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Ranachan Hill

Building (Period Unassigned), Cairn (Period Unassigned)(Possible), Fort (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Ranachan Hill

Classification Building (Period Unassigned), Cairn (Period Unassigned)(Possible), Fort (Period Unassigned)

Canmore ID 38368

Site Number NR62NE 12

NGR NR 6889 2500

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Campbeltown
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR62NE 12 6889 2500.

(NR 6890 2500) Fort (NR).

OS 6" map (1924)

The remains of a small stone-walled fort and of a system of outer works whose relationship to the fort is uncertain.

The fort, which is sub-oval on plan and measures internally 35m in length by 24m in maximum breadth occupies the highest point of the hill. It has been defended by a wall (A), 2.7m to 3.7m in thickness, at least one course of the facing stones of which is still visible for the greater part of the circuit; the best- preserved section is on the S, where the outer face stands to a height of 1.3m in five courses. An unusual feature, but one which is also present in the walls of the duns at Kildonan Bay (NR72NE 5) and Kildalloig (NR71NW 11) is an internal revetment which can be seen in the core in four places; it faces inwards on the NE, S and SW but outwards on the NW. There is a well-defined entrance on the W, measuring 2.7m in width on the inside but only 2.0m at its outer end. Two large stones, each about 1.5m long and 0.3m thick, which have fallen across the entrance passage some 2.1m from the inner end, appear to be displaced door-jambs. A second gap in the wall on the N may indicate the position of another entrance.

The SE corner of the fort has been drawn round the flanks of a roughly circular flat-topped mound some 24m in diameter and 3.4m in height, which may represent the remains of a Bronze Age burial-cairn; the mound itself is surmounted by two modern cairns.

The outer works comprise three stone walls (B, C, D), each of which has been heavily robbed. Wall B is now no longer traceable on the W side, but elsewhere it appears as a low band of debris in which several stretches of outer facing-stones, and one short length of the inner face, have survived in situ; its original thickness can be gauged only on the S, where it measures approximately 2.4m. Obviously designed for defence, since it utilises natural crest-lines and rock outcrops wherever possible, the wall has what may be an original entrance 2.4m wide on the N, opposite one of the two gaps in the fort wall, while it is possible that there may have been another entrance on the SW, situated at some point in the wide gap that exists between a rock outcrop and the edge of the steep rocky slope. The three small enclosures, now reduced to their foundations, which have been built against the inner face of wall B, are presumably of later date, since there is a similar enclosure outside the N entrance. Wall C springs from wall B near its E angle and is drawn round outside it at a distance varying between 7.5m and 18.5m. In appearance it is similar to wall B, being represented by a band of debris ranging from 1.5m to 2.1m in thickness in which many stones of the outer face, but none of the inner face, are visible.

There is a well-defined entrance on the SW measuring just under 2.4m in width. The outermost wall (D) is poorly preserved and for the most part consists of nothing more than an intermittent scatter of stony debris. On the SE, however, there is a short stretch of outer facing-stones incorporating a massive block measuring 1.8m in length.

It is now impossible to trace the full extent of this wall, but its remoteness from the rest of the site, and its poor use of ground, suggest that it was not defensive but was simply intended as a boundary wall, perhaps for enclosing stock.

The massive proportions of some of the facing stones of the outworks, and the apparently irregular manner in which they have been laid, contrast sharply with the smaller, neatly-coursed masonry of the fort wall, and it is difficult to believe that both were constructed at the same time. Indeed it has been suggested that the fort may be a secondary structure, probably of Dark Age date, which has been superimposed on an Iron Age fortification represented by the outworks B, C and D (R W Feachem 1966). On the other hand there are no indications of Iron Age houses within the circuit of wall B, such as exist at Carman, while, except for the fact that it is marginally greater in size, the fort is in no way distinguishable from a dun of the 1st or 2nd century AD. It is possible, therefore, that the fort was erected in the Iron Age and that the outer works were added during a subsequent re-occupation.

On the summit of Ranachan Hill there is a roughly circular flat-topped mound, approximately 24.5m in diameter and 3.4m in height, which is overlain by the SE angle of the innermost stone wall of Ranachan Hill fort; it is surmounted by a modern cairn. At first sight the mound might be taken for a Bronze Age burial cairn, for its flanks are so thickly strewn with boulders as to suggest that the entire feature is artificial. On the NE quadrant, however, where the surface is free of boulders, the living rock can be seen protruding through the heather in several places. In the absence of excavation, therefore, it is not possible to determine whether the mound is a prehistoric monument.

RCAHMS 1971, visited 1968

No change to RCAHMS report.

Surveyed at 1:10 000.

Visited by OS (JM) 4 November 1977

A single unroofed building is depicted on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Argyllshire 1869, sheet ccli). It is not shown on the current edition of the OS 1:10000 map (1981) nor was it recorded by RCAHMS and OS field investigators.

Information from RCAHMS (AKK) 22 October 1998


Field Visit (30 July 1955)

Visited by RCAHMS.

Field Visit (22 May 1956)

Visited and planned by RCAHMS 22 May 1956.

Note (10 October 2014 - 31 August 2016)

A complex fortification with at least three lines of defence is situated on the summit of Ranachan Hill. The innermost component of the scheme is a pear-shaped enclosure on the very highest part of the summit area and possibly overrides a large circular cairn on the S. This enclosure measures 35m from N to S by a maximum of 24m transversely (0.07ha) within a wall between 2.7m and 3.7m in thickness; long runs of inner and outer facing-stones are visible all round the circuit, in one place standing up to 1.3m in five courses, but there is also evidence of what are either internal revetments or earlier faces within the body of the core, in three places apparently facing inwards, and in one outwards. A well-formed entrance on the W, which expands from 2m wide at the outer end of the passage to 2.7m at the inner, does not have built checks, but two large fallen slabs may have been jamb-stones; there is also a gap in the wall on the N. The walls of the outer enclosures are heavily robbed, the first enclosing a trapezoidal area measuring a maximum of 79m from NE to SW by 60m transversely (0.4ha), and the second springing from the first to take in an additional strip on the SE; the second, which retains extensive runs of outer face, was possibly constructed successively to enclose a larger area of 0.54ha; in addition to a well-defined entrance in the second wall on the SW, there are gaps in the first on the NE, SE and SW, though only that on the NE can be identified as a probable entrance. There are no traces of any contemporary structures within the defences, but three small subrectangular to oval structures built on the line of the wall of the outer enclosure on the NE, together with a fourth standing outside its line on the N indicate a subsequent period of occupation during the medieval or post-medieval period (cf Balloch Hill, Atlas No. 2210). In addition to these enclosures, which appear to use the topography to tactical advantage, there is a fourth line of enclosure surrounding the hilltop. For the most part reduced to little more than a scatter of stones, its full extent is unknown.

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 31 August 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC2219


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