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Portencross, Auld Hill

Dun (Period Unassigned), Fort (Period Unassigned), Hall House (Medieval), Motte And Bailey (Medieval)

Site Name Portencross, Auld Hill

Classification Dun (Period Unassigned), Fort (Period Unassigned), Hall House (Medieval), Motte And Bailey (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Auldhill

Canmore ID 40587

Site Number NS14NE 1

NGR NS 1783 4910

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/40587

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

  • Council North Ayrshire
  • Parish West Kilbride
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Cunninghame
  • Former County Ayrshire

Archaeology Notes

NS14NE 1 1783 4910

(NS 1783 4910) Fort and dun (NR)

OS 6" map (1969)

The much-decayed ruins of a vitrifed fort occupy the precipitous tail of a ridge called Auld Hill. The rampart appears as a grass-grown mass enclosing a level sub-rectangular space about 100ft N-S by 50ft. Immediately to the S, the ridge is crossed by two rock-cut ditches, and farther S a higher ridge of rock forms, the N boundary of the dun, 45ft N-S by 27ft, defended on the W, S and SE by a wall of coursed rubble masonry. This dun is probably secondary, cutting off part of the precincts of the earlier fort.

V G Childe and A Graham 1943; R W Feachem 1963

The fort is generally as described above. Possible traces of the fort's rampart are evident on the N side in the form of a slight outward-facing scarp. The dun has no apparent entrance.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (JTT) 11 October 1964

Only a sporadic, turf-covered, scatter of stone survives of the fort rampart, and this has no measurable height. Vitrified material is not conspicuous; only one isolated example was found on the SW perimeter. The relationship of the slight medial ditch(es) (0.7m maximum depth) to the fort appears as stated, but there is no suggestion that the dun, occupying the highest point of Auld Hill, is within the precinct of the earlier fort.

The dun itself shows approximatley 1.5m wide walling around the E side but it is lost on the W, where its course must have followed a curving line of outcrop. The entrance could only have been on the N, skirting the medial ditches(es).

Revised at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (JRL) 18 November 1982

Excavations at this site hitherto identified as an Iron Age vitrified fort have shown that in its present form it is a medieval castle of motte and bailey type. Substantial remains of a rectangular stone structure were uncovered on the motte. It is 17m long and 12m wide and the walls are lime mortared. It supercedes a timber phase of construction and 12th-13th century pottery is associated with both phases. The motte is separated from the bailey by 2 rock cut ditches of medieval date, with the surface between them leading to a ramped access on to the motte summit.

There are also remains of a stone rampart, vitrified in several places, encircling the whole site and which is earlier in date than the motte phase. Also traces of occupation (hearths, metalled surfaces and crude paving, of uncertain date) have been discovered in the bailey.

G J Ewart 1987.

A second season of excavation concentrated on the motte element of this bipartite fortification and showed that the 13th and early 14th century presence on this part of the site is reflected primarily by a rectangular enclosure (measuring 14m by 9m approximately) of lime mortared masonry. This proved to be the rampart associated with a large hall-like building which although only partially revealed, appeared to be of stone and timber construction and measured some 10m by 6m. There were prominent eavesdrip drainage channels to the south and west of the hall structure, while to the east of the building there was evidence of complex timber work, possibly supporting a wall walk. Finds from the excavation reflected the great antiquity of the site with various prehistoric artefacts as well as a large assemblage of early medieval pottery from the construction and occupation of the hall.

G J Ewart 1988.

The previous excavations indicated that the medieval presence on this multiphase fortified site consisted primarily of a hall-like, mainly timber building, within a stone-built rectangular rampart. The 1989 season showed however, that this layout was in fact the last in a possible series of lordly residences dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. It is now apparent that the stone rampart surrounding the hall was originally a form of hall-house with garderobe tower at its NW corner, generally similar to other West Highland types of the 13th and 14th centuries.

There was evidence that the subsequent hall was built on a new, raised platform within the denuded remains of the hall-house.

Sponsors: National Museums of Scotland, South of Scotland Electricity Board.

G J Ewart 1989.

