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Doune Of Relugas

Fort (Iron Age) - (Medieval), Vitrified Stone (Period Unknown), Pin(S) (Bronze)(Iron Age), Unidentified Pottery (Roman)

Site Name Doune Of Relugas

Classification Fort (Iron Age) - (Medieval), Vitrified Stone (Period Unknown), Pin(S) (Bronze)(Iron Age), Unidentified Pottery (Roman)

Canmore ID 15755

Site Number NJ04NW 5

NGR NJ 0039 4955

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Moray
  • Parish Edinkillie (Moray)
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Moray
  • Former County Morayshire

Archaeology Notes

NJ04NW 5 0039 4955.

(NJ 0039 4955 ) Doune of Relugas (NR)

Doune of Relugas, a fort showing evidence of vitrification, on a wooded knoll in a bend of the River Divie.

The level summit of the knoll measures about 48.0m NW-SE by about 27.0m transversely and is surrounded by a denuded wall overlaid by a path and a modern enclosure wall which have used it as a foundation. No facing stones are evident and the thickness of the wall cannot be determined, but its content of small rubble stones suggest it was timber-laced and one or two small pieces of vitrification were seen.

The masses of vitrified stones and boulders referred to by Feachem (R W Feachem 1963) are not evident. The position of the entrance is not

clear but it may have been in the E, as stated by Feachem, where the entrance to the modern enclosure is. A pile of stones inside this entrance is a clearance heap probable from the interior of the fort which has been used as a ornamental shrubbery, as has the rest of the knoll.

The easier approaches from the N and W are barred near the base of the knoll by a curving ditch about 5.5m wide and 2.0m deep with an outer rampart about 5.5m wide and about 1.5m high. There is a modern cutting through the rampart in the NW. In the SW it is truncated by a building and in the NE by a path.

Revised at 1/2500(OS field Surveyor NKB 27 August 1965).

Visited by OS (AA) 23 April 1971.

The discovery of 'some fragments of Roman pottery' is noted during excavation by Sir T Dick Lauder.

New Statistical Account (NSA) 1845.


Field Visit (21 September 1943)

Vitrified fort, Doune of Relugas.

The construction thus named occupies an isolated hill or crag at the junction of the Divie with the Findhorn, its base being protected by a crook of the Divie gorge. The hill rises some [blank in MS] above the level terrace on which Relugas House stands and falls steeply away on all sides; the gentlest slope being to the SE. Its flanks have been planted with shrubs, silver fir, spruce and other ornamental trees that must be at least 80 years old; some of these have been uprooted. Furthermore embanked and graded garden paths wind round the hill and lead up to the summit on the SE. A terrace walk supported by a roughly built dry stone revetment once ran round the summit. At a later date a high drystone wall, now somewhat dilapidated, was built on the terrace to provide shelter for some sort of enclosed garden. More recently this enclosure has been covered with netting supported on wooden posts; part of the covered area is now planted with potatoes while the rest, after having been used for military exercises, is now occupied by nettles and bracken 8’ high.

Plantation and horticultural operations have both masked the natural features of the site and seriously disturbed earlier constructions built upon it. Nevertheless it seems clear that the modern terrace is built upon debris of a stone rampart that formerly encircled the summit. Stones from this work, mostly moss-grown, are visible on all the flanks of the mound at the S corner outside and elsewhere under the terrace walk and in the side of the scarp by which the path reaches the summit. They include besides rounded boulders an appreciable proportion of building slabs. But in a large pile of stones, apparently dug up in cutting the path through the rampart, are some very large ‘vitrified’ masses of stone fused together by heat. As none such are superficially visible they can only have been derived from deep layers of the rampart cut through when the path was made.

Naturally no original faces are exposed and the plan shows only the apparent crest of the original rampart that may have been modified by recent terracing. With this reservation it may be said that the rampart protected a sub-triangular area about 175’ long NW—SE by 100’ wide N and S across its base. There is no reason to deny that the rampart followed the original contours of the summit, but the straightness of the SW side deserves notice.

