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Benbecula, Borve Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Benbecula, Borve Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Caisteal Borve; Castle Wearie; Caisteal Bhuirgh

Canmore ID 9962

Site Number NF75SE 12

NGR NF 77336 50519

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/9962

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Western Isles
  • Parish South Uist
  • Former Region Western Isles Islands Area
  • Former District Western Isles
  • Former County Inverness-shire

Recording Your Heritage Online

Borve Castle, mid-14 th century Large, oblong tower-house with attached ranges, thought to have been built between 1344 and 13 63 by Amy MacRuari, and if so making an interesting comparison with Castle Tioram. The lichened lump of mortared rubble is the ruin of a massively thick, three-storey structure, with an entrance in the south wall. A former stronghold of the Macdonalds of Benbecula, Borve was occupied until at least the earlier 17th century. It was surveyed by Rev. Aeneas Macdonald in 1913 , when the south and east walls stood to three storeys and it had "a vaulted chamber in the west wall and another in the north wall".

Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press http://www.rias.org.uk

Archaeology Notes

NF75SE 12 7733 5050.

(NF 7733 5050) Borve Castle (NR) (Ruins)

OS 6" map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., (1904)

Borve Castle, Benbecula. The ruins of an oblong tower, 60ft by 36 1/2ft over walls 5 to 9ft thick, stand to 30ft high, indicating at least three storeys. The entrance is in the south wall, 6ft above the ground.

NSA (1845) states "there is no tradition in regard to the time or person by whom it was built," but MacGibbon and Ross attribute it to Lady Amie, wife of John of Isla, in the latter half of the 14th century.

New Statistical Account (NSA, R Maclean) 1845; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1889; RCAHMS 1928.

The remains of Borve Castle are generally as described above; the E, W and S walls stand to the height mentioned but the N wall is reduced to a rubble bank scarcely 1.0m high.

Surveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (J T T) 25 May 1965.

Borve Castle is of at least three periods, the building sequence being, the erection of a nearly square tower to the E, the addition to this on the W of a smaller building of the same width, and the thickening of both the original E gable and later W gable to the interior, presubaly as floor scarcements. No sign of vaulting is visible in either section. The walls are so fragmentary as to make dating difficult, although the 14th century date assigned to the whole is parfectly possible. The E portion could be even earlier.

H B Millar and J Kirkhope 1965d.

NF 7733 5050 A desk-based survey and non-invasive site assessment was made of the ruin, in association with Simpson & Brown Architects.

Sponsor: Southern Isles Amenity Trust.

T Addyman 2000

Activities

Field Visit (26 July 1924)

Borve Castle.

Situated on the machair 2 miles north-west of Creagorry are the remains of Borve Castle, an oblong tower measuring 60 feet by 36 ½ feet over walls varying from 5 to 9 feet in thickness, which are still almost 30 feet in height and indicate that there were at least three storeys. The masonry is rubble heavily bedded in tenacious mortar. The walls are not homogeneous, but have been built in two skins; the inner, which was built first, 2 ½ feet thick. The entrance is in the south wall, is 4 feet wide and has been barred; west of it is a small window.

The ruin is so very great that the internal arrangement cannot be determined without excavation. (Fig. 153.)

Cf. "the residence of the lairds of Benbecula in ancient times. There is no tradition in regard to the time or person by whom it was built" (1). Ranald of Benbecula was known in 1625 as "of Castellborf" (2).

RCAHMS 1928, visited 26 July 1924.

OS map: South Uist xlvi.

(1) New Stat. Acct., xiv., p. 188.

(2) Cf. Clan Donald, iii., pp. 346, 348, 370.

Field Visit (2004 - 2009)

NF 7700 5001 (1km square centred on) A desk-based assessment and walkover survey were carried out between 2004 and 2009 in order to identify archaeological features on Borve machair and Rudha na Sithean, and to establish if these sites merited further investigation. The majority of the sites identified have produced pottery sherds that are typical of Iron Age settlement in the Western Isles, but a sherd of Norse platter ware has also been recovered. The sites are currently being damaged by ploughing and rabbits.

