a height of 150 f t. O.D. half a mile SE of Conan House on broken and marshy ground that slopes down from the Muir of Highfield towards the River Conan. Of characteristic trapezoid plan, it i s formed on a minor eminence, the interior standing a few feet above the surrounding ground. It measures 83 ft. from N to S by from 85 ft. to 105 ft. transversely within a wet ditch to the level of the water in which its flanks dropped 15 ft. on the day of visit. The surface of the interior is covered with very coarse grass, tangled undergrowth and a few large trees, and the only feature visible was a circular depression 3 ft. in depth and 25 ft. in diameter situated close to the margin halfway along t he W side. The ditch is surrounded by the remains of a substantial bank standing up to9 ft. in height above the level of the water and to 3 ft. above the ground outside. 'fie W sector, which stands only 2 ft. above the water and above the ground outside, is cut by a depression about 5 ft. in width outside which a hollow track leads off W down the slope. The gap lies opposite the depression in the interior, and it is possible that they represent the place where a wooden bridge originally spanned the moat.

NH 539 533, OS Map lxxxviii

Visited by 2 July 1958.

Field Visit (1996 - 2003)

Russell Coleman managed an Historic Scotland funded project to record medieval moated sites in Scotland. Gazetteers were produced for each regional council area between 1996 and 2002 with an uncompleted overall review in 2002-03. The results of the first year of the project were published in Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal, Volume 3 (1997).

Field Visit (October 2009)

NH 56887 50573 and at various given points to NH 7664 7795 This project, which started in October 2009, is being undertaken with the aim of characterising and recording a series of double embanked features that are believed to indicate a possible network of relict routeways in Easter Ross. The main objectives are to identify a new monument class of early roadways in this part of the Highlands and to increase understanding of the narrative of their creation, use, re-use and abandonment.

Following informal walkover surveys of the linear earthworks, it has become apparent that, for the most part,

they possess a suite of characteristics distinguishing them from simple tracks. At other places along the continuous route from the Beauly to the Dornoch Firths the routeway is preserved in currently used wide paths and field boundaries. The initial walkovers followed the trajectories suggested by the positioning of these features. Additionally, surfaces were probed for sub-surface cobbling and bottoming stones, using a stainless steel survey arrow. The results have been variable and, until a benchmark roadway sub-surface can be identified, further investigation is being concentrated on a desk-based assessment of the historical maps, aerial photographs and the District Roads Trustees’ Minute Books and the Roads Commissioners’ Reports, to clarify if these features represent pre-parliamentary and 18th-century military roads.

A measured survey is also being conducted of a sample of the double embanked roadway fragments and likely

associated features along the route. The defining characteristic is the relative straightness of the main road at the centre of the network. Changes in direction occur but in between these changes the road generally takes a direct route from point to point. Most of the road is delineated by parallel turf embankments, of no more than 1m high, on either side of a levelled surface 5–11m wide. There is no discernible camber. These double embanked linear features have been identified at the locations given below.

To the N of the Beauly Firth, parallel embankments, conforming to the description given above, have been

identified at NH 56887 50573, continuing 1.86km NNW to NH 55067 51063. Similar double embanked features have been identified at Balavil Wood, in the vicinity of David’s Fort (NH55SW 4), beginning at NH 53782 52308 and continuing NNW for 1.29km to NH 53692 53608 and again at Tallysow Wood beginning at NH 52987 55338 and extending 613m to NH 52682 55888.

Continuing N, parallel embankments, defining a levelled routeway have been identified in the vicinity of Meikle

Ussie at NH 51802 57918, extending for 70m to NH 51792 57968 and at Coill an Righe, beginning at NH 51727 58398 and extending N for 423m to NH 51452 58688. Here the route reaches a ford on a tributary of the River Peffery. The possible stone remains of a simple bridge abutment have been identified at this location. At St John the Baptist’s Well (NH55NW 8), just below the shoulder of Knockfarrel, the route appears to coincide with the Fodderty ‘Corpse Road’. The parallel embankments and levelled surface begin at NH 51397 58883 and continue down the N facing slope for 150m to NH 51452 58993.

At the part of the suggested routeway that continues along the high ground above the N shore of the Cromarty Firth, a double embanked line has been identified beginning at NH 55216 60511, continuing E for 356m to NH 55566 60631. Within the policies of Foulis Castle, double embankments have been identified at NH 58347 63056, traversing a line NNE for 40m, ending at NH 58368 63090. At Skiach, further embankments are visible at NH 63617 68360 and can be traced, for 220m to NH 63808 68432. The characteristic features are picked up

again in the vicinity of Kincraig House, at NH 68430 70842, continuing for 662m and ending at NH 68825 70932, and also at Brenachie at NH 75745 76049, where they extend NNE for 244m until NH 75935 76194.

At NH 7664 7795 the projected route coincides with The King’s Causeway (NH77NE 2), the fragmentary remains of a cobbled roadway with two ditches running either side of a c7m wide, occasionally cambered, surface. This is described on the Highland HER as a post-medieval road, dated to between 1560 and 1900. A slightly earlier terminus post quem of 1527 is given in both the Old and New Statistical Accounts, where the cobbling of the route is described as being necessary in preparation for a pilgrimage of King James IV to the Sanctuary of Saint Duthus, Tain. The creation of this surface infers an attempt to sustain the route across what

was, presumably, marshy ground, as is later depicted on Alexander Sangster’s c1750 map of Tain. It is proposed that the suggested routeway does indeed continue to coincide with the pilgrimage route, ending at Tain.

Although archival research is ongoing, examination of the topography of some sections of the proposed routeway indicates pre-modern construction and use. For example, heading S it appears to follow a line from Tulloch Castle (NH56SW 8) to Fodderty Lodge (NH55NW 160). It then crosses the Peffery valley and climbs a steep hillside, avoiding the area around Dingwall, which is believed to have been tidal marshland until the later medieval period.

Early interpretation suggests that the route, although surviving physically only in part, is a roadway linking the

whole length of the former Earldom of Ross, extending c50km from S to N. A number of medieval castles and apparently later ‘grand’ houses sit either directly on the route or very close to it. It would appear to be the main communication route through the former Province of Ross. We are aware that a substantial, possible early roadway, variously known as ‘The Wine Road’, ‘The Comyn’s Road’ and ‘Rad na Pheny’, believed by some commentators to be capable of supporting wheeled transportation, has been identified in the southern

Highlands. However, we have not recovered any evidence for the similar identification of an extensive early linear communication feature in Ross-shire.

In this last year the project’s coordinators have worked to develop ‘Pathways into the Past’ with colleagues from Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands (ARCH). The programme consists of community learning sessions and fieldwork workshops. It offers participants opportunities to learn how to research and record the feature in their area. Participants are also being helped to display and publish their findings. The research and fieldwork findings are being publicised in a series of touring exhibitions. We wish to thank our colleagues in ARCH, Janet Hooper and Cathy MacIver, for their collaboration and for their tremendous work in facilitating the invaluable community research into what we believe may be a new monument class for the Highlands.

Archive: Highland Council Archives

Funder: Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Community Highland LEADER 2007–2013 Programme for the ARCH Pathways into the Past Programme.

Allan MacKenzie and Cait McCullagh – North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS)


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