On the N slope of the hill is interrupted about half-way down by a broad chasm, along the floor of which runs a garden path. The bank defining the outer side of this cliff is noticeably stony and looks suspiciously artificial, but the shrubs are far to luxuriant to ley us ascertain the exact nature or plan of this feature.

The superficial appearance of the ruins is not unlike that of Dun Evan and Castle Finlay, and sufficient vitrified material has been brought to light to justify the inclusion of the Doune of Relugas in the list of ‘vitrified forts’.

Visited by RCAHMS (VG Childe, A Graham) 21 September 1943.

Field Visit (15 April 1957)

FORT, THE DOUNE OF RELUGAS. The district and village of Relugas are situated in the angle between the rivers Findhorn and Divie immediately S of their confluence. The N apex of this area consists of a promontory measuring about a quarter of a mile from E to W by a little less from N to S which is bounded to the W by the River Findhorn and to the N, E and SE by the lowest ridges of the River Divie. The 300 foot contour runs a short distance within the W, N and E limits of the promontory, and Relugas House* stood near the central point at a height of about 330 feet above sea level. Immediately E of the site of the house the whole of the SE part of the promontory is occupied by a steep-sided rocky eminence which rises to a height of about 70 feet above the level of the site of the house and about 100 feet above the River Divie, which borders it to E. and S. From the summit of the hill, at about 400 feet above sea level there is an uninterrupted view over the lower Findhorn Valley to the Shore of the Moray Firth at Culbin Sands, nine miles to the N.

The hill is crowned by the remains of a small vitrified fort consisting of a single wall surrounding the flat summit plateau which measures 165 feet from ENE to WSW by 100 feet transversely. Almost all traces of the wall have been obliterated and destroyed by a terrace-wall which borders the perimeter of the summit and by a drystone dyke, now ruinous, that runs round at a distance of 10 feet or 12 feet inside it. The ground within the area bounded by the dyke has been under cultivation, and among a large pile of stones and boulders cleared from it which stands beside the entrance, in the E , there are numerous masses of vitrified ones and boulders. Similar masses, tumbled from the ruin of the wall, were observed on the flanks of the hill. The flanks of the hill fall at an angle of between 30 and 40 deg. in all directions for between 40 and 50 feet. To E. and S. the lowest slopes continue thereafter steeply to the River Divie, and no further lines of defence can be distinguished along them. To and N., however, where the knoll rises only from the promontory described above, further defences were required. By digging a ditch along a line somewhat above the actual base of the hill and throwing the spoil outwards the constructors formed a large and partly natural rampart with the ditch on its inner side. In the W. arc there is a rise of as much as 25 feet from the general level of the promontory to the crest of the rampart. From the crest there is a drop of 5 feet to the bottom of the ditch, and then a rise of 55 feet to the summit of the hill.

While classifications and groupings of hill forts in the N and W of Scotland must have been made on very tentative bases until more facts become available, it can at least be observed that this fort is more remarkable for its situation than for its size. Other vitrified forts in the vicinity which merit the same observation are Dun Evan and Dun Finlay and possibly the structure called Dun Davie where vitrifaction was reported in 18(_) , but has not been seen since. Other such small vitrified forts, with or without outer works, occur W of Inverness, in the Great Glen, and on the W coast, and the three or four mentioned here may represent the easter-most penetration of the type. If, as it is at least reasonable to suggest in the present state of knowledge, the small forts were the work of different peoples from the builders of the larger vitrified forts, then it may be constructive to note here that the latter include Knock Farril in Strathpeffer, the most northerly, the Ord of Kessock, Craig Phadraig and Dunearn on the W. side of the Buchan Massif, and the Tap O’ Noth, Dunnideer, Finavon, Green Cairn, Abernethy and Forgandenny further S.

Visited by RCAHMS 15 April 1957.

