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Rait Castle

Chapel (12th Century), Hall House (Medieval)

Site Name Rait Castle

Classification Chapel (12th Century), Hall House (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Chapel Of St Mary Of Rait; Hermit's Chapel; Rait Castle

Canmore ID 15163

Site Number NH85SE 10

NGR NH 89382 52527

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/15163

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2018.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Nairn
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Nairn
  • Former County Nairn

Archaeology Notes

NH85SE 10 89382 52527

For Rait Castle farmhouse and steading (NH 8902 5280), see NH85SE 82.

(NH 8938 5253) Rait Castle (NR) (In Ruins)

OS 6" map, Nairnshire, 2nd ed., (1906)

Rait Castle, a rare example of a small stone hall-house of the early 14th century, was examined by Stewart Cruden and Prof. Simpson in 1957. It occupies a bad defensive position, overlooked from the south by a rough irregular knoll. There are slight traces on the north side of the castle suggesting an enclosing ditch.

The hall measures approximately 54ft by 22ft and up to 36ft in height, with walls nearly 6ft thick. A round tower projects from one corner and there is a garderobe tower which projects nearly 13ft on the west side and is 8ft wide. The portion of a wall embedded in the east gable is older than the hall-house and is probably a remnant of an older manor-house. The long tenement on the west side is older, too, as it appears to have been shortened to make room for the hall-house.

Between the hall and the knoll to the south is the courtyard, the south wall of which incorporates a steep, smooth granite outcrop about 8ft high and 80ft long. It is constructed of similar materials to the hall-house and stands to a height of 9ft and 2 1/2ft thick.

The detached building, 32ft by 16ft, south-east of the hall-house, is possibly the chapel of St Mary of Rait, or Hermit's Chapel. In 1343 Nicholas the Hermit was in occupation and records exist of a chapel c. 1189-99.

The last recorded reference to a castle on this site was in 1596, excepting the mention of Castledown of Rait in 1622.

W D Simpson 1937; S H Cruden 1960; W D Simpson 1961.

Rait Castle, now undergoing restoration, and the possible remains of the chapel of St Mary of Rait, or Hermit's Chapel, are as described and planned by Simpson.

To the east of the castle there are the remains of a minor depopulated settlement, comprising several buildings with attached small enclosures, which may or may not be associated with the castle.

Visited by OS (NKB) 12 January 1967.

Architecture Notes

REFERENCE

See bibliography

Activities

Publication Account (1995)

This interesting hall-house contrasts with the numerous surviving tower-houses in the Highlands. Built in the late 13th or early 14th century, it now stands roofless and floorless, but apart from a modern breach in the east wall the stonework is almost complete to roof height and in good repair.

The main structure consists of the rectangular hall and a round tower. Only fragments remain of a narrow latrine tower which projected from the north wall. The roof was pitched, with gables at either end set back behind overhanging parapets, for which corbelling survives at the east end. The walls are rubble, with dressed sandstone framing the doors and windows. The ground floor, reached by a wooden stair from the floor above, was used for storage. Tiny windows secured by iron grilles supplied ventilation, while the room in the base of the tower had defensive arrowslits. The hall on the first floor had a wooden floor supported on a scarcement ledge. It was entered through an imposing arched doorway in the south wall, reached by an outside wooden stair. The door was defended by a portcullis (the slot can be seen from below), and a wooden door inside it secured with a drawbar. The small lancet window by the door was for the porter. The hall is lit by large pointed windows with benches either side, and part of the simple window tracery survives. The windows had both iron grilles and wooden shutters, which have left traces in the stonework, and the roofs of their embrasures have ribbed vaulting.

At the west end of the hall was the raised dais for the high table, lit by two windows, with a hooded fireplace in the south wall flanked by brackets for lamps. Doors led to the latrine and to a private chamber in the tower. The tower room has two arrowslits and one large window with bench seats, together with a fine domed roof built in concentric courses of stone. The joist holes for the floor have disappeared in the course of modern repairs.

The hall stood on the north side of a courtyard with other buildings round it, some vestiges of which remain. One must have been the kitchen, another may have been a chapel of St Mary recorded in the late 12th century. There were magnificent views from the site before the trees grew up, though it is in a poor defensive position, with its courtyard bounded by higher ground. The castle belonged first to the de Raits, who took their name from the manor and may actually have been Comyns, later to the Mackintoshes and to the Campbells of Cawdor.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Highlands’, (1995).

Field Visit (2005 - 2008)

A special survey of Rait Castle was carried between 2005 and 2008 to improve the record of the site following clearance of the undergrowth by the estate. This included a measured and photographic survey of the upstanding first floor hall. A review of the features that became visible as a result of the clearance in July 2008 indicated that there were additional ranges of buildings on the SE of the hall and a ditch on the NW and possibly NE of the hall. A visual survey of the wall-top was carried out from a cherry-picker provided by the estate. A wall walk was visible along the SE walltop and a floor on top of the vaulted ceiling over the round tower on the SW, suggesting a room only accessible from the wall walk. Regeneration of the undergrowth precluded further survey.

References

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