Activities

Field Visit (10 September 1942)

This site was included within the RCAHMS Emergency Survey (1942-3), an unpublished rescue project. Site descriptions, organised by county, vary from short notes to lengthy and full descriptions and are available to view online with contemporary sketches and photographs. The original typescripts, manuscripts, notebooks and photographs can also be consulted in the RCAHMS Search Room.

Information from RCAHMS (GFG) 10 December 2014.

Field Visit (31 May 1952)

This vitrified fort is now in a poor condition. It seems to have consisted of a single oval rampart with hornworks at either end, but subsequently the east end appears to have been cut off by a ditch and crowned by a rectangular (?) walled enclosure.

Visited by RCAHMS 31 May 1952

Excavation (1987 - 1989)

Excavations at this site hitherto identified as an Iron Age vitrified fort have shown that in its present form it is a medieval castle of motte and bailey type. Substantial remains of a rectangular stone structure were uncovered on the motte. It is 17m long and 12m wide and the walls are lime mortared. It supercedes a timber phase of construction and 12th-13th century pottery is associated with both phases. The motte is separated from the bailey by 2 rock cut ditches of medieval date, with the surface between them leading to a ramped access on to the motte summit.

There are also remains of a stone rampart, vitrified in several places, encircling the whole site and which is earlier in date than the motte phase. Also traces of occupation (hearths, metalled surfaces and crude paving, of uncertain date) have been discovered in the bailey.

G J Ewart 1987.

A second season of excavation concentrated on the motte element of this bipartite fortification and showed that the 13th and early 14th century presence on this part of the site is reflected primarily by a rectangular enclosure (measuring 14m by 9m approximately) of lime mortared masonry. This proved to be the rampart associated with a large hall-like building which although only partially revealed, appeared to be of stone and timber construction and measured some 10m by 6m. There were prominent eavesdrip drainage channels to the south and west of the hall structure, while to the east of the building there was evidence of complex timber work, possibly supporting a wall walk. Finds from the excavation reflected the great antiquity of the site with various prehistoric artefacts as well as a large assemblage of early medieval pottery from the construction and occupation of the hall.

G J Ewart 1988.

The previous excavations indicated that the medieval presence on this multiphase fortified site consisted primarily of a hall-like, mainly timber building, within a stone-built rectangular rampart. The 1989 season showed however, that this layout was in fact the last in a possible series of lordly residences dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. It is now apparent that the stone rampart surrounding the hall was originally a form of hall-house with garderobe tower at its NW corner, generally similar to other West Highland types of the 13th and 14th centuries.

There was evidence that the subsequent hall was built on a new, raised platform within the denuded remains of the hall-house.

Sponsors: National Museums of Scotland, South of Scotland Electricity Board.

G J Ewart 1989.

Note (23 February 2014 - 16 November 2016)

This fort is situated on the elongated crest of Auld Hill above Portencross, a naturally strong position that was utilised in the medieval period for the successive construction of motte and bailey and stone castles. The defences of the earlier fort comprise a single vitrified rampart, traces of which can be seen in places along the margins of the hill and probably enclosed an area measuring about 110m from NW to SE by up to 28m transversely (0.28ha), though nothing of it can be seen around the NW end and its exact course on the SE is also uncertain. In 1987 the rampart was sectioned as part of a wider programme of excavation on the castle. It was about 3m in thickness, with both vitrified and fire-reddened stones in ‘laid rafts of packed dry stonework with each raft terraced into a level platform cut into the bedrock’ (Caldwell et al 1998, 25). Though the rampart was sampled for TL dating, the fort is effectively undated. Nevertheless, part of an antler cheek-piece from horse harness found in a pit in the interior dates from the 7th-8th centuries BC, and a possible cooking-pit filled with burnt stones was also found beneath the medieval deposits. While the excavators speculate that the cheek-piece derives from the occupation of the fort, they also found what may be another early line of defence, a ditch some 2m in breadth by 1m in depth, cutting across the interior of the fort beneath the castle. Its stony fill was thought to have slipped from a drystone rampart enclosing the rocky boss forming the highest part of the interior, and now completely obscured by the remains of the castle. This they suggest might provide a context for the occupation material containing worked shale from the 7th-10th centuries AD, and indeed for the stray find of a bronze enamelled trumpet brooch of 1st-2nd century AD date on the flank of the hill.

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 16 November 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC0488

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