Borve Machair The survey area included two scheduled ancient monuments; a medieval hall-house (Borve Castle, NF75SE 12), and a medieval chapel overlying an earlier settlement mound (Teampull Bhuirgh, NF75SE 13). The survey identified a further 13 mounds, the largest c100m across.

Rudha na Sithean The survey area included two scheduled ancient monuments; a cairn with a cist (NF74NE 12), and a settlement mound listed as a souterrain (NF74NE 10). The settlement mound is set within a rectangular stone-walled enclosure (52 x 38m). Approximately 70m to the SW, a distinct cropmark is visible on satellite images taken in September 2004. The cropmark consists of a rectangular structure, 35 x 17m with rounded corners. The structure is not visible on the ground. Two other large mounds are visible in this area. The survey also identified intertidal peat deposits on the foreshore. The peat had been exposed by coastal erosion and contained preserved wood.

Report: CNES SMR

Robin Volkers

Standing Building Recording (2018)

NF 77336 50519 A programme of landscape, buildings and

materials analysis is being carried out at Castle Borve,

Benbecula, within the framework of this project. Surviving

upstanding fabric at the castle is evident in three separate

fragments of masonry walling and multiple large fragments

of ex situ masonry tumble. In general, all of the upstanding

fabric has been constructed of lime-bonded rubble-built

masonry, with large volumes of constructional peat-fired shelllime

mortars visible in continuous core, bedding and coating

contexts. Several distinct and contrasting suites of building

techniques and/or materials are also evident, however, and

these suggest the main castle building is associated with at

least three main constructional events, with an additional

two subphases relating to a small structure in the south.

The three phases recognised in the main castle building

display the following distinct suites of architectural and

masonry characteristics:

Masonry type A – wide walls; curving and battered

wall profiles; informal masonry style without coursing;

remarkably course ‘limecrete’ shell-lime constructional

mortar; high concentration of window openings. This

masonry is concentrated in the W of the surviving building.

Masonry type B – very wide walls; straight and vertical

wall profiles; moderately formal masonry style including

massive rubble blocks and intermittent coursing; shell-lime

constructional mortar with well-graded texture; no surviving

window openings; rubble quoining but sandstone fragments

in core and face contexts. This masonry is concentrated in

the E of the surviving building.

Masonry type C – narrow masonry walls; formal masonry

style with regular through-courses; shell-lime constructional

mortar with well-graded texture; sandstone quoining.

Fragments of this masonry are found on both sides of the

upstanding building.

Buildings analysis at Castle Borve is ongoing and our

understanding of the monument is continuing to develop,

but various stratigraphic relationships between the distinct

constructional phases characterised above are also clearly

evident. This includes an abutment in the S wall which

suggests masonry type A (in the W) was constructed later

than B (in the E). The external wall faces associated with

masonry type C walls are also embedded within (and abutted

by) the lime-bound core rubble of both main W and E walls

of the castle building. In interim, this suggests that the more

formally constructed type C fabric is the earliest upstanding

masonry on site and should be ascribed to phase 1, that the

type B E wall should be ascribed to phase 2, and the type C

W wall to phase 3.

A programme of lab-based analysis was subsequently

undertaken on material samples removed and collected

from Castle Borve. This sample assemblage includes five

core mortar fragments, three relict fuel inclusions and two

sandstone fragments. Lab-based thin section petrographic

analysis of the mortar, sandstone and one relict fuel

sample presented further evidence consistent with the

characterisation and phasing of the mortars summarised

above, and suggested that none of these three main phases

could be related to the primary construction of the southern

‘porch’. These analyses also indicated that at least two

sandstone types had been used during construction of the

building, and these materials are broadly consistent with

known outcrops in Morvern and Mull. Archaeobotanical

analysis confirmed that two of the probable relict fuel

samples were wood-charcoal, further suggesting that the

constructional mortar of at least one phase of the surviving

building had been manufactured within a mixed fuel (wood/

peat) limekiln charge.

Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: University of Stirling and Historic Environment Scotland

Mark Thacker – University of Stirling

(Source: DES Vol 19)

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