*On the date of visit almost all traces of Relugas House had been removed, but its site can be seen on the 1906 edition of the 6 inch map

Field Visit (4 July 1991)

This fort utilises a wooded knoll in a bend of the River Divie. The summit of the knoll is level and oval, aligned approximately from NW to SE, and is surrounded by a ruinous drystone wall, downslope from which is a revetment; both features overlie the rampart. There is a gap in the enclosure to the E although the entrance to the fort is unclear. A large stone heap inside the entrance may be part of the ornamental shrubbery which encompasses the fort. Three pieces of vitrified stone were found on the date of visit, two in the stone heap and one in the N side of the enclosure wall.

To the NE, N and W the fort is enclosed by a ditch with an external bank. A path from Relugas Lodge cuts a section through the ditch and bank to the NW, exposing an earthen bank. The path runs along the N side of the fort in the ditch, infilling the NE side of the ditch to some extent before swinging round to the S and entering the fort from the E.

Visited by RCAHMS (DCC) 4 July 1991.

Name Book 1891.

Note (27 March 2015 - 31 August 2016)

The Doune of Relugas is a vitrified fort occupying a steep-sided hillock within a bend in the gorge of the River Divie not far above its confluence with the River Findhorn. The vitrified wall has been heavily disturbed, on the one hand by a modern revetment and on the other by a garden wall encircling the summit, which is roughly oval on plan and measures about 48m from WNW to ESE by 27m transversely (0.1ha). Having been variously a shrubbery and a vegetable garden, the only feature visible within the interior is a pile of cleared stones on the E. While the modern path gains the summit on the E, it is not certain that this represents the original position of the entrance, but access from the N and W is blocked by an outer ditch and rampart set at the foot of the hillock and extending out to the edge of the gorge on the E; the ditch is some 5.5m broad and 2m deep, while the rampart on its outer lip is 5.5m thick by 1.5m in height. They are pierced by a modern cutting on the NW and truncated by the construction of outbuildings to the old house on the SW.

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 31 August 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC2923

Excavation (29 February 2016 - 4 March 2016)

NJ 0039 4955 (NJ04NW 5) As part of the Northern Picts project surveys and excavations have been undertaken in an area stretching from Aberdeenshire to Shetland targeting sites that can help contextualize the character of society in the early medieval period in northern Pictland. In Moray we have been evaluating a series of forts in the wider environs of Burghead to attempt to construct a regional chronological framework for the development of fortified enclosures.

Doune of Relugas fort lies in a bend of the River Divie near its confluence with the River Findhorn. The fort encloses an area c48m NW/SE by c27m NE/SW, surrounded by a heavily denuded rampart that shows traces of vitrification. There is a further rampart with an inner ditch to the N and W focused on the easier approaches to the summit. Fragments of Roman

pottery are said to have been found at the site in the past, and two ring-headed pins of late first millennium AD type are held within Marischal Museum, University of Aberdeen.

In the 2016 field season, 29 February – 4 March 2016, seven trenches were opened in the interior of the upper fort and two outside to the SE. The trenches in the interior identified extensive landscaping of the site with up to 1m of topsoil over in situ archaeological deposits. The most informative

trench was Trench 1 placed against the interior face of the N side of the upper enclosure rampart. The trench was 4 x 1m extending into the interior. Around 0.5m of garden soil from later landscaping was identified in this trench, overlying deposits of rubble and probable occupation layers. Two occupation layers were identified – the upper (context 106) was a compact dark sandy silt, separated from a lower occupation layer (108) by a deposit of fine sand. Parts of the rampart including vitrified stonework was found in the N part of the trench. Deposits of turf and a narrow ditch or palisade slot was found to cut through the interior occupation and rubble layers.

Radiocarbon dating has shown that the lower occupation layer dates to the 4th/3rd century cal BC and the upper the 7th/8th century cal AD. Material from the rampart returned a date from the late 9th or 10th century AD and the ditch or slot a 11th/12th century AD date. Trenches outside the main fort contained only natural or evidence of landscaping.

Archive: University of Aberdeen

Funder: University of Aberdeen

Gordon Noble and Oskar Sveinbjarnarson – University of Aberdeen

(Source: DES, Volume 17)


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