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Dunskeath Castle

Motte (Medieval)

Site Name Dunskeath Castle

Classification Motte (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Dunscaith; North Sutor; Sutors Of Cromarty; Cromarty Firth; Dunskaich

Canmore ID 15235

Site Number NH86NW 1

NGR NH 8070 6898

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Nigg (Ross And Cromarty)
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Ross And Cromarty
  • Former County Ross And Cromarty

Archaeology Notes

NH86NW 1 8070 6898

(NH 8070 6898) Dunskeath Castle (NR). (Site of) Moat (NR).

OS 6" map, Ross-shire, 2nd ed., (1907)

Dunskeath Castle was a mote-castle fortified by King William the Lion in 1179. Hugh Miller (1835), in the early 19th century, says, "We can still trace the moat of the citadel, and part of an outwork which rises towards the hill, but the walls have sunk into low grassy mounds, and the line of the outer mote has long since been effaced by the plough". In recent years the almost levelled mound and shallow depression of the ditch were still discernible, but the site is now subjected to military occupation (Mackenzie 1950).

Visible on RAF air photographs CPE/Scot/UK/223, 4140-1: flown 27 June 1947.

H Miller 1835; W M Mackenzie 1950.

Promontary at North Sutor defended by a ditch. A WWII bunker is sited on the seaward end and has been destroyed to a pile of concrete and metal rods. no bricks here. No other features and only slight cliff erosion. Possible partial outer ditch to N and NE. Inner ditch c.7m wide and 2-3m deep. Outer ditch c.6m wide and 1m deep.

CFA/MORA Coastal Assessment Survey 1998.

The surviving remains consist of two concentric semi-circular ditches with inner ramparts, terminating at each end in the S on steep naturally defensive slopes.

The outer ditch, c.7.0m wide and 1.5m deep, is truncated in the W by ploughing but its track is visible on RAF air photographs. Its rampart has been mutilated by quarrying and only about 16.0m (9.0m wide and 1.5m high) survives in good condition. The whole of the inner ditch, c. 9.0m wide and 2.0m deep, is fairly well preserved, but its inner rampart is considerably reduced, probably by erosion. No entrance is evident through the defences, though one was visible in 1794 (OSA 1794). The irregularly-shaped enclosed area, (a natural spur) is partly occupied by a concrete gun emplacement, which has mutilated the interior (see NH86NW 10).

The earthwork remains cannot be classififed as a motte but are undoubtedly the remains of a defensive medieval ring work of some strength.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (A A) 24 August 1972.

OSA 1794.


Field Visit (27 August 1943)

The mote-hill traditionally known as Dunskaith stands on the lip of the North Sutor cliffs about half a mile E of the modern ferry-pier. Its exact position may be established by the bearings 240 degrees (true) on Cromarty harbour light-house and 166 degrees (true) on the centre of the Sutors Stacks. The mound, which is difficult to identify in the somewhat broken ground of the cliff-edge, is enclosed by a ditch on the W, N and E and measures 76ft over all from WNW to ESE. Of this dimension 40ft represents the summit, from which flanks of the mound slope 18ft on either side to the bottom of the ditch. On the NNE the ditch is 29ft wide from lip to lip, and the summit stands 8ft above its bottom. This monument should be visited again and planned, but the work should be done at a season when the features are not obscured by bracken.

The mote is mentioned in Scotichronicon under the date 1179, (Book VIII, ch. Xxviii).

Visited by RCAHMS (AG, VGC) 27 August 1943.

Map ref: lxvii (‘Dunsketh Castle, site of’; ‘Moat’)

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 (2013 - 2014)

Described as a motte-castle fortified by King William the Lion in 1179. Promontory on North Sutor and the surviving remains consist of two concentric semi-circular ditches with inner ramparts terminating at each end in the S on steep naturally defensive slopes. The outer ditch c7.0m wide and 1.5m deep is truncated in the W. Inner ditch is 7m wide x 2-3m deep, and partial outer ditch is 6m wide and 1m deep. Bracken/grass covered and under threat from cliff erosion.

Visited by Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk (SCHARP) 2013


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