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Watch Knowe

Earthwork (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Watch Knowe

Classification Earthwork (Period Unassigned)

Canmore ID 64774

Site Number NX78NW 4

NGR NX 7423 8643

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Balmaclellan
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Stewartry
  • Former County Kirkcudbrightshire

Archaeology Notes

NX78NW 4 7423 8643.

(NX 7423 8643) Roman Camp (R) (Supposed) (NAT)

OS 6" map (1850)

Watch Knowe (NR).

OS 6" map (1957)

Watch Knowe, a rectilinear earthwork, composed of a triple rampart with medial ditches, which was excavated by Clarke in 1951.

Name Book 1850; F R Coles 1892

A parallelogram with rounded corners, the earthwork occupies a site with no natural strength but extensive views. The west side has been eroded by the Abbey Burn.


The enceinte measures 235ft N-S and 225ft E-W, circa 1 1/4 acres. Paving occurred in the NW corner but no internal structures were found, apart from a comparatively modern foundation beside the burn. No dateable objects were found and there was no evidence of occupation.

The inner rampart, by far the strongest, was composed of an 8ft thick core of clay, faced with turves. The corners, 10ft wide and 3ft high,were solidly built of undressed stone. The other ramparts were merely upcast from the saucer-shaped ditches which were 8ft and 6ft wide by 2ft deep. Gates, 6ft to 7ft wide, with lightly metalled tracks but no evidence of gate-structures, occured centrally in the east side and non-centrally in the south.

Because of its shape the earthwork was originally called a Roman camp but was later re-classified as a native fort.

Clarke concludes from his excavation that the structure, emphatically non-Roman in workmanship, nevertheless shows very strong Roman influence in plan and construction and therefore dates it to the immediate post-Roman period circa - 3rd to 4th centuries (CBA Report 1951) AD. This conclusion is challenged by RCAHMS (MS. 1951) who think it almost certainly Medieval.

J Clarke 1952

Watch Knowe (name verified) is an earthwork situated on a gentle, undulating W-facing slope on exposed moorland at 625 ft OD. It is generally as described and none of the excavated features is now identifiable. Its SE corner is on the highest point, overlooking the rest of the site, and here the inner bank is most pronounced being 1.3m high internally and 0.8m high externally with double 0.5m deep outer ditches.

The S side is reasonably strong until it fades into a marshy area by Abbey Burn. This insignificant stream forms the W limit of the earthwork and there is no evidence that it ever continued on this side. The E side is well-defined but now partially overlaid by a stone dyke and sheep shelter. The N side which is approximately parallel to the S and also terminates at the burn, can only be identified as a 0.6m scarp, partly defaced by forestry ploughing.

Its generally poor situation and the weak W side suggest a non-defensive nature, and a Roman military origin is doubtful, though it may well be a native Iron Age settlement of Roman influence, comparable with types found in Northumberland.

At the external SW angle of the work, near Abbey Burn, occurs a Burnt Mound (see NX78NW 6).

Surveyed at 1:10 000.

Visited by OS (JRL) 10 January 1978


Field Visit (15 August 1951)

This site was included within the RCAHMS Marginal Land Survey (1950-1962), an unpublished rescue project. Site descriptions, organised by county, are available to view online - see the searchable PDF in 'Digital Items'. These vary from short notes, to lengthy and full descriptions. Contemporary plane-table surveys and inked drawings, where available, can be viewed online in most cases - see 'Digital Images'. The original typecripts, notebooks and drawings can also be viewed in the RCAHMS search room.

Information from RCAHMS (GFG) 19 July 2